Since the earliest chapters of Genesis, mankind began cooking its food quite simply: put meat on the fire. In this episode of From Spain With Love, Canadian presenter and gourmand Annie Sibonney, showed us that in Spain they’ve kept it that way by still creating delicious meals over an open flame. I’d be surprised if Iron Chef Bobby Flay didn’t learn a thing or two about grilling in this episode. The journey began with an open air meat-fest at the Priz La Montesa vineyard, with Alvaro Palacios in Alfaro, Rioja. They lunched with the shepherds who care for Alvaro’s own flock. In fact, one of them cooked the meats. At a corral, fire was kindled and fed with purely organic grape vines. The lamb and pork were seasoned with only a little salt. No more was needed and the reason for that was quite interesting. As a result of the dry climate, Señor Alvaro’s sheep feed on whatever greenery they find, like rosemary and thyme. Not unlike black-hoofed hogs that Iberian Ham is made from. They eat acorns so the ham has a gentle nutty flavour. Similarly, the meat on these sheep was flavoured at a cellular level. Wow.
After gorging on Chamarita Lamb Chops (from suckling lambs), Careta de Cerdo Asada(Hog’s Face) and drinking wine from a bota (goatskin); Señor Alvaro and Annie rode through his vineyard on horseback to his stone hut. A slow-cooked dish called Patorillo A La Riojana awaited their arrival. Handsome, romantic and an expert in Spanglish, he was proud that the food and wines were all “zero kilometres” from their location. I don’t know about you but I’ve got to take a trip to Rioja! Before her next meal, we found out what happened, after the sun went down on the Galician beach party in Seafood To Die For. An older gentleman, fully costumed as a wizard, re-enacted a Celtic ritual to make a flaming drink called Queimada. More mixology than magic, this concoction had all the benefits of an all-natural energy drink. It was highly entertaining, as the ‘wizard’ was sporting what looked like a Viking helmet, which complemented his boisterous and mischievous performance.
At Valls, Catalonia we learned that the Spaniards are just as enthusiastic their vegetables cooked by fire, as their quadrupeds. Pedro Pil Moreno de Morrar (sp?) took Annie through the entire process of hosting a Calçotada. These are get-togethers, where roasted calçots are consumed with Salsa Romesco (Romesco Sauce) and wine. Annie put aside her trepidation and successfully harvested calçots in an amusing segment. Pedro’s son, Peter then put her to work as they prepared and grilled them over vine cuttings. With the dirty work done, it was time to enjoy the party. Unlike the outdoor Calçotada Anthony Bourdain attended on his episode of No Reservations, this one was in a hall. Annie donned a bib and got down to business, which was probably more enjoyable since she toiled for this meal.
Atxondo, Basque Country
Her next stop was another of Spain’s must-visit restaurants: Asador Etxebarri in Atxondo, Basque Country. Self-taught grill master, Victor Arguinzoniz has been doing mind blowing things there for years. It’s not the first time that TV cameras have been in his kitchen, and he never ceases to amaze viewers with his skills. Perhaps it’s because Annie conversed with him in his native language, but Chef Victor was in a more relaxed mood than I’ve ever seen him. He even joked as Annie struggled to eat Grilled Palamós Prawns, in a lady-like fashion. After an ice cream, made from milk that was kissed by fire; he prepared one of his signature dishes, Angulas (Baby Eels). This was a very tricky business and a dish that as far as I know, he pioneered. With very precise measurements, he cooked them very quickly; and by Annie’s facial expression as she ate them, they were delicious. The last dish he prepared was warmed Caviar. This was process was more complicated but provided excellent results. I admire that this is one of the few female presenters who doesn’t take little bird bites of the food. She knows what a treat they are and will enjoy them. Cameras, be darned!
The last stop on this fiery expedition is Gijón in Asutrias, at Casa Trabanco, a sidrería (cider house). In Spain, steak and cider is equivalent to America’s beer and wings. Or Trinidad’s rum and roast pork. The manager, Yolanda, showed Annie the massive barrels and they sampled some before it was time for appetizers. Then plates of beautiful Grilled Rib Steak were brought in from the spit outside. The cheery party atmosphere was a great way to end the episode. We got a pretty good idea of how this nation not only enjoys food cooked over a wood burning fire, but celebrates it. This episode’s soundtrack was beautiful as always. The production team thankfully used a mix of traditional Flamenco music and Latin Pop. It just sweetened the viewing experience and harmonised with the rich visuals. The next episode is Granada: Culinary Crossroads.