Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean by Daniel Olivella and Caroline Wright
by Nick Harman - Monday November 5, 2018 3:11 pm
One of the best destinations for eating in Spain, Catalonia is the food focus for this book by an American chef
Daniel Olivella grew up in Catalonia in the 1970s, a time when Spain was still largely closed off to the outside world and most people’s experience of Spain was of the Costas and the culinary delights of paella and chips.
Escaping from Franco, Olivella went to Chicago first and then in the 1980s to San Francisco just when the food scene there was taking off thanks to chefs such as Alice Waters. He then ran several restaurants in California and is now located in Austin, Texas.
The book is naturally a homage to Catalonia (sic), a place he returns each year for family holidays and for the seafood and rich farmlands.
Aimed perhaps at more of a US audience than a British one, the book first goes into some historical detail about the region, its history and cuisine before getting to the carefully curated recipes.
These are prefaced with pages on make-ahead recipes, always useful in the kitchen, such as paella salt, picada (pounded garlic and parsley), and various oils and sauces.
Patates Bravas feature in the Pica Pica, ‘little bites’ (thank goodness he doesn’t call them ‘small plates’) as you’d expect, as do salt cod fritters and luscious jamon croquettes, pickled anchovies and prawns in garlic oil.
Interestingly, he sings the praises of tinned fish. Canning fish is big in Catalonia, the best fish and shellfish are used and tins of the best tinned cockles can be so expensive you’ll find them behind the shopkeeper safe from any sneak thieves. Obviously, you need to seek this good stuff out, but it can be found online and in specialist stores.
All the recipes are in American, which means pounds and ounces (most digital scales still offer both measurements) as well as the mysterious ‘cup’. The cup system is actually fine when it’s a question of ratio, i.e. one cup rice to two cups water (as long as you use the same cup), but becomes tricky otherwise. Invest in a set of cup measures and you’ll be fine.
There’s a large a varied paella section, along with rice dishes called ‘arrossos’, a great variety of rice is grown in Catalonia in the Ebre Delta (check out our visit there) and there is a fair bit of game too, the inland mountains being full of it.His new country gets a look in with dishes such as Amanida de Tomàquet amb Formatge de Cabra (Texas Peach and Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese), and he mixes cuisines a bit with dishes such as Tiradito amb Escalivada (Spanish Sashimi with Roasted Vegetable Purees).
And there are classic favourites like Paella Barcelonata (Seafood Paella) and Llom de Porc Canari (Slow-roasted Pork Loin and Chicken with Shrimp (or prawn as we would call it).
Over 80 recipes are here, and while not all of us are up to taking a fresh rabbit to bits, full instructions are given, we can all manage to use this book to bring a little of the Catalan spirit into our homes.