Traveling has always had a big impact on the way Al Spoler eats. As he moves around the world in his travels, he encounters all sorts of new things to eat, many of which he attempts to replicate back home. Al and Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School invited Cynthia Glover, one of their favorite travelers, to be join them for this episode.
Cynthia has been spending a lot of time on the French-Spanish border and stumbled across an amazing group of Spanish ladies.
The village of Sils lays about 40 miles northeast of Barcelona in Catalonia, the northeast corner of Spain. It is home to a group of cooking grannies calling themselves Las Yayas de Sils, or La Cuina a Sils. (Yaya is Catalan slang for grandmother.) The grannies have committed themselves to preserving their local culinary traditions, because as we all know, nobody can cook like a grandmother.
In Spain the Yayas are practically rock stars. Many of their recipes are available on-line, but here are two of Cynthia's favorites.
Catalan Braised Codfish
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
2 pounds fresh cod fillet, cut in four portions
2 onions, finely chopped
2 leeks, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup grated tomato or tomato puree
1/4 cup Marcona almonds pounded with a pinch of salt
1/2 cup raisins soaked in ratafia or dry sherry to cover
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic slices, and sauté them until lightly browned. Remove the garlic slices.
Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the fillets in the flour to lightly coat. Lightly brown the fillets in the garlic-infused oil. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Add the onions and leeks to the pan and cook slowly, over medium-low heat, until they are meltingly tender and well caramelized. This could take a half hour or more. Be patient!
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and let it reduce until the pan is almost dry. Then stir in the tomato and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add water if the mixture is too dry.
Stir in the pounded almonds and raisins. Simmer 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the toasted pine nuts and snuggle the browned fish fillets into the sauce to finish cooking. Simmer for 5 or so minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
Makes 4 to 6 individual servings
1/2 liter whole milk
100 grams sugar
9.5 grams cornstarch
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Sugar for topping
Gently whisk together the milk, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir, watching carefully, until you see small bubbles around the edge of the pan.
Slowly pour a few splashes of the hot milk mixture into the beaten egg yolks and whisk gently to combine. Add the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, still over medium-low heat. Stir gently and continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour the mixture into 4 to 6 individual cazuelas or heat-proof dishes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
To serve, sprinkle the surfaces of each custard lightly with sugar, then caramelize the sugar with a heated flat iron, blow-torch or broiler.