03.24.13: tapas (pollo con ajo, ajo blanco de malagueño, y rossejat de gambetes i aiolli)

Ajo blanco de malagueño (or, white gazpacho)

Ajo blanco de malagueño (or, white gazpacho)

Yes, that’s a whole mess of Spanish and Català up there in the post title.  No, I make no apologies.

This meal was a bit ambitious for us, even for a Sunday night: in the mood for some delicious José Andrés-style tapas after hearing about Michael’s visit to Zaytinya during his recent trip to DC. Picking four dishes (the three listed here, along with a variation of this salad), I made a plan to get some of the work done early in the afternoon, after my workout but before I went down the street to see the Chilean movie No at the local non-profit movie theater. I really thought that I had it all in hand: I made the sofrito for the rossejat after we got back from the store, and everything else was pretty much self-explanatory. Or so I thought.

Pollo de ajo

Pollo de ajo

What almost, almost threw my whole plan into disarray was the white gazpacho, or blanco ajo. Here’s the thing: you make it by boiling your blanched almonds and cloves of garlic twice, then blend it with bread and water and sherry vinegar and a little salt and olive oil until it’s nice and smooth. That mixture needs to then sit in cheesecloth and drip, drip, drip–this is great if you have all day to do so, but it requires a lot of tending in addition to a good 30 minutes to let the strained product chill in the refrigerator. I ended up adding a little more water to the mixture to help things along, and Michael assisted in scraping the mesh strainer to clear out the spent bits while working on the pollo de ajo.

That garlic chicken, by the way, was sublime and delicious. It’s simply a lot of garlic, a little herbs, some salt and some chicken. Not much to dislike there!

Rossejat de gambeta i allioli

Rossejat de gambeta i allioli

Following the first two courses, I went to the serious work of making the rossejat. Normally, this would be made in a paella, but because I wanted leftovers for the week I used a skillet to make it. (Note: to make this right, you’ll need a pan you can fit into a broiler if your broiler is separate from  your regular oven.) This was the first time I’ve used capellini instead of egg noodles to make a Catalan pasta dish, and I think for this particular dish, the former works better than the latter. The pieces of pasta need to be really small in order for you to move them with any sort of finesse in the pan as they toast, and then it makes it easier to incorporate the garlic and the sofrito later on, right before you add the hot stock to help everything cook. As someone who saves every shrimp shell I tear off, I had plenty to use when I made the stock for this–just boiled shells that are skimmed out and then simmered with bay leaf, a peeled shallot, and some garlic and a little salt.

Once the components come together, there’s not much else to do with this but let the stock absorb and then send the whole pan into the broiler to finish, and in the meantime you can get everything ready to make some allioli. We had amazing, homemade ailloli when we were in Caldetes, and it was honestly one of the most significant foods I ever ate, because it made me appreciate a food I had long avoided as being bland, flavorless ,and therefore a unnecessarily fatty addition to any dish. Thanks to the addition of garlic this was light and savory and thick, thicker than any homemade mayo I’ve ever made. But Chef Andrés had a recipe that used an immersion blender, and I told Michael it was at least worth an attempt to make. Spooning some dollops of the stuff into this dish elevates it from “okay, it’s pretty good” to “OMFG MUST EAT ALL OF IT” status. How do I know? Michael himself went back for a second portion, and was happy to help me with my puny second portion afterwards.

The picture above indicates that the attempt was a success. Was it as thick as the stuff we had in that little restaurant in Caldetes? No, but it was close. I’ll take close. I also had enough delicious pasta to last me through the week for lunch. 

Despite of all of this kitchen activity, we started having food at 6:30 and finished by 8. Not too bad, if I say so myself.

Ajo Blanco de Malagueño

adapted from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by José Andrés

  • 3 cups filtered water, plus extra for thinning if needed
  • 7 ounces blanched almonds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 ounces white bread, torn into small pieces
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus some good olive oil for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • Seedless grapes, sliced in half (as many as you want)

Place the almonds and garlic and a cup of water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain, and then add another cup of water and boil the almonds and garlic again, also draining. At this point the garlic should be softened and mild and the almond should also be soft.

In a blender, add the bread, sherry vinegar, the water, and salt. Blend well until smooth, and then place into a fine-mesh sieve to begin draining. If seeing little movement return mixture to the blender carafe and add a few more splashes of water and blend again. Working in batches, add the mixture to the strainer and gently mix to move the spent bits away from the liquid. When all liquid has been extracted, discard solids and let the strained liquid chill for at least 30 minutes.

Alternatively, you can line a colander with a layer of cheesecloth and place it in a large bowl, and pour the entire mixture into it and let it drain. As the liquid seeps out, you can gather up the cheesecloth and gently squeeze to get as much of the contents out as possible.

Pour gently into bowls, and add grapes and drizzle good olive oil as desired.

(ETA some adjustments to the recipe.)

  1. All that work, a workout, a movie and you still managed to get the food on the table and finished hours before Catalan meal time! Well done!

    • Oh, if we ate here at the time we would eat in Europe, Michael would have a fit. 🙂 It’s all about proper time management…

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