What better way to learn about Catalan wines and cuisine than to experience a cooking class? As part of my tour of Cataluña, I did just that.
Our guide and chef was the talented “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto. A TV celebrity chef and author of five cookbooks, Chef Isma trained in many restaurants cooking classic Catalan cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, and alta expresión (“higher expression”) cuisine.
We met Isma outside Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market, and we walked around the fabulous place, enjoying the sights and the array of wonderful foods, while Isma selected the ingredients for the afternoon’s class.
Isma told us that booth rental is nominal, and it is paid to the city. However, the license is granted for 50 years; thus, like the full liquor licenses in Florida, they are sold from person-to-person for a fortune. No wonder: Isma said some of the stalls gross the equivalent of $2,000,000/year.
Many of the market’s stall owners greeted him as a friend, and fans walked up to him occasionally in the aisles. He is a kind family man with a good sense of humor. He is taking a hiatus from the TV scene, because he grew weary of having to come up with jokes and entertainment rather than simply showing people how to cook.
One booth was a mushroom lover’s paradise. Isma said he felt right at home in New York City at some of the Jewish markets.
He chose razor clams and monkfish (“poor man’s lobster”) to prepare for us along with the other ingredients he already had in his kitchen. The seafood was so fresh, it was (a) pink and (b) still moving (in the case of the shrimp and prawns, anyway).
Here is a video of the still-moving shrimp and prawns at the BarcelonaMarket.
After completing our tour and shopping trip, we boarded an elevator and ascended to the top floor of the market into Isma’s kitchen. We had plenty of wine waiting for us!
We were each given personalized aprons with the Freixenet colors, black and gold. In the photo below, Isma’s “assistant” is Toni Domènech Pujol, head of Public Relations for Freixenet. Isma’s sous chef, Mikho, is behind Isma, working on something delicious.
Our starters included edible “spoons” filled with wild salmon caviar. The second appetizer was a construction of a strawberry, sardine, and a strange cactuslike herb that was naturally sparkly and oddly sweet. This course was served with a delightful Freixenet Cordon Rosado sparkling rosé.
Next, Isma prepared monkfish, with the veins and such removed. We learned that if fish is cooked too fast, the fish goes into shock and contracts, resulting in (a) tough fish, (b) a watery, fishy-smelling discharge around the fish, and (c) less flavor in the fish as well. However, if cooked very slowly, the fish retains its moisture yet releases a gelatin. Isma demonstrated how to use this gelatin to create a self-sauce in the pan. With white “hook” beans, snow peas, razor clams, nutty-tasting Jerusalem artichokes (a nice alternative to potatoes), and self sauce, this lovely dish was served with a refreshing Vionta Albariño (crisp, lemon custard; fragrant with citrus, melon, and flowers). The wine is from the Salnés Valley, the birthplace of Albariño and the coolest of the Rías Baixas growing districts, noted for producing crisp and aromatic wines.
For yet another course, Isma prepared rice, but in a way I’d never seen done before. He pan-tossed it in an olive oil based roux, adding “just a little bit” of water when needed to keep it from burning and to keep the moisture in. Then he transferred the rice to a baking dish with water and sauce and baked it in a convection oven.
In due time we were served our main course: Guinea hen rolled up with fois gras in the middle, velvety beans, and Jerusalem artichokes. Guinea hen. We had a laugh about hen-house vs. whorehouse. It was a language thing; you had to be there.
This was served with a Vaza Rioja Crianza 2010. The vintage was whited-out and corrected with pen, because the wine hadn’t been released yet and the appropriate vintage’s label hadn’t even been printed!
For dessert we enjoyed a heavy, triple chocolate brownie cake paired with a Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, but I loved it with the Vaza Crianza. This is the first pairing I’ve found that works impressively with such a rich chocolate dish.
Originating from the word “Baza” which in Spanish means “trump card” or “new beginning,” Vaza
is produced at the Freixenet group’s Solar Viejo, a winery situated on the shoulder of the medieval village of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. This Tempranillo was absolutely delicious and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 14% ABV.
This is Part Three of posts about my experience of Freixenet wines and vineyards in Cataluña, Spain. Part One was about Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. Part Two was about the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.
Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.