SPICY CALAMARI AND FRIED QUAIL EGGS
"Ous amb xipirones El Quim"
Last October, while on a trip to Barcelona, I had a free morning to explore the city. Our business delegation from Brittany was lucky enough to have guided visits of the iconic cultural sites. But, I had another destination on my mind, the Catalan capital’s centuries old food market, El Mercat de la Bouqueria.
In many ways, it is not unlike our Marché des Lices. It started out as a medieval market for produce from the surrounding region. As the city grew, so did the market, adding fish, meats, hams and wines over the years. In the mid 1800’s, the city government built the covered market that has become an important international hub for food in Barcelona. While a bit touristy, the market has retained its main function, as a place where the barcelonés gather to buy and eat great food.
In 2005 la Boqueria was awarded "best market in the world" and it is a center for the Mediterranean culinary business. It is a bustling, crowded, noisy and colorful destination. It has made me think about our Marché des Lices and its place as the second largest food market in France and certainly one of, if not the biggest, on the European Atlantic Coast!
Well, I was only a tourist, so of course I bought some fantastic ham and a couple of Catalan wines to bring home. But I had to sample the goods and la Boqueria is full of seafood bars, tapas joints and good greasy spoons. I asked around and I was guided to El Quim, a tiny counter top restaurant with 18 bar stools. Five guys, including the chef, El Quim himself, were cooking in a space no bigger than a camper van, but the crowd was a telling sign that this place was worth it.
I grabbed a stool and ordered up some grilled razor clams. My neighbors turned out to be a trio of culinary writers from Taiwan. We struck up a conversation and we ended all ordering way too much and sharing. Grilled ultra-sweet razors, spicy mussels, garlic shrimps, huge grilled head-on prawns, and some great patatas bravas… all stuff I know from Lisbon or other trips. So, I wasn't finished and I asked for something special. Then a plate of spicy baby squid with a runny fried egg arrived, ous amb xipirones in Catalan. Simply put, it was a foody revelation! I sopped up the oil and egg on some bread, had a beer to cool the spiciness and went off happy back to my hotel.
I decided that I would have to try my hand at a Marché des Lices version of this dish.
I couldn't find any baby squid or chipirons, as they are called France, they are found mostly in southern waters. Instead, I got four medium sized squids. We cleaned them ourselves, it is not that hard to do. You can always ask for your fishmonger to do it. It will leave you with bright white bodies and tentacles.
I love quail eggs with seafood ever since I had them in soups and on sea urchin sushi. They are super rich and unctuous. Marie and I grabbed some last Saturday and they were waiting for a recipe.
This is a very easy dish, but it takes perfect timing and fast hands – once the ingredients are in the pan it takes all of 4 minutes tops! You have to prepare everything in advance no time to run and find something or chop the garlic once you’ve started.
- 4 medium sized squids, cleaned
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 or 3 dried bird’s eye chilies (less if you don’t like spicy food)
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp Spanish pimenton – or smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Mince your garlic very finely
- Chop squid tentacles and cut bodies in rings
- Heat olive oil until it starts to smoke
- Crush your dried chilis and sauté in hot oil for a minute
- Throw in your squid, toss in oil quickly
- Cook for 30 seconds, add the garlic, oregano, salt and pimenton
- Sauté for about 1 minute more – don’t over-cook!
- Push squid to one side of the pan, leaving enough oil to coat the other side
- Fry two quail eggs in the spicy oil for 1 minute – leave yolk runny
- Top with chopped parsley
- Serve hot and still sizzling – we liked it straight from the hot pan!