Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama en La Casablanca: Valladolid's Pincho de Oro 2009

Spaniards seem to love themselves some Barak Obama. Once they discover I'm American, they waste no time telling me how much they like him and how much better he is than W. Not that I disagree or anything, but when I mention Zapatero's flaws the tables turn quickly. They ensure me that I simply don't understand Spanish politics.

Digression aside, the proprietor of Restaurante Los Zagales decided to honor our new president by designing a pincho based on his electoral victory. Enter "Obama en La Casablanca"! Every year there are pincho competitions all over Spain. National competitions, regional competitions, city competitions, etc...Los Zagales is pretty famous, having won numerous awards at every level. So far "Obama" has won the gold medal in the city of Valladolid, but the important national competitions are still on the horizon.

So what is "Obama en La Casablanca" you ask? Well, as you can see above, it arrives in a white-domed ceramic dish. That symbolizes the White House for those of you who didn't get it.

The dish itself consists of a disc of crisp puff pastry, topped with a BARELY set egg, truffled mushroom cream sauce, and burned (yes burned) shards of potato. My interpretation of the dish is that the egg represents the egg of reform Obama is attempting to lay in American society, while the puff pastry represents the dangerously fragile state of the U.S. economy on which he is trying lay said egg. The rich truffled cream sauce represents Obama's first-class (and expensive) educational background. Finally, the blackened shards of potato represent Obama himself. Maybe I'm reading too much into the dish though. What do you think?

All said, this pincho is simply fabulous. It is incredibly rich and the oozing yolk combines with the cream sauce to make perfect bread-dipping fodder. Most surprising however, are the burned potatoes. They taste absolutely amazing and not scorched in the slightest. The bartender wouldn't tell me how they make them but I intend on finding out. The shatteringly crisp bits of salty potato are a perfect counterpoint to the creamy sauce.

Monday, June 29, 2009

La Chouffe Blonde Ale

Today I'm trying out La Chouffe Blonde Ale. Blonde (also known as golden) Ale is one of the more popular styles in Belgium. The most commonly known version is Duvel but there are dozens to try here in Brussels. I picked up a 750 ml bottle of La Chouffe at Carrefour because it was just too damned hot to walk all the way to the Bier Tempel.

As you can see, Blonde Ale is, well, golden...a rich amber to be precise. In line with the style, La Chouffe is heavily carbonated. You can see numerous bubbles collecting on the side of my glass. This carbonation adds crispness to the beer and helps compensate for the high alcohol content. That alcohol content is 8% abv, definitely up there for what is supposed to be a heavily drinkable beer. Since Belgian brewers follow no strict stylistic guidelines, the brewmaster decided to add a hint of coriander seed. This touch adds a subtle citrusy essence that only adds to the deceptive quaffability of La Chouffe. All in all, a solid beer for a (relatively) hot Belgian day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Belgian take on the gyro (or doner kebab)

During my stay in Brussels, I've come to the conclusion that the ubiquitous Middle Eastern kebab houses are far superior to traditional Belgian cuisine. I'm sure that there are plenty of excellent Belgian restaurants but the prices in Brussels are obscene! For 5 euros, there is NO Belgian place that can match the flavor of doner kebab.

However, there is an obvious Belgian twist as you can see in the picture above. Often, pitas are served with fries stuffed inside. It is a remarkably tasty combination, although you can get fries on the side instead. Anyone have other ideas for non-traditional things to stuff in a gyro?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Brussels Hiatus

As I am now living in a cramped ill-equipped room in the Schaarbeek neighborhood of Brussels, my Spanish cooking projects have collapsed. Although there is an abundance of Spanish food in store for the near future (San Sebastian and Valladolid here we come!), I need something to fill the time until July 21. So I will try to mark time with some observations of Belgian food/drink.

My early experiences with Belgian food have been underwhelming. As a result, I will start with the "drink" part of the equation! Belgian beer is justly reknowned for variety and quality. Even the cheap Belgian beers are head and shoulders above their American/German/Mexican competitors. You can get a bottle of Chimay Blue label for $1 afterall! Another factor often overlooked by American frat boys is alcohol content. Sure you can get a case of Beast Light for nothing but there is a reason for the price: alcohol content is directly proportional to the amount of malt in the pre-fermented beer. Few American "pilsners" go much above 5% (if that).

The situation in Belgium is light years apart. Even mass market beers can reach 8% abv. In fact, outside of fruit beers, it is difficult to find a Belgian ale under 7%. Since I have to wake up early for the archives tomorrow, I decided on one of these weaker fruit beers for tonight (although it still clocks in at 5.2% abv...above most American light lagers).

The above beer is Leireken's Wilde Vruchten (or since we are in a country with a dangerous linguistic divide Fruits Sauvages). It is a lambic (wild fermentation) brewed with mixed wild fruits. I much prefer too-literal English translation of the name Savage Fruit! This beer tastes like Fruit Loops should. It's flavor and aroma are a complex mix of wild berries but it is not cloyingly sweet. Instead, it has a subtle tang from the wild fermentation that perfectly balances the fruitiness. Even better, it won't leave me hungover for another day of illegible 16th century documents.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mejillones a la marinera: "Sailor-style" Mussels

I haven't posted in a long time. That is an understatement. In two days I leave for Europe for (hopefully) my final dissertation research. The preparations have consumed whatever mental energy might have been directed towards this blog. So today's post is a simple and fast dish of mussels. "Sailor-Style" is a common mussel preparation in Spain. I've embellished the traditional dish with some sauteed jamón.

Mejillones a la Marinera ("Sailor-Style" Mussels)
Serves 1-2 depending on appetite

2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup jamón or other cured ham, minced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp. sweet pimentón, or other paprika
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup white wine
2 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/4 cup parsley, minced
bread for soaking up the delicious juices

1) Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sautee until crisp. Add garlic and pimentón and cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook until starting to break down, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to simmer.

2) Add mussels and cover. Cook, shaking every so often, until mussels open. This will take 3-5 minutes. Remove mussels with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.

3) Taste juices and, if necessary, add salt. Add parsley. Return mussels to pot, stir, then pour into bowl and enjoy with bread!