La Calçotada

rooftop barbecue

We were sitting in the fabulous Can Vilaró for a group lunch on Saturday, where there’s always a big joke between Jonas and the owner, Sisco, about the Can Vilaró barbecue. This prompted the suggestion that we should have a barbecue on Oli’s roof the next day – the forecast was good and once the cat was out of the bag, it wasn’t going back in. After a couple of digestives at Bar Calders, Oli and I rushed to the Boqueria in search of barbecue bargains at 7pm. We did very well with fish – near closing time there’s always something cheap when the stallholders want to shut shop and go home. Meat prices were normal and the calçots were positively expensive at €4 a bunch, but regardless, they were in season and a must for a barbecue, so we bought two large bunches.

raw calçots

Calçots are a unique Catalan invention (from Valls) – they may look like leeks, but are in fact forced spring onions. Soil is piled on top of the onion shoots to make them grow tall, in the same manner as asparagus farming. The calçots grow to the size of long thin leeks, but have delicate leaves like scallions.

blackened calçots

Calçots are barbecued over hot flames, ideally using cuttings from grape vines (sarmientos de viñedo) as fuel. The calçots are laid on the grill, in a single layer, here we have them in a wire barbecue contraption which makes it easy to flip them over. The outside is blackened over the flames for about 5 minutes, until a little juice starts to come out.

calçots in newspaper

The blackened calçots are wrapped in newspaper to steam until tender.

calçots ready to eat

Ours were perfect after about 20 minutes. Trim the excess green tops, leaving a little to hold on to. Pinch the bottom hard, just above the root and pull from the top. The clean, cooked inside should pull out of the burnt outer flesh in one go.

romesco sauce

We ate our calçots with Romesco Sauce – this is a common accompaniment, but there’s a similar sauce called Salbitxada, which is quite exclusive to calçots, whereas Romesco is also enjoyed with other foods, such as fish.

jonas eating calçots

Dip the pulled white section of the calçot into Romesco or Salbitxada sauce and eat like Jonas (above). To follow calçots, the Catalan norm is to barbecue lots of meat.


Alfredo arrived with pre-mixed, ready to pour Negronis (note the distant seagull, top left)

sorbrassada i botifarra

and a marvelous concoction (above left) of Sobrassada and Provolone. The Provolone cheese goes into the bottom of a frying pan in little chunks, with a similar quantity of Sobrassada on top.

provolone i sobrassada

With a little stirring, the cheese and sausage melt together to make a delicious stringy tangy dip for torn up chunks of bread.

sausages and halloumi

…and on with the meat. Above are some Catalan botifarra sausages (a bit like an English Cumberland), a couple of burgers and some halloumi (where did that come from?).

marinated pork

Shaun brought some astonishing pork, which he’d marinated overnight.

corn and merguez

Merguez, sweetcorn, chicken kebabs, green chilli peppers and garlic.

ox heart

Ox heart sliced thinly and grilled quickly – it has to be cooked fast or very slow, otherwise it will become tough.

kebabs and ears

Oli insisted on some pig’s ears

botifarra and ears

…which require long slow cooking.

richard’s ears

Rich models the pig’s ears here – they probably should have been poached in stock and then deep fried.

botifarra i merguez

More botifarra (these were very good artesanal sausages, note the string) and merguez.

tuna steak

We had an overwhelming supply of sausages and a few people seemed keen to cook. So after getting the coals hot and the calçots and meat going, I got out a hotplate and stuck a cast iron griddle on top of it for the fish. Above is one of the bargain tuna steaks from the Boqueria. Oli brought out some truffle oil, so on a whim I garnished the tuna with it – excessive, but tasty nonetheless.

jonathan livingston

Jonathan Livingston Seagull came down from on high to check us out

grilled mackerel

…while I was grilling the mackerel.

mackerel thief

He seemed quite partial to fish with truffle oil!

As legend has it, the calçot was first cultivated in Valls, Tarragona by a peasant called Xat de Benaigues. The Catalan word calçot comes from calçar, to shoe, as in cover the green onion shoots with soil to force them to grow higher. Calçot season runs from November to April and they have an EU Protected Geographical Indication (status).

Calçots should be washed down with copious quantities of local red wine or cava, ideally drunk from a porrón.

There are many establishments that do large scale calçotadas out of town, grilling the calçots over barbecues for enormous quantities of people wearing bibs and plastic gloves. One of the first calçotadas was said to have been held at Hostal Restaurant Grau, in Alt Camp, Tarragona in 1962.

Valls has an annual calçot fiesta in January.

About Mad Dog
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19 Responses to La Calçotada

  1. Wow what an awesome BBQ! My mouth is watering…

  2. Eha says:

    Australia is meant to be one of THE barbecue countries of the world: wish our menus were as exciting as this !! Love the fish and the ears and the heart [cook often: fast for me 🙂 ! ] You have taken us onto this rooftop before methinks!! Now: calcots? In recent days I have received a number of letters from the US praising the current but brief ‘ramp’ season.. What is the difference twixt ramps and calcots, if any? Both seem to belong to the leek family ?

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha. Ramps, caçots and leeks are all part of the allium family, which includes onions and garlic. Ramps are a wild onion with somewhat floppy leaves, calçots are close to spring or salad onions, but they’ve been forced to grow bigger and leeks look like calçots, but they have thicker courser leaves.

      • Eha says:

        Thanks! Am happy leeks are no problem in this country all year long [use them almost daily] and I buy an awful lot of spring onions, usually marked as ‘shallots’ here! Real shallots are often not available in country supermarkets. Yes, have received a couple of photos with those ‘floppy’ leaves , , , may be the strain is mainly located in the Great Lakes of USA area . . . ?

  3. Nadia says:

    What a lot of food! The calcots sound delicious.

  4. Oh my, what a fabulous day with amazing food! Heading back to Spain in a few hours. We can often buy calçots in the market when they are in season so I’ll look out for them.

  5. Cecilia says:

    That sounds and looks like a great barbecue event! Great pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Oh my, what a barbecue. Interesting info on calcots. I’ve never heard of them, but can only imagine how good they taste, like when you char an eggplant or a pepper and eat the soft inside. This looks like a really fun feast. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Amanda, I wish I could send you some calçots! They are salad onions forced to grow to the size of a small leek, but they retain their delicate leaves, so when burnt on the barbecue, the insides become like delicate smokey caramelised onions and go so well with the nutty romesco sauce. If you know someone with a garden, they are easy to grow – you just pile earth on top of the shoots until they become about a foot tall.

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