Thursday, 18 June 2009

Mackerel, just like when I was a kid in Barley Cove

Sunny hot summer days are finally here..
Somehow my appetite has gone haywire. With all the heat, the thoughts of eating anything hot during the day turns my stomach. These days I've been craving refreshingly cold Niçoise salads; Capreses with juicy, meaty tomatoes, drizzled in sunshine gold olive oil; tart, creamy potato salads with lashings of astringent plump capers.. So it goes without saying that at some stage I'd delve into the comfort foods of when I was child.

Today I started thinking about Mackerel.. A seriously under-rated fish in some countries - I don't think many people in Ireland have even tasted mackerel, let alone see a whole one, head and all. As a child I used to sit on the edge of a rock in Barley Cove while I'd watch my uncle Bobby trying his hand in enticing a shoal to his hook. Some days we'd be bathed in lovely afternoon sunshine, but mostly we'd be sitting there in raincoats until we got too cold and gave up.
He never gave up, rain, hail or shine.. Actually he was quite good at it (yet he could never understand my dad's patience to fish in boat in the middle of the lake), so there was many occasion that we would be faced with mackerel for tea, making the caravan smell for the whole weekend after..
Since then, it's kind of evolved for me, mackerel, learning different ways to cook it but I think deep-down i still prefer it the old way - straight off the pan with lashings of butter and black pepper..
E tends to prefer it Catalan style - escabetx or poached slightly/marinated in vinegar and oil. Wasn't too keen on it as first as vinegar was a big no-no for me, but over the years that I've been here (6 already), it's slowly growing on me.
It's rather simple to prepare: 1 part wine vinegar, 2 parts olive oil and some water to cover, a bay leaf and some black peppercorns. Place the gutted and de-headed mackerel in the liquid and bring to the boil. When it starts to boil, remove from the heat and leave to cool in the liquid. Once cold, transfer to a small casserole dish and cover completely with virgen olive oil. Not only does the oil 'soften' the taste of vinegar and mellow the flavour of the fish. E prefers to leave out the oil -just using vinegar and water, but it makes it too vinegary for my liking.
The great thing is it keeps really well in the fridge (or on the countertop if you don't live in hot Spain -it's currently 29º) for a few days. Mmm.. My mouth already starts to water as if it were a bag of salt and vinegar crisps..

Friday, 5 June 2009

To La Rioja or to not La Rioja, that is the question..

It's official. E and I have been married for a year now.. So to celebrate, the lovely folk at F&G where we held our wedding last year gave us a night in one of their hotels for our first anniversary.

Where to go was the question - the only solution being to Logroño, heart of the La Rioja district so as you can imagine, we forcibly went.. Imagine, a *whole* weekend tasting wine - you'd have to like it a bit for a start, and then somehow manage to find your way to a restaurant to eat something to soak up all that wine.. A difficult task was at hand..

Well, in Logroño they've got that under control, you just stagger
along. The weekend we were there it was the festival of the Laurel district meaning that everyone was out on the street eating pintxos, but unlike Bilbao the bars *ONLY* did one pintxo each.. To be honest, I'm not sure which one out of all the different ones we tried (yes another pub crawl was in order) was the best.. it's a toss up between the Triple-tiered garlic button mushrooms, where the liquidy, pungent juice sank into a day old piece of bread (Garlic mushrooms and garlic bread in one bite!) or maybe the gula or saltcod scramble roll (gulas are a delicacy of Spain - originally the young baby eels before they were nearly fished out of extinction, nowadays made from a fish paste but still in th
e form of tiny slivery, worm-like eels).. Sounds ucky but the scramble was just at that point between cooked and slightly runny that it made it a marvellous bite..
Anyway, getting back to the real motivation for the trip - the wine, and oh so much of it! Everywhere, of every type, and for every pocket (imagine €0.70 for a shot of wine!). I don't think I really *got* wine, until going to New Zealand but now, it seems that E and I are somewhat experts, well if you can compare us to the other visitors to the area who didn't have much of a clue (why go to visit Bodegas if you don't even like wine??¿¿!)

E had done some thorough research beforehand, checking out the best wineries to go, which I goes to figure since he couldn't let the Spanish side down after all that fabulous tasting in NZ.. And he didn't let the side down.
The first stop-off was in CVNE's Viña Real, half way between Logroño and Laguardia, heart of the Rioja district. What can I say, we arrived at a great time - winery to ourselves, just one group of girls with us as we toured around the facilities (state of the art and the flagship of CVNE now) and proceeded to taste the standard samples and then some.. We stumbled across the real reason why Corona beer isn't called Corona in Spain (it's Coronita) as CVNE makes an incredible sweet wine called Corona - definitely a must-try.
I could go on and on about that winery and their other one in Haro (La Rioja Alta) .. but then, the best way to know what I mean is to go there as they're so well set up that visitors can even look around during harvesting, which is totally unheard of here in Catalunya (our viniculture friend Ramon disappears off the space of the earth during September and October).
Other great finds were Bodegas Bilaínas and La Rioja Alta, each so completely different, with totally different philosophies but the same basic processes. And yes, the car did come back a few cases heavier... You can't go and not bring souvenirs for everyone! :-)

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