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 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.
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.
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.
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?).
Shaun brought some astonishing pork, which he’d marinated overnight.
corn and merguez
Merguez, sweetcorn, chicken kebabs, green chilli peppers and garlic.
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.
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.
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 Seagull came down from on high to check us out
…while I was grilling the mackerel.
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.