...into the kitchens of Spain.
Leave it to the frugal Spaniards to elevate a simple dish of stale bread crumbs into the gastronomic stratosphere. Migas, the Spanish word for crumbs, is so beloved throughout much of Spain that the residents of Torrox, a town along the Costa del Sol in Andalucía, annually host a Fiesta de Migas that draws tens of thousands of people.
At its most basic, migas consists of leftover bread torn into small bits, slightly moistened with water, and then fried in olive oil with garlic and pimentón, the Spanish paprika. Every region seems to have its own variation on the theme, most of which call for the cook to add healthy doses of cured pork products, such as chorizo (dry-cured paprika-laced sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), jamón serrano, and bacon (hungry yet, Biggles?). The dish also often includes peppers and onions in the mix and, surprisingly, may be garnished with a handful of green grapes. Typically, migas serve as the base for one (or two) of the glorious fried eggs I recently wrote about. They can also be topped off by many other humble delicacies, including, I feel obligated to add, sardines.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, like all rustic, straightforward dishes, the key to making the most delicious rendition of migas con huevos resides in the quality of your ingredients. Use the best available loaf of country bread, farm fresh eggs, and, most importantly, authentic Spanish chorizo (in the US, there is only one brand, Palacios, available at specialty grocers and on line here and here), jamón serrano, and pimentón.
After N and I scooped up every last bite of our migas, we decided that the point of the humble main ingredient - day old bread - was to soak up every bit of precious pork fat that rendered out of the chorizo, jamón serrano and bacon in the dish. It was like breakfast hash, substituting bread crumbs for potatoes!
No wonder that I was surprised, then, to read that the dish seems to have originated with the Moors, the Muslim occupiers of the Iberian peninsula from the eighth to the fifteenth century. From what I read, it seems that buried beneath the avalanche of pork bits, migas shares a common, if distant, ancestor with North African couscous, steamed semolina.
Regardless of its mysterious beginnings, today a hearty plateful of migas con huevos will load you up with enough calories to keep you going out in the vineyards all day. If you won't be working the fields, you can reduce the fat somewhat (such as by poaching the eggs, as I did), but you lose some of the authentic flavor that makes this belly-buster so quintessentially Castillian. Spoil yourself and eat it for brunch or lunch on a special occasion. Next birthday or anniversary, skip the foie gras, oysters, and caviar, and beg for a plate overflowing with migas con huevos!
Migas con Huevos
Based mostly on the recipe found in one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks, Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table.
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
1 mild poblano chile, cut into ¾-inch pieces
1 strip bacon, diced
2 slices jamón serrano, diced
2 oz. Spanish chorizo (preferably Palacios brand)
2 c day-old country bread, torn into ½-inch pieces
½ t smoked sweet pimentón de la Vera
handful of green grapes, halved (optional)
2 eggs, poached or fried in olive oil
Heat few glugs of oil in nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Cook garlic until golden, then remove to plate. Increase heat to medium-high and cook peppers until slightly softened and blistered, then remove to plate. Lower the heat back to medium-low and add meats and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, then remove to plate. If you must, remove some of the fat and set aside to add if needed (just don't let me know you did).
Add the bread to the rendered pork fat and olive oil in the pan. Evenly splash about ¼ cup of water over the bread. Cook bread, using a spoon to break it up somewhat. Cook until it starts to crisp up and turn golden, about 10 minutes, adding back any fat that you may have set aside if the bread looks dry. Add the pimentón to the pan and stir and cook briefly, then toss back in all the garlic, peppers and meats. Stir the whole mess around and cook for a few minutes, adding the grapes if using. Taste to see if needs salt and season accordingly.
Spoon migas onto plates or cazuelas and top each plateful with poached or fried egg.