Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona: A Portland Connection

A fellow named Robin Willis, a former Portlander and a filmmaker, artist, writer, bon vivant and friend of contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, was in town recently with his new book "Bar Pinotxo: God is in the Garbanzos" about the "history, stories, and recipes from the 17 stool chiringuito in the most famous mercado in the world." (See video, above, and be sure to turn on the closed captioning.) This legendary bar is in Barcelona, where Willis now lives, and he recently shared a recipe from that book.

As Jordi [Asin, the chef at Bar Pinotxo] says, “good food comes from poor cultures… a rich culture has everything they want but those with less have to get by, refine, reuse and make the best out of simple ingredients” and like the vast majority of Spanish and Catalan dishes it is the simplicity of the technique and the quality of ingredients that make this dish so magical, sensuous, tasty and in this case, a little bit... dirty.

"Now how do I eat this?”

Another aspect of life in Iberia is that people here are not afraid to touch each other, things and food... both theirs and that that technically belonging to others. When they cook they dive in with both hands as naked as the day they arrived in this odd and beautiful place. Poking, squeezing, wiping, tasting…sometimes licking. Obviously, here when it comes to microbes it’s the more the merrier and considering that Spain has the healthiest population in Europe it must be working.

With this in mind here’s a potential eating scenario: Undoubtedly you will start by picking the clams out of their shells with your fork… and you might just stab an errant chunk of briny egg. Soon you will realize that much of the egg has affixed itself to the shell and ultimately to the meat of the clam. The residual heat has pretty much melded their molecules or at least glued them together pretty damn well. What are you going to do, go for the low hanging fruit? The big chunks? The easy pickings…and leave the rest on the plate? You are not one of those people who leave behind pizza bones, are you?

God bless you for your propriety, and this plan of attack may be the correct and tidy thing to do but you will miss out on all of the good stuff and you will go away hungry and frustrated. Give up and give in…put down that fork, grab one of those tiny mollusks, spread the shells apart, stick out your tongue and get busy. OK…I could get really descriptive about the sea-i-ness and salt-i-ness and the firm rigid texture of the clams and how this contrasts with the warm soft suppleness of the eggs and how you have to use your tongue and your teeth to scrap them off of the rock hard shells…and how it seems oh so beautiful but at the same time oh so obscene and forbidden but just oh so right…but I shan't…I shall leave some things up to imagination. Just go for it.

Scrambled Eggs with Very Small Clams

Serves 2 as a main dish or more as tapas.

Big dash of extra virgin olive oil
300 grams (10 oz.) of really fresh tallerinas [1] [very small clams like littlenecks]
50 grams (2 oz.) of thinly sliced onions
2 or 3 high quality, free range eggs from very happy chickens [2]
Sea salt flakes [3]
Twist of freshly ground black pepper or a dusting of Pimenton de la Vera [4]

Secret cooking tool: 1 glass pan lid…and it has to be glass because you have to see what’s going deep inside the pleasure dome. (Jordi and company put the clams directly on the griddle and use an old pyrex bread pan. They also have a quarter inch of callouses on their fingers. Trust me, use the pan lid.)

Beat the eggs well.

Pre-heat a skillet to medium—relax, no matter what you do it will come out really tasty—unless you go for a half hour jog or something while it's cooking, now that's a different story. Add the olive oil. Let the oil heat up a second of two then lower the heat then fry the onions very slowly until golden and then add them to the beaten eggs. Frying onions at a low temperature is part of the "sofregit" Catalan karmic cooking experience.

Toss in a little more oil and add the tallerinas. Now quickly cover the pan with the pan lid (you are in effect making a steamer). Paying attention, you will notice that in a short while the tallerinas will open and release this amazing sea juice that was trapped inside their shells. Once all the clams have opened (and this is the tricky part because you want as many of them as possible to open but you also don't want all the juice to evaporate) remove the lid and toss in the eggs and onion mixture then lightly oscillate everything with a wooden spoon.

Cover the pan and watch closely. Once the eggs are just “cooked” (and by this I mean they have just turned opaque... undercooked is better than overcooked) switch off the heat. The residual temperature of the pan and the clams will finish cooking the eggs. Slide the eggs and the clams (which have now become one, more or less) into shallow bowls. Add a sprinkle of the salt, a crack of pepper or a very light dusting of the pimenton and serve while it’s still warm.

[1] These are very small clams. But bigger ones work fine too. OK... steamers... no geoducks! 
[2] In Spain we have amazing chickens. Small, wiry and happy and sadly for them, really tasty. They are sort of the Antonio Banderas of poultry... and they make amazing eggs that need no refrigeration. Nevera? Nevera? We don't need no stinkin’ Nevera!
[3] I once almost got into a fist fight over the concept of "finishing salt." Apparently it's the salt you finish with as opposed to the salt you start with. Nonsense! Any good, flaky sea salt will do. Maldon is great stuff as is the smoked stuff from Brittany. What you want is wispy little pillows of salt. No rock salt pellets, please.
[4] Oh my how I love this stuff. Smoky, round, dusky…Pimenton de La Vera is to generic paprika what bacon is to olive loaf. People have to stop me from putting it on ice cream. It comes but from one small county in the harsh and wild province of the aptly named Extremadura.

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