Spain: 4,964 km of coastline and seafood and fish cornucopia. You’ve probably already envisaged us travelling along the Spanish coast or eating fresh fish in some beach shack. Nothing’s more misleading. Kasia was sent to Madrid for long 6 weeks to work intensively on a project. Let’s listen to her story.
An exile, I thought initially. But then the second though and a question was: what would soothe the pain of being away from home? Obviously: delicious food and the best wine in the country 😉 So I started exploring Madrid over the weekends making sure I kept the right balance i.e. lunch and dinner time were sacred time and the intervals were filled in with El Prado, Arte Regina Sofia, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums and street art.
Going back to business: did you know that Madrileños have the freshest seafood and fish in the whole country? The same fresh seafood can only be found in fishermen home kitchens and bars (if they run one). Yet, nearly all daily catch travels to Madrid’s fish market to be later despatched to different parts of the country. Madrid’s Spanish seafood hub, hence some of the best seafood restaurants can be found in the capital. I did my best not to miss a single opportunity to explore and taste what Spanish coastline has to offer.
Here’s my private short list of the best (so far) seafood and fish along with some restaurants that master in ensuring not a single note in the palate will get lost during cooking:
Goose barnacles (In Spanish: Precebes; in my private dictionary: clawed beasts are tube shaped, up to 3 inches long crustaceans that grow cling to rocks along the northern cost of Spain and Portugal. They are known not only for their unforgettable taste but also for their extravagant look: leather-look-like sleeve with enamelled pearl-coloured head. They are difficult to harvest which makes them quite expensive: good weather, quite sea and low tide allow percebeiros (fishermen who pick them up) to cut away some barnacles from the rocks, constantly keeping an eye on the surf crashing on the rocks.
But once they make it to the kitchen and get cooked – almighty – how they taste! Percebes taste could be compared to the one of oysters, clams or lobster meat but it’s more than that – I find it hard to describe other than the taste of the ocean. And eating them is an experience on its own, especially if one (like me) lacks the right skills: once you pinch off the head to get to delicate delicious flesh, you actually (in most cases) get a brine splash into your eyes or on your shirt. Now I know that next time I need to prepare not only to taste the ocean but also get wet 😉 Naturally they taste best with a glass of floral Galician Albariño wine e.g. Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño or Mar de Frades.
Percebes are something one cannot miss in Spain (or Portugal).
They are undoubtedly a culinary delicacy and the best I had so far where in La Trainera:
http://www.latrainera.es/ This place looks like a fishermen tavern and is always densely packed, mainly with Madrileños and people like me looking for an authentic food experience. Precebes were unforgettable, and I can definitely recommend that place for other seafood and fish dishes as I ate there a few more times and always was pleased with what was been served.
Red Prawns (In Spanish: Carabineros; in the UK known as “Scarlet Shrimp or “Cardinal Prawns”) are well known for their bright red colour and large size. The ones in Spain usually come from warm waters of Mediterranean Sea. They have a more distinct and robust flavour than other shrimps and are best lightly salted and grilled. If you can get hold of them – DIY at home (it’s so simple) while sipping a glass of crisp aromatic white wine from Rueda region e.g. 2010 Bodegas Shaya ‘Habis’ Old Vines Verdejo or 2013 Bodega Belondrade y Lurton Verdejo.
Otherwise, book a weekend in Madrid and indulge yourself: try them in O’Pazo Restaurant http://opazo.es/?lang=en where I had the best carabineros ever! It was pure delight. Simply salted and grilled for a short period to get all the flavours out. They are sweet, tender and mouth-watering. I would never expect for a prawn and prawn juice to taste like that – it was a symphony of taste accompanied by a glass of silky and light white wine from Rioja region. Unfortunately I do not remember the one I had there (maybe I had too much ), but Contino Rioja Blanco is very similar. Also, if you are dining there, don’t hesitate to try wild turbot – it’s another unforgettable food memory from this little restaurant hidden away from main touristic tracks.
Oysters (In Spanish: ostras) were never at the top of my list until I ended up celebrating my birthday in Madrid. A couple of my friends flew over and we decided to treat ourselves to a fine restaurants in the city: Palacio de Cibeles: http://www.adolfo-palaciodecibeles.com/ I wanted to try their cuisine as I did not manage to try Adolfo Muñoz dishes in Toledo (his restaurant was closed when I visited this beautiful city just 30 minutes away from Madrid). I read about his approach to cooking, resourcing products and felt that I had to try it. So we went. We had a great time, ate amazing food (need to think of another post that would describe it and make you hungry), drunk excellent wine and celebrated my birthday. Isn’t it a true spirit of Food, Wine & Friends? But above all I discovered oysters again. We decided to try different ones: Pacific Oysters – mild in flavour, crisp, and not too salty; Atlantic Oysters – robust and briny and, last but not least, “The European Flat Oysters” – which had a distinct mineral flavour but were far less briny and had some sweet notes. Honestly, I got a bit dizzy after having had 4 shells but could not resist having two more. I can definitely say I like oysters that are full in flavour, lightly briny with some sweet notes – so the winners are “The European Flat Oysters”. No need to leave the continent in the search for delicious oysters and actually I do not need to leave the UK. Here’s why: luckily for me, September marks the start of the native oyster season in the UK. I’m about to continue exploring.
The seafood list is not finite my Friends – there are shrimps, shells, prawns and other strange creatures that either not yet discovered by me or simply didn’t make it to this, anyway, way too long post.
Adios Amigos! Need focus on what’s on my table now…