La cuina de Catalunya: fried squid inspired by Bar Celta Pulperia and shopping for tile at Pinar Miró.

Rabas (fried squid) with allioli

Initially, when I was deep into the planning stage for our trip to Spain I really, really wanted to find some tile shops to find some cool, ideally hand-painted tiles I could carefully bring back to the States, but in reality, the list I came up with comprised of shops that mainly sold the more touristy tiles with letters and numbers that you can bring home to add some flair to your home. (I know this, because I totally bought my grandmom these tiles back in 2005 and now I have them on my magnet board in my kitchen.) Some further digging, though, presented the option of checking out a cement tile shop in the El Born neighborhood of the city. After gazing at the gorgeous floor tiles at places like Bar Marsella throughout our stay, we set out on our last day in Barcelona early in the evening in search of tiles and then, eventually, tapas.

Pinar Miró is a rather unassuming shop: the main room is essentially an open space filled with piles of cement tiles of various shapes and colors (though most are square). The employees are totally reasonable when it comes to buying single tile: they only ask that you stick to the tiles where they have four or more of the pattern available as open stock, excluding the vintage tiles(!) they sell as well. This is helpful to the tourist buyer as your selection is immediately limited in scope, but it still encourages you to circle the showroom a few times to find one or two that catch your eye. (And for five euro a tile, it makes for a totally reasonable souvenir that’s genuinely special and unique!)

I went with a really classic pattern—from what I can tell, Circulous is the most common name for it—and while I would have loved to get something that was more comfortable (or something I would see in Bar Marsella), it’s one of the patterns that I have long loved. The fact that we aren’t closer to this store is bittersweet; while I would love to wander this showroom on a more regular basis, it’s probably better for my bank account that I can’t redo both of our bathrooms with these gorgeous tiles, because I WOULD.

Cement tile in hand, we wandered through the neighborhood taking some photos and the like and came upon Bar Celta Pulperia, a tapas place I had flagged as a place to visit back from our last trip to Barcelona four years ago. They specialize in octopus (otherwise known as pulpo), but even if you don’t find yourself inclined towards that particular cephalopod, there are plenty of other options.

That said, if you do like octopus, or would like to end your octopus-eating (because they are highly intelligent creatures and it feels unseemly to you) if only at an amazing place to do so, then Bar Celta is your place to do it. This is their specialty, and they execute their signature dish flawlessly. Or at least that’s what Michael told me because I can’t deal with the texture of octopus.

One of the best dishes we had, while we were there, was the fried squid rings; first of all, these rings are fucking HUGE, and secondly, they know how to cook them to get a great golden batter around them while not making the actual meat taste rubbery is an ART. At first, I thought I would only be able to enjoy a recipe like this in Barcelona, but then I realized when going through The Basque Book that the Rabas recipe (otherwise known as Sunday-afternoon-fried-squid) would be a close-enough facsimile of that recipe while also giving us a taste of Basque Country, because I am a woman also obsessed with that region now.

The key to the recipe I found is the soda water because you need it to be ice-cold and you absolutely need it to be bubbly. We had a club soda that ended up being flat as the road when we poured it to measure out the amount we needed. I quickly fled to 7-Eleven to get some club soda, but they were sold out, so I ended up taking a Big Gulp cup and ran down the street to the first restaurant that didn’t look overly crowded and asked for a fill of club soda from their gun, and that worked out beautifully. I was so proud of my ingenuity at the moment, even though I did feel like a housewife looking for a spare cup of sugar or milk.

Bar Marsella’s cement tiles

The thing about this batter is that if you will need more than 12 ounces of ice-cold club soda to thin out the batter to something more akin to a pancake batter—it might have been how long we left the batter to sit, but it couldn’t have been longer than 30 minutes at most and it was really thick. Adding some additional bubbly water to the mix made the batter that much better.

The other tool that makes this dish easier to deal with is having extra-long chopsticks. Michael picked up a pair of these when he was in Tokyo a few years ago, but you could find similar versions at your favorite Asian grocery store. The chopsticks make taking out the squid rings so easy, and you don’t end up with a ton of oil to mop up in its wake.

 

Fried squid with allioli

Lightly adapted from The Basque Book

Serves 2-3

  • 1 lb squid, cleaned, bodies and tentacles separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 12 ounces (plus extra) of ice-cold club soda
  • ½ cup rice flour
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • ½ cup modern allioli for serving

 

Keep the tentacles whole and slice the squid into ½-inch rings. Bring together the batter: combine the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, and then whisk in the egg and club soda and stir until the batter is like pancake batter. (You might need more club soda depending on the day.) Let sit for 15-20 minutes before using; use that time to heat up the olive oil and set up the rest of your batter station, which will entail putting the rice flour on a separate plate and having a towel-lined wire rack for the finished pieces.

In a medium saucepan, add enough olive oil to cover by 2 inches. Heat until the oil gets to 365 degrees. When ready to fry, dip each piece of squid into the rice flour to lightly coat, and then place into the batter a few pieces at a time, allowing any excess batter come off before placing in the hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes or until the squid is nicely golden brown and delicious, and place on wire rack to drain and season lightly with salt. Serve immediately with allioli.

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