A Food & Wine
Tour of Alcala
the Spain Is A Country Worth Eating Series
Story & Photographs by Richard Frisbie
famed Spanish actor and cookbook author, Juan Echanove, is said to have
the soul of a chef. His culinary travels throughout Spain
have convinced him that Spain is a country worth eating
- a country whose character can be best understood through gastronomy.
Ive traveled many regions of Spain, drinking
the wines and eating the local foods, and Im convinced Juan Echanove
is right. The soul of the Spanish people is reflected in their food,
and revealed around their dinner table.
The following is part of a series on Spains
regional delicacies and the wines they are served with. I hope it encourages
you to experience Spain as I have, from a place at the table.
I was served many different wines on my recent Paradores
in the footsteps of Don Quixote in the various regions around Madrid.
Some of them were familiar to me, but many were so local (and so good!)
that they will be hard to find outside the region, and nearly impossible
to find outside of Spain. Nevertheless, by giving you a brief overview
of the tastes available to the local traveler, when youre in Spain
youll be armed with the information you need to order from a menu,
and when you are home you know what to search for at your local wine
The central square of Alcala
Alcala is an easy city to like. It is an old city, charming
and walkable, whose buildings have great architectural features often
capped with a huge storks nest. The shopping is great, and when
you want a snack, the tapas
at any of the many little pubs are cheap and tasty, especially with
the local wines.
While I was drinking the wines, I was often dining in
some very nice restaurants. The Paradores chain of hotels specializes
in serving the freshest regional foods paired with the best local wines.
Some offer more haute cuisine than others, but all can trace their roots
to the specialties their region is famous for. For that reason I also
offer highlights of the dishes the wines were served with for pairing
Thats Chef Jorge on the right
At the Parador de Alcala de Henares, in Alcala, just
outside of Madrid,
I was wowed by the octopus appetizer and squid entrée. Chef Jorge
Sanshez Mutas has a way of making the traditional Galician seafood seem
indigenous to the inland region of Madrid. In fact, the paprika sauce
he served definitely had Galician roots. Thats a classic combination,
one he executed perfectly. I had the opportunity to tour the kitchen
between courses and see exactly how everything was prepared. Chef Jorge
is a talented and very entertaining master of his domain.
Luscious squid entree
But, while the squid and octopus were my favorites,
I almost wished Id ordered the lamb, just because I so rarely
have the opportunity to eat such excellently prepared baby lamb. The
suckling lamb was oiled, salted and roasted, ribs up, in a hot (400)
oven for 40 minutes, then turned over and cooked an additional 40 minutes
with potatoes and onions at a lower temperature (325). The result was
a moist, tender and very flavorful plate of food that I, sadly, only
had a few bites of. Im definitely ordering it the next time Im
With the octopus I drank the house cava, always a safe
bet, but I never saw the bottle so I cant tell you what it was.
When the squid arrived I switched to Bodega Pedro Garcia blanco,
a crisp white from a local Madrid vineyard that went down like water.
It reminded me of why I prefer white wines to red. Im more of
a blanco than a tinto kind of guy. That being said, when
tasting the lamb I enjoyed a red wine, El Regajal Selección
Especial. It is a lush Tempranillo blend with hints of ripe
fruit, cocoa and spices that was perfect for the lamb.
But - Surprise! - the real highlight of the evening
was the dessert. Costrada de Alcala is a local specialty (ALWAYS
order the local specialty!) consisting of almond flavored pastry cream
layered on puff pastry and topped with whipped cream, toasted almonds
and powdered sugar. The delicate almond flavor coupled with the crispy
pastry and heavenly filling created the perfect amount of sweetness
to complete an amazing meal.
|On the second night at Parador de Alcala
de Henares I dined at Hosteria del Estudiante Resturante across
the street from, and affiliated with, the Parador. While this was
presented as an honor, and it certainly was a delicious meal, I
think it had more to do with the disruptive excursion I made into
the kitchen the first night. The chef loved it, and I learned some
new culinary tricks, but the waitstaff complained that I held up
too many servings with our antics. Thus, banishment to the hinterlands
of the old university across the street made perfect sense. But,
it was like a kings banishment, with all the luxuries and
service, just with less opportunity to get into trouble.
Did you ever wonder
why so many dessert specialties in traditional wine making
regions have egg yolks as a principle ingredient? The answer
is simple. Original methods called for the use of egg whites
as a precipitate in the wine making process. That left an
unusual amount of egg yolks needing to be utilized. The
logical result was custard. That and similar variations
such as pastry cream (for example: the pastry cream I make
at Hudson Valley Dessert Company uses 22 yolks) are simply
the result of frugal cooks finding a way to use all those
left over yolks.
A tinto & blanco Puerta de Alcala,
both good table wines, were served in the private dining room. Here
the dishes were simpler, with authentic roots to the region. The highlight
for me was the Madrid specialty, rooster leg fricassee. Not the fricassee
I remembered being served as a child, which was more like stew. For
this, the meat was off the bone, but intact, firm, but tender, served
inside a moat of rich sauce and topped with slivered almonds. It was
the same entrée Juan Echanove ordered when he dined there, so
I knew it had to be good. It was especially so with the blanco.
Our server lit up the private dining room
with her smile
All-in-all, the Parador de Alcala de Henares is a magnificently
restored 17th century convent with modern styling, excellent restaurants,
and a sumptuous breakfast buffet loaded with more jamon (Spanish
ham) than Ive seen in one place before. The staff is cordial (even
when I monopolized the kitchen) and the heart of the lovely city of
Alcala is right outside the door. At only 25 miles outside of Madrid,
it is a good place to start (and/or finish) a journey through the beautiful
countryside of central Spain following in Don Quixotes footsteps.
A tiny part of the huge breakfast buffet that is
included with your stay
Parador de Alcala de Henares http://www.parador.es/en/parador-de-alcala-de-henares
The official Paradores Don Quixote route: http://tinyurl.com/rutadequixote
Air Europa http://www.aireuropa.com
Mancha: The Land of Don Quixote and Caballeros; Madrid
of Madrid; Madrid
and the Art of Armor; Tossa
de Mar, Spain;
Valencia, Spain; Galicia,