Saturday, 4 October 2014

Pork Knuckles Like No Other at El Chacon Madrid

The tourist leads the way to great food.

One of my BFFs, Liz, is in Madrid for the weekend.  I was a bit stressed on how to fill her three days in Madrid because
          a)  This isn´t her first time, she´s visited Madrid thrice in the close to two years that I´ve lived here.
          b)  We didn´t want to go bar hopping
          c)  I wash´t able to plan for a day trip out of Madrid.

Of course, being the good friend that she is, she kept reminding me that all she wants on her trip was to eat good, relatively cheap food, hoard on jamon iberico bellota and to spend some precious bonding time with me.  I thought, wow,  I really  have great luck when it comes to friends!  I am drawn to  people who are meant to be friends for life!

Well, it turns out that she came prepared with a list of must-eats based on the  recommendations of her Spanish colleague, Enrique.  Enrique, it turns out,  is a certified foodie who used to run their family restaurant before becoming an engineer.  On top of Enrique´s list for Liz  is a  codillo completo meal at El Chacon.

So yesterday,  a Friday,  Liz and I decided to have lunch at El Chacon.

Located on a quiet street just a few minutes walk from the Puerta del Anghel metro station, El Chacon  looks a bit rundown and tiny.  It is a small restaurant with only six tables and a small bar. Liz, who arrived a full thirty minutes before I did, had a quick reconnaissance and saw that all tables were taken.  By the time I arrived, at quarter past 3 in the afternoon,  the restaurant was still full and we were actually willing to have  our codillo completo meal standing by the bar, but luck was with us, as a couple was just easing out of their tables when we ushered ourselves in.  We got a precious table to ourselves with no waiting time!

El Chacon is a restaurant for the locals.  This is not a restaurant you´d choose based on a quick browse through Trip Advisor, although it is there, ranked #719 out of  6, 516, with only 19 reviews, mostly in Spanish.  One may  of course  stumble upon it along aimless walks, trying to discover the streets of the real Madrid, but because it does not really look that pretty from the outside and is almost always packed, outsiders like Liz and I will most likely hesitate to enter the premises.

But the god of foodlovers have seen us fit to discover it through a kindred soul.  And oh! what delicious pork knuckles we had! At prices that made us sing with happiness.  Yes,  Madrid is relatively inexpensive, but even I, who have come to expect reasonable prices and good food in Madrid, was pleasantly surprised by the prices at El Chacon.

El Chacon´s interiors are a throwback from another era. I imagine that this is as what a tavern would be in cowboy country: burnished brown tiled floors and ceiling, chocolate coloured chairs and tables, big paintings, and this mule´s head as its centrepiece.

The bar at El Chacon is lined with traditional Spanish decorative tiles.

El Chaco specialises in Galician cuisine.  Galicia being a Spanish province in the northwestern part of the country known for its seafood and for a dish called Lacon con Grelos.

                                                 Photo from

Lacon con Grelos is boiled pork shoulder (lacon)  and turnip tops (grelos) served with boiled potatoes and chorizo.  El Chacon serves a variant of Lacon con Grelos,  using the knuckles (codillo)  instead of pork shoulder,  but really, to my untrained eye they look practically the same.

El Chacon´s Codillo Completo: shredded, tender pork knuckle meats, chorizo, grelos,  and boiled potatoes topped with pimenton de la vera (Spanish paprika).

This hearty platter supposedly serves two.  It comes with Galician-style crusty bread

And a big serving of Patatas Alioli, which is my favourite side dish in Spain.  It is really potato salad stripped down to its essence:  cubed boiled potatoes drenched in garlic mayonnaise and herbs.  Hearty and comforting!

Ah, but it is the pork knuckles that deserve the gold star in El Chacon.
This is the superstar of pork knuckle dishes.  I have never loved pork knuckles.  Not in humba nor in pata tim,  typical Filipino preparations of pork knuckles.  My mother even makes pork knuckles into some sort of lechon paksiw, drowning them in a sweet, vinegary sauce.  Yet as much as I love her, it is  one of my  least favourite dishes  Only the thought of fried, crispy, fatty knuckles in crispy pata form can convert me into a knuckle lover. But then, everything fried, fatty and crispy is transformationally delicious, so that says more about the magic of frying than the deliciousness of knuckles.

But the knuckles at El Chacon is transformational.  Clean, barely salty, tender and with just the right interlayer of fats.  Oh la la!  This is a dish reminiscent of unexpected love.  Pure, no-frills, not the most enticing to look at, but if you just dare, you will be rewarded.  For the taste is so simple, so right in its porky essence, it is enthralling.  The slices of chorizo, boldy spiced and peppery, provides the perfect punch, an intense sashay of umami  in between  the relatively mild flavours of  the pork shreds and veggies.

We loved every component of this meal.  And we ate and ate until we were afraid we could no longer stand,  but even then the waiters, perhaps intrigued by us two outwardly non-Spanish women venturing into their tiny restaurant,  they laughingly shook their heads when they saw what was left of our platter after we had our fill.
Yes, we just barely ate through our Codillo, the serving was just  so large! So the kind waiters packed the leftovers up, including their wonderfully crusty galician bread for us to bring home.  Now, that´sA++ for graciousness!

And how much did we spend for our meal?  That huge platter of Codillo costs only 15€. We had two tall glasses of Tinto de Verano with our meal ( though if you prefer, you can ask for a pitcher of water for free), yet the total cost was still less than 20€.  A delicious food bargain even by Madrid standards!

Truly, sometimes, the best things in Madrid cannot be gleamed from trawling the must-visit lists in the web.  El Chacon is an anti-thesis to all these must-eat restaurants.  It is small and in a nondescript neighborhood.  Its exterior does not look too inviting  and because they only have six tables, they do not take reservations.  But if you want that local experience, and the most wonderful boiled knuckles in Madrid,  do drop by.  It is worth the hassle.

***El Chacon Madrid is a three minute walk from  the Puerta del Anghel  metro station

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