Renowned rice dishes in Sant Antoni, Barcelona – Culinary Backstreets


El Racó de l’Agüir (“Agüir’s Corner”), a restaurant in the Sant Antoni district of Barcelona, ​​has been in the making for a long time: it represents the lifelong work of the Agüir family, the culmination of their talent and of their experience.

There are two generations here: parents Roser and Ferran, who have run four different restaurants during their careers, and their sons, Iván and Ferran, both now in their 40s and raised working with their parents. Mom and Dad opened El Racó de l’Agüir in 1990, but after two years their offspring took over.

All four are familiar with Iberian and Mediterranean flavors, and while the restaurant is perhaps best known for its rice dishes, it also offers contemporary versions of a number of traditional Catalan and Valencian recipes.

On our last visit, we entered the long, narrow dining room decorated with wood accents and traditional Valencian tiles, geometric beauties in blue, green and yellow. Beyond this warm space hides a small open kitchen – the restaurant’s guts – where a team of six people work their magic. It is here that the young Ferran, now a chef, creates his contemporary versions of Catalan-Valencian recipes handed down by his family while his mother and mentor, Roser, oversees the stoves with his trained and expert hands.

The elder Ferran, meanwhile, presides over the bar with a smile and inexhaustible energy while Iván, the older brother, is the mobile element – he circulates energy in all possible directions, between vendors, the kitchen team and the customers.

Although flexible and varied, the menu is by no means extensive; concentration is a powerful tool that works very well here. The family selects the most interesting ingredients of the season very precisely and is open to improvisation (it is not uncommon for regulars to make personal requests or order dishes off the menu, which the kitchen will often welcome).

Spontaneity is a key part of their food philosophy. “It’s important for us to be in the moment, to adapt to what’s cooler. Even some customers come and ask for a certain dish of rice, and Ferran will prepare it with the ingredients he has that day – it’s a dish of the moment, ”explains Iván.

And all of these dishes are made to be shared, a nod to the family’s past, when they spent their summers visiting family in the Valencian city of Alicante. “In Alicante, entrees are often shared in restaurants, which is more common today, but even a few years ago it was still quite rare if the dishes were not specifically tapas,” explains Iván. . “Here, all the dishes on the menu can be shared. This is the culture we grew up with.

“The two [paellas and arroces] are just a different way of doing the same thing.

Depending on the day you can find fideuàs (seafood noodles) and rice dishes of all kinds: seafood rice, arròs caldos (broth / rice soup), arroz a banda (rice cooked in fish broth, with other ingredients served separately) and other seasonal rice dishes they create on the go. Their cooking style aims to showcase the ingredients. “By working with a good product, you don’t have to mask it,” says Iván. That is why the family is always aware of going straight to the source. “We work with a species of calf from a small corner of Santa Pau [located in the inland Catalan county of La Garrotxa] and stock up on wild fish, ”he adds.

Speaking of fish, their salt cod is excellent, served with a romescu sauce and Picada (chopped almonds). Their monkfish croquets are also noteworthy, but even simple comfort foods, like their lentil stew, are terribly repairing. We love the way their dishes skillfully navigate the territory between familiarity and modernity (healthy, made with premium ingredients and impeccably presented). “While I was learning [to cook], I was absorbing my mother’s values ​​in the restaurant and the values ​​of the school at the same time, ”says Ferran,“ and I did a little fusion of the two which I think works well.

“What I love most is that people start to remember the flavors of their childhood when they eat our food,” Iván intervenes. Indeed, we were brought back to our mother’s kitchen while savoring their wonderful croquets.

As for their rice dishes, Ferran and Roser prepare them the Alicante way, sautéing the rice with the other ingredients to extract more flavor. “That’s what we grew up with. During the summer holidays, our mother and grandmother prepared this type of rice on the terrace, using a stove placed on the ground, ”says Iván.

barcelona rice

“The paella has to contain rice, saffron or paprika, and it has to be prepared in an iron paella,” says Ferran, referring to the type of pan that gave the dish its iconic name. “But both [paellas and arroces] are just a different way of doing the same thing. In Tarragona, for example, we add the broth first and then the rice, while in Alicante we first sauté the rice with the other ingredients – we chop the tender garlic, onion, cuttlefish and baby cuttlefish, we stir-fry everything, then add the rice, stir-fry again, then we add the broth, cook it all together.

We tried their rice with sepionettes (baby cuttlefish), tender garlic and clams, served in an iron paella on the table. The texture of the rice was perfect and the sepionets tender, while the clams were like small, delicate bites from the sea. The tender garlic added to the overall freshness and intensity of the experience. It’s an elegant rice dish that distinguishes between richness and healthy moderation and, therefore, incredibly satisfying.

Despite the Valencian influence, they source their rice from the Ebro Delta, in the region of Tarragona, in the south of Catalonia, closer to Barcelona. The restaurant uses additional, a strain that must be properly cared for in order to create the perfect balance between taste and texture.

Ferran, however, has the touch when it comes to cooking this type of rice. “When you get used to a specific type of rice whose timing you fully understand and everything is working just the way you want it to,” he says, “then it’s hard to change. “

Of course, each master has his own tip. But, as eaters, our main concern is to enjoy the magic that takes place there, whether in the form of a supplement of rice, salted cod, monkfish croquets or Santa veal entrecote. Pau.

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