Tapas, fresh seafood, olives, paella – Spain has some of the tastiest food in Europe. During our recent trip to Barcelona, we wanted to learn how to make some classic Catalan and Spanish dishes so we could recreate them at home in our German kitchen. We discovered Cook & Taste Barcelona Cooking Classes when researching cooking schools online and were impressed by their hands-on approach to teaching visitors about authentic, traditional Spanish cuisine.
We signed up for their English Half-Day Cooking Class and Market Tour which includes 4.5 hours of cooking instruction with a professional chef in the Cook & Taste school as well as a 1-hour tour of the famous market La Boqueria to select fresh ingredients to be used during the class.
On the day of our cooking class it was pouring rain (a rarity in Barcelona according to the locals). After meeting Chef Maria and our fellow classmates at the Cook & Taste school located in the Gothic Quarter, we set out for La Boqueria market with umbrellas borrowed from the school (lucky for us otherwise we would have been drenched!). The school is only about a 7 minute walk away from La Boqueria, making it a convenient location to stock up on cooking supplies.
As we had briefly visited La Boqueria ourselves the day beforehand, we knew just how crowded it could be. Maria advised us to keep an eye on our belongings and stay close to the group so we wouldn’t get separated. Fortunately the market wasn’t overly crowded (likely due to the poor weather), so we could navigate around the busy food stands as a group.
Maria brought us to her favourite stands and pointed out how to spot the freshest fish and tastiest produce. She informed us that we had come to Barcelona at a great time since we could enjoy the last crop of winter veggies but also the first crop of spring veggies. Snaking our way through the stands, we picked up a variety of Spanish olives, Spanish ham (both serrano and the prized ibérico), salted cod, seasonal veggies, fresh shellfish, and cuttlefish (which the fishmonger sliced up for us on the spot). The vendors we visited all had a smile and friendly word for Maria – it’s clear that she’s a regular customer. It was charming to witness hard-earned and well-deserved customer-vendor loyalty in a city filled with top-notch markets and grocery stores. The vendors gave their honest opinions on what was freshest and what new products they had available; in turn, Maria took their advice and made informed purchases to ensure she was getting the best possible ingredients for our cooking class. I think our guided market tour was an invaluable way to learn about the Spanish way of shopping and Spanish culture itself.
We made our way back to the Cook & Taste kitchen where we were joined by additional students who hadn’t signed up for the market tour. After donning our aprons and washing our hands, we dived in to our first recipe, crema catalana.
Akin to crème brûlée, crema catalana is a custard-based dessert with a hard caramel topping. Another student and I volunteered to tackle the recipe. I was in charge of separating the eggs into yolks and whites – a few yolks fell victim to my nervous hands! We infused the milk with lemon zest and a cinnamon stick and learned that infusions should never be stirred. After combining the egg yolks with sugar, we slowly added them to the warm milk and whisked vigorously. After straining to remove lumps and adding starch to the pot, we heated the mixture until it became thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. We poured the custard into shallow terracotta dishes, tapped the dishes on the counter to smooth out the custard and then placed the dishes in the fridge to set. After several hours of chilling, we sprinkled spoonfuls of white sugar on top of each custard and torched them with a flame to achieve a dark golden caramel crust. Let me assure you that crema catalana was the first recipe I recreated at home because it was sooo good!
While I was working on the dessert, other students jumped in to tackle the prep on the vegetables for our first course, roasted vegetables with romesco sauce. We had purchased artichokes, green cauliflower, green onions and fresh peas at the market so they all needed to be trimmed, washed and blanched or roasted. For the romesco sauce, Maria roasted ripe tomatoes and a whole bulb of garlic to achieve a smoky flavour, then we blended them with reconstituted sundried nyora peppers, toasted peeled almonds and hazelnuts, extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper. The result was amazing – I’m wondering where I can find some nyora peppers now in Germany…
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I volunteered to plate the vegetables on top of the orange romesco sauce a young girl in our class artfully swirled onto the plates. I think I achieved the ‘little veggie garden’ look that Maria was going for!
