Spain dinner recap

Huge thanks to all the guests who joined us for this weekend’s Spain-inspired dinner! We had an overwhelming response for this event, and we wish we could’ve accommodated everyone on the waiting list. For those of you who weren’t there, here’s how it went down.

We welcomed everyone with one of these:

Christmas in August
1 1/2 ounces Aviation gin
1 ounce Santa Claus melon agua fresca
1/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce black pepper simple syrup

Garnish with dehydrated jamón chip (dry on a Silpat in a 170 degree oven for 3-4 hours).

Once everyone arrived, we kicked off the meal with our amuse–a mussel poached in fino sherry and served with salsa verde and smoked paprika.

 

 

Our first course was inspired by an amazing breakfast my friends Jenna and Deroy served me a few years ago. We baked morcilla (blood sausage) into the base of a savory bread pudding, topped it with finely diced dates, and served it with a 64-degree sous vide egg. So simple but so good–and a perfect match with the 2000 Lopez de Heredia “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja.

For the second course, we served a Monterey squid with deconstructed romesco and poured a 2010 Bodegas Muga Rosado that mellows out a lot during its brief period in oak. This is one of my personal favorite summer wines–it’s very similar to the Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia aged rosé that we’ve served at two past dinners, but at an incredibly wallet-friendly price.

The third course was actually three mini-courses in one. Pintxos are typically served as bar snacks, often with sherry–but since the three we chose were a bit heavier than our first two courses and required a weightier wine (the Lustau Almacenista Vides Palo Cortado, a beautifully light and nutty sherry from Jerez de la Frontera) we decided to break the rules and serve these later in the meal. The three bites we offered: (1) a skewer with sauteed calf liver and a caramelized shallot in a sherry vinaigrette, (2) a croqueta of arroz negro (rice colored with squid ink) and stuffed with wine-washed goat cheese, and (3) a toast with garlic white bean puree, a boquerone (lightly cured Spanish white anchovy), blood orange, and black olive dust.

For our fourth course, we served a seared veal short loin with Catalán-style baby chard, a pine nut puree, and garbanzo and blood orange gremolata. We paired it with the 2008 Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. This wine is 100% Listan Negro, which is a grape native to the Canary Islands. The volcanic soil there gives this light-bodied wine a bracing black pepper spice that worked as a nice counterpoint to the richness of the veal and the acid in the gremolata.

And then we served cheese.The red swipe on the plate is a savory red wine caramel with thyme. The cheese in the top right is a Garrotxa, which is a tangy goat cheese that (fun fact) the Mythbusters guys deemed perfect for cannonballs. The gooey blob next to the caramel swipe is a funky soft Serra de Estrela sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal. We paired this with an incredible madeira that blends wines 10-60 years old–the Rare Wine Company Historic Series Boston Bual.

We finished things up with Dan’s dark chocolate and Cointreau truffles. To see those, you’re just going to have to join us for dinner.

Thanks again to everyone who was there, and everyone who patiently took a spot on the waitlist. We’ll be announcing our next dinner this week–make sure you’re on the mailing list to get first dibs. Cheers!

 

More than one way to cook an octopus

Around here, duck is the undisputed Most Delicious and Magical Animal. But for me, octopus runs a pretty close second. Its satisfying meatiness, fun form factor (tentacles!), and tendency to pick up subtle smoky flavors from surrounding ingredients make it one of those things I automatically gravitate toward on any menu.

Five pounds of delicious, magical octopus

Done right, octopus is tender rather than rubbery. But there are a few things you need to know about cooking octopus at home. Most importantly: OCTOPUSES ARE NOT SQUID. If you try to cook them the same way, you’ll end up with something that resembles your rubber sink stopper. And nobody wants to eat that.

You have essentially two choices for preparing edible octopus. You can barely cook it and serve it sashimi style–a great option if you fished the thing out of the ocean yourself and know exactly how fresh it is. But if you’re like me and can’t trace the provenance of your cephalopod past Sun Fat Seafood, you should probably make like an Italian grandmother and cook it slowly for a loooooooooooooong time before you grill/sear/sauce it.

Harold McGee, food science expert extraordinaire, very eloquently explains why in this New York Times article. Basically, because octopuses don’t have bones, the muscle fibers in their arms have an enormous amount of connective tissue that gets tough and rubbery before it starts to break down between 190 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. So whatever your final preparation for the octopus, you need to tenderize the meat first by heating it to that temperature for a few hours.

We used McGee’s recommended method this week as part of testing for our Weird Wines dinner. After breaking down our monster five-pound specimen, we blanched it quickly and then cooked it in a dry, covered cast iron pot at 200 degrees for about five hours. The outer ends of the tentacles were awesome–tender, with a distinct but not overwhelming oceanic flavor. The body ends, though, were a little dry. Clearly we have some work to do on calibration of our cooking time. On the upside… dry tentacles mean I get to eat more octopus this week, and I’m not exactly sad about that.

One other cooking method we’ll be trying: sous vide. McGee doesn’t mention this as an option in either his article or On Food and Cooking, but my theory is that heating the meat to 195ish degrees will work the same way whether the meat is in the hot oven air or a water bath. And perhaps by sealing the juices in the vacuum bag (octopus gives off a TON of liquid as it cooks), we can intensify the octopus flavor.

So, talk to me. Have you tried cooking octopus? How did you do it? What worked and what didn’t?