Oli had some new cooking toys, so we decided to use them for a barbecue on Saturday, however, the forecast said rain, so Sunday became a better option. The main piece of equipment, was a sous-vide immersion circulator – a stick the size of a rolling pin (above) which can be programmed for constant temperature with water circulation and timer. It’s a bit like a fish tank pump with thermostatic heater.
So what is sous-vide cooking? Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum” – it’s a cooking method where food is sealed in a plastic bag and all the air is sucked out (you can buy relatively cheap machines to do this). Next the food is cooked in water at a constant low temperature. Where meat is concerned, the collagen breaks down without toughening up the flesh, in fact the meat becomes tender without overcooking. Sous-vide cooking has become very popular with restaurants, where meat, fish and vegetables can be cooked perfectly and because they are in a vacuum, they keep for several weeks in the fridge. This food can be served perfectly, almost at the drop of a hat, where beforehand, things were kept warm for several hours in a salamander – there was a lot of wastage. This isn’t just convenient, the food actually tastes better! With steak, for example, every piece will be perfect and can be finished off (scorched) on the grill (for the Maillard reaction) before serving.
A word on food hygiene: food that is served within 4 hours of cooking is considered safe, but botulism can grow in a vacuum, so meat cooked over a long time for tenderisation, must reach a temperature of at least 55ºC within 4 hours to avoid the risk of poisoning. The temperature of 55ºC over time, kills botulism, but, if keeping the meat in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, it must be plunged into ice cold water and kept at 3ºC to prevent botulism spores from surviving and growing. In essence, there is a similar risk with all improperly prepared meat and this is no more complicated than cooking a chicken at 200ºC for 20 minutes per pound, plus an additional 20 minutes, to ensure it’s cooked properly. See here for a basic guide to sous-vide cooking temperatures.
Once we’d set the date and bought a plastic storage container (our water bath) with lid (to keep the heat in), we went shopping for meat. There’s a popular cheap beef cut that’s very tasty, but quite tough, called churrasco.
Churrasco often means grilled beef or meat, but on a Barcelona menú del día and in the market, it’s beef ribs cut across the bone. We thought churrasco would work perfectly sous-vide – it would tenderise over several days and taste brilliant burnt (briefly) on the barbecue. We went to Carns Serrano (country meat) in the Boqueria, where they sell churrasco at €4.50 per kilo (on Wednesdays) and bought 4 kilos.
Back in Oli’s flat, we had a great time, cutting the big strips of meat into manageable pieces and vacuum sealing them in bags with herbs and seasoning. We put warm water into the sous-vide bath (at about 49ºC), so that the machine would reach our required temperature of 55.5º C as quickly as possible. We submerged all the churrasco in the water, turned the machine on and it promptly went off! There were no instructions in the box and none that we could find for this particular model online, so for an hour things were quite stressful. I started thinking we’d have to take the meat out and marinade it in red wine, vinegar, herbs, etc. Then while playing with the machine, it miraculously came back on and we set the temperature and a cooking time of 72 hours. Oli later discovered that holding the “on button”, while plugging the machine in, seems to make it work – phew!
We didn’t get the sunny Sunday that we’d hoped for, but in spite of locals in coats, the temperature was about 15ºC and there were some bursts of sunshine later on. I think we had about 40 or 50 people during the afternoon and evening.
The churrasco came out of the sous-vide on Friday and some pork belly went in, along with an ox tongue. Above, you can see the churrasco in vacuum bags, ready for the barbecue.
The sous-vide meat required minimal barbecue time – just a couple of minutes per side. The churrasco came out of the water bath medium rare and extremely tender. It was a great success and disappeared in minutes.
I had some excellent help from Julia’s son, chef Kai who is very keen on calçots.
Calçots are a Catalan invention – they are a forced onions, traditionally cooked over a fire of vine cuttings until blackened. The process is a bit slower on a barbecue, but it seems to work well enough. When the calçots are burnt on the outside, they are wrapped in newspaper for about 20 mines, so that they steam until tender.
When ready, one pinches the blackened end of a calçot and pulls the green end and the burnt part comes away and can be discarded. Calçots are commonly served dipped in Romesco Sauce.
Oli had mixed up a large quantity of Negroni to start the party with a buzz.
A Negroni is an Italian cocktail made with on part gin, one part vermouth rosso and one part Campari – normally this is finished with a little orange peel, but I noticed a few sprigs of Rosemary in the bottle. It went a long way to keeping the smoke off of my taste buds. Our guests were quite generous with the booze they brought. I noticed lots of cava, vermut, vodka and Bourbon, amongst the wine and beer. Richard put a lot of effort into mixing batches of Whiskey Sour, which went down very nicely.
At this point the heat from the charcoal had died down somewhat, so Jonas and Jorge replenished it and with the help of a very large blow torch, got the new batch going in record time.
Silvia and Gaia bringing sunshine to the rooftop.
Mackerel take about 20 minutes to smoke – if in doubt, check how firm the flesh has become and use a food thermometer.
Oli was busy in the kitchen while I was burning the meat. He produced a fantastic Julienne of celeriac, cornichons, thinly sliced radishes, lemon juice and mustard, which my camera missed. Above is sous-vide ox tongue, which I managed to snap before it was devoured by wolves. We bought the tongue and a pork belly on Friday, which went into the sous-vide for 2 days, after the churrasco was done. Oli cooked the tongue sous-vide for a day, then took it out and removed the membrane (skin), before cooking it sous-vide for a second day. It was literally falling apart and melt in the mouth.
