Cooking in Andalucia: Helen Jackson immerses herself

Having won a Silver Travel prize of a cultural and creative holiday in rural Andalucia, I could choose to learn more about painting, flamenco, writing or cookery. The latter really appealed and whilst non-course partners are welcome, I decided it would be fun for Roy to learn with me.

The course, courtesy of Granada Cultural Holidays, was held in the picture-postcard village of Moclin, 30 miles north of Granada. We stayed in a building formerly the home of the Civil Guardia. Our room was simple, but comfortable, with views of vineyards and mountains.

Having attended several short cooking courses before, I envisioned demonstrations with everyone then making the same dish. However, under the skilful guidance of Chef Carlos Sanchez, six of us had great fun cooking not only for ourselves and our hosts, Ian and Andrew, but also for three others on a writing for theatre course being run at the same time.

The course was well structured in that each of the five cooking days were different. Our first day in the kitchen was the most intensive as we cooked both lunch and dinner for 12 and also did a lot of advance preparation. Working in pairs, my first task involved shelling and deveining a huge volume of prawns, which were later used for gambas pil pil, with the shells being used to make a rich fish stock: as Carlos taught us, nothing goes to waste. Meanwhile Roy was slowly caramelising a batch of onions which featured in several dishes, and as he learned, everything takes time if it’s done properly.

One of my favourite tapa is boquerones or anchovies which can be expensive. However, after spending a significant amount of time cleaning the fresh anchovies, resting, dipping in flour and frying, I now know why.

There were so many new experiences and cooking for more than my usual two, it was both challenging and exciting. We made two types of croquetas: with jamon and more unusually, rabo de toro or oxtail. I was on cooking duty, which involved using a deep fat fryer for the first time which wasn’t as scary as I’d imagined. After blending several jugs of vegetables for gazpacho until it was silky smooth, I’m sure Carlos thought it was still a little grainy, but he remained diplomatically silent! I patiently stirred rice pudding for 40-minutes before extracting the lemon and orange peel with long-handled tweezers. I dry fried batch after batch of regañás, small sesame biscuits and rolled even sized albondigas, meatballs.

Whilst I’d previously eaten many of the dishes we prepared, Carlos introduced me to dog fish and clams and a villager taught us how to make calorific paparajote and borrachuelos, deep fried pastries coated in sugar. And I discovered that the Spanish huevos rotas is the equivalent of British egg, ham and chips.

A trip into Granada took us to the Mercado de San Augustin, where several stalls had places to sit and sample their offerings. We tasted three types of jamon finishing with the best, acorn fed Ibérico which, along with a bottle of 10-year-old fino sherry, went down a treat at 11.45am. At a second stall, a tasting of a delicious vermouth, came with a complimentary tapa of bread topped with a warm, salty slice of pork loin. It was then time for lunch at Más que Vinos where we sampled more tapas finishing with berenjenas fritas con miel de caña, fried aubergine drizzled with molasses.

Tasting all the tapas helped, when later in the week Ian and Andrew hosted a wine tasting for around 50 villagers, and we prepared our favourite tapas for the guests. Carlos suggested a twist to the traditional chorizo in red wine, and instead I cooked the sausages in cider and caramelised onions which was then served on crostini. Roy was keen to learn the art of tortilla making, and his first task was peeling and sculpting 2kg of potatoes which were then cooked in a huge volume of olive oil with onions. Another lesson learned: if you think you’ve used enough olive oil, think again. The drained potatoes were mixed with 12 eggs and Carlos showed him how to cook and flip it. The result looked so delicious, we all wanted to try for lunch, so Roy was tasked with making another. This time he had to flip it out and back into the heavy cast iron pan under the gaze of six pairs of watchful eyes, but he performed admirably. It was a fun evening, and the fruits of our labours were well received by the Spanish villagers.

As well as time in the kitchen, we had a free day. Keen hikers can walk the circular, Ruta del Gollizno, but we chose to explore the village and its bars at a more leisurely pace. In the evening, we were invited to Ian and Andrew’s home in the village where we ate delicious arroz, whilst taking in the stunning views.

By the end of our week, we were feeling a little exhausted, so our final lunch was a simple fish soup using the stock made on day one. In the early evening we climbed up the steep hill to Castillo de Moclin, where the writers revealed their plays, before we watched the sunset over a picnic of leftovers. As Carlos said at the outset, nothing goes to waste and having started with a full fridge, we left it empty.

Find out more:

Visit Granada Cultural Holidays.

Our Silver Travel Advisors can book a trip to Andalucia: call 0800 412 5678.

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Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

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