Monday, October 18, 2010

Spanish Food with José Pizarro

Friday night was utterly brilliant. Spent the evening with José Pizarro learning more about Spanish food and some of the finer points of how to make the most of this lovely produce.

There was an abundance of things to try including many things pig, the best of which is this meltingly fabulous Jamon Ibérico, the world's most highly prized ham. Made only from the Iberian pig - a blackhoofed, dark skinned breed descended from wild boars they forage freely in the grasses and the acorns in the dehesas of south west Spain. It's the acorns that are the secret!

I tossed that tortilla! I was really pleased this was on the menu - I love this rich egg and potato concoction but have never made one as good as the ones I've eaten at Brindisa. And I have certainly never successfully tipped a half cooked one out of the pan and flipped it over before returning it to the pan to finish cooking, certainly not without a lot of mess and a raggy finish. Instructed by the master I feel quite confident I can do it again next time I make one at home.

Held at La Cucina Caldesi we were joined by both Katie and her husband Giancarlo who were happy to be mucking in and learning a little too about the finer points of Spanish food and the difference to their own beloved Italian. Once the hot stock was added to the paella we were told to leave it absolutely untouched for 10 minutes to make a crust on the bottom as the rice absorbs the liquid - total antithesis to the constant stirring of risotto.

Steak cooked with piquillo peppers - I was interested to learn that the roughly chopped garlic goes in at the end to be an ingredient in its own right rather than flavouring the whole.

The dish I had most to do with was chorizo cooked in cider. Cider because it comes from a region of Spain with lots of apples, though it is apparently permissable to use any kind of alcohol, even beer or vodka at a stretch. You must rend a lot of the lovely spicy fat from the sausage at the very beginning and tip it away - or into a bowl for dipping crusty bread - before adding cider and stock and a sprig of fresh thyme and simmering for another ten minutes or so. Simple cooking showcasing great ingredients, one of the guiding principles of the whole evening.

I have never eaten a paella I enjoyed more than this one. It tasted as beautiful as it looks, truly extraordinary. And one I'm planning to make at home.

So a big thank you to José - warm and charming throughout it quickly became apparent that what he is first and foremost is a very serious chef. Every question was answered, every dish explained, every mouthful was gorgeous. I cooked a lot, I ate a lot, I learned a lot.I could not have asked for a better Friday.

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