Driving his chum’s rather clapped out camper van, which he describes as his Rocinante, Rick Stein embarks on a culinary journey laced with history, literature and stunning photography through Spain.
“I’ve wanted to make a series in Spain for a long time. I love Spanish food, I’ve been going there since I was a young boy – but until quite recently I don’t think people really took the food seriously. French and Italian cooking was felt to have more finesse. Thanks to a handful of really dedicated Spanish chefs and a growing enthusiasm for its rugged flavours, that has all begun to change. No one cooks fish with more respect or grills meat better.
To me the underlying point of journeying to Spain would be to discover the ‘duende’ in the cooking. By that I mean a sense of soul, of authenticity. The word is normally used for the soul of flamenco but I think it could be equally applied to the art of Spanish cooking because to my mind, in really good food, there is a communication between the cook and diner that amounts to art.” Rick Stein
Rick Stein starts his journey through Spain in Galicia in the northwest of the country on the Atlantic coast. He travels sedately along the highways and byways in an old campervan searching for great regional dishes. He discovers succulent razor clams, mussels, empanadas (fishy versions of Cornish pasties) and Cocido – stewed pig with grelos (local kale) and potatoes … the highlight of any Galician family get together.
He goes to a cider festival in Gijon that seems to have more in common with the west of England than Spain … except here, they pour it from a great height so it splashes into the glass turning it instantly cloudy which is how they like to drink it here. Here, in this part of northern Spain, the apple is king and Rick tastes a great dish – thick chunks of firm white hake with clams and fresh prawns cooked in a cider sauce. Sharp and tangy!
And then it’s onto the Basque country and the city of San Sebastian where singing, cooking and eating vast amounts of food seem to go hand in hand to make a fitting finale for the first leg of Rick’s gastronomic tour of Spain.
This programme takes Rick across northern Spain. He trundles through Rioja where he samples baby lamb chops called Chuletillas cooked over vine trimmings and accompanied by superb red wine – quite wonderful!
Then onto Navarra where, in a field, next to the mighty Ebro River, Rick tastes the highly popular and yet unfeasibly green vegetable soup they call Minestra.
Then it’s onwards to Catalonia and the Mediterranean. In a beautiful cove, he’s invited by a bunch of keen cooks and passionate Barcelona supporters, to a fabulous seafood lunch where the main dish is Fideua – a Catalan classic.
Finally, in the ancient town of Lleida, Rick, without much prompting, attends the annual snail festival where they have to import tons of the humble molluscs from the world over.
Rick goes along to a paella cooking competition in the town of Sueca where forty identical paellas are cooked over orange wood fires in front of some very fussy judges.
Finally his travels bring him to dusty La Mancha in the heart of the country – famous for mad old Don Quixote, saffron, good wines, Manchego cheese and the fabulous purple garlic. It is here near the village of Las Pedroñeras he tastes the best garlic soup ever.
In the fourth and final programme, Rick heads for the rather isolated region of Extremadura. Here he meets the aristocratic Marques de Valdueza and enjoys one of their most famous summer dishes – ajo blanco.
To end his unforgettable journey through Spain, Rick heads into the remote valleys of the Apujarra Mountains in Granada to reflect on all he has experienced over a lunch prepared by the author of Driving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart.