Well, if you are reading this already is because you’re definitely into onions. But wait until I tell you about this particular kind of onions. Maybe you’ve heard of them before, maybe not. Maybe you`ve been to Catalonia and already know where this post is heading to. So let me introduce you to the great, traditional and authentic CALÇOTS!
Calçots are a special kind of onion which is only produced in the region of Catalonia in Spain. Apparently originated in the catalan area called Valls, in Tarragona -southern Catalonia- back in the beginnings of the 20th century. Nowadays, you can find them all over the region, but still the best quality ones are produced in Valls area, mainly Baix Penedès, Tarragonès, Biax Camp and L’Alt Camp. It is said calçots were discovered by a Valls’s farmer known as Xat de Benaiges, however this fact is still uncertain today.
HOW? PART I
There is a special technique in order to produce calçots. It is not about the type of onion but about the cultivating process, which has several phases. Onion seeds are first planted in a seedbed during the months of October, November and December. (Some country experts would say that September 23rd-24th is the perfect day for planting the seeds, however is a tough call to be so specific). These seeds will grow along the next weeks and when they reach the germination phase, these grown onions will be pulled off the seedbed and then re-planted into the ground, pure fresh ground, but just up to “half-body”. They will be kept here, growing underground until summer starts to arrive, around June. The onion`s head will rise out from the ground a bit and this is when calçot’s production go into action!
These pulled summer-onions will have their leaves cut off, then kept for a few days in storage until planting them again into the ground on summer endings, for a second round. While they are growing, onions must be “watered” with piles of dirt on their sides mainly. This will let the half-body planted onion bulbs grow into a tender, white and thin bulb, which will make the typical calçot in the end. When the bulbs are mature, then calçots will be harvested or picked up quickly in order to assure the best quality and conservation process. Now calçots are ready to be distributed, prepared and savoured!
Calçots are a traditional winter food, mainly to be eaten between late January up to April. As you read before, it takes more than a season to harvest them, so they will usually be ready from one winter to the next.
These special food deserves a particular event in order to savour them. That is why people usually prepares an entire day event for this, gathering beloved ones, friends, family and any other pleased guests in order to enjoy a CALÇOTADA. Is not only about eating them, but about preparing them, from the box and into our digestive systems.
HOW? PART II
Usually you can find calçots in any market or local stores, being selled in rolls of 25-50 units for less than 10 euros each roll. Cheap! After harvested, calçots are never washed, preferably. Farmers will just pull them out of the ground, shake them a bit for excessive dirt and then they roll them together, ready to sell.
At home and with the grill ready, calçots will just be placed right over the hot flaming grill; one side first until the outer skin is black and roasted, then turning them around to the other side. For easier grilling and depending on the quantity of calçots to be grilled, the cooking expert can put calçots together along through a thin metallic wire in order to move them easily. But they can also be grilled without the wire method. After both sides are black and smoked, that group of calçots on the grill will be taken off and rolled up all together into a newspaper paper to keep them warm until every single unit is cooked. Usually, during this process, all guests will gather around the grill and watch the cooking process, drink some wine, chat or just fool around together. —-
Finally, calçots are all ready, grilled, rolled up and ready to be served on the table! But wait, important fact: calçots must be eaten with their special dipping sauce called ROMESCO sauce. It can be homemade or just bought at the market as well. It is probably the main secret to eating the tastiest calçots. Now you are ready to go! Bib in hand (or in chest actually), sauce in front, calçots on table and wine aside. They can even give you sometimes a plastic glove to avoid hands black as coal.
The dark smoked skin of the calçot must be peeled off from the upside down with one hand, while holding it from the leaves with the other hand. It will come out very easily. And you will have then in front of you a brand fresh and white calçot waiting to be dipped and eaten. The experience of the first bite is quite unique! You will always remember that bit, I can assure that. Calçots have no real onion taste, it’s a very mild flavor, not spicy, just a tender and perfectly balanced feeling in your mouth. Even if you are not an onion lover, you will be smitten by these. I promise. And then, you will never want to stop eating them!
After the calçot tasting as a first dish, they will usually prepare and serve the most exquisite vegetables and meats you will ever taste: lamb ribs, pork, chicken, artichokes. All grilled. And wine that must be drank from the bottle, better called PORRO. Requires balance and skills in order to remain clean! Oh yes, calçotadas are special. Always in good company, with good wine, good food…this is how good times are served!
I`ve been able to try already a few calçotadas during my time in the area for a couple of years and specially the most recent one was unique, offered for an awesome catalan blogtrip experience by Charming Villas Catalonia. I must say thank everyone on the event for inviting us and sharing the catalan love and traditions. It was outstanding and exquisite!
So after this great introduction to calçots, how about some grilled onions the catalan way? Yes please! Get your bib ready and enjoy.