Saturday, February 13, 2010
CALÇOTADA - AN UNDISCOVERED CULINARY TREASURE
The Calçotada has held mythical status for me since reading Paul Richardsons' book 'A Late Dinner'. It only exists in Cataluña and is a curious ritual-like feast featuring the most primeval of forces, fire, and the simplest of ingredients, the onion. Of course it holds great sway with me as it embodies the essence of what I call subsistence-alchemy. I have experienced it now first hand and have to say it is something that should be on EVERY gastronome's must-do list. I officially declare the Calçotada one of the gastronomic wonders of the world!
The story goes that from January to March, onion farmers used to dig their fields and would find that the onions missed in the autumn harvest had sprouted, The particular varitey used produced a sprout very simmilar in appearance to a leek. The subsistence survival instincts kicked in and the workers would build a wood fire and roast the onions over the flames. This rustic workers onion barbecue became a local tradition known as the Calçotada.
It is still rustic. Very rustic. Often a stand-up affair it must be done outside with a pine or vine wood fire. It has a party atmosphere derived from the need for all hands on deck; fire building and tending, onion trimming, vegetable peeling etc.
The onions are cooked over a fierce fire to a scarily blackened state. They are then wrapped in newspaper to allow them to steam and relax. The blackened onions are held in the hand and the charred outer leaves are stripped with the fingers to access the simple but exquisite sweet caramelized onion flesh beneath. This is then dipped in the classic romesco sauce of pounded nuts, dried peppers, fried bread, garlic and tomato and conveyed to the mouth by hand. No cutlery allowed! The taaste is exquisite. Smoky, sweet, earthy, and rich. This is real country cooking and a great way to spend a Sunday.
In order not to waste the fire, and to give the meal extra dimension, sausages and meat are also grilled as well as peppers, artickokes and anything else you might care to add to your feast. Click on the videos below to see it in action.
getting a rack on onions on
taking some off and turning the rack
Wrapping them in paper so they steam and stay warm too.
how to eat a calçot