30 Oct2012

Appetizer, Anyone?? :)

by Marketman

Several years ago, I watched a television food program featuring some calcots, from Cataluna, Spain. I was intrigued. Essentially, onions are forced to send out new shoots that are covered in dirt to keep the lower part of the onions white, then grilled savagely over a strong wood flame and wrapped in newspaper to steam for several more minutes. They are then dipped into a sort of vinaigrette… Sounds a bit bizarre, but I love braised leeks so I was thinking this was defnitely a dish to try. When I told the crew in the office that this was their appetizer cooking in newspaper, they looked as though I had well and truly completely lost my marbles… Calcots are a mild, flavorful onion, and we don’t have any here… but I decided to try the dish with some young thin leeks… :)

But I am aging and my brain is playing tricks on me. So instead of recalling the grilling step (with all the soil and stuff still attached), I thought they were wrapped in paper, soaked in water and put on a hot fire of coals. Now I remember that was another cooking show where the Scandinavian chef wrapped some fish in paper and put them on the coals… :) Confused? At any rate, we placed the leeks in soaked paper on charcoal and cooked them for nearly 30 minutes, wetting the paper when it looked as though it would ignite. Surprisingly, even on REALLY hot coals, the newspaper NEVER went up in flames! In fact, I undercooked the leeks by at least 10 minutes+ and some where still a bit spicy rather than sweet and tender.

I cut off the root ends before rinsing them and wrapping in the paper. In the “real thing” in the fields of Catalunia, they simply harvest the onions and throw them on a raging fire then they wrap them in paper and stick them in a cooler to steam until tender…

Out of 10 crew members who tasted this experiment, perhaps 8 of them thought I was wacky, and they really didn’t expect to have something edible to eat.

I was fascinated by the idea of cooking in wet paper, it means I could really do without a lot of my cooking utensils. :)

The paper showed some signs of igniting, but for the most part, the water in the paper heated up and steamed the leeks.

When brought to the kitchen, the paper actually did go on fire, which was a dramatic flourish to sceptical crew waiting to taste this latest experiment…

I made a dippping sauce of olive oil, some slow roasted garlic, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and fresh lemon juice and whisked it until emulsified. Peel off the outer skins or layers of the onions, dip them in the dressing and eat most of the white parts… They were utterly DELICIOUS. The onions were soft, sweet and flavorful. The vinaigrette complemented the texture and taste. They were great on their own… or in a sandwich even. Definitely something I would do again, and perhaps properly, by grilling then steaming like the Catalunians do it… of course, they will never be the true calcots, but they are a tasty alternative!



  1. Khew says:

    Have a feeling it might also be great using asparagus.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 1:30 pm


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  3. teny says:

    Wondering if the ink from the newspaper would give it some unpleasant after taste but apparently not.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 2:02 pm

  4. ami says:

    I think the show that you’re refering to is the No Reservation episode in Spain.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 3:47 pm

  5. odessa says:

    Hi MM, back in the days ( girl scout camping), we cooked eggs wrapped on wet news paper over charcoal din… i miss your post, so busy last week and was in davao for the cloud computing roadshow… i wanted to join sana to get free skyfall ticket..haist…too late na ako he he! anyways, will watch it this weekend, i promised my hubby to treat him when i’m back. i like too your store display (earlier post) and was amazed of the squash vases w/ bright purple “brain/coral” shaped flowers… I’m not familiar with the movie but i like and watch Ina Garten show Barefoot Contessa. I love it when she uses veggies and fruits as decor in her show. Hope there’ll be one Zubuchun here in Manila too very soon… Good luck MM!!!

    Oct 30, 2012 | 3:48 pm

  6. Iñigo Galatas says:

    Actually the sauce for calçots is called “romesco”.

    Salsa romesco has small diferences depending on the town you are frombut basic ingredients include almonds, hazelnuts, tomato, and a basic vinagrette.

    You can find lots of recipes under Salsa Romesco.

