The most popular fried fish batter flour in Cadiz

The most popular fried fish batter flour in Cadiz

The most popular fried fish batter flour in Cadiz

In El Puerto de Santa María, the mention of El Vaporcito means seeing live how the nostalgia of your interlocutor is activated. The Vaporcito was the ship that connected El Puerto to Cadiz. “A boat so colorful that the waves of the sea give it little kisses,” said the great Paco Alba in his pasodoble. This small boat that loved the whole bay to shorten the way to Cadiz sank in 2011. In El Puerto there is another small steamer as popular and iconic as this one, although it is not a floating boat but a flour is the fries.

A flour in an adorable container, with an almost childlike drawing of El Vaporcito, coming from a factory that transported you 70 years ago. But above all a flour that makes the fried fish “rubito” and crispy. El Vaporcito flour is one of the lines of durum wheat flour from the Harinas Virgen de los Milagros factory in Porto. This factory was built by Juan Ávila and bought in 1936 by Enrique Fernández, grandfather of the current owners: Pedro, Enrique and Julia, brothers, and Violeta, their niece.

A factory that rose from the ashes

At the time of construction, the few neighbors of this factory were the Mayor Prioral Church and some orchards. Today, without having moved from 8 Postigo Street, the factory is located in the heart of El Puerto. It passed from Enrique to his son Esteban Fernández Rosado and from him to his children, but things happened in between.

In 1947 a fire destroyed the factory. Since Fernández Rosado believed in this business, he rebuilt it in the same place. So he decided to order state-of-the-art machinery from the Pané company, which today, 73 years later, is still working 16 hours a day. “And there were times when the factory ran 24 hours a day,” says Enrique Fernández, one of the owners.

Times when Porto flour was not only known for the quality of its product outside of Spain: “In 1950, our flour was exported to Equatorial Guinea more or less in jute sacks. A commercial we had there said to my father: “Don Esteban, you are more famous here than Macías” (the dictator of Guinea),” says Enrique. “I said it because the Guineans did their business with our bags and it said ‘Esteban Fernández Rosado’ everywhere. They were very strong bags that many women from El Puerto finished by hand.”

The quality of the flour – all flours made in this factory – “lies in the qualities of the wheat and in the rudimentary machinery that allows it to be granulated to perfection,” says Enrique. “It’s a very old machine, but that gives it tradition when it comes to work. We are not price-competitive on the market, so we fight for quality,” adds Santiago Peñalba, Technical Director of Milling Engineering, who has worked at this factory for 31 years. Santiago is a Soriano who inherited the craft from his father, although he never worked in this factory but in another mill in Jerez.

Eight different flours and sixteen hours a day that grinds

A patio, into which trucks and grain enter, divides the area of ​​the factory, warehouse and office. In the factory area, wooden machines with pipes and leather belts separate and grind the wheat. They grind as much, as little or as often as Peñalba deems the desired flour necessary, there is nothing automated here. The tubes connecting the mills to the wheat deposits form a tangle of crosses and scrolls on the ceiling. The wooden floors show traces of freshly ground flour. And the wooden boxes with leather cylinders and deposits, on which flour and bran fall, move vigorously without stopping, as if in rhythm. Some machines that do not have spare parts: when they break down, they have to invent or resort to milling lathes.

Depending on the use and on which of its lines it is – Oro de Cádiz, Don Churrito, El Vaporcito, among others – varies the wheat and the refined. “We have eight types of flour. Baking flours, stronger, stronger and weaker, which we call Castilian. We also make 100% wholemeal flour, flour for frying… It’s a continuous process of ups and downs until we get the consistency we want,” says Peñalba. It is he who controls from the receipt of the wheat, which is not clean, to the packaging of the flour. “It’s wheat with no additives and I have to look for it by gluten or protein amount and compare batches. We have to pay more for this and also sell more expensively,” says the miller.

The quantity and price of their flours make it unprofitable for them to invade large areas. “These are very demanding contracts for our production because not only do they ask us to drop the price sharply, but they also require specific promotions that we cannot sustain.” With the war in Ukraine, they also noticed the increase in the price of wheat. “There is a very big shortage. Grain arrives from the US and ships arrived from Argentina in May. It doubled the price,” says Enrique. “The European Union needs to change the rules because the problem with grains from Argentina is that they use fungicides and pesticides that are not allowed in Europe and they end up on the health record,” says Peñalba.

El Vaporcito, flagship of the factory

After showing us how the factory works, he piles different flours and bran on a tray. He leads us out of the factory and tells us about the different types of flour and wheat. “Soft wheat turns white flour and durum wheat yellow. El Vaporcito’s is yellow. Beta-carotene is responsible for this. The yellow of the durum wheat makes the fried fish golden,” he tells us.

Color is one of the keys to El Vaporcito flour. The other is texture. “When frying, it’s very important that the flour has that texture. We call it semolina flour. With this texture, it forms a crust around the fish that prevents the fish from soaking up the oil and thus frying it without breaking,” says the technician.

As well as El Vaporcito, they make much thicker durum wheat flour with a lot more bran, like the Telera bread. “These durum wheat flours contain a lot of protein, allow a lot of water, the bread keeps longer and the quality is much better with more protein,” he explains. “Our Don Churrito brand is another of our highly valued flours in the region for making churrillos.”

Finally, he tells us about wholemeal flour. “Really, nutritionally, it doesn’t add much to humans, what happens is that if you replace some of the flour with the husk, you obviously eat less flour. And since you don’t digest the bran, it acts like a broom right away,” Santiago says as he spreads the flour with a spatula.

Currently, this factory produces about 30,000 kilos of flour per day, which varies from one type of flour to another depending on the season. “Sometimes I have to make more of Don Churrito because there are parties where they eat more churros, like Easter. At other times, when the hospitality industry is stronger, El Vaporcito has more production”. A flour, that of El Vaporcito, that was not in the factory’s catalog from the start: “At the beginning of my time here, 31 years ago, we made a pallet of flour for frying and it was left over. Now we have to earn 60,000 to 70,000 kilos every month.”

The cheapest gourmet product in the world

Although El Vaporcito is sold in 5 kg bags for catering, the format for domestic use is different. It is a 600g rectangular hard plastic container, airtight and with a lid making it very easy to store and reuse. But it wasn’t always like that either. “We think if it’s a product for frying fish, it’s logical that it’s sold in fishmongers, but with a paper bag like flour is usually delivered, it wasn’t profitable because it was mixed with the water from the fishmonger would spoil,” says Penalba. “We made them in this format, which was crazy because this tub is more expensive than the bag, but we made it very competitive for the fishmongers to the point that the fishmongers even gave it away to customers who made big have purchases. Or they sell them for just over a euro.”

For hotels, El Vaporcito is common throughout Spain, but for domestic use, it’s harder to find outside of Cádiz. “We are in grocery stores or delicatessens. We are the cheapest gourmet product in the world,” says Santiago. The packaging was very original, but the name not so much. To name the flour after the most famous ship in the bay, they had to ask permission from the El Puerto de Santa María town hall. “El Vaporcito was not only an institution but also a registered trademark, but we got permission.” They received permission and, in 2010, recognition from the OCU as the best flour for frying in Spain.

In the Product of the Month section, we tell the story of foods that move us through their quality, taste and the talent of the people who make them. No manufacturer gave us money, jewelry or Mercadona gift certificates to make these items.