A friend recently labelled me an ‘El Bulli groupie’. I’ve already spoken on here about why I find that restaurant and food so interesting so won’t go over old ground again, but maybe it’s an appropriate label given my behaviour at their demonstration at the ‘Mercat del mercats’. I fought off the urge to go to the bathroom and hunger to secure myself the best seat in the auditorium. This was the last presentation of the weekend and I sat through several others I wasn’t so interested in so I could strategically get nearer the front and in the best photo taking position. Like the people in supermarkets who constantly weigh up the shortest queue I moved and prowled until I was happily on the front row and facing one of the big screens. The pull of this presentation packed out the whole room for the first time all weekend with all seats full and rows of people standing. I was glad of my selfish, strategic planning.
It took an army of five people to set up the kitchen before they began yet chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas produced six seafood dishes and an aperitif that really lived up to the title of this demonstration.
They began with their aperitif, gazpacho ‘martini’. Frozen gazpacho was placed in a sieve lined with a cloth, the defrosted liquid collected underneath and was served in a martini glass with a drip of olive oil and cherry tomato ‘olives’.
Berberechos or ‘heart clams’ in English were the first to be demonstrated. It was explained that they should be in perfect condition and tightly closed if they are to be used. They were placed in a large utensil similar to a slotted spoon and lowered into a pan of very salty water, I may have misheard but could’ve sworn he said 30% salt for about half a minute, so they had just opened. He stressed the importance of the water being well boiling as the less time the clams spent in the water the better. These were served with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika. Using the same method another plate was done but this time finished with passionfruit. The seeds and fruit were mixed together briefly in their skin before placing on each piece of flesh, the citrus element replacing the usual lemon seafood condiment.
Another type of clam, cloïsses in Catalan, were also poached using the same method but this time forced open with a knife and served barely cooked. The flavour of the sea must woosh round your mouth but they also suggested these could be finished with a splash of olive oil or a sprinkle of those fresh onions ceba tendre.
Galician oysters came next, one served cold, the other hot. Again they gave advise on the freshness, that there should be an intense aroma of the sea when you smell each uncooked oyster.
The cold oyster was to be accompanied by the lemony foam which they made first. A mixture of lemon juice and 50g of water was mixed with one of the Adria’s texturas, unfortunately I couldn’t make out which, and blended slowly to create the foam. This had to be left for at least a minute to settle.The foam was then placed on the cold oyster still in it’s shell.
The oyster to be served hot was removed from it’s shell and cooked gently in a pan with a little water from the oyster shell and some cava. It was then slipped gently back into it’s original home, y esta.
Oriol Castro was a fast speaker and difficult to keep up with. He produced the final three plates, the first of which was mussels al vapor. These mussels were steamed in a woven basket which he suggested getting from one of Barcelona’s unbelieveable number of ‘chinese’ stores which are piled floor to ceiling with everything you could possibly think of. He placed seaweed in the bottom of the steamer and sat the cleaned mussels on top along with quarters of lemon. The steamer was then placed on the top of a pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes until the shells had opened. The mussels were to be served like this with a squeeze of the lemon they’d been steamed with.
Next he peeled langoustines, starting in the middle of the animal and peeling away from himself and gently removing the black line of intenstines that runs through them. He then plunged the head and upper part of the langoustine in very salty boiling water for 45 seconds, swiftly removed the spine and sprinkled sea salt on the uncooked “sashimi” section. The idea is you eat the raw section and follow it with the poached half.
And finally, prawns from Palamos further north on the Costa Brava. Again the freshness was emphasised here, that only prawns caught the same or previous day should be used. The lower ‘leg’ parts were removed along with the heads and a cocktail stick placed under the tripa black line pulled it out in one piece. The heads were then floured and fried in a little oil for about 30 seconds where they were then forced through a mini sieve to squeeze out all the head juice “which contains all the potency of the prawn”. The body of the prawn had a skewer placed through the upper part, the skewer laying across the edges of the pan as this section was briefly submerged in hotish oil but not too hot to burn it. The lower part of the prawn out of the oil cooked due to the heat being emitted from the pan. The finished prawn was then served with a sprinkling of salt and a little spoon of the ‘head juice’ on the side.
This really was simple stuff but methods many of us would probably never think of doing at home and I think all these techniques were to show how you can bring out the pure, fresh taste of the ingredients and also make them look fantastic. I wish I could’ve captured the waft of prawns and ocean floating round the room at the end as I put my photographic shyness to one side for once and jostled with the crowds to snap the dishes.