More things I’ve learned at Osmosis and windows and doors of BCN

17 Jun

This was breakfast: garlic spinach atop organic eggs atop pan con tomate. Sencillo pero perfecto before my 2 hour walk today through Gracia, a barrio I had not yet thoroughly explored.

As I was eating breakfast I was thinking about how many beautiful doors, windows and building facades there are in Barcelona, and I decided to see how many gorgeous-to-me doors I could count in a 10 block radius. Well, I got distracted by the gorgeous windows and churches, as well, so I gave up on counting. But, below are a few that exemplify how amazing they are. The doors are all at least 12 feet tall and most have ornamental decorations above and around them.

And, then the windows…

Okay, enough of my being enamored of the architecture here. Onto food and what more I’m learning!

Summer is here and that means amazing produce. Although I didn’t think baby carrots were in season, they are on lots of menus and they are sweet! Baby carrots here are not what “baby carrots” are in the U.S. Here, they are young, thin carrots with the green tops still on them. In the U.S., they are the bite-sized ones that are about half as long as our pinky fingers and ready to eat out of the sealed plastic bags they come in. Don’t get me wrong – I scarf up those types of baby carrots all the time in the U.S. They are my go-to snack with some hummus or eggplant dip or a dill-yogurt sauce.

But, if you get a chance to buy the young carrots with the green tops on them, buy them. Don’t throw away the tops. I’ll tell you what you can do with them after I suggest 2 simple ways to clean them. But, cut the tops off the carrots, leaving about 1 inch of the green top still on the carrot “for show.” Save tops.

Onto cleaning…. How do you clean the young carrots without losing half the carrot? Well, put away the peeler. You’ll lose half the carrot if you use the peeler on it. Instead, use one of these 2 equally effective methods.

First way: buy a clean sponge at the store with a soft scrubbing surface. They are the dish sponges in which one side is just sponge and the other has a scrubby side to it. They make sponges that have softer scrubby sides, so buy one of those. They are the ones marketed in the U.S. to use on teflon surfaces. Use the soft scrubby side of one of those to gently remove the fine hairs and any dirt on the young carrots. No need to wash the carrots first. Gently scrub and then run under cold water to remove anything remaining and to refresh the carrot.

Second way: Put a few ice cubes in water and throw the carrots in the ice water for 2 minutes. You’ll see the dirt and some of the fine hairs start to fall off in the water. After 2 minutes, take the carrots out one by one and use a clean dish cloth (not terry) to rub off any remaining dirt or hairs.

Then, if you want to cook them, I suggest slicing them in half lengthwise, throwing them in a hot pan with some spicy olive oil and searing them for no longer than 1-2 minutes until slightly browned and caramelized but still crunchy. Throw in some mushrooms at about the 1 minute mark, take off the heat 1 minute later and top with fresh cracked black pepper and rosemary salt. This is a very simple side or topper to a nice pork medallion or steak. Or, stir fry the carrots with some summer peas and mushrooms, and top with edible flowers. If you keep just a bit of the green on the top of the carrot, it still looks like a carrot should 🙂

What to do with the green tops of the carrots? At Osmosis, we use the very tops as “herbs” or micro greens to garnish different dishes. They are edible, and if they’re really fresh, they taste like carrots. Do an experiment. Close your eyes and take a small taste of the carrot top greens (not the stalks, just the leaves) and see if you like them. If they are bitter, they may be too big or a bit old. If they’re smaller and more delicate, use them in salads, on meats or as a pretty, edible garnish.

Other things I learned at Osmosis:

1) With seafood, it’s always best to get it live and kill it yourself, when possible. Por ejemplo: Navajas (razor clams). Just like any shellfish, they should be “live” when you get them. If they are not, there’s a chance you’ll poison your customers or friends and family. And, that’s bad. So, at Osmosis, this past week, I have been the one to play with the razor clams first thing when I get in. The razor clam guy delivers them alive and fresh, and then I wash them (to get the algae and whatever else off of them), then I throw them on the plancha (flat top grill) that is smoking hot – literally – with some olive oil. After 1-2 minutes, all the clams stop wiggling, presumably because I’ve killed them, and all of their shells open up. I take them off the grill, use one side of the razor clam shell to carefully slide the clams out of their shells and that’s how they are served. No salt, no nothing else is needed. They are placed on top of the soup, or on top of whatever else we’re serving them with, and that’s how they are best. Incredibly fresh. Barely cooked. Sweet and salty at the same time.

