Catacurian – Day 1 (part 3): Cooking garlic mussels, Doo-Bop, and dining with Jesus

August 29, 2010

Post-siesta, and more-than-a teeny-bit-jet-lagged, all of us awoke with a pretty heavy head. Nevertheless, we soldiered downstairs and found this scene. Alicia was ready for us!

Ready to cook!

Each station had a cutting board, two knives, an apron, a dishtowel, and a cold glass of iced water. That iced water was especially nice, since temps that first day hit 100 degrees and we all felt a little wilted.

We also met Doo-Bop, Alicia’s faithful German Shepherd – so cute!

Today, we would learn some basics of Catalan cuisine and prepare “suquet de peix” which means “fish stew” in Catalan.

First, “la picada.” This is a paste, made with a mortar and pestle, that is used traditionally as a thickening agent and to give additional flavor to a dish. The combinations of ingredients to make picada appear to be infinite – for our purposes today, we would be making picada using reconstituted Nyora pepper, almonds, hazelnuts, and Maria cookies (kind of like animal crackers, a sweet, dry cookie without much flavor). Pretty much the process is to pound all those ingredients together using a mortar and pestle, and then add it to a sauce or soup to thicken.

Next, the second base of Catalán cuisine: sofregit. This is “sofrito” in Spanish, and for this recipe also there are innumerable variations to the ingredients you can use. The sofregit is a great “low and slow” dish, used as a flavor base for stews, soups, sauces, and more. Today’s sofregit would be made with grated tomato, garlic, and parsley. And about 6 cups of olive oil. We have been WAY impressed at the generosity of use of olive oil here – just for this first dinner alone, we must have used what would have been $20 worth of mediocre olive oil in the States.

So sofregit – heat olive oil, add garlic, cook for 30 seconds or so, being careful not to burn, and then add tomatoes. Cooked long enough and slowly enough, these tomatoes will lose most of their water and begin to caramelize. Next, the parsley goes in and cooks another 15 minutes at least.

Sofregit

To this sofregit, we added cognac – woo! Once it cooks down and everything is nicely browned, we add “broken” potatoes – which are peeled potatoes that we cut into chunks, but break off before the knife passes all the way through the potato. Alicia tells us this breaks the fibers more efficiently, and produces a starchier final product.

All these goodies will go into the suquet de peix:

Clams and shrimp

We’ll also add fish and mussels. Suquet de peix is a hearty dish, eaten traditionally by fisherman to fortify them during a long, cold day on the ocean. If I remember the story correctly, Alicia told us that traditionally, fishermen didn’t necessarily swim well, in spite of the fact that they live most of their lives on the water fishing. Many even drown. As a result, they prefer water “up to their ankles” when wading around, swimming, bathing, or otherwise. We are to use the same principle for this stew when adding stock–only adding enough stock to cover the “ankles” of the ingredients, that is, not very much stock.

We prepared a tapa of dry-roasted padrón peppers which were OMG-yum. Also super-easy, and relatively healthy! Drop the peppers into a dry, hot skillet on high heat, stir around occasionally to char the skins. After 10 minutes or so, toss with olive oil and finish with a nice salt. And that’s it!

After we’d snacked on these babies for a while, it was time to prepare the mussels. I have had mussels with garlic, in a few different conceptions. Today, we’d be having mussels…

Mussels

Sauteed in garlic…

mussels and garlic

With a whole bunch of rosemary–who would have imagined?

mussels with garlic and rosemary

What’s more, we were treated to a special guest: Jesus from Fluminis, a local winemaker. Jesus joined us and regaled us with tales of everything, from his political roles, to his Ph.D. to his travels to his opinions about whether married people should have children, he kept us talking (and drinking!) until nearly midnight. Here he is:

Shawn and Jesus from Fluminis Wines

We prepared dessert for later – Wild Berries with Muscatel Wine. Basically, cover fresh berries with enough muscatel wine to cover them, leave sit, and garnish with mint. What juice is left from the fruit is amazingly delicious.

Next, we settled in to eat…

The night was lovely – we ate everything, and in spite of the hour and the quantity of food, we all felt pretty good about things. The mussels were the surprise favorite for me. Usually, I get something grainy or sandy in my mussels, and it grosses me out each time. In Catacurian, this was not a problem!

Tomorrow, we’re off to another winery, and more adventures…

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