When I heard that Rachel of Catalan Cooking was organising a calçotada, I didn’t hesitate to book two spaces; good thing I was prompt too as it sold out quite quickly to both curious Londoners and homesick Catalans alike. You may remember that I attended one of her supper clubs and I knew she’d feed us well!
Calçots look like overgrown green onions and their name most likely comes from the shoes/tights or trousers of the same name in Catalan. When grown, soil is brought up high over the base of the onions, maximising the length of the tender white part and are harvested early in the year. In Catalan, anything ending in -ada is like the English -o-rama, i.e. a great lot of something to be celebrated, and it usually involves food. A calçotada involves calçots, of course, and is quite common in Catalunya but I’d never been to one, not ever travelling there from January to March. This was to be my first one. I’d had calçots grilled and deep fried before but I’d never had them en masse and I was looking forward to it.
Soon the day came and after work last Wednesday, I met Blai at The Drapers Arms in Islington, the location for our feast. I reckon there were about 40 guests to feed; that was going to be a lot of calçots! The menu read very simply: calçots, grilled meats, crema catalana, orange. Rachel, of course, had managed to source a few extras and we started with glasses of Codorníu cava and canapes of duck confit and foie gras, both on bread and both extremely rich.
At our table (four large communal tables altogether) too were bowls of dry black empeltre olives and my favourite little green arbequinas and these briny treats helped to cut the lingering fat on our tongues. And before long, large platters of cured meats and picos were brought along. My favourite was the jamón/pernil iberico de bellota (from acorn fed pigs) with the chorizo possibly coming second. I found the lomo/llom a bit boring, as I usually do, and the salsichon was just a bit too fresh and greasy.
After we demolished our platters, we were called down to the garden to see the calçots being grilled.
It was a shame we couldn’t eat out in the garden but that would have required our jackets as the sun went down. Still, it was lovely to smell them grilling on charcoal (oh, how I dream for a bit of outdoor space!).
When they were ready, they were brought to our tables on platters; almost everything was served family-style at this dinner. With our Catalan Cooking bibs on (yes, you will need a bib!), we singed our fingers peeling off the blackened skins to reveal tender, cooked innards.
After a good dunk into romesco sauce, the calçots were brought to our mouths. The traditional way of eating them is to lower them down vertically into your upturned gaping mouth (see here for an example). Rachel’s romesco (one of the classic Catalan sauces containing nuts, garlic, peppers and oil) was excellent and we found ourselves dipping bread into it too while waiting for more calçots. One could argue that the correct sauce for calçots is a salsa de calçots but from what I understand, the two sauces are very similar.
After about three platters, our table was sated – it was now time for the meat. Platters of grilled lamb, botifarra and chicken were perfectly cooked and utterly delicious and we ate until we could eat no more. The botifarra was especially good and Rachel confirmed that this was ordered direct from Spain. All grilled over charcoal, of course – oh yeah – and served with an allioli that could have been more pungent.
For dessert, Rachel’s excellent crema catalana came around in individual bowls and you know, there’s always room for a little something sweet.
There was also an orange each but for us, we had these to go as we had to catch the tube to cross town to get home. My first calçotada was such fun; it was a great night with fantastic food and equally fantastic company. If you’re wondering, dinner spots were £30 each. If you’d like to join in next time, do take a look at Rachel’s site for her future events – Catalan Cooking.
All my photos from the night can be found in this Flickr photoset.
The Drapers Arms
44 Barnsbury St
London N1 1ER