Jovellanos in his diaries talked about Asturian beans, a fact that shows that since the 18th century the cultivation of beans was widely spread along the Principado of Asturias. They have been growing in variation and quality up until today. The beans commonly associated to the Asturian bean dish are those which come from the farm. As well as this, all other types of beans: white, rounded, plain or big can be mixed with other salty native ingredients. We can find a wide menu: beans with hen, beans with partridge, rabbit or hare, beans with cod and beans with clams or spider crab…etc.
Asturian beans is a unique dish and normally they are followed by a light easily digestible dessert because digestion of the beans is a long, slow process for the body already. The beans from the farm are a sort of big bean, soft, with fine skin only found in this region because for some reason they can not be grown in the rest of the national regions. Some people call these beans “almohadas” (pillows) because of their buttery, soft palate when they are cooked well, and because their volume increases so much when they were dry.
Although the cultivation of these beans is very popular in all of the regions, the most famous are those from Luarca, Tineo, Cangas of Narcea, Siero, Colunga or Villaviciosa. The most extensive crop is located in Vegadeo, Oviedo and Gijón and less extensive in Grado or Llanes. The Cooperative Fabastur unites all the farmers of this region and also the Association of Producers of beans of Arguelles. They all have their “Food Standards Classification” (D.O) under the name of “Faba Asturiana” registered in a Regulator Council to which more than 300 producers are subscribed. These beans are the most expensive in Spanish trade.
Many gastronomic events have been celebrated around this bean, that is considered the Queen of all the pulses. One of these celebrations is the “Cultural Bean Week” during march in Villaviciosa or the gastronomic event of beans of San Martín during november in Moreda (Aller) and “the days of les fabes” in Colunga during december in which a prize is given to the winning Asturian for the quality of his beans. The prize is known as “Faba de Oro” or “Golden Bean”.
Up until the mid 80′s of the 20th century, the crop of Asturian beans was not so famous and the cultivation of these beans was only for use in the home. The expansion is very recent since the mid 90′s, when other farming sectors underwent a crisis and this product was in high demand by the hotel business. Becoming a famous restaurant dish representing rural culture has taken a long time for the Asturian beans. This has a lot to do with the overall quality of the beans, culture in country houses and the improvement of cultivation processes. The beans are sensitive to rain and its commercialisation means that climate problems need to be overcome. In september or october the sheathes are hung in a granary for several months when they are dried we have to separate the sheathes from the grains. After drying the beans alone they are spread out over a surface and those which are stained or of insufficient quality are thrown away. Today the process remains the same.
Before the beans reach the dinner table, they must be cooked carefully in the kitchen, where Asturian woman cook them like no-one else. For this, we need the compango which gives the beans their distinctive taste. This compango is a latin term which means “partner” or “complement”. In this case it refers to the meats, sausages and other ingredients that accompany the beans.
The composition of the compango is variable depending on the type of cooked dish we want. For instance, in the mid-East of this region the wealthy crop of cabbages is cooked with a “compango” of sausage, thick pork sausage, cutlet and bacon. Sometimes we can add some animal bones or some pork marinade. In Western Asturias as well as afore mentioned ingredients, it is advisable to take butietsu to drink, (a traditional bottle of red wine) that is practically unknown in the centre of the region.
The most well-known compango is the one that mixes sausages, Asturian sausage and shoulder of pork with bacon.
The beans may boil slowly with their compango, but the day before the cooking we must leave them to soak in cold water and in other receptacle filled with warm water we may leave the bacon, pork shoulder, sausages…etc. The following day when the beans begin to soften we may remove the skin from the water, we can use a special spoon for this. After one hour of cooking (always on a low flame) we then add a glass of cold water. By doing this, we can stop the fervor. We continue cooking on low flame and with the stew covered up the beans will cook. If we see that there is not much water we can continue adding cold water. But, we must be careful because so much water can make the beans separate from their skins.
The cooking time for the beans varies, some people spend a whole morning but three hours can be enough. The time spent depends on whether the beans are old or new or it can even depend on the water, if it is hard, for example, mineral water should be used for cooking. To serve this dish properly it is advisable to put the beans in a soup tureen and the “compango” separately in a large dish.
Some Asturian people leave the beans to rest for a day before being served, in that way, it can be guaranteed that the flavours do not mix with each other so each can be tasted and enjoyed individually.
Now, this dish is ready to eat. For those interested in healthy food we can say that this dish is very nutritious, since, it contains 20% proteins, 60% carbohydrates, 14% fiber, 6% fat and in addition, minerals like calcium and iron.
Enjoy your meal!