On an evening of barhopping during a culinary tour of Galicia’s Santiago de Compostella, a friend and I ended up at O Celme do Caracol, a restaurant (with a good name) that caters primarily to the locals. The owner, German Gonzalez Pose, went to school with my friend.
In a city where a friend of my friend is my friend as well, I was quickly included in the intimacy that old school chums share. In their company, I was amazed how different the city looked from the inside; when one sees it as a native rather than a tourist. There we were, a few guys talking over plates of food, sharing wine, lies, and laughter.
Our conversation that night looped from old school days to lovers – both past & present – and business; real guy talk, but it always came back to food.
At one point German briefly disappeared, to return with a handful of sardines. He showed off their freshness – the clear eyes and shiny, unbruised bodies. Then he was gone again, this time to cook them so we could taste the freshness – bones-and-all.
“Don’t eat the head,” he told us. “It’s too bitter. It will ruin the taste of the rest.”
His enthusiasm and passion for cooking was infectious; our group grew as old friends and friends of friends were drawn to our table. Like moths to a flame, they couldn’t resist the shy smile and sparkling eyes of our host.
Of course our tasting didn’t stop with fresh fish; German soon brought out several bowls of salt and explained the uses of each. In between tasting and talking, I managed to get the recipe for one of them, and herbed salt:
Start with 2 lbs of Saltina, a large grain sea salt. Add 10 garlic cloves and a bunch of chopped parsley. Wrap in a linen dish towel and dip in boiling water for a couple seconds. When cooled enough to touch, squeeze out the water and remove the mix from the towel. Grind the ingredients together using a wooden mortar & pestle.
This herbed salt, moistened and dried, has a larger crystal that really “pops” in your mouth when sprinkled on vegetables or seafood. It can also be ground more finely, to intensify the flavors.
German is the first chef I’ve met who makes his own seasonings.
He is truly a generous man. Aside from feeding us, German graciously shared a handful of family recipes. Of course he demurred at first, then smiled, saying “it is a secret family recipe, but I will tell you.”
Then he’d carefully translate Spanish terms and techniques into English for me. By the end of the evening he gave me permission to publish them – for the first time.
Here’s German’s family recipe for the Galician sauce, really an oil, that can be used on many dishes:
First, he said “Take olive oil, garlic, hot and sweet paprika, and simmer it with a whole onion. Then remove the onion.”
When pressed, he elaborated:
One gallon of olive oil, 5 heads of garlic cut in half, and one whole onion – skins and all. Add 100 grams sweet paprika and 10 grams hot. (The paprika amounts can be adjusted depending on the spiciness you enjoy, but should not exceed 110 grams total.) Simmer “a long time” (40 minutes) then cool with the onion and garlic left in until room temperature. DO NOT STIR. (He confided that most people ruin the sauce either by stirring it, or not letting it cool thoroughly.)
After it’s cooled, Gently remove the garlic and onion, pour off the oil and reserve, being careful to leave behind the paprika, which will have settled to the bottom.
Discard the paprika. (It will make the oil bitter if stirred-in.)
The sauce/oil will keep at room temperature; store it in a squeeze bottle and apply liberally to just about any dish you want. (It would also be great as a dipping oil with a good crusty – think Galician – bread.)
I first tasted it on German’s octopus and potato entree, and have since used it to saute seafood, especially shrimp, and on rice and potatoes. It’s rich, red color and pungent aroma make it an unforgettable addition to many dishes.