What Is Escudella?

H.R. Childress

Escudella i carn d'olla is a traditional hearty stew of meat and vegetables from the Catalan region of Spain and the neighboring country of Andorra. Originally served as a meal on country farms, escudella is now a part of the traditional Christmas dinner in the region. This stew is also the national dish of Andorra.

Escudella often contains chickpeas.
Escudella often contains chickpeas.

Traditional recipes for escudella vary, but all include several different types of meats and vegetables. Most versions also have chickpeas or white beans and rice or pasta. The stew always involves a homemade broth as well, in which all the ingredients are cooked.

Pork is a common ingredient in escudella.
Pork is a common ingredient in escudella.

The broth for the stew is typically made using bone-in pieces of meat — common components include chicken, pig and sheep feet, veal or beef marrow bones, ham or lamb hock, and possibly a whole chicken. The meat pieces are simmered in water for an hour or two to form the broth. Then the bones are removed and the broth is strained. Any meat from a ham hock, lamb shank or chicken carcass is removed from the bones and returned to the broth.

Escudella traditionally includes pilota, which is one or two large meatballs made of ground pork or sausage. The meatballs usually are seasoned with garlic, parsley, and sometimes pepper and cinnamon. They are cooked in the broth after the bones have been removed.

Vegetables are added to the broth along with the pilota as well. Common vegetables include potatoes, cabbage, turnips, and carrots. Onions or Swiss chard may also be used. The stew may include only two or three of these vegetables, or all of them. Rice or pasta is also added at this time. Once the vegetables are added, the stew simmers until the meatballs and all the vegetables are cooked through.

Escudella can be served all together as a stew, but it is traditional to separate the dish into two courses. The broth is strained out and served with the rice or pasta as a first course soup, then the meats and vegetables are served separately as the main course. When it is served for Christmas dinner, escudella is generally a first course, followed by the main meal.

In Andorra, a festival of escudella is held on Saint Anthony's day in early January. Free escudella, bread and wine are served in town squares in many parts of Andorra. In the parish of Sant Julia de Loria, this festival is also celebrated on Saint Sebastian's day.

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