    By the way, you can only find calçots in Catalunya from January up to March.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 4:36 pm

  7. chichay says:

    i saw that too, but i think they cooked it straight on top of the charcoal then they wrapped it in newspaper and placed it in a cooler to let off the steam. before eating they slid off the charred parts, i was trying to imagine how it tastes ike since i love leeks too…

    Oct 30, 2012 | 4:40 pm

  8. joey @ 80 Breakfasts says:

    My cousins who live in Spain love this! I have always wanted to try them…nice to know we can cobble together an alternative! :)

    Oct 30, 2012 | 4:40 pm

  9. ros says:

    Yep No Reservations : Spain


    Romesco sauce also taste great with char-grilled eggplant.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 8:00 pm

  10. betty q. says:

    At the community garden here, we are not allowed to use newspapers to use as mulch to suppress the weeds about 10 years ago for they said that the ink they use could be toxic and it would leach into the ground. However, about 2years ago, they changed their policy after they were assured that the ink in the newspapers are no longer toxic. Maybe using Manila paper or the brown paper bag would be a better alternative or maybe parchment paper.

    I grill baby leeks always on the barbecue with a small foil pouch of wood chips to give it a smoky flavour…ÜBER MASARAP!!!!!

    Oct 30, 2012 | 8:41 pm

  11. betty q. says:

    Maybe a Pinoy twist on this Catalan dish would be to dip it in a Kare-Kare sauce…

    Oct 30, 2012 | 8:56 pm

  12. rosedmd says:


    i saw that show too, i think chichay is right. they grilled the calcots directly on the charcoal… charred abit, then wrapped with newspaper. after awhile, they ate it removing the charred parts and roots. with wine they drink in unusual way. they have it in a container , the place the snout on top of their mouths without touching the snout and pour the wine into their mouth…………..this is Anthony bourdain’s show!

    Oct 30, 2012 | 9:37 pm

  13. Footloose says:

    I know many of your kitchen experiments turn out well but in a few such as this one, I can’t help but imagine members of your crew’s faces looking like Beaker’s, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s beleaguered assistant in the Muppet Show, anxiously awaiting to taste test yet another one of his boss’s experiments.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 9:44 pm

  14. Marketman says:

    Footloose, that’s a very descriptive take on what they did actually look like… several waited for a few minutes while others braved a taste. We were testing other stuff at the same time (which I can’t divulge just yet) that turned out REALLY nicely… so they take the good with the strange… :) rosemd, I suspect several shows have featured this delicacy…

    Oct 30, 2012 | 10:15 pm

  15. lightyears says:

    was able to catch that Bourdain show as well. looks delish. but you wanna make sure though that you guys use newspapers with soy-based ink (not the petroleum-based ones) and non-bleached paper. the solvent from the petroleum-based inks could yield harmful reactants from the cooking process.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 10:42 pm

  16. betty q. says:

    Footloose…I was hoping you would be in town and have kape-kape with you…sent you a message in one of MM’s post (forgot where)….am just waiting now to board flight back home! Catch you next time! …will bring more Tuscan style canned wild chinook salmon sardinas.

    Ebba…will try to send you also a few jars of the sardinas.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 10:48 pm

  17. EbbaBlue says:

    We have abundant of young onions here too, and I always grill them together with sprigs of cilantro. They are good just by themselves. I will try BettyQ’s suggestion of kare-kare sauce for dipping.

    Ms Betty, salamat, salamat, salamat. Naglalaway na ako.

    Oct 30, 2012 | 11:27 pm

  18. ka_fredo says:

    I wonder if it would work with banana leaves. Stuff cooked in newspaper don’t look appetizing to me because of the myriad other less savory stuff I know that people wrap with it. I know fish and chips are wrapped in newspaper but then, don’t they use better quality paper or at least *safer* ink in Europe. I’d probably try this with cheap manila paper just to be sure. :)

    Oct 30, 2012 | 11:35 pm

  19. Cleod says:

    Didn’t the Inquirer make a big announcement some years back of using soy-based ink? Maybe theirs would be a better alternative to random newspapers :)

    Oct 31, 2012 | 12:07 am

  20. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    Some of our tacquerias offer grilled green onions, ironically…cebolittas.

