With our tummies full of ducks and snails, we moved on to Barcelona, where Pedro and Arantxa took us to what must be one of the city’s best neighbourhood restaurants – Cal Boter, in Gràcia – luckily unknown to the hordes of tourists down by the seafront. Here we sampled more Catalunyan specialities, including one of their classic ‘surf ‘n’ turf’ dishes – this time wild mushrooms with prawns. And we had bacalao – salted and dried cod – about which I suspect you could write a thesis as it appears in all sorts of countries, is used in all sorts of ways, and reflects all sorts of interesting historical connections…
Rivalling caldo gallego for our favourite Galician dish was pulpo gallego, another local classic, this time found mainly in the towns and villages round the miles and miles of wrinkly coastline. What makes this dish Galician is the way the octopus is cooked and served…
There are crabs in all the world’s oceans, in freshwaters and on the
land. I once met a man in Rarotonga called Piri Puruto (‘the Coconut
King’) who kept large red land crabs as pets – crawling free around the
living room. The smallest is the minuscule Pea Crab which lives inside
oysters, and the largest is the Japanese Spider Crab, with a leg span
of up to 4m.
You don’t want to be an Alaskan King Crab fisherman; 300 of every
100,000 are killed every year, the highest fatality rate of all
Scallops swim by rapidly opening and closing their shells.
They are hermaphroditic. The colour of their roe is determined by the gender of the parent (at the time). Red = female. White = male.
Scallops have eyes! In fact, over 60 of them. They’re blue. We don’t eat them though. We just eat the muscle that holds the shells together, which is sometimes, confusingly, called ‘the eye’.
Try to buy ‘dry packed’ scallops as they are additive-free. ‘Wet-packed’ ones contain a chemical to make them absorb water before being frozen.
The scallop shell is the emblem of St James, hence the dish coquilles St Jacques. In Dutch scallops are Jakobsschelp. Rumour has it that St James fell into a river and came out covered in scallops, which seems unlikely.
Black Cod is not related to the true Cod; it’s from another family of fish altogether. It’s also called Sablefish and Butterfish, or rather Sablefish and Butterfish are also called Black Cod. Fish are notoriously mislabelled, or sold by more than one name – it’s very confusing.
You could use fat fillets of any buttery, flaky white fish instead, maybe Halibut, Haddock, Bass or Pacific Cod. Apparently Nigella uses Salmon.
Don’t use Atlantic Cod as there aren’t many left.
The real Black Cod comes from very cold waters in the Southern hemisphere. It can live in such cold places because its blood contains a natural antifreeze. Special antifreeze proteins cling to little ice crystals in the blood and prevent them growing and killing the fish.