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Gorgeous, Gourmet Galicia (July 8, 2005)

Galicia... A few years ago we were lucky enough to have a house exchange in La Coruña, a beautiful, ancient city in Galicia, tucked up the northwest corner of Spain. This part of the country juts out into the Atlantic Ocean; this region can lay claim to almost as many types of seafood as rainy days! The delicious list is almost endless: lobster, swimming crab, spider crab, crayfish, goose-barnacles... Mollusks abound: limpets, cockles, razor clams, oysters, mussels, clams and scallops – these last famous for providing the "badges" for pilgrims traveling the route to Santiago de Compostela – plus squid and octopus.

We would shop every other day at the local vendors and the local hypermarche, an enormous supermarket carrying everything from motorcycles to regional cheeses, and possessing what we were sure was the largest fresh seafood counter in the world. Approximately 50 feet long, it boasted at least 10 or more different types of fresh shrimp, glorious fish, and those "ugly ducklings" of the crustaceans, the prized goose barnacles. Interestingly enough, Canadian goose barnacles were also featured; these North American cousins found along the Newfoundland coast are even larger and sweeter, and correspondingly more expensive. Worth it? What a question.

The aisle for wines was equally impressive: fully 100 feet long, and stocked on both sides of the wide aisle were Spanish wines ranging from about 75¢ a litre up to the appropriately priced classified growths.

It was gourmet heaven.

The residents of Madrid prize fresh fish, so much of the catch was trucked overnight to purveyors in the capital, but a good portion stayed in La Coruña, and that month we are sure we tried most of it!

What makes Galician seafood so special? Esteban Castro, president of Galicia's Association of Seafood Traders, believes that there is a "big difference" between local crustaceans and ones from elsewhere. "You can see it in the colour. The others are kind of straw-coloured, while ours are bright red."

Local restaurateurs agree; "The fine quality of the flesh, which is denser, differentiates it from foreign ones, whose flesh is less firm." They went on to say that the octopus is so delicious (we can guarantee that statement!) because it feeds on swimming crabs, spider crabs, common crabs, clams, prawn, mussels...

And there isn't a single fair or saint's day in the whole of Galicia that doesn't have a pulpería. This is the mobile stall that serves up portions of cut-up octopus dressed with olive oil, coarse sea salt and pimentón on a wooden plate – it's simple, marvelous, fast food. We would search out locations of upcoming area events and make certain we arrived in time to park and find the octopus outlet. No matter the time, a line would be snaking away from the boiling drum of oil, but moving steadily. I would hold the place while Ron found vino or dos cervezas, and the perfect little hot lunch was ready.

At the other end of the gourmet spectrum is Chef Toñi Vicente at her eponymous restaurant in Santiago de Compostela. Over 15 years ago, when she was starting out as a young chef in her homeland of Galicia, it was considered almost sacrilege to do anything new or different to the magnificent local produce – fish, shellfish, and meat. She had grown up with the traditional local cuisine served at her parents' restaurant and was keen for it to form the basis for her creations, but her initial attempts were seen as unacceptably sophisticated. Over the years, however, her tenacity, hard work and talent eventually won support, and Toñi Vicente is now considered Galicia's best cook. Her recipes are subtle, stylish and healthy, and they always offer a very feminine element of surprise!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (69 KB)


Cocktail of Warm Spider Crab, with Saffron Pistils and Wild Fruits and Flowers
(Salpicón de centollo templado, pisilos de azafrán, frutas y flores silvestres)

Of course this dish was created by a woman. It's probably the most beautiful salad in the world, and Chef Vicente says, "This makes a change from the traditional shellfish cocktail, a dish I really like. While the traditional cocktail is served cold and comes mixed with the vinaigrette, in this version all the flavours are served separately and you mix them on the plate. The fruits and leaves give a fresh, sweet touch to contrast with the strength of the crab."

Serves 4
Preparation time: 70 minutes

  • 1 spider crab weighting approx. 1 kg (2¼ lbs.)
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1 fresh red pepper
  • 100 g (3½ oz) pitted green olives
  • 16 saffron strands
  • 1 small onion
  • 50 mL (4 Tbsp) cream
  • 2 sprigs parsley
    for the vinaigrette:
  • 100 mL (½ cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 25 mL (2 Tbsp) aged sherry vinegar
  • 100 g (3½ oz) wild fruits and leaves (watercress, rocket, strawberries, cranberries, etc, and flowers in season (petunias, begonias, etc)

Cook the spider crab in plenty of boiling, salted water (60 g/2 oz salt per litre/4½ cups water) for 12 minutes with a few bay leaves. Leave to cool and peel, removing all the shell. Keep the juices from inside the body. Hard-boil the egg and set aside.

