Emerging from the cool interior, the scent of carved stone and beeswax mingles briefly before being overwhelmed by the perfume of orange trees, and the holy silence is punctured by the mossy gurgle of a tiny fountain. Large white geese peck assertively at the ragged hands of ferns that decorate this cloister and I am reminded that oranges were brought here by the Moors and that geese make more effective security systems than dogs and fences. Incongruous? Perhaps. But not nearly so peculiar given the context in which I was reminded of this memory of Barcelona: an article announcing that Jennifer Aniston’s favorite country is Spain and Barcelona her favorite city. All of which would be of no interest whatsoever if she made better movies.
I arrived at this location having played that day of nearly six years ago backward in my mind until I arrived at the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, a short walk from where we were staying in the El Born district. Playing it forward I recalled eating a surprisingly good chorizo and canned tuna sandwich with a beer to calm my vertigo after scaling one of the narrow spires of La Sagrada Familia. Venturing onto consecrated ground typically has a tranquilizing effect – especially twice in one day – as if merely stepping over the good Lord’s threshold is enough to encourage contemplation and peace even in a cynic like me, but the views over the city were worth the trauma.
This “surf and turf” sandwich, a somewhat curious mix for us this side of the Atlantic, was the inspiration for the meal pictured at top. Catalan culinary tradition pairs mar y muntanya often in the chicken and shrimp stews of the region of Girona, and baby octopus with fried eggs loosely follows the same line of thinking, just focusing unapologetically on the infantile and gestational end of the spectrum of life.
Crunchy, with the toothsomeness one finds in octopi, dipped into runny yolks and eaten with crusty bread, this is as incongruous a dish as one may find. Texturally and flavor-wise it was a success, if not exactly a symphony. Eaten off Hefty(R) Basics(TM) Tableware biodegradable paper plates – another departure from convention – fitting given the inherent greasiness of the two components, it felt rather like a the kind of thing one might enjoy at a casual beachfront tasca, along with pink Cava and sunburn. Happily, the plates withstood the grease and sharp knives admirably, a stern challenge indeed.
- 1lb (1/2 kilo) baby octopus (or adult octopus, for the squeamish among you)
- 2pints (1/2 liter) vegetable oil
- 3-4 large eggs + 2 more for batter
- salt and black pepper
- plain flour
- Boil octopi in salted water for 10-12 minutes or until fully cooked. (Longer for adult octopi)
- Drain, and allow to cool and dry
- In one bowl, whisk two eggs. In another, place flour and mix with salt and abundant black pepper.
- With a sharp knife puncture heads of baby octopi (otherwise they might burst during frying and spray you with hot grease)
- Heat oil to 360F/180C in a deep pot or wok
- Roll octopi in seasoned flour and then dunk ’em in the eggs, making sure to shake off extra egg, before placing carefully in oil.
- Fry for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.
- Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and place in a warm oven
- In a frying pan, ladle in about 1/4 cup of hot oil, and bring back up to temperature.
- Fry eggs until desired runniness of yolk is achieved – 1-3 minutes.
- Plate octopi and eggs, and serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread and a salad.
- Fizzy wine optional.