Traveling for over two months, we’ve been doing a lot of eating. Spain is home to the tapa and you haven’t experienced Spain unless you’ve done the tapa bar shuffle. In Portugal, we enjoyed some of the freshest, tastiest seafood ever. And in Prague, goulash is King.
As a couple who enjoys being in the kitchen, we’ve missed the opportunities to cook for ourselves. So where better to refresh ourselves in the kitchen by taking a cooking class than in Barcelona, Spain.
We met the chef at the Travel Bar, had a drink, and headed off to the Boqueria Market just off La Rambla for some fresh seafood and a lecture on Spain’s exquisite spice, saffron.
The class consisted of 13 people now considered the temporary sous chefs. A couple from Belgium, a couple from Australia, cinco Spaniards, the rest Americans. Fernando, the chef, was Argentinian. So this was quite an international experience.
As the Spanish flagship drink, sangria, flowed freely, we all prepared a traditional Catalan tapa. Take a slice of bread rubbed with a tomato, olive oil, add a hunk of manchego cheese. Next, roll a cut of Serrano ham, and top with a pimiento padron. All of this skewered on a tall toothpick.
The headliner of this event was putting together Spain’s national dish, paella. This starts with prepping the twenty pounds of fresh seafood we picked up at the market: mussels, clams, prawns, and squids. Hali took her knife to task by chopping the peppers and onions. I cleaned, gutted, and shelled the seafood.
Now comes the seasoning. Most of the world’s saffron is grown in Spain so here it’s a fraction of the cost than in the states or anywhere else. We used 1 gram of the saffron flower, about $6 worth.Despite the importance of saffron being a key ingredient, the rice you use is what sets Spanish paella apart from any other paella. Spaniards use Bomba rice in their paella . This short-grain rice grown near the village of Calasparra is known for its ability to absorb the fish stock — one and a half times as much stock as regular rice varieties without turning mushy.
While we sip our sangria and share stories with fellow sou chefs, the paella simmers and steams. . .
Along with the many tapa bars lining the streets of Barcelona, paella is served on every street corner and around each plaza. As our chef mentioned, most of these places cater to the tourist who want to fill their bellies and take selfies with their skimpy on seafood, microwaved, or day-old paella. In other words, not authentic or traditional dishes.
Off the beaten paella path of La Rambla , you can find many top-notch cooking classes all around the city offering first-hand, hands-on paella. We thoroughly enjoyed “getting our hands dirty” and reacquainted in the kitchen with Fernando.
Booked this occasion for the two of us just a couple days in advance and just happens to be on our next-to-last night in Spain. What a way to end our trip. Great company, plenty of sangria, the best paella, and an opportunity to cook in a professional kitchen. Indeed, a splendid table. Fabulous! Or in Catalan, ¡Olé!
A true Spanish experience. One not likely to forget any time soon.
Buon Appetito! Or in Catalan, ¡Bon Profit!