Between late January and the end of April, calçots are hard to miss in Barcelona, and beyond. Eating calçots (large, sweet spring onions), grilled meat and sausages in huge excess, with plenty of salvitxada (a sauce similar to Romesco), washed down with copious streams of red wine, is a much anticipated event during the coldest months of the year. Here’s our guide for throwing a successful Do-It-Yourself Calçotada to make any Catalan proud. Bring on the calçots!
The most important thing to remember when grilling calçots is that it will generally take longer than you imagine. For cooking methods, I prefer ‘la técnica del alambre’—using a metal wire threaded through the root end of the calçots to keep them secure while grilling and to allow for easy flipping. Only thread as many onto one wire as will comfortably fit on your fire. Ideally you want many bunches of threaded calçots, ready for quick, successful grilling. Grill the calçots until they are black on both sides.
Once both sides are charred black, place the calçots on newspaper, several sheets thick. Remove the wire and push them together in the middle of the newspaper. Next, roll it tightly into a neat bundle, folding the ends, and place the bundle in a cardboard box or plastic storage container. As you continue grilling the calçots, add each new bundle to the box to keep them warm and allow them to steam themselves tender. Keep the box closed while grilling. Once the final batch of calçots is in the box, let them rest for 30-45 minutes for them to become fully tender.
The most traditional fuel for a calçotada barbecue is grapevine clippings, purchased in large bags for just this purpose. However, if the vine clippings (sarmientos de viñedo) are unavailable or too costly (a single bag of 4.5kg bag costs around €10), you can substitute with organic charcoal. A clever approach is to procure one or two bags of organic charcoal and one bag of sarmientos, using the charcoal to maintain heat in the grill pit and the vine trimmings to generate fire, smoke, and flavour.
While the calçots are resting in their cosy box, take advantage of your free time and make some grilled artichokes. Simply trim the stem of the fresh artichokes one centimetre from the base and chop the top centimetre off the artichoke’s leaves. Next, hold the artichoke firmly by the base and whack it—leaves first—into a brick or stone to loosen the leaves from the central core. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the centre of each artichoke, sprinkle with coarse salt, and grill them upright over a moderate heat for around 40 minutes, or until tender at the core. To eat them, just peel off and discard the tough outer leaves, revealing the soft inner leaves, which you enjoy by scraping off the flesh with your teeth. The most tender leaves at the heart can be eaten whole.
After gorging on calçots, typical grilled meats that follow include chicken, pork chops, lamb chops, beef, and tocino (thick-cut bacon). However, the one absolute must is simple botifarra—the most classic of Catalan sausages. Offer this assortment of grilled meats to your guests as a second course, bringing the feast to the table on a large, heaped ‘help yourself’ platter.
The cheapest way to stock up is to buy straight from the barrel (or granel) at a local bodega (don’t forget to take along some empty water bottles to fill up). One such wine cellar is Bodega Maestrazgo (Sant Pere Més Baix 90), though there are numerous similar bodegas throughout the city. Drink your wine from a glass porrón, passed around the table. If you don’t know what a porrón is or how to use one, look it up and get practising!
What else? Crema Catalana! This dessert can be prepared ahead of time. Little individual ramekins aren’t realistic at a calçotada, so you can make one large Crema Catalana in a glass or aluminium baking dish. If you don’t have a butane torch, you can caramelise the sugar in your oven broiler.
As you’ll discover, the calçotada is a quintessential part of Catalan culture that must be experienced. There are innumerable places in and around Barcelona where you can eat excellent calçots with all the accompanying dishes, but playing host can make it really special. It’s fun, achievable, and satisfying for novices and pros alike, so get out there and grab the calçots, using our guide to ensure that no classics are missing, and you’ll be the perfect Catalan host. ¡Bon Profit!
PUBLIC BBQ SPACES AROUND BARCELONA
- Santa Creu d’Olorda. Collserola Natural Park. 45-minute drive from Barcelona
- Torrent de Can Coll. Collserola Natural Park. 30-minute drive from Barcelona
- El Merendero. Les Planes. 30-minute drive from Barcelona
- Parc de la Trinitat. Barcelona city. Trinitat Vella L1 metro
- Merendero El Pinar. Olèrdola. 45-minute drive from Barcelona
HOW TO EAT A GRILLED CALÇOT
Once the calçots have been grilled and steamed tender, place a heaped mound in front of each person on a plate (or on an old roofing tile, as tradition dictates). Hold the calçot by the top, central shoot with one hand, and pinch the root end with the other. Gently pull down on the root, peeling away all of the burned outer sheath, leaving just the sweet, tender core. Dip the core in salvitxada, raise it above your mouth, and lower the whole calçot for a single, delicious bite (discarding the top leaves). Bibs and gloves are sometimes used, but goes against the whole spirit of dirty, drunken fun that typifies a true calçotada.
10-PERSON SHOPPING LIST FOR UNDER €200
- Metal Wire = €2
- Charcoal (10kg) = €8
- Vine clippings = €10
- Vermouth (1.5l) from a local bodega = €6
- Bulk olives (600g) = €6
- Potato crisps (1 “gourmet” bag) = €3
- Paper plates, cups, and plastic cutlery = €15
- 15 calçots / person (6 bundles of 25) = €27
- Salvitxada sauce ingredients = €15
- Olive oil = €2.50
- Artichokes (4.5kg) from the market = €8.95
- Red wine (6l) from a local bodega = €12
- Glass Porrón = €5
- Botifarra Blanca (2kg) = €10
- Lamb chops (2.5kg) = €18.75
- 8 chicken breasts = €11
- Crema catalana ingredients = €15
Total = €175
SALVITXADA (Calçot sauce)
Ingredients (for 10)
- 2 dried sweet red peppers
- 100g almonds
- 100g hazelnuts
- 3 onions
- 3 cups of extra virgin olive oil
- 10 ripe tomatoes
- 3 slices of stale bread
- 2 whole bulbs of garlic
- Sherry vinegar (to taste)
- Salt to taste
This sauce should be made ahead of time if you will not have access to a kitchen at your calçotada.
Start by peeling and cutting the onions in half (removing the root ends), as well as the garlic bulbs. Toss both in oil and salt, then roast the onions and garlic in a tray, covered with aluminum foil, for 45 minutes
at 180C. In the same oven, roast the tomatoes (halved), drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt, uncovered for the same amount of time.
While the vegetables are roasting, soak the dried peppers in warm water for 10 minutes, then scrape the softened flesh into a bowl. Throw away the skins.
Toast the almonds, hazelnuts and bread in the oven until slightly brown, peel the garlic, then mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl or pot and blend them well with a hand-held blender. While blending, add a steady, thin stream of olive oil until you have a smooth texture (you may not need all the oil).
Finally, add the sherry vinegar and salt bit by bit until the sauce has a nice, bright flavour. Serve the sauce in multiple bowls around the table for people to dip their peeled calçots in.