Due to several recommendations from friends, we (spouse and I) decided to take a half-day cooking class while in Barcelona. Now I will in turn rave about it to any future visitors! Even if you do not normally enjoy cooking, as long as you enjoy eating, you will have a fabulous time. The classes are 65 euro per person - you get to learn to cook (and eat) four courses, drink what appeared to be an unlimited amount of Spanish wine, and hopefully meet some fun new people. If you choose to do so, you can also tack on a trip to La Boqueria before the class actually begins for another 13 euro per person. I highly recommend that if you aren't planning to make a separate trip to Spain's famous food market. We didn't actually buy ingredients for the class at La Boqueria (the kitchen back at the classroom was already stocked) but we learned a lot from the instructor and we convinced him to pick up a few extra items for us to snack on while we cooked.
Our class fell on a Tuesday morning and since La Boqueria had been closed for a local holiday on Monday (it is always closed on Sundays), we learned that there would not be as many fish vendors present. Therefore, as a general rule in Spain, our instructor, Ignacio, cautioned us against ordering seafood at restaurants on Mondays and days after holidays. Tourists frequent La Boqueria (there's even a Dunkin Donuts right on the edge) and it's difficult to distinguish what are the "good" vendors versus what are tourist traps so it was great to have Ignacio there to lead the way. He took us to his favorite jamon purveyor (and we promptly bought some) and clam vendor (we requested to try some razor clams when we got back to the kitchen and he was amiable enough to comply).
Our group definitely spent more than the allotted hour at La Boqueria but it is very easy to get distracted while there. When I got hungry staring at all the food, I bought a fresh fruit cup - mixed strawberries, pineapples, and some melons for only one euro. What a bargain! It seriously was, especially considering that during our entire time in Spain, I could not get over how a foie gras dish was about 6 euro but then a tomato salad would be almost twice the price. There was also quite a selection of chocolates and marzipan in all shapes and sizes so of course I couldn't resist picking up some for later.
Back to the class! We were in a class with eight other tourists - a family of four Australians, a couple from North Carolina, and two sisters from Canada. We merrily drank wine and chatted as we prepared our various dishes. There was not a lot of structure to the class, which I actually enjoyed. The last thing I want to do on vacation is sit and listen to someone lecture to me on the minute details of Spanish cuisine. The experience was very hands-on though. Ignacio would explain a few basics (how best to slice the onions, using the mortar and pestle for the nuts, and why he chose the particular tomatoes he did), he would demonstrate and ask for volunteers to participate in that particular task. There were plenty of opportunities to ask questions, try techniques out, and of course, taste. When we weren't drinking wine or helping prep (perhaps a dangerous combination but in Spain, there are no pesky liability issues at play), Ignacio made a few side dishes from our La Boqueria purchases that helped keep us from getting too hungry. These included razor clams (a popular dish in this part of Spain) sautéed in garlic, olive oil and parsley, pan con tomate (bread with tomato - so simple yet the dish I miss most after leaving Spain) with slices of jamon, and a little amuse bouche of cod and tomato.
Below are some of the highlights of each dish we prepared:
Chupito de sopa de tomate al aroma de Idiazabal
Tomato soup shot flavoured with Idaizabal cheese
Ignacio would probably cringe at my description but this is basically gazpacho. I am not sure that I would ever make this at home, given that it was a lot of work for two gulps of soup. Grinding the garlic, parsley, hazelnuts, and walnuts to make the topping was great for an arm workout though.
Milhojas de escalivada y brandad de bacalao
millefeuille of roasted vegetables and cod brandada
Bacalao (cod) was everywhere in Spain and I confess I grew tired of it by the time we arrived in Barcelona. I am also not sure how easy it is to find salted cod, the primary ingredient, in the states. Some of La Boqueria vendors specialized in salted cod, which is cod that is dried and preserved in salt. But when you buy salted cod, you can't just use it right away - you have to rehydrate it, which can take days of soaking the cod in water and replacing the water every several hours. Luckily, the vendors also often sell pre-rehydrated cod.
Paella Valencian Style
You may ask, isn't all paella Valencian style? It basically is since paella originated from Valencia. However, the traditional form is supposed to contain meat as opposed to seafood. Make sure to include rabbit if you can get it! Probably accounting for the squeamish Western tourist sensibilities, we did not use rabbit in class, just chicken.}?>
This was essentially a combination of flan and crème brulee. Again, Ignacio would beg to differ but when you make it and taste it, that's what it was!
Cook & Taste - Barcelona, Spain (http://www.cookandtaste.net/)
Carrer del Paradís, 3 - 08003 Barcelona
Tel: (+34) 93 302 13 20
Half day cooking classes at 11 AM and 5 PM daily}?>
Cook & Taste (Barcelona, Spain)
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