Slice the onion and raw pepper in a fine julienne and mix with the crab flesh, chopped olives and parsley. Heat the saffron strands on a sheet of thin paper placed on the hot plated, to ring out their aroma.

Place the vegetable and crab mixture in a rectangular mold. Push the cooked egg yolk through a chinois, followed by the white and add.

Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette, season with salt and form and emulsion.

Turn out the mold to one side of the plate. Make a base with the sauce from the shell which can be diluted with a little cream. Top the cocktail with the leaves and fruits. Dress with the vinaigrette and garnish with the saffron pistols.

Recommended wine: Terras Gauda, DO Rias Baixas

Tony's wine recommendation:
Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire, Alsace Riesling or Ontario Unoaked Chardonnay


Goose Barnacles au Gratin with Cava Zabaglione

Well, we'd just never seen anything like this dish; if you can get your hands on the barnacles, it's worth the effort. Bribe your fishmonger to get them in for you, and invite only your best friends...

Chef comments, "Personally I think it's best not to do anything fancy with goose barnacles. I prefer to serve them warm and this recipe gives an intense flavor without complicating things. The sweet touch of the zabaglione is very appealing."

Serves 6
Preparation time: 30 minutes

  • 750 g (1 lb, 10 oz) goose barnacles
  • 200 mL (¾ cup) black truffle juice
  • Salt
  • 7 bay leaves
  • 2 L (8½) cups water
  • 1 sheet gelatin
    for the zabaglione:
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 mL (½ cup) Chandón Brut Nature Cava
  • 25 g (1 oz) sugar
  • Salt

Separate the yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks with the sugar and a pinch of salt, then stir in the cava. Transfer to a bain-marie and whisk until the mixture doubles in volume. Set aside.

Heat the water with 120 g (4½ oz) salt and a bay leaf. When it boils, add the goose barnacles and remove as soon as the water returns to the boil. Peel the barnacles, leaving only the flesh and keeping any juices they release.

Add the truffle juice to the barnacle juices, then add the gelatin sheet after first soaking it in water. Heat. Transfer the above mixture to service glasses and add the barnacles' flesh (retaining 6 barnacles). Add a very thin layer of zabaglione, sprinkle with the sugar and place under the grill. Decorate with a fresh bay leaf and 1 barnacle. Serve immediately, while still warm.

Recommended wine: Chandón Brut Nature Cava

Tony's wine recommendation:
Soave, Muscadet or Chablis


Hake Filled with Piquillo Peppers and Served with Scallion Coulis
(Merluza rellena con pimientos del piquillo y coulis de cebolleta)

Chef says, "The sauce of piquillo peppers gives colour and brings out the flavour of the fish, which is served in the form of a crisp but very moist roll." We say this is truly marvelous, warm, creamy and rich with those hot little peppers! We're booking for Galicia as soon as possible!

Serves 6
Preparation time: 60 minutes

  • 1 hake, 2 kg (4.5 lbs)
  • 100 mL (½ cup) olive oil for frying
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, Arbequina variety
  • Salt, fresh ground pepper
  • 2 young scallions
    for the sauce:
  • 8 canned piquillo peppers
  • 50 mL (4 Tbsp) vegetable water
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Wash the hake and cut into two loin fillets. Cut these into 7×5 cm (3×2") pieces (2 per person). Season with salt and pepper.

Make a sauce by blending the piquillo peppers with the vegetable water. Place in a pan and heat until all the vegetable water has evaporated. Transfer to cling film and roll up, forming a roll 2 cm (0.8") in diameter. Refrigerate.

Remove the film and fill the hake with the pepper sauce. Roll up the fish pieces and tie with string.

Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium heat. Dip the hake rolls in flour and fry to seal well. Then transfer to the oven at 180°C (350°F) to cook for 5 minutes. Leave to stand for 2 minutes, then cut off the string. To prepare the coulis, separate the white and green parts of the scallions. Blanch both parts and cut the white part into two. Dry the white part and sear on the hot plate. Blend the green part with a little of the water used for blanching and the Arbequina olive oil.

To serve, place a little of the scallion coulis on the base of the plate, then add the hake and the seared scallion.

Recommended wine: White Emilio Rojo, DO Ribeiro

Tony's wine recommendation:
Torres Gran Vina Sol, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc


We wish to thank Spain Gourmetour, a publication of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade. For more information, please see the web site at

For more information on tourism and gastronomy in Galicia, please see the web site at

For more information on Restaurante Toñi Vicente, please email

Photographs by Toya Legido.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (69 KB)




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