In Barcelona, they eat dinner late. That’s what all the guide books advised. Fearing that we wouldn’t be able to eat when our stomachs expected food, we shifted our lunch to later in the day during our exploration of Barcelona-by-foot last December.
One of my supreme joys when traveling is experiencing new food and flavors, the museums and cultural attractions are an added bonus. That joy is a stark contrast to my frugality and indecisiveness. Unlike some travelers, I don’t travel for the food, willing to spend whatever it costs to have the finest meal in each city. Instead, I wander the streets looking for restaurants that have the perfect balance of star ratings and dollar signs.
The Barcelona nightlife in December may not have been the zenith of the summer club scene, but the streets were still full of people enjoying food, drink and temperate weather. We stuck out as tourists largely for our sporting short sleeve shirts while locals donned winter coats and scarves to brave the frigid evening winter temps in the low 60s.
Early this summer I received a bottle of Beronia wine from the Rioja region. The Rioja region is a major wine producing region in Spain and worth exploring. The bottle sat on my shelf as I debated what to pair it with. After a few weekends of uninspired dinner creations, it was time to revisit the tastes of Barcelona and uncork the Crianza. That varietal was not one I knew.
This Crianza is composed of: 88% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 2% Mazuelo
The 2012 vintage stood out due to the higher than normal temperatures experienced and the lack of rainfall during the winter, leading to lower yield. Following a warm and dry summer the vintage began 10 days earlier than normal causing imbalance in maturity. As a result the collection of grapes was very selective. In spite of this the 2012 vintage was classified as Very Good by the Rioja Regulatory Council.
Our main food group during our visit was anything on a toothpick. In Barcelona, these are known as pinchos. Unlike American tapas, the authentic offerings are fairly priced (€1 a toothpick) and allow you to take a gastronomic gallop through flavors without emptying your Velcro money belt. There are a parade of plates, similar to a buffet, and you grab the ones of interest. There’s no menu. No placard describing what is skewered. This forces you to either ask a waiter or take a chance. You can’t really go wrong for a euro. One night we took the recommendation of our hotel and ditched the toothpicks for a sit down restaurant with white tablecloths. It was there that we feasted on paella.
Those dining experiences were our inspiration for our trial run of recreating the tastes of Barcelona to pair with Beronia’s Crianza.
There are a few things I had to accept while preparing to make these dishes.
- There is nothing like la bocaria in Barcelona.
- The ingredients will not be as good as the local ones.
- This was my first attempt at both of these dishes.
We opted to make croquettas and paella from scratch. We loaded up on Spanish olives, Spanish meats and arborio rice. Leann found recipes on pintrest and we were off to the culinary border.
Croquettas aren’t hard, but they are time consuming. You heat a medium sauce pan, make a roux (butter and flour), add milk, add shredded manchego cheese. If you followed my attempts at the mother sauces, it’s the same technique for a bechamel, but you add manchego cheese. After you whisk all the ingredients together, you spread it on a plate and chill it for at least an hour.
Once cold, you form little logs of the cheese mixture. Bread them in flour, fork-beaten egg and then bread crumbs. We used regular breadcrumbs, but discovered panko would be the better bet for a crisper exterior. Heat some vegetable or canola oil in a medium sauce pan. Carefully fry up your little cheese sticks. We added some iberico ham to our croquettas. I’d recommend a stronger flavored meat like chorizo or use larger pieces. The manchego cheese is a strong one and it will over power subtle meats.
It turns out paella is similar to making risotto but much less of a pain. I used my cast iron skillet in lieu of a paella pan. I started by searing, then removing chicken thighs. Then add onion, peppers, mushrooms and garlic. Next, I added the arborio rice to soak up the rendered fat from the chicken. Once the rice glistened, I added some of that fine wine from Beronia. I then added 3 cups of chicken stock. Nestle the chicken back into the Spanish dance party. Stir it occasionally. The rice will eventually absorb all of the fluids. This is the huge upside of paella. Unlike risotto, you don’t need to babysit this for an hour. It still takes an hour for the rice to cook, but you don’t have to stand over the stove like a line cook. We added frozen peas at the very end.
And the results? Both were delicious first attempts. The crispy, salty croquettas paired wonderfully with the fruity, cherry notes of the Crianza. The wine also paired extremely well with the earthy, mushroom and chicken paella. I would modify the croquettas to include a stronger meat like chorizo and coarser bread crumbs. The paella was missing some flavors. I’ll have to do more research to learn about traditional spices. I read smoked paprika was a major spice, so I shall seek that out on my next grocery adventure.
What are some of your favorite food discoveries while traveling?