Surf, turf, fin, skin, feet and bleat: Catalan food and Arròs
Only a victim of a cruel medical experiment would be stupid enough to try to summerise a nations cooking and eating habits in a few paragraphs and only one who then needs a meat cleaver smashed into his skull would attempt to do it on Catalan cooking. But to get where I need to go quickly Im going to have to tread on some sensitive toes.
Surely Spanish regional cooking?
So, whats a typical Catalan dish?
Doesnt paella sort of sum it up then?
If there is not one standard dish, there is a reasonably typical meal that follows
the Mediterranean tradition, harking back to more impoverished times where the eater
filled up on the first (salad of some sort) and second course (pasta, rice or potatoes)
and therefore didn't pig out on the tasty, more expensive third course. Its a
cultural difference. For example, in Catalunya a second course could be potatoes and green
runner beans covered in olive oil (a lot nicer than it sounds); the third, two slices of
pork and a roasted green pepper. I do prefer the English combined plate and
having a selection of ingredients in front of you as it gives the eater the chance to
create lots of different tastes - especially that last mouthful. Here when one is served
duck with figs one gets duck and figs, plus, possibly, a token garnish, often a sad sprig
of parsley. This means the first mouthful will taste like the last . No matter how
wonderful it is, it still gets a little boring. Trends are changing and if youre
lucky there may be a second item - a potato or a green vegetable - but dont expect
it. Even now if you serve the average Catalan a mixed plate, it is amusing to
watch them eat each part separately and miss out on that last mega-tasty bite.
Some of the points raised above are the reason why I chose arròs negre as a
fine example of Catalan food at its best while at the same time showing one of its
weaknesses. Catalan food is not strong on presentation - a sort of muddy brown is a fairly
common colour and worse can happen to arròs negre if there is not enough ink....a
dull grey is not sexy. Its a weakness that is easy to defend as the food is
meant to be eaten and not looked at but in the many expensive restaurants
pretty food, a.k.a. nouveau cuisine, is still hot news here, years after the
rest of the world saw it as a huge con that left you starving. If its fiddly, pretty
and can be eaten in ten or less mouthfuls it's not what Id call Catalan. It is worth
pointing out that it is actually very difficult but not impossible - to find
genuine down-to-earth Catalan cooking inside Barcelona. One would expect arròs negre to
also be a fine example of a dish that tastes the same from the first mouthful to the last
- and I have to admit there is no mega-last mouthful - but I rush to its support and
say that it is in no way boring considering how little actually goes into it.
The recipe is for two hungry people, but you can easily expand it. Youll need a large frying pan and a cooking ring, or heat diffuser, to distribute the heat evenly. This is not a paella but if you have one its ideal.
1 medium sized cuttlefish (or 2 or three squid). The fresher the better but frozen is
First clean the cuttlefish and cut into small pieces, saving the ink sacs. For a
pictorial guide on how to do this click here.
If you bought the cuttlefish ready-cleaned or frozen you will need to buy the ink in
little plastic sacs from an Asian or Hispanic market. The cuttlefish I used for the photos
had a very small ink sac so I had to add farmed ink. This is quite rare as the
natural sacs usually contain enough ink. Heat the oil and sauté the chopped onion for a
minute or two then add the peppers. Cook for a few minutes, though the longer the better.
Then add the cuttlefish and cook for a few minutes more before adding the tomatoes. Leave
this to gently cook until the tomatoes are mushy about five or more minutes. Then
add the rice, stirring it around to get as much oil, etc to cover it. A word on the rice:
genuine Spanish or Italian short-grain rice is water hungry and can absorb up to
four times its amount of the stuff. Most rice comes with its own instructions but just add
a bit more water anyway you will be cooking it uncovered so you lose more water
than usual. Dont use Basmati or expensive long-grain. Slowly add the stock/water
until the rice is well covered (you may need to add more), bring to boil then to a simmer.
In a small bowl crush the ink sacs in the sherry then stir into the rice, add the minced
parsley, salt and cayenne, and simmer on low heat, uncovered, until the rice is just about cooked (approx. 10 mins), adding stock or water as
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|navigation: barcelona review #18 may - june 2000|
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Adam Blackwell - The Louis Agency
Deirdre Maultsaid - Puppy Dogs' Tails
Javier Calvo - Ned Flanders
|Poetry||Dolors Miquel - Two Poems|
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Answers to Jorge Luis Borges Quiz
|Regular Features||Book Reviews