Olla Podrida

A bowl of olla podrida with relleno

Olla podrida (/ˌɒlə poʊˈdriːdə, – pəˈ-/,alsoUK/- pɒˈ-/,US/ˌɔɪə pəˈ-/,Spanish: [ˈoʎa poˈðɾiða]; literally “rotten pot”, although podrida is probably a version of the original word poderida, so it could be translated as “powerful pot”) is a Spanishstew, usually made with chickpeas or beans, and assorted meats like pork, beef, bacon, partridge, chicken, ham, sausage, and vegetables such as carrots, leeks, cabbage, potatoes and onions.


Olla podrida is another Spanish bean and pork stew. As the Wikipedia quote says, the name literally translates to “rotten pot” or “spoiled pot”, but the word podrida is probably a corruption of poderida, which means powerful, which is seen as a reference to the fact that you had to be rich to afford all the meat that goes into the stew.

Several of the blogs I looked at in searching for recipes referenced Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It’s been many years since my family read Don Quixote as a bed time story, and I certainly don’t remember the references to olla podrida, in which Sancho spots a pot bubbling on the fire and says “That big dish that is smoking farther off,…seems to me to be an olla podrida, and out of the diversity of things in such ollas, I can’t fail to light upon something tasty and good for me.” I almost wonder, given Sancho’s reputation as a backward peasant, if Cervantes making a joke by having him use the wrong word for the dish started the whole “rotten pot” thing. I suspect that if that was really the start of it, it would be prominently featured in the Wikipedia article and elsewhere. It seems that the name is documented going back further than Cervantes.

Of course, my wife walked into the house while this was cooking and said it smelled terrible, so maybe there’s a simpler reason for the name. I’m going to blame the pile of crusty cat food plates in the sink and garbage can that needed emptying though.

Apparently olla podrida was famous beyond Spain by the 17th century, with the likes of Samuel Pepys and Robert Burns referencing it in their works.

Astute readers will notice that this dish has a lot in common with fabada Asturiana. I’m not entirely sure what really differentiates one from the other beyond where in Spain you happen to reside. The biggest difference I can see is that fabada recipes tend to be just beans and pork, while olla often has other meats and vegetables added. In fact, I’m going throw out another idea for the source of the the “podrida” name- this is the dish you throw all the odds and ends in the pantry that are about to go bad into. While nearly every olla podrida recipe I looked at contained vegetables, they were all over the place in terms of which vegetables. I suspect that fabada Asturiana as a named dish may be more of a modern interpretation of the olla podrida idea, meant to spread regional pride and show off local specialties. Looking ahead on my list of dishes I see several more Spanish bean dishes with regional names but very similar ingredients, and I’m guessing that this played out in several regions, where they took the olla podrida model and adapted it to their local ingredients. Several of them share another quirk with olla podrida- the fact that while they are cooked in a single pot they are often separated into two or three distinct elements before serving; sometimes the broth is served separately, or the meat is separated from the beans and vegetables (which is actually pretty convenient if your meat contains bones or is in large pieces)

Unsurprisingly, this dish spread across the globe as Spain colonized the new world. Several Mexican versions showed up in my research. In the end I eliminated them from the mix to keep the recipe true to it’s Spanish roots. Maybe in the future I’ll make a Mexican version.

Olla podrida is apparently most often connected with the city of Burgos, where it is made with local red beans. In the rest of Spain it is apparently mostly made with chickpeas, which were a staple of the Spanish diet well into the 20th century. I actually included both types of beans, but feel free to use one or the other.

Before cooking this dish I marinated my pork in an adobo overnight. Now here in America, if you know what adobo is at all you probably think it’s the sauce that canned chipotle peppers come in. As best I can tell, it’s a preparation based on vinegar and garlic that has been adapted to local flavors wherever the Spanish colonized. In the Philippines adobo chicken or pork is a common dish, generally containing lots of garlic, vinegar and soy and fish sauces. And in Spain it seems to include paprika. I’m not sure how traditional the use of adobo in this dish is (it only really showed up in one recipe I looked at), but once I eliminated the Mexican recipes there wasn’t really any seasoning in the dish beyond salt and pepper so I decided to include it.

Most of you will probably recognize the word relleno as meaning “stuffed” or “stuffing”. I’m not sure exactly why little egg dumplings are called “stuffing”, but they are. These were apparently once a common element to this dish, although they’re seen less often these days. They basically consist of beaten eggs mixed with breadcrumbs, seasoned with some garlic and parsley. They are fried to form little fluffy dumpling-like balls and then added to the stew a few minutes before serving to soak up the flavors of the broth. One recipe used the same mixture, but cooked it as an omelette and served it on the side.

Olla Podrida

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 2:30
Total: about 3 hour, plus soaking/ marinating

For the Adobo:
¼ cup Spanish paprika
3 Tablespoons dry oregano
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-5 Tablespoons vinegar
3-4 Tablespoons water 

1 ¾ lb fresh pork (ribs or whatever cut you like)
1 small pork trotter 

1 lb dry red beans
9 oz dry chickpeas

6 slices bacon
10 oz chorizo
Water to cover

1 yellow onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
5 ½ oz leeks, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced 
1 small bay leaf

1-2 morcilla blood sausages

Salt to taste

For the Relleno:
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2-3 eggs, beaten
2 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt, to taste
½ inch olive oil, to fry


5 oz cooked chicken
⅓ lb ham
8 oz veal
6 medium potatoes, large diced
5 oz savoy cabbage, chopped
5 oz green beans
5 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
large pinch coriander seed
Paprika to taste
Thyme to taste

To make the adobo, combine the ingredients in a non reactive container large enough to hold pork. Add pork, including trotters, and rub marinade into meat. Cover and refrigerate over night.

Pick over beans, rinse, and cover with cool water. Leave to soak over night.

Place marinated pork in a large pot or dutch oven along with bacon and chorizo. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 75 minutes, until meat is tender. Remove meat from pot and set aside. You can discard the trotter or pick the meat off the bones. 

Drain the beans and add them to the meat stock, along with onion, carrot, 3 cloves of garlic and bay leaf. Add additional water if needed to cover by about two inches. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered for about 1 hour, until beans are soft. 

Meanwhile, combine all the relleno ingredients except oil in a small bowl. Heat ½ inch of olive oil in a small sauté pan. When hot, drop heaping teaspoons of breadcrumb mixture into the oil and cook for a couple minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels and set aside. 

If using any of the optional vegetables, add them to the beans towards the end of the cooking time but don’t stir them in. Potatoes will take 15-20 minutes, down to cherry tomatoes which will only take a couple minutes. If you add them too early and they are cooked before the beans are tender, simply scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside until everything is ready. 

About 10 minutes before serving return the meat to the pot, along with the morcilla and rellenos. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until meat is heated through. Remove meat to a separate platter, cut the morcilla and chorizo into serving pieces, and return any vegetables to the pot. 

Serve the beans and relleno dumplings in bowls with the meat on the side, along with a glass of Spanish wine. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sure looks good and it comes with food for thought!


    1. Lorin Black says:

      Sure does! I’m going to go warm up some leftovers and think about it some more.


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