A cooking class is always at the top of our things to do when we make our travel list. In Barcelona, Catalan cuisine was sure to be the best way to discover Catalan culture. So when we signed up for a cooking class at Barcelona Cooking we were excited but had our reservations. This wasn’t the Cordon Bleu or the Blue Elephant. We wouldn’t walk away with certificates or branded aprons. So how much would we really learn?
We met Emma at the Barcelona Cooking school on Las Ramblas, and she quickly escorted us to the market where Chef Candido would show us around as he bought the ingredients for the day’s cooking. Chatting with her on the way was exciting, as she told us all about Barcelona Cooking and their future plans. What came through really quickly was her strong passion for food.
At the market, Chef Candido was friendly, entertaining and enlightening as he took us, an American family, a Quebecois researcher and Italian journalist around. The first stall he stopped at sold exotic fruits and vegetables from Latin America. Here he showed us some chilli and pointed out that it was not the authentic Pimento de Padron. Those came from the region of Padron and would have to be branded for authenticity. These pimentos are eaten fried with a bit of salt and as Chef Candido refers to it, it’s like playing Russian Roulette, you never know when you might get that super spicy one in a hundred!
We then stopped to buy nuts which we’d be using in the Romesco sauce we were to make that day. He then showed us the salted cod. Which he says is a most flexible ingredient, one that can be used to create different recipes for every single day of the year. Salting Cod, he said was the old Roman way of preserving it for long periods of time. If you’re planning to cook this though, you would need to soak it in cold water for about 8- 40 hours first. He then showed us the difference between Anchovies and Boquerones (Anchovies are the dark coloured tiny fish marinated in salt for 7 months, whereas Boquerones are the white coloured ones marinated in salt, vinegar and olive oil for about 4-5 hours) I remember tasting this and finding the marinated ones far to salty to be palatable.
Chef Candido told us the menu for the day, very casually adding, he may add something if he finds an interesting ingredient in the market today. We loved his relaxed vibe, that put everyone at ease in such an unfamiliar environment. It felt like we were walking around with a very well informed friend as he went about doing his grocery shopping. He then steered us towards a small outdoor part of the market full of stalls reserved for fruit and vegetables that were locally produced. Most of the fruits and vegetables on display were seasonal, and even if they were available in the off- season, just wouldn’t have the same flavour and punch. For example, the delicious cherries he showed us were in season now, and he said similar ones could be found in Catalunya in January, which would cost almost a 150 Euros (a price at which they are normally exported). He showed us the best tomatoes around were from Monserrat and then picked up a huge fellow, whose name roughly translates to “ugly tomato”. He also pointed out the tiger cherry tomatoes (named so on account of the green and orange stripes) and the long tomatoes called Pela which is used in salads. We loved how he had a perspective on food, almost as if it had personality and how he could make all of us crack up so effortlessly. The figs looked exactly like what we had back home, so I wondered if they’d taste any different. Upon his insistence, I obliged. And I’m so glad I did. They were so much sweeter than the ones in India. We then bought some strawberries for the gazpacho we were to make.
He then pointed out a few of the meat shops that had pictures of bulls on their boards. He let us in on a little secret: back in the days of bull fighting, these shops would sell fresh bull-meat on mondays and tuesdays (since the bull fights were on sundays) but in today’s time of banned bull fights, bull meat must be ordered a couple of days in advance.
At the the egg stalls, Chef Candido pointed out the freshness of the eggs by telling us another secret: eggs that weren’t sold here after a couple of days then went to the smaller mercats inside the city and were sold for less. El Primer Ou (translating to my first egg) is the first egg delivered by a bird. I couldn’t understand what the difference would be, but apparently Primera poached eggs are quite the delicacy costing 6-7 Euros more than the normal ones. He also pointed out the double yolk eggs (Ous de dos rovells).
He then took us to the heart of La Boqueria, my favourite part – the fish market. He pointed out the monkfish, and told us he’s kept some of the head simmering back in the kitchen for some fish stock. He then showed us the tiny fish sold pressed in plastic, cleaned and kept, they were ready for you to put in salt to turn them into anchovies, or salt, vinegar and olive oil to make them Boquerones/ Seitons. He then pointed out the Octopus, proudly mentioning it is a very traditional dish in Galicae where he comes from. He gave us a rather interesting cooking tip: Freeze the bugger or try banging it down on a hard surface to loosen the muscles to it doesn’t turn out chewy and tough. Interesting. We bought some cuttlefish for the Paella we would be making. From the fish section, we went on to the shellfish section (everything in La Boqueria is pretty organised, isn’t it?) Most of the shellfish comes from Galicia. The most interesting one we discovered however, was Percebe. The strangest looking creature imaginable, it’s quite the delicacy. Since the harvesting of Percebe involves some pretty death defying stunts to get to the underside of cliffs where they grow, it’s pretty expensive. The board said 69 Euros but Candido assured us it can go up to 200 Euros. How does one cook it, we asked? Boil it in sea water, and take out the nails, came the answer. What does it taste like, we asked. The texture is like lobster, but the taste of each one is different we were told. And then we went on to buy Chef Candido’s interesting tidbit for the day – Razor clams. Another very interesting looking creature, it grows vertically in the sand, and all you have to do is introduce a stick and it clamps shut around the stick and you pull it out.
He then took us past some extremely eye opening stalls. Gasp inducing too. Innards. Stomach, testicles, you name the part and it doesn’t go waste. While chef assured us he knew very few people who would ever buy this stuff, we couldn’t help but wonder about those who did.
What introduction to La Boqueria is complete without tasting the ham? So Chef Candido passed around some slices of Serrano and Iberico. The Serrano tasted more familiar as it is indeed closer to proscuitto, however the Iberico was just so rich. Divine. We also discovered a whole lot of cheeses, and turns our one of our favourites is also Spain’s favourite – Manchego.
Armed with new discoveries, healthy appetites and the freshest of ingredients, we headed back along the Ramblas to the kitchen, where we were to experience something very very new.
Continue reading Barcelona Cooking – Part II The cooking class here.
*Disclosure: We would like to thank Emma, Tony and Candido from Barcelona Cooking for making this post possible. The views expressed here are our own.Barcelona Cooking La Rambla, 58, Barcelona, Spain 08002 Tel: +34 931 191 986 email: firstname.lastname@example.org