A foodie pilgrimage to northern Spain, within the company of a chef on a mission, means creative fish dishes, enjoyable on the market, pleasant locals – and a battle with an octopus
In search of seafood … chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho and fisherman Felix Piñeiro enterprise out to sea.
Photograph: Chris Terry
It’s one factor to prepare dinner an octopus. It’s fairly one other to catch one, to truly haul an octopus out of the ocean and attempt to persuade your self, as its tentacles wind round your arm, that you simply’ll be consuming it for dinner, not the opposite manner spherical. The Basque chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho, who has simply opened a brand new restaurant in London known as Sabor, has finished loads of the previous. She can let you know within the most interesting element learn how to choose, prep, boil and serve – with olive oil, paprika and pinches of sea salt – these exceptional sea creatures.
What she hasn’t finished is catch an octopus – till this morning. We are in a ship off the Galician coastal city of O Grove, in north-west Spain, and a fisherman in yellow oilskins named Felix Piñeiro is lifting octopus pots out of the steel-grey waters. Everything round us – the laid-back peninsula city, its neighbouring islands – is obscured by heavy mist, focusing our view on the duty at hand.
Galicia, Spain map
The first two pots include solely crabs, although Nieves doesn’t appear dissatisfied.
“Huge nécoras,” she says excitedly, utilizing the Spanish phrase for velvet crabs, that are a delicacy on this a part of the world.
A couple of minutes later, a bigger pot resembling a bucket is winched to the floor, water spouting via 100 tiny holes. As Nieves opens the pot, her face turns into momentarily unreadable. She reaches down and, with some problem, hoists into the air an infinite octopus, burnt orange in color, its white-suckered tentacles flailing about in all instructions.
“Unbelievable!” she cries, struggling to maintain her grip on it. “I’ve never seen one this big.”
She seems half-delighted, half-daunted because the tentacles twist up her sleeves. “Puta madre!” she laughs. “It’s pulling me down.”
Getting a grip … chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho and fisherman Felix Piñeiro examine the day’s catch. All pictures: Chris Terry, besides the place said
This expertise – feeling awed and a bit overwhelmed by what comes out of the ocean – might sound acquainted to anybody who’s been to Galicia. This rugged area is a particularly lovely place to go to. With greater than 1,000km of Atlantic shoreline at its disposal in addition to numerous bays and estuaries, or rías – the place shellfish develop giant and juicy in nutrient-rich waters – it’s additionally one of the vital thrilling seafood locations on the planet.
A Coruña’s Old Town is a superb place to get lost in, as we did, earlier than winding up at a terrific bar known as La Bombilla
Octopus is the primary focus of this journey. Nieves is researching native cooking strategies for her new restaurant, the place she plans to prepare dinner octopus Galician-style in giant copper pots – however that doesn’t imply we’re ignoring all the opposite delights the area has to supply.
We start the place most pilgrimages to Galicia finish – in Santiago de Compostela, about 70km inland from O Grove. For the tens of hundreds who every year stroll the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great, this elegant regional capital marks the ultimate cease. They collect within the large sq. subsequent to the 1,000-year-old cathedral, which is claimed to deal with the saint’s stays, and lie flat on their backs considering their achievement.
The cathedral in Santiago can also be well-known for its botafumeiro, an infinite brass censer that swings like a pendulum via the transept on sure days of the 12 months trailing nice clouds of incense. After a fast appreciation of the cathedral’s ornate inside we hurry on searching for lunch.
Incense inside … Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral is known for its botafumeiro, an infinite brass censer. Photograph: Alamy
We discover it at Mercado de Abastos, town’s central meals market. Outside, native farmers are promoting apples, pumpkins and cabbages greater than basketballs. Under the colonnades on the seafood part, we hoot at our first sight of octopus, after which get distracted by the alien-looking percèbes, or goose barnacles, that are plucked from wave-battered rocks and cliffs alongside the Galician coast – a dangerous business for the percebeiros doing the plucking.
Some of the very best produce from these stalls finally ends up at Abastos 2.zero, a tiny taberna on the sting of the market. We pause right here for lunch earlier than we head north. “People in Galicia are so friendly,” Nieves remarks as we sit out within the solar consuming uncooked sea bass and consuming Estrella Galicia beer. As if to show it, the restaurant’s co-owner Iago Pazos presents us with a big slab of empanada gallega (Galician pie, this one full of tuna and crimson pepper) to tide us over till dinner.
Our base for this journey is A Coruña, an hour to the north. It will not be the prettiest port metropolis, its skyline a mishmash of late 20th-century structure, however there are various good causes to go to. For one, the Old Town is a superb place through which to get lost, as we did on the primary night time, earlier than winding up at a terrific little bar known as La Bombilla to feast on Padrón peppers and Russian salad. This is simply an appetiser for our dinner at Cervecería Estrella Galicia, the place an expansion of seafood dishes – together with lobster, nécoras crabs and a powerful John Dory – are matched with beers from the distillery.
Behind glass … Mercado de Abastos market in Santiago de Compostela
The metropolis’s most arresting sight is the Tower of Hercules, a 55m Roman lighthouse located on a promontory on the fringe of city. Dating again to the second century AD, the lighthouse nonetheless features as we speak and you may climb it a lot of the solution to the highest. This, mixed with the lengthy stroll again alongside the promenade, through Riazor seashore, is a superb solution to work off a heavy lunch.
The subsequent day brings us to O Grove, although we haven’t come right here simply to catch octopus. Since Nieves first visited Galicia 5 years in the past, she has been making an annual pilgrimage to eat at a restaurant on the town known as d’Berto.
“He’s got the best seafood, full stop,” she says of the proprietor Berto Domínguez García, who does the sourcing whereas his sister Marisol runs the kitchen. “It’s one of my favourite restaurants.”
After an extended lunch at d’Berto, beginning with oysters, clams and nécoras, moving on to palometo roja, an orange-red fish with gigantic eyes, and ending with a chic torta de queso (cheesecake), it’s one among my favourites, too.
At a pinch … Nieves with a lobster at d’Berto
Later, Berto takes us to the native fish market to look at the day’s catch being auctioned. Then it’s on to the Albamar vineyard in close by Cambados, the place we drink albariño, eat but extra seafood, and afterwards dance (or at the very least stagger alongside) to an area band enjoying conventional music on the gaita, a kind of bagpipe which hints on the area’s Celtic roots.
On the menu, by the way, is the 5kg octopus that Nieves caught earlier within the day. Xurxo, whose household owns the vineyard, cooks it Galician-style in a big copper pot. Usually octopus is frozen earlier than cooking, to tenderise the flesh; Xurxo softens this one up by whacking it 42 instances towards a granite gravestone.
I need to confess to some queasiness at this level, having witnessed the poor factor being caught, killed, and now bashed about on a slab of rock. But my qualms are shortly forgotten when the octopus is served up with caramelised onions and potatoes. It’s a revelation.
“The flavour is much fuller than frozen ones,” says Nieves. “It tastes more of the sea.”
Not a nasty factor for an octopus to style like, all advised. Particularly when the ocean in query is the one crashing towards the shores of Galicia.
Way to go
Double rooms on the Parador (aka Hostal dos Reis Católicos) in Santiago de Compostela from €142 an evening. The A Coruña Finisterre Hotel has doubles from €80 an evening. British Airways flies from Heathrow to Santiago from £48one-way