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A 'Basque't of Catalan delights

When not creating magic on the football field or side-stepping raging bulls in the ring, the Spanish love to eat. Find out why.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay | Print Edition: May 18, 2008

Christopher Columbus set out in search of India but discovered America instead. But for food lovers, he brought back a lot more than just the expensive loot. In his ship were potatoes, chili and avocado, to name a few items. Other Spanish conquerors obliged chefs as well, by introducing them to sugarcane, tomatoes and herbs from their conquests. Small wonder then, Spanish cuisine today is a wonderful mix of herbs, fruits, vegetables, sea food and meat, which trace their roots from the Caribbean to Thailand and from Mexico to Northern Africa.

Lamb in bread crust
Lamb in bread crust
What’s unique

“Unlike most Indian cuisine, Spanish food is not spice-based. We are more ‘ingredient’-based. Of course, we use herbs liberally.

But both Basque and Catalan cuisine is more about keeping the primary taste of the base ingredient intact,” says Josef Thomas Stork, Executive Chef from Las Dunas Beach Hotel and Spa in Spain, recently at The Claridges in India in connection with a food fest.

Herbal history

 Masterclass

Roulade of smoked salmon and goat cheese.

Ingredients

Smoked Salmon: 80 gms
Goat Cheese: 80 gms
Lemon: 1
Chives: 5 strings
Cream: 20 gms
A few leaves of Belgian Endive Salt and Pepper to taste

The method

Put the smoked salmon slice on a plastic/cling film. Mix the goat cheese with lemon, chopped chive, salt, pepper and cream. Put the paste on one side of smoked salmon and roll it into a cylindrical shape. Press firmly to get even-shaped cylinder. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for the roll to become firm. Next, remove from refrigerator, cut in small cylinders of about 1½ inches and decorate with Belgium endive and chive. Serve chilled.

From celery and thyme to saffron and lemon grass—Spanish cuisine has it all.

The lemon grass tastes a bit different in Spain—it has a stronger taste of lemon than the ones available in India. The first lemon grass plants, however, arrived in Spain from the Orient. Saffron—another muchused item in India—is sourced from Morocco.

The coastal divide

Spanish cuisine varies radically as one moves inward from the coast. In the south of Spain, the coastal region is a seafood belt. Almost 85 per cent of the cuisine here is seafood-based and meat constitutes only 15 per cent. But the ratio almost reverses as you move just 100 km inland.

The reason is that people prefer their seafood absolutely fresh and would rather drive down for fresh seafood than try it at a restaurant, which has to transport the fish.

Tortillas
Tortillas
The Spanish ‘Dabba’

Indians are famous for carrying their own ‘dabbas’ while travelling and also for making a beeline for Indian restaurants when visiting foreign shores.

But heck, the Spanish are no different. “It’s common to see a Spanish family refusing food offered on an international flight, opening their own lunch box and taking out tortillas. “Tortillas are our favourite fast food. And many Spanish families carry tortillas with them while travelling to foreign shores,” says Joseph.

Paella
Paella
Total recall

The first item that comes to mind when one talks about Spanish food is probably Paella. Paella is a typical Valencian rice dish. The name means "frying pan" in Valencian (from Latin patella). Paella is usually garnished with vegetables and meat or seafood. The three main ingredients are rice, saffron and olives. It is believed that servants of Moorish kings created the rice dish by mixing leftovers from royal banquets to take home.

 

Chef Joseph
Chef Joseph
The perfect Spanish supper

Chef Joseph recommends…

The first taste: Any good Spanish restaurant will have Coctel de Langosta—a lobster and exotic fruit cocktail with salt crystals, on its menu. We sampled this light and refreshing starter. To put it simply— it was divine.

The soup: Try a Sopa de Chicharo—a soup of spring peas with lemon grass and sautéed scallop. A Spanish classic.

The main course: For the main course, the best bet would be something like a Pechuga de Pollo— chicken breast with pine nuts and foie gras crust on Tahiti vanilla. You can try an Almond Blossom Sorbet as an accompaniment.

The dessert: This is easy. Settle for a mouthwatering chocolate and extra virgin olive oil mousse with rosemary-marinated oranges.

What to drink: With most light appetisers, it would be safe to drink a Sauvignon Blanc and chef recommends a Torres Vina Sol. With the main course, he suggests red wine and plumps for the famous Marques de Riscal Reserva.


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