How to eat calcots is something that has intrigued us since we were last in Barcelona and a local named it as the must-do eating experience. It wasn’t until our trip to the Penedes that we finally had the chance to learn to eat calcots like the locals in Catalunya.
As calçotada get-togethers and festivals are currently underway in Catalunya in Northeastern Spain, we thought we’d share this post of two years ago on the ritual of eating calçots and, more importantly, how to eat calçots like the locals.
How to Eat Calcots Like the Locals in Catalunya
We’ve been travelling to Spain since the mid nineties, but it wasn’t until Terence and I spent two weeks in Barcelona during our yearlong 2010 grand tour that we heard about calcots. More correctly written as calçots in Catalan and pronounced kalsots.
We had asked our Barcelona local knowledge expert Sergio to suggest a must-do eating experience, and without hesitation he recommended la calçotada, a festival or event where the people of Catalunya enjoy the communal ritual of eating calcots.
For Catalans, the joyful celebration and ritual of eating calcots is as much a part of the experience as the rather inelegant consumption of the calcots themselves. You will need a bib. (Scroll down for further instructions).
But it wasn’t until our recent trip to the Penedes wine region that we finally got to learn how to eat calcots like the locals in Catalunya, the autonomous region that includes Barcelona, cities and towns like Tarragona, Girona and Lleida, and the Penedes wine region. (The English call it Catalonia.)
What are calcots?
Calçots are something in between an enormous scallion or spring onion and a leek, both in terms of size and flavour. (We were informed they were none of those things.) While they resemble a large spring onion, to us they didn’t taste as pungent as spring onions can be and were more mild and more sweet, like the softest part of the leek.
One of the things that distinguishes calçots from spring onions and so on, is their whiteness (only the ends are green) and this is achieved by covering them with earth as they grow to create a sort of dirt sleeve. We were informed that this is how they got their name, as the process was like putting clothes on the plant, and that verb in Catalan is ‘calçar’.
How are calcots cooked?
Traditionally, calcots are barbecued outdoors, tightly packed beside eachother on a grill over a roaring open fire. In the wine-growing regions they’ll fuel the flames with old grapevine stalks.
However, when we sampled them in a restaurant they were cooked over charcoal and a little fire on a large hearth in a kitchen rather than outside. (See the gallery above.)
If traditions are maintained, the calcots should not be de-rooted or cleaned, so don’t be surprised if they literally taste of the earth.
The only seasonings the cook used on the calcots we sampled were rock salt, a little pepper, and a deliciously green, locally produced, virgin olive oil. She continually turned them until they were evenly charred.
When cooked outdoors in the chilly winter and early spring air for a large group, the calcots are traditionally wrapped in newspaper to steam them once they’re charred. They are then kept on roof tiles to keep them warm.
Calcots are dipped in Romesco sauce, which the Catalans call salbitxada. Originating in Catalunya, Romesco is made from roasted red peppers (as in red bell peppers or capsicum), almonds, garlic, olive oil, and bread, and is also served with seafood.
This Serious Eats Romesco sauce recipe is the closest we’ve found to the Catalan recipe. Another Bon Appetit recipe was recommended as being delicious, but strangely enough it doesn’t have bread and it also has the addition of tomato puree and Sherry vinegar.
If you haven’t tried it before, Romesco sauce is a little similar to muhammara, our favourite Syrian dip, which is made with walnuts instead of almonds, and has the addition of pomegranate molasses.
Where can calcots be eaten?
The most quintessential calcot eating experience is at a calcotada. ‘La calçotada’, as the Catalans call it, can be as simple as a group of friends and family getting together to grill them around an open fire in the backyard.
It can also take the form of a public event, such as a festival that celebrates the calcots harvest. The first and the most famous calcotada is in Valls, Tarragona, the Gran Festa de la Calçotada, which falls on the last weekend of January, when thousands of people will stand about watching the grilling with wine in hand before partaking in mass peeling and dipping.
These festivals have a long tradition. At the VINSEUM Catalan Wine Cultures Museum in Villafrancha, I saw an old black and white image of a group of people dressed up in their early 20th century finery, standing in a circle around a fire, each holding a calcot high above their head.
While traditionally, the calçotades take place in late January, in the peak of winter, depending upon where they’re grown, they could be eaten throughout the calcot season, which we were told could last anywhere from November to April.
We tried calcots on our 50 Great Cavas trip, which we spent sipping Cava and sampling Catalan cuisine in the Penedès wine region near Barcelona. Our hosts at Canals & Munné’s restaurant in Sant Sidurni d’Anoia served us what they said were the first early calcots of the season. That was in late October.
We experienced what is apparently a traditional calçotada with the calçots for the first course, then grilled meats and vegetables, including the region specialty, the pork sausage called botifarra, all served with local wines.
And here’s where the fun began, with a lesson on how to eat calcots like the locals…
How to Eat Calcots Like the Locals
- Tie a napkin or bib around your neck – unless you want sauce on your shirt.
- Take one calçot and grasp it tightly near its base with the fingers of one hand and with the other hand reach for the most central piece with the fingers of your other hand.
- Gently pull. The central soft, lemon or off-white coloured piece should slide free fairly easily, though it can be tricking the first time.
- Discard the outer charred green skins.
- Dip the soft core into a bowl of Romesco sauce, generously covering the calçot.
- Tilt your head back, open your mouth wide, and drop the delectable morsal into your mouth. Chew, swallow, sigh
- Wash it down with a glass of Cava.
Make sure to scroll through the gallery of images above.
Have you had the opportunity to eat calcots like the locals in Catalunya before? How did you manage? If you have any additional tips on how to eat calcots like the locals we’d love to hear from you in the Comments below.
Our trip through the Penedes Wine Region was hosted by Wine Pleasures.