    Oct 31, 2012 | 3:02 am

  21. PITS, MANILA says:

    I remember we made vegetable lumpia (fried), using leeks (bulbs and bulbs of them) as the main ingredient. We were looking for vegetables low in uric acid, and tried leeks instead of cabbage.

    Oct 31, 2012 | 7:59 am

  22. Faust says:

    Roasted onions hhmmm…. yummy.. tuyo.. suko and garlic dips and mayo too

    Oct 31, 2012 | 8:12 am

  23. Betchay says:

    Roasting in coals makes anything taste better but am wary of use of newspaper too so I will use banana leaves. I love leeks!

    Oct 31, 2012 | 11:28 am

  24. Janette says:

    I live in the Catalonia region and have gone thrice to a Calçotada. Actually, they don’t cook them wrapped in a newspaper but, in an open fire using a grill. Since calçots must be eaten while it’s hot, they wrapped them in a newspaper once they are cooked to preserve heat taking into account that calçotada usually takes place on colder periods of the year (January to April). It is usually served with a sauce called “salvitxada” and cava. After the customers have finished eating calçots, grilled meat (lamb, typical catalan sausage), artichokes and potato and red wines are served. In some restaurants, second plate also consists of the typical “botifarra amb mongetes” (typical sausage with white beans). And of course, “crema catalana” (Crème brûlée) for dessert!

    Nov 1, 2012 | 2:35 am

  25. Lava Bien says:

    Catalans and them Basque people know about good food, don’t they? My man Anthony Bourdain did that show with calcots with some friends while drinking the local vino tinto from some unusual (for me) vessel where they let the wine drip straight from the vessel a sus bocas. Could be a bit messy, but who cares hehehe.

    @ Janette, wrapping them in paper help the veggies get steamed thus making it more tender but not mushy and keeping it warm too hehehe.

    Saludos desde aqui en Bay Area!

    Vale! Venga!

    Nov 1, 2012 | 4:37 am

  26. millet says:

    our local version would be the native mushrooms wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over coals. at one time, i added a few shrimps and a sliced onion into the packet, and that made a whole dish.

    Nov 1, 2012 | 12:38 pm

  27. Connie C says:

    MM: In your many experiments you: “always strive to produce the most delicious, technically exquisite food and always apply analytical thinking and creativity to constantly advance the face of cuisine”, the principles of Modernist cuisine.


    Nov 1, 2012 | 10:31 pm

  28. TheDrunkenPig says:

    We tried this yesterday and it was a hit with the family. We also tried them with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar and it worked perfectly too :)

    Nov 2, 2012 | 8:25 am

  29. thea says:

    One of my favorite cooking/travel show to watch right now is “from spain with love” by Annie Sibonney. i love, love, love her. She featured calcots in one episode. i hope you can watch her show. i think some episodes are available in youtube. :)

    Nov 2, 2012 | 9:03 am

  30. wendy says:

    MM I watched that too it was with Anthony Bourdain who was in spain with
    the chef from spain with love. I watched it on the TLC channel.

    Nov 2, 2012 | 5:42 pm

  31. Marketman says:

    thea, I like that program too… she is quite relaxed… and manages to get access to some pretty good places… its nicely done… wendy, yes, it seems several programs have featured the delicacy… :)

    Nov 3, 2012 | 8:04 am

  32. Mimi D. says:

    i just made this yesterday with romesco sauce for dipping :) yum!

    Nov 4, 2012 | 10:06 am

  33. atbnorway says:

    Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had an episode (in his Road Trip series) with grilled char wrapped in newspaper.

    Nov 28, 2012 | 6:34 am


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