While some students were working on prepping the veggies, others plated our olives and Spanish ham tapas to snack on throughout the class.
Two students worked on making another tapa, pan con tomate (bread with tomato). Toasted slices of good-quality bread are rubbed with the cut side of a vine-ripened tomate then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with flaky salt. Beyond delicious! Using the best ingredients is key to making this classic tapa.
Another traditional recipe we learned was the Spanish omelette. Though the classic is made with eggs and potatoes, we made a version popular in the South of Tarragona called “Truita Amb Suc” which includes white butter beans, spinach, spring garlic, and desalted salt cod. This type of omelette is served in its own sauce which consists of picada (a thick sauce made of parsley, garlic, almonds and hazelnuts), a pinch of paprika and water.
First, Maria individually sautéed thinly sliced spring garlic, white beans and spinach leaves in hot olive oil in a frying pan and removed them to separate plates. She beat eggs in a bowl and seasoned them with salt. After adding the sautéed spring garlic, white beans and spinach to the bowl along with the small pieces of cod, she poured the egg mixture into the hot, oiled frying pan. Once the bottom of the omelette started to brown, Maria slid the omelette onto a plate then flipped it back into the frying pan to finish cooking on the other side. (Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds!). She removed the slightly under-cooked omelette to a plate to rest while she started on the sauce. Once the sauce was boiling, she slid the omelette into the sauce, gently simmered it for a few minutes, then cut and served the omelette. I’m not normally crazy about omelettes, but this one was really yummy! I especially liked the addition of the white beans and spinach and the sauce kept the omelette nice and moist.
The main dish of the class was a seafood paella. Originating from the city of Valencia, paella has become popular all over Spain. There are countless types of paella made with meat, seafood or with vegetables. Our seafood paella included cuttlefish, mussels, clams, and whole shrimp that we purchased fresh from the market earlier that morning.
The first step in the paella prep was to sautée sliced red bell peppers and shell-on prawns in the enormous paella pan. To release as much seafood flavour as possible into the dish, Maria advised the students to press a spoon against the head of the prawns at the end of the sautée time. They removed the peppers and prawns to a plate and then they began to prepare the sofrito, a typical thick Spanish sauce base made with sautéed tomatoes, red bell peppers, and garlic. After the sofrito thickened, they added the chopped cuttlefish to the pan followed by Bomba rice (a type of short-grain rice cultivated in eastern Spain). They toasted the grains of rice by stirring them around for a few minutes and then Maria poured in hot fish stock infused with threads of yellow saffron. They cooked the rice (without stirring) for a few minute before artfully arranging the clams and mussels on top of the rice and pushing them slightly into the remaining broth. Over low heat, they left the paella to simmer away until the rice was mostly cooked. At the last moment, they added the previously sautéed prawns and red pepper slices to the paella pan.
After resting for about 5 minutes, Maria served us each a generous portion of paella including every type of seafood in the pan with a wedge of lemon on the side for seasoning.
The entire class was great fun and extremely informative. Each student had a role to play, whether it be pouring wine (S was our head sommelier for the day!), slicing vegetables, blending a sauce, or stirring the paella. Maria was full of great advice and cooking tips, such as where to buy the best brand of Spanish paprika, how to select the freshest local produce at the market, and what textures to look for when cooking custard, sofrito, omelettes or picada. At the end of class, Maria even offered me recommendations of a few pintxos restaurants to try in Barcelona (which turned out to be fantastic). If you want to try your hand at cooking some delicious Catalan and Spanish specialties during your visit to Barcelona, then I highly recommend taking a class with Cook & Taste.
Many thanks to Cook & Taste for hosting me and special thanks to Chef Maria for the wonderful cooking class!
P.S. Heading to Barcelona? Check out my list of top Barcelona sights.
What tasty Spanish foods should I try next? Also, is there a tapa out there better than pan con tomate? Let me know in the comments below!