’Tis the season of eating onions charred over live fire… In a previous post, we talked about the best places around Barcelona to find a calçotada. Yet, in a quarter century of at least one or two calçotades a year, I probably only have ever had 2-3 in a restaurant. Funny thing was that I would just order off the regular menu while the rest of the party would eat the calçotada menu, like I was purposely avoiding it. More about this later.
From humble beginnings in the “Golden Triangle” of Valls, Reus and Tarragona, the tradition has now spread through most of Catalonia, in restaurants, and more important, at home. It has even reached further afield with calçotades available in Madrid, London or Rotterdam; even Anthony Bourdain featured a calçotada on his “No Reservations” tv show.
A dear friend went as far as to throw a big calçotada party for all his friends in Orange County, USA to celebrate his 50th birthday! Nowadays, every company, social club or group of friends worth its salt has its yearly calçotada – the social aspects of the calçotada are key to its success – if you are a new arrival in Catalonia, no doubt you’ll get an invite to a calçotada – go for it!
Back to the real calçotada, the homemade – the feast lends itself quite well to doing it at home in an outdoor setting. First time I was ever invited for a calçotada, it was in Sitges at the home of my parent’s friends, and it was a friend of theirs from Valls who came over as the expert – an early sign that the ritual was expanding outside its homeland. He brought the equipment, a large reversible grill with different length legs allowing the grill to be higher for flaming the calçots and lower for grilling meat over coals. However, the most important bit of kit that he brought along was the recipe for the sauce: salsa de calçots. Any veteran will tell you it’s the heart and soul of the calçotada, getting it right is an art, too runny and it doesn’t stick to the calçots, too thick and it takes forever to dip. Starting from the basics of almonds and hazelnuts, roasted tomato, raw and roasted garlic and nyora (a type of slightly hot pepper), each chef adds their own touch, and the recipe becomes a closely guarded secret.
Just last week, with a group of friends we had a calçotada out in the country, very near my hometown of Artesa de Segre, just under the village of Montsonís with its castle looming over us. It was a perfect spring day, kids roaming freely all over the fields, making friends with random dog who just appeared, adults poking fun at a neighbour who was air-drying her multi-coloured thongs, and of course, grilling those calçots on a very original barbecue pit. It was a perfect day, but I still couldn’t get Agnès to tell me the (secret) recipe for the salsa de calçots.