CHRISTMAS BROTH FROM IBIZA
A GASTRONOMIC TRADITION
THE SECRET,S IN THE SAFFRON
Just like every other Yuletide, Salsa de Nadal (sweet Christmas broth) is now the undisputed focus of cooks on Ibiza and Formentera who have kept up the custom of making this delicious almond-based dessert.
Its beginnings are remote and shrouded in mystery – few would hazard a specific period in time – but the dish is widely regarded as rural and Islamic in origin. In former years it constituted a perfect pick-me-up for Ibicencos labouring in the countryside from sun-up to sundown, while nowadays it represents the heart and soul of a traditional Pityusan Christmas.
Some folks regard Salsa de Nadal as a liquefied kind of nougat, due to the fact that its main ingredient is the Ibizan almond.
Preparation begins long before Christmas Eve (the day Ibicencos have their traditional feast), and involves a laborious process with ingredients lined up well in advance, i.e. meat stock, almonds, eggs, sugar, honey, salt, pepper, cloves, all spice, cinnamon and saffron. As with most traditional recipes, countless variations have arisen over the years, and this can lead to differences of opinion between defenders of the more traditional type (with sobrassada, botifarró and lean bacon) and those who prefer lighter versions with the meat stock replaced by water. Despite the current trend for making the recipe lighter, the wealth of ingredients provides a pleasant surprise for all who give it a try.
Salsa de Nadal is served during the days and weeks immediately after Christmas as a dessert or snack, and can either be taken on its own or else accompanied by the famous bescuit or “cóc pagès”, a sweet and spicy kind of bread typical on Ibiza at this time of year. Salsa de Nadal should be served nice and hot to keep out the winter cold. Because of the high caloric intake, it can easily take the place of dinner, if so desired.
The traditional method of preparation was set down by Joan Castelló Guasch in his classic Ibizan cookbook, Bon profit! El llibre de la cuina eivissenca (1967):
First peel the almonds, and after toasting and chopping them, mix them with the required number of eggs to form a well-bound paste. Meanwhile prepare a broth – from kid, pork, beef, hen and/or chicken – to which salt, saffron and a pinch of pepper are added. Pour this into a clay pot, mix in the almond paste, and add sugar, cinnamon and spices to taste. Then stir continuously with a wooden spoon in the same direction for about an hour. The result is a thick broth – the thickness can vary – similar in flavour to the famous nougat of Jijona [north of Alicante].
The Salsa de Nadal brings together families at Christmas, and we can’t but admire the capacity of Ibiza’s tight-knit society to preserve its gastronomic traditions, ensuring that this dessert of rural origin has survived right through to the present.
So, if you’re spending the Christmas season on Ibiza, don’t forget to try out this extremely authentic and traditional Ibizan dessert.
Bon profit! (Bon appétit!)