I put some large chicken hearts on skewers with onion and pimiento, these went on the now sizzling barbecue with marinated rabbit. The marinade made the rabbit quite succulent, grilled gently for about 45 minutes.
The leftover chopped onion and pimiento were cooked on a griddle pan.
We got a whole salmon in the Boqueria and cured it, as Salmon Negroni.
Salmon Negroni – a very fishy cocktail:
Take a whole side of salmon, fresh as you can.
Pin bone it, it’s bound to have some still in there…
Rinse and pat dry
• 250mm gin (any rubbish gin will do. Keep the good stuff for yourself, the fish can’t tell the difference)
• A small handful of salt
• A couple of heaped tablespoonfuls of caster sugar
• Several juniper berries, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle
• Zest of an unwaxed lemon
Mix all but the gin together
Rub all over the fish and press this firmly into the flesh
Leave for 5/10 minutes
Line a baking tray or Tupperware dish, as near to the size of the salmon as you can find, with cling film
Lay the salmon in and pour the gin over it. Pour yourself one too while you’re at it!
Give fishy a wiggle to get some liquid underneath.
Bring up the sides of the cling film and wrap around.
You are aiming to keep as much air out as you can while still soaking in gin, the fish, that is.
You can also achieve the same effect with a sealable freezer bag.
Stick in fridge for at least a couple of days, turning twice a day or so and topping up with gin as needed, yourself included.
• 250mm Red vermut or Martini Rosso
• A couple of heads of fresh beetroot , or jar of the same, rinsed and blended to a juice. You want to end up with a small cupful or so. (You could even try and reduce it a bit as it is mainly the colour you are after but cool it afterwards if you do, before using.)
• A spoonful of grated horseradish
• A bunch of chopped fresh tarragon
• A heaped tablespoonful of salt
Mix all this up
Rinse the gin from the salmon – Do not be tempted to drink this, however, much as it pains you to pour good liquor away.
Pat dry then go though the whole salmon cling film shebang again, but this time with the vermut mix.
(You may want to wear gloves at this stage if you intend to go out that evening or you’ll look like a serial killer!)
Stick back in fridge for a day or more, turning occasionally.
Reward your hard work with a reviving G&T if there’s any more gin left.
Instead of the usual Campari Jelly I just made Campari Ice cream this time,
it was mainly just Crème Fraîche and campari in the ice cream maker.
Now may be a good time to treat yourself to a real Negroni, topped off with an olive, to remind you of what you are trying to achieve.
After a day or so, when you are ready to eat and the hangover has subsided, drain off the salmon, rinse with gin, and pat dry.
Slice across the width of the fillet at a diagonal angle with a very sharp knife
You should see a lovely red-to-pink graduation running towards the centre.
(If you see too much red liquid check your fingers; you may have cut yourself with that very sharp knife!)
Return the sliced salmon to the fridge if you are not ready yet, as it should be served slightly chilled.
Stir a teaspoon of olive tapenade into the ice cream. It should be just a subtle olivey flavour as one would enhance a cocktail. Add a dab of horseradish to taste.
Plate up salmon slices around a cube or two of ice (on your favourite slates or miniature shopping trolley if you so wish).
Lightly drizzle ice cream over the salmon. Dress with a couple of tarragon leaves.
Serve with frozen jenever or vodka as you have now run out of gin.
We bought an ox heart (also from the Boqueria) on Saturday, which the stall holder sliced thinly for us. This was flash grilled on the barbecue. Oli cooked a fiery Chilli Bourbon Jam to go with all the meat, which sadly escaped the camera
Chilli Bourbon Jam:
1/2 kilo of smoked bacon
A couple of handfuls of finely chopped onion
A whole bulb of smoked garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón
200/250 ml bourbon
200 ml Date syrup – substitute Maple syrup if necessary
A good slug of balsamic de Modena
a bit of brown sugar
Chop into small pieces and fry bacon on medium heat until very crispy
Remove bacon leaving fat in pan, and dry on kitchen roll
In remaining bacon fat sauté onions and garlic until browning
Add spices and sweat for a while
Return the bacon and pour in bourbon and flame to remove alcohol (NB have a lid fitted to your pan, ready to put out flames before kitchen catches fire)
Add syrup, Vinegar and sugar and simmer really low for 20 mins or so
Do not burn
Cool then decant to a jar.
Store in fridge until you are just about to eat.
…and then came the sous-vide pork belly, which I like crispy.
There was one last mackerel, which didn’t fit in the smoker,
so I slapped it on the barbecue and it cooked perfectly.
The molluscs steamed in a little Blanc Pescador – what else would you use?
The coals were loosing heat by this point and the mussels took about 20 minutes to open.
Somebody brought this beautiful cake, containing a crème pâtissière like mixture. I only noticed it when Kai came over and asked if he might have some.
We made some new friends a couple of night’s ago, at Nookie’s birthday. I was sitting next to Joaquín and talking castellano – looking for a common interest. We got onto food and I was delighted to discover he’d been acquainted with Catalan detective writer and gourmand, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. This sparked off a food discussion and Joaquín told me he was very keen to cook an ox heart stuffed with foie gras. At this point I told Joaquín we were barbecuing an ox heart on Sunday and invited him and his wife (Kuki) to come along.
Joaquín brought us some fantastic prunes in aguardiente (fire water) and some blow your head off pili pili. He commented that only crazy Englishmen would cook a barbecue on a day like this and only Englishmen could carry it off!
When the sun went down we retired downstairs to Oli’s apartment, for a little Armagnac, brought by Sebastian, the owner of Iposa. We had planned to steam a Christmas Pudding, but so far, it’s still sitting in the fridge…