Cava, like many sparkling wines, is no stranger to the dinner table, and for good reason: Its wide range of (generally fruit-inflected) flavors, together with its ample acidity, make it a natural foil to both light starters and even heavier, but still fresh main courses. Moreover, the carbonation helps bring flavors alive, exploding across the palate when paired with the right foods.
In Barcelona, my group was offered the unique opportunity to learn from and cook with one of Catalonia’s most celebrated young chefs, Isma Prados. A modernist insofar as he is a traditionalist and minimalist, Prados rose to fame first in several forward-thinking wine bars before becoming the star of several television shows, including Cuina X Solters (“Cooking for Singles”).
As we toured the Barcelona boqueria with Prados and acquired ingredients, his advice about cooking with Cava made sense, and also fit with his (and my) general philosophy of cooking faster and for less time, and with less water overall. Cava’s greatest natural asset is its freshness and liveliness, and so it wouldn’t be right to kill that either with overly fatty foods or heavy sauces. More acidic Cavas are well positioned to match similarly acidic flavors, but not those that are overly citric. Instead, Prados recommends something along the lines of tart, barely under-ripe strawberries, which were available in the market that day.
To showcase the versatility of Cava and other sparkling wines as a pairing option even with main courses, I’ve included two seafood recipes here. The first is an adapted version of Prados’ for well-stocked American grocery stores, and the second is my take, inspired by what was available in the market upon my return to the U.S.
Pair both dishes with Segura Viudas’ Heradad Reserva or a similarly well-balanced, elegant Cava. Enjoy!
1 pound cod cheeks or four large fish heads
1/2 pound spring peas, shucked and reserved
8 artichokes, turned
Handful of parsley, gently chopped
Chives, finely sliced, for garnish
After turning the artichokes and removing their hairy chokes, poach and confit them in olive oil over low heat until fork tender. Strain and reserve oil. Cut artichoke hearts into quarters.
Place lightly seasoned cod cheeks in pan and cover halfway with cold water. Over low heat, slowly poach while rendering gelatin out. The gelatin will allow you to emulsify the reserved artichoke oil. If using whole fish heads, use slightly more water and pull meat off bones after cooking.
Heat a small amount of artichoke oil in a large pan, then add artichokes. After sautéing for about four minutes, add spring peas and stir. Cook for four minutes covered, so that the peas steam. Add a portion of the cod cheek water and artichoke oil, stirring to emulsify and create a sauce. Top with the cod cheeks and parsley and continue to cook, covered, for another two-four minutes. Add remaining artichoke oil and cod cheek water, stir, taste, season and serve.
Sea Scallops – three per person
Handful of fresh black trumpet mushrooms
Handful of fresh white beech mushrooms
Oyster – one per person, carefully shucked and liquid strained
Shallot, cut in half
White asparagus, peeled and cut in half
1 tablespoon squid ink
Place halved shallots and white asparagus in a pan over medium heat with a bit of olive oil and sear until golden brown and cooked through. Season and reserve.
While shallot and asparagus halves are cooking, place beech mushroom in a small pan and cover a quarter of the way with water. Cover and steam; when barely cooked through, reserve a small amount of the water and add tablespoon of squid ink. Stir and season with salt and lemon juice. Coat mushrooms in black ink.
In a second small pan, gently heat oyster and liquid until poached, about a minute.
Season scallops and sear over high heat in shallot and asparagus pan. Flip and cook until medium-rare.
Add black trumpet mushrooms to pan alongside scallops, sautéing for about 1-2 minutes.
Slice scallops in half and season with salt. To plate: Pile beech mushrooms in ink across plate, criss-crossed with seared asparagus and shallot halves. Tuck oyster and black mushrooms in crevices; scatter scallops.