Calçots: How to Enjoy These Catalan Onions Like a Local
Have you ever heard of calçots? They are a special kind of long onion specific to Catalunya and locals absolutely love them! They are super tasty, but be warned, calçots are extremely messy to eat, but that’s all part of the fun.
Calçots can be found in certain restaurants or fresh in public markets throughout spring from about November to April, but the real way to enjoy the special onions is to have (or join) a calçotada, a barbecue of calçots. A true calçotada won’t be found in the city, although there are a few held in Barcelona’s sunny plazas during spring (check them out on Facebook). The real way is to go to a masia, a farmhouse in the countryside. I was lucky enough to know someone who has a farmhouse near Valls, where the first calçots were thought to have originated from. We went there a few weeks ago for a calçotada and I was able to help prepare them to be roasted.
In previous calçotades, we always left the roots on, but this time, we cut them off to make it easier to eat. No one ever washes the dirt off of the onions because the outer layer is charred and then peeled off before they’re eaten (hence the messiness of this dish). Some restaurants even give their customers bibs and gloves, but it’s all part of the experience.
After chopping off the roots, we laid the calçots in rows on the grill, then put it directly onto the fire.
After five to ten minutes, they’re ready to be flipped! Since this grill didn’t have a cover, we had to turn each calçot individually before putting them back on the fire so the other side was properly cooked. Right after the onions are taken off of the fire, they quickly get wrapped up in newspaper so they can sweat for a while before you’re allowed to eat them.
Time to eat
Bon profit! When the bundles of wrapped calçots are put onto the table, it’s a free for all. After peeling off the charred outer layer, the onions are dipped in salvitxada, also simply called salsa de calçots. This sauce is often confused with romesco, another typical sauce from the area that is very similar aside from one or two different ingredients. If you don’t want to make it from scratch, the salsa de calçots (and also romesco) can be found in any grocery store.
After dunking in some sauce, tilt your head back and enjoy! Don’t forget the napkins, but save them till the end. The meal will most likely finish with everyone’s hands covered in black char and smelling like a barbecue (just a heads up, make sure to wash your hair).
Although the calçots are (and always will be!) the star of the show, most calçotades also include a second course of grilled meat, sausages and potatoes accompanied by lots of wine and cava, Catalan champagne.
And after everyone is stuffed, it’s time to work it off with a short walk through the breathtaking Catalan countryside.