Books & Literature

Cookbook Review: Barcelona Cult Recipes, by Stephan Mitsch

An advanced cookbook featuring 120 marvellous recipes of Catalan cuisine, providing a fusion of flavours worthy of any special occasion.

This is an advanced cookbook featuring 120 marvellous recipes of Catalan cuisine. With beautiful photography by Arnold Poschl, a hard cover, and quality paper, it’s the kind of cookbook to take pride of place on your shelf, to be pulled out for special occasions.

Each recipe is named in Catalan, Spanish and English respectively, and the three indexes at the back are broken into each language too. The selection of recipes on offer are each a fusion of unexpected flavours that often sound or look complicated to begin with but are relatively straight forward once you get into it. The instructions are clear.

Many of the ingredients used in Barcelona Cult Recipes are not your common fare so plan ahead to source items like nyora peppers, monkfish, Emmental cheese, botifarra, escargot and sobrassada. Start at your local Fine Foods store or central market.

Mitsch’s introduction to Barcelona reads like an inviting travel guide which is no surprising given that he’s employed part time as one in the city. He not only chats about the history of the place, but the dining habits and food which make it a popular holiday destination. He then goes on to briefly introduce each recipe section of the book which includes tapas, main dishes, desserts and drinks. His section on Basics provides useful information on ingredients and recipe staples like fish stock, aioli, romesco sauce, roasted or grilled vegetables and marinated capsicums.

The two recipes I sampled below were both a success thanks to Mitsch’s straight-forward direction. The unique flavours were exquisite and far more complex than I would usually taste in a homecooked meal. They’ve inspired me to keep exploring Barcelona Cult Recipes, with many more pages marked for my future attention.

Do yourself a flavour [sic!].

Potatge de cigrons amb chorizo (page 118)
AKA, Chickpea stew with chirizo

This is a hearty stew filled with vegetables, chickpeas and chorizo. The flavours are subtle but delicious, making it an ideal entry point for anyone who prefers to avoid anything too spicy or flavoursome but is curious to try Catalan cuisine. There’s enough taste in this stew to satisfy but the absence of almost all herbs and spices keeps it simple. Bay leaves, garlic and onion are the only additions to the meat and vegetables and the relatively short cooking time makes it an absolute winner for a quick, healthy family meal. It also freezes well and, like most meals, the flavours really mature by the next day.

Cargols amb sobrassada (page 190)
AKA, Snails with sobrassada sausage

It’s mind over matter, people! I could not get a single person to share a meal of escargot with me and I even found myself squirming a little before the first bite despite having eaten and enjoyed snails in the past. Mind over matter. Just keep reminding yourself of that and don’t bother inviting your cowardly Aussie mates. Do tell everyone about it however, because their priceless reactions alone will make this dish worthwhile!

I found tinned snails at a Fine Foods stall in the Adelaide Central Markets.

Mitsch states that this particular method for cooking snails originated in Mallorca although the snails used in this recipe are pre-cooked. The dish is lengthy but easy to make, taking about two hours to prep and cook. The most difficult aspect is sourcing the ingredients if you’re not an advanced cook. Fine Food stalls at the Adelaide Central Market proved to have what I needed between them, including tinned escargot and sobrassada (a soft, spreadable sausage).

The final result is a delicious looking and tasting stew. The sobrassada is a bit too aromatic in the kitchen for my liking, but its taste was surprisingly subtle in the dish. If you’ve never tried eating snails before, this is quite a good meal to try. The snails give a meaty texture but don’t have a lot of taste themselves. Most of the flavour comes from the tomato base, fennel and rosemary. It’s not cheap to make – the tins of snails cost almost $8 per 125g. The recipe asks for 1kg of snails, but I cut that back to just 3 tins since I knew I would probably be eating alone. It’s not a dish I would make again in a hurry, but that’s a reflection on its cost and having to eat alone rather than any disappointment in the recipe itself. As a communal meal however, I highly recommend this one.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Rating out of 10:  8

Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: April 2018
RRP: $44.99 hardcover

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