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.
video
getting a rack on onions on
video
taking some off and turning the rack
video
Wrapping them in paper so they steam and stay warm too.
video
how to eat a calçot

7 comments:

  1. just found your blog! me and my husband are mildly obsessed with spain so i will be returning.

    this calçot ritual is on my 'bucket list' (things to do before i die). i dream about eating these sometimes.

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  2. WANF thx for the comment. I do not exaggerate. I love experiences that are more than the sum of their parts and this was that for sure. I hope you make it one day. I'm thinking of starting some food based trips next year and this would be one of them!

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  3. The photo of the finished plate with the sausage on looks soooo soooo sooo good!

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  4. Nice pics! It's unusual to meet another Englishman who likes Tarragona so well!

    I'll be checking your blog regularly from now on.
    Tom

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  5. Hi Ant, like the blog, calçotada pics are great! Glad you like Tarragona. I've been here since 86; the place really gets under your skin in a very relaxed low key way! Only drawback is the refinery so close I guess. Have you got into the 'esmorzars de forquilla' yet, the heavy duty breakfasts like salt cod with white beans? There's a whole gastronomic route to be discovered on saturday mornings. Salutacions, Jeff Greensmith

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  6. That looks so compelling, especially as we enter grill season over here. I have a bunch of mangy onions in the garden that made it through the winter- I'll give this a try and report back.

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