BODEGA EL CAPRICHO
By Eva Reinoso Tejada
The quest for the best meat in the world took us to an unthinkable place: A small village in the region of Leon, Spain. We had heard, in disbelief, that a steak house called El Capricho was serving steaks from old oxen. This practice departs from the common belief that tender meat must come from young animals, and José Gordon raises his beasts for at least 5 years, all the way up to 13 years of age.
From Denver, Colorado we travelled to Jiménez de Jamuz to meet José, and explore the world of El Capricho, its meat and cattle. With surprise, we noticed that José knows every single one of his hand-picked oxen, who graze in a large and peaceful spot a few miles from the restaurant. He walks around them, talks to them and knows every detail of their personality. That is how he knows when it is time. He doesn’t give them names, he confessed, as it would be more painful to see them go.
When selecting the individuals, Jose prefers native species of ox, such as those descending from the Uro and other wild bulls, because they “maintain the essence of the past.” These animals eat, among other things, local aromatic herbs such as thyme and lavender, as well as the leaves from the Holm oak. These beasts reach weights of 1,500 to 2,000 kilos during their relatively long lives.
After sacrifice, the process of aging the meat begins. José applies techniques developed and refined by him after many years of experience as a grill master as he worked in restaurants in Northeastern Spain. Dry aging consists of hanging the ox pieces and refrigerating them for a specific number of days, under a controlled environment, as it refers to temperature, humidity and ventilation. Neglecting these will cause the meat to go bad. Dry aging causes the softening of the meat, by the work of its natural enzymes. It also evaporates water, sharpening the flavor. “The amount of subcutaneous fat, as well as its color, are very important, because that is what feeds the meet during the process of aging,” explained José.
He carefully chooses those pieces that are ready to be used at the restaurant. The most popular cuts are the ribeye and the tenderloin. These are artfully grilled over Holm oak coals, medium rare, and seasoned only with rock salt. But there is more than meat: Seasonal vegetables, exquisite desserts and world-known wines, completes the unforgettable experience of visiting El Capricho.
The menu and the passion for the meat are not the only unique things about El Capricho. José explained how the restaurant is built on a traditional underground wine cellar, popular in the area, that was carved out from the rock by his grandfather Segundo Gordón. With a beak and a shovel several generations of the Gordón family built with their own hands what would be the foundation of this temple of meat. In the past, these cellars were used to age their own wine. The vineyard is still there and one of Jose’s future ambitions includes populating his cellar with a product from the grapes his grandfather planted more than 100 years ago. ‘I want to revive the passion that grandpa had for these lands and vineries,” explained Gordón.
In my oxen-world, I try to escape from convention to seek the essence that transports us back to our origins. Though we have lost so many other things today, the ox in some way inspires us with his curiosity, his nobility and the slowness of his walk.
What the patrons say
We talked to David Bisbal, a regular at El Capricho, and he confessed his favorite dishes were the Ox Rib Eye steak, dry beef and cow tenderloin. These dishes “become delicacies here”, he said. He also said “Time magazine considered this to be the best meat in the world, and I am not surprised. I always have a great time when I visit.”
Platillos favoritos (Signature Dishes)
Pimientos rojos asados (Roasted Red peppers)
Cecina de buey (Cured beef)
Chuleta de buey (Rib Eye Steak)
Solomillo de buey (Beef tenderloin)
Bodega El Capricho
Paraje de la Vega s/n.
24767 Jiménez de Jamuz
+34 987 66 42 24