When people asked us what we were planning on doing in Barcelona, I always replied: “eat ham”. A funny, jokey response, right? Wrong. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in seeing Barcelona’s sights, walking along the Ramblas and the narrow, winding, shaded medieval streets of the Gothic quarter, lounging on the beach, seeing the Gaudi buildings and all that, it’s just that I am first and foremost interested in the things you can do to a pig.
I was not to be disappointed. Anna wrote about the wonderful tomato bread we had on our first night here, but our meal at the excellent Paco Meralgo also consisted of octopus with caramelised onions, cod fritters, asparagus sauteed with wild garlic, a ham and potato salad (Anna was initially skeptical of this, thinking that it was going to be some grocery store-style salad with mayo and cubes of diced ham–look how wrong she was):
and a plate of gorgeous dried sausage:
Our exploration of the fine meats Spain has to offer went on from this exciting start. The next day we went to the Boqueria Market and bought a small selection of Serrano ham and jamón ibérico to snack on:
The Serrano was excellent, with a deep, rich cured flavour, but the real revelation was the jamón ibérico. This is the famed Spanish ham made from a specific breed of pig raised only in the Iberian peninsula, with the most prized animals fed only on acorns. As far as I can tell, the hams are simply made–just salt-cured and dried for as long as three years–and they have this incredibly complex and sophisticated flavour: tangy, salty, nutty (Anna thought that the ham reminded her in a way of a well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano), sharp, this is the greatest ham I have ever tasted. This ham haunts my dreams and mocks me with its simple beauty.
The other great discovery was morcón, which we first had as part of an extremely (extremely!) generous mixed charcuterie plate at a tapas bar called Onofre.
It was so good that we went back there on our last night to have it again. Morcón is the poor country relative of chorizo: the paprika-heavy seasoning is the same, but the morcón uses fattier, less expensive cuts of meat (my Spanish language comprehension is next to zero, so I believe that the server said that it is made from back meat…but I could be totally wrong about that) that are diced instead of ground. If you have any doubts about how delicious fat is and the difference it can make in food, do a side-by-side comparison of morcón and chorizo. The chorizo is excellent, yes, but I will take morcón over it any day.
When we got back I called my parents to let them know how the trip was and that we made it back safely, and my mom–who had been following Facebook updates about the vast quantities of ham and sausage we were eating–asked why we kept talking about ham and weren’t eating seafood. We did eat seafood, delicious seafood, and that’s perhaps for a future post, but who can resist eating excessive amounts of cured meats when ones this good are on offer?