Archive for the 'Spanish' Category

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El Celler De Can Roca – Girona

El Celler de Can Roca Restaurant - Girona

After The Astronomer and I left the sunny shores of Valencia, we hopped a train to Girona, where our only order of business was to dine at El Celler De Can Roca. Even though this was our third three-star Michelin meal in the span of two weeks, I eagerly anticipated it as if it were the first.

Founded in 1986, El Celler de Can Roca gives new meaning to the term “family restaurant.” The place is run by three brothers [Joan Roca heads up the kitchen, Josep Roca is the maitre d’ and head sommelier, and Jordi Roca is the pastry chef], but the food is far from homey, and the space is decidedly modern.

El Celler de Can Roca Restaurant - Girona

In 2007, the restaurant relocated a hundred meters from the original grounds. Here, the chefs work in a state-of-the-art kitchen cum lab, while the sommelier manages a wine cellar that offers customers an audio-visual journey through five key wine regions.

El Celler De Can Roca

In the custom-built space, diners are treated to a gorgeous dining room with an abundance of natural light pouring in. The miniature arboretum in the center offers a tranquil and understated view. As The Astronomer and I settled into our table and perused the menu, we were served complimentary glasses of Cava (Finca Viladellops 08 D.O. Penedes).

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Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera)

Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera)

Not too long after arriving home from Spain, I tried my hand at making Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera). Taste memory is a very powerful asset in the kitchen and I wanted to take full advantage of it while the flavors of Valencia were still fresh in my mind. I also wanted to use the saffron and rice that I picked up at the Mercado Central while they were at their absolute best.

I turned to Saveur magazine, an authority on authentic recipes, to guide me through the homemade paella process. According to the recipe developers, there are six principles to achieving really fabulous paella. The ones I found most important were steeping the saffron at the very beginning and sautéing the seafood in hot oil to build a strong flavor base. “The key is to build flavors from the bottom of the pan up,” the editors emphasized. Paella pans are designed for this purpose, though a wide skillet of the same size will work, too.

The seafood used in this recipe was provided by I Love Blue Sea, a web-based sustainable seafood company in San Francisco. The Gulf shrimp were caught using turtle-free nets, the squid came from the Northern California coast, and the clams were a combination of Littleneck and Manila. The original recipe called for monkfish, but I decided to eliminate it from the recipe after learning that it is overfished and caught using bottom trawling, which decimates the ocean floor. Try as I might to keep abreast on the dos and don’ts of sustainable seafood, I can’t always remember everything I read. I was thankful to have a trusty consultant in I Love Blue Sea to point me in the most eco-friendly direction.

My homemade Fisherman’s Paella turned out as pretty and tasty as I had hoped. The rice was cooked perfectly al dente, while the seafood was sublime. Best of all, I was able to achieve the subtle flavors that made the paella in Valencia so special. I have just enough rice and saffron to prepare the recipe two more times. I will have to space out the occasions carefully to fill the interval until my next visit to Spain.

  • 25 threads saffron, crushed (a heaping 1⁄4 tsp.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs. extra-large head-on shrimp in the shell
  • 1 lb. cuttlefish or small squid, cleaned and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 4 medium tomatoes, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 2 1⁄2 cups short-grain rice, preferably Valencia or bomba
  • 2 lbs. small clams, cleaned

Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera)

Put saffron and 1⁄4 cup hot water in a small bowl; let sit for 15 minutes.

Fisherman’s Paella (Paella a la Marinera)

Heat oil in a 16″–18″ paella pan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, lightly salt, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate and set aside.

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Restaurante L’estimat – Valencia

Restaurante L'estimat - Valencia

Paella is arguably Spain’s most famous dish. Prior to traveling to the Iberian peninsula, I was only familiar with the classic version that’s flavored with saffron and flourished with shellfish (paella a la marinera). Early on in our trip, my notion as to what paella entailed was turned on its head. While at  Taverna El Glop in Barcelona, The Astronomer and I shared one made with rabbit and snails (paella Valenciana). I also read in our travel guide about an intriguingly black version made with squid ink. Upon arriving to Valencia, paella’s original stomping grounds, The Astronomer and I were eager to further familiarize ourselves with this one pan wonder.

Restaurante L'estimat - Valencia

We had read great things about Restaurante L’estimat and ended up eating there twice during our short stay. Located on the Paseo Maritimo, the restaurant is a few steps away from the beach and offers a postcard-worthy view.

Restaurante L'estimat - Valencia

I wouldn’t normally bore one with a historical account of paella, but this romantic painting, which hangs toward the back of the restaurant, has inspired me to do so. Or better yet, I’ll let Saveur do the talking:

The dish exists because of rice, and rice has existed in Valencia and its environs ever since the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago, in a lagoon called the Albufera, where the grain is still grown today. Saffron, that precious and earthy spice, brought to Spain by Arab traders in the tenth century, was the Moors’ preferred seasoning for rice, and it remains a traditional paella ingredient. Local game like rabbit, and foraged foods like snails, as well as various legumes and vegetables, found their way into rice dishes during the Moorish occupation of Spain, but pork (which was prohibited under Muslim dietary laws) and shellfish did not. The dish was prepared in the countryside over an open fire of dried vines and orange-tree branches, usually on Sundays, usually by the men of the family while the women were at church.

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L'Orxateria del Mercat Central – Valencia

Mercado Central de Valencia

I learned all about carnecerias (meat markets), dulcerias (candy stores), and panaderias (bakery) in high school Spanish class, but my teacher never mentioned anything about orxaterias (horchata bars). As a die hard horchata lover, I was thrilled when we encountered a store specializing in the milky beverage just outside  the Mercado Central de Valencia.

Mercado Central de Valencia

After spending the afternoon searching for the perfect paella pan and seeking out good deals on saffron, The Astronomer and I were eager to kick back and relax over chilled glasses of the city’s most famous beverages—orange juice and orxata. [By the way, “orxata” is the Catalan spelling of the word.] We pulled up two stools and ordered a glass of each.

Mercado Central de Valencia

Squeezed to order, the orange juice tasted perfectly balanced without any added sugars. It’s no wonder that these locally grown, thin-skinned, and nearly seedless oranges are so popular for making juice. It was so very refreshing!

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