Friday, October 26, 2007

Liquid gold (a.k.a. olive oil?)

I haven't been feeling great lately, I'm feeling very tired and beat down lately and I can't understand why. I don't think I'm coming down with anything because I have no obvious symptoms other than fatigue, but my head is definitely cloudy lately. I still wanted to try and make it through the day though...

We all met at 10am at Taberna de Haro on Beacon St for a morning of learning about the tapas culture of Spain. I had eaten here before and while I thought the flavors and menu items were good, I was turned off by the (what I thought were) excessive amounts of olive oil on all the food. Some dishes came drenched in a good extra half inch of olive oil, something I wanted to ask about in class today... at least, if it didn't seem too insulting.

We all gathered in the restaurant's tiny kitchen to make two dishes: a vegetable tumbet (a layered, half-lasagna half-ratatouille type thing from Mallorca) and pan-fried quail with garlic. Starting with the vegetable dish, we prepped the ingredients to build the tumbet, slicing green peppers, eggplant, and red peppers to be pan-fried and preparing tomatoes concasse (yay! I used a French cooking term) for the tomato sauce that would hold the whole creation together.

When they were all fried, Deborah (was that her name?) took a large 3" deep baking dish and started to layer the vegetables and sauce together until the entire casserole was full. It wasn't a slow process, but it was a little more time-consuming than I think a cook could handle during the dinner service. I think at this point a lot of us were thinking about how much olive oil had been used and how oily everything seemed. We had cooked each of the vegetables individually in a lot of oil and during construction, there was certainly no mistaking the oil dripping off the vegetables. Scarily, there was still quite a bit of olive oil left at the bottom of the dishes that had been holding the vegetables too.

Funnily, Deborah actually explained at that point about her very liberal use of olive oil in, on and with all her foods. While she believed that olive oil had a great deal of health benefits in a diet, her main reason was that in Spain, extra olive oil was not only welcome by customers, it was an extra touch provided by charitable and generous cooks too be soaked up with bread and enjoyed. I think I see her point and appreciate that it's her way of continuing the tradition of Spanish cooks, but it's not something I'll be able to adjust to easily; I'll definitely keep it in mind for the future.

Once the vegetables were ready, we threw it in the oven so that the water could evaporate a bit and the entire thing could be turned out (which is what tumbet means) onto a serving dish and hold it's shape. On to the quail!

Now, I love quail. There's something immensely satisfying about eating something so small and delicious. I feel the same way about snails, actually, small, but so good. A perfect example of a morsel, in my book. Bite-size (or thereabouts) and lovely. So, quail with a lot of garlic was going to be a hit with me, no matter what.

We seasoned the quails with a little salt and pepper and placed them in a screaming hot pan with a little oil. Once the pan was filled (about eight quails) the roar (is it still a roar when the sound is a sizzle?) was deafening and blocked out all other sounds. It was a lot like a white noise machine, a it really gave me a great indication of how to hear cooking the way a lot of the chefs have been talking about. I've gotten to the point at home when I can hear when something needs to be turned, but being on top of the quails was a great way to really drive that point home. I could hear the way the volume of the sizzling went down after a few minutes, at four or five minutes, the sizzling was a soft hush and it was time to turn them and start the cycle over again. The quails turned out beautifully browned and crisp, a really delicious looking bird.

When all 24 quails had been cooked in the batches, we took out the birds so they could rest, and using the same pan, added in several handfuls of very thinly sliced garlic to cook a little in the leftover oil and fat. Once they were browned, a good splash of sherry vinegar (the good stuff) was added to deglaze the pan and cooked for a minute (to take off a little of the sharpness in the vinegar) before it was poured over the rested quails.

The tumbet didn't come out perfectly, Deborah said that it needed a little longer for it to really set well, but it was still an excellent vegetable accompaniment to the wonderful quails. Unfortunately, I still wasn't feeling well enough to eat much, but I can still tell that the quails were excellent and I have every intension in the world to make that dish a part of my normal cooking repertoire.


Afterwards, the class trekked to the Brookline farmer's market to meet Chris Douglas and learn a little about local produce and seasonal produce. Unfortunately, my morning adventure at Taberna de Haro was all I could handle with my cold and stomach bug and I went home. :(

(Side note: I did go to Parish Cafe on Sunday and eat the Icarus sandwich, as an ode to the day I missed with Chef Douglas.)