2) Honeydew melon and fresh ginger is a stunning combo. To make a cold summer, dessert soup, run a very ripe melon through a juicer, or put the melon in the food processor and then put it through a metal sieve to get rid of the pulp. Juice some fresh ginger and mix just a bit of the ginger juice in with the melon. You can always add more ginger juice, but it gets spicy quickly, so add a bit at a time. I also think this would make a great cocktail mixer with some vodka over the rocks. I might throw a splash of lime in with it, as well.

3) Gelatin is your friend (not jell-o). I haven’t met a chef in Spain that doesn’t use sheet or leaf gelatin for their desserts. I haven’t asked why, but I’ve learned that sheet gelatin is a handy and efficient ingredient for setting things up quickly without needing much refrigeration. I’m not sure why gelatin as an ingredient became so favored here, so I’m going to take a few guesses. It may have its origins from not having access to much refrigeration. Or, it may have its origins from the fact that this is the “old world” and they use every part of everything here, and gelatin is a byproduct of bones, cartilage and fat. When you cook meat or boil bones for stock and then refrigerate them, you can see the gelatinous qualities after the fat has “set up.”

Or, maybe it’s about the mouthfeel. The upper melting point of sheet gelatin is below body temperature, so it makes for an interesting mouthfeel when combined with almond milk (as in the flan I made at Dos Palillos), cheese (as in a passion fruit no-bake cheesecake made at El Quim), or fresh fruit pulp/juice (as in the melacotón gelatin square made at Osmosis that melts when it hits your tongue).

I did a little research on gelatin today to learn more about it. I knew that gelatin is derived mainly from pork skins, pork, horse, and cattle bones. I had always heard that is was made from other parts of horses but, contrary to popular belief, horns and hooves are not used, if you believe the Gelatine Manufacturers Institute of America (could be propaganda, I know).

4) Caña is beer in Catalan, but it also means “cane”, as in sugar cane. I learned how to make a killer Jamaican pepper sauce for beef or ox using concentrated sugar cane. I asked Little John to show me what they used for the sauce and he brought out a bottle of concentrated caña. I tasted it and said, “ahhh, molasses.” Apparently, molasses is a very “American” thing. They use sugar cane here. And, this concentrated sugar cane was not blackstrap molasses which is a highly processed molasses that is an American “invention” from the 1920s that has little original sugar cane from being highly processed. But, blackstrap molasses does have more minerals and vitamins in it. Go figure.

Anyway, I also didn’t know what Jamaican pepper was, but I asked him to show me. I smelled it and then guessed from the scent, flavor and looks of it that it was allspice. At home later, I confirmed with the help of the internet that I was right. I’m actually quite surprised that I didn’t know what “pimiento de Jamaica” was. I should probably be embarrassed but it’s all about the learning!

5) One of the big keys to Chef Frederic’s incredible sauces is his amazing beef stock. It is rich in vegetables and black pepper. Chef Frederic is a big fan of fresh cracked black pepper. Finally! A chef who likes black pepper as much as I do. Although he cooks with a lot of French influences, he’s not afraid of the pepper. And, when one uses top shelf peppercorns and everything is freshly ground, it makes a world of difference. So, if you have a pepper “shaker” at your house with already ground pepper in it and it has been on your shelf for quite a while, go ahead and throw it out. That pepper is probably years old (as it’s old by the time you buy it off the supermarket shelf), and it has a high dust content which will contribute to your allergies. Go to a good spice shop, smell the peppercorns, and buy a grinder. It’s not a big expense and it makes all the difference. Then make sure to throw out old peppercorns (or use them in a short amount of time!). You’ll be surprised at the taste.

2 Responses to “More things I’ve learned at Osmosis and windows and doors of BCN”

  1. Bev June 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    This is my favorite yet – of all your blogs!!! Doors, open windows, ginger, mellon, shell fish, carrots . . . all the wonderful recipes! – and it starts with a mouth watering breakfast. (garlic
    spinach – yum,yum) I was transported, thanks.

  2. Charles June 19, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    Great post. That new camera is producing some incredible shots. Thanks for sharing.

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