A taste of Sitges: Xató
So, we return to the eternal question: Which xató is the best xató? For Rosa Maria Carbonell, “the best xató is the one that each person makes at home”. And it's not just anyone's opinion because she's been making it for almost 40 years at the Bar Cal Noi, possibly the most popular in Sitges, and she's going to teach us how to make the best base for this quintessentially Sitgetan dish. But first a warning... okay, two. The first is that this isn't a complicated dish, but it is laborious and has many small details. The second, more than a warning, is a recommendation: this is a basic recipe, but Rosa Maria Carbonell recommends that everyone adds his or her own personal touch.
Let's prepare the basic ingredients for four people:
- One escarole
- 50 gr. of salted codfish
- 250 gr. of salted tuna
- About twenty salted anchovies (depending on size)
- 40-50 Arbequina olives
And we'll also prepare the ingredients for the dressing:
- 100 grams of almonds
- 2 ñora red peppers
- A couple cloves of garlic
- A glass of olive oil
- A dash of vinegar
- A pinch of salt
- A chili pepper or a pinch of cayenne pepper
And now for the more demanding part... above all, don't overlook the details.
We set out two different containers with water to desalt the shredded cod and the tuna. We will need two hours of soaking for them to be perfectly desalted and during that time we will have to change the water a couple of times. While it is not so important to completely desalt the anchovies, it is a good idea to soak them and clean them carefully. While the fish is being desalted we are going to use this time to make the dressing. First we scald the two ñora peppers, you know, a couple of minutes in boiling water, to remove the skin later because what we will be using is the pulp.
We prepare the mortar and start to gradually add the ingredients to crush them, the almonds, the garlic, the oil, the vinegar, the ñora pepper pulp, the salt and the hot pepper that we've chosen. We do it little by little so they don't spill out when we start to grind them with great patience. While we are preparing the mixture, we soak the escarole in fresh water.
And then all we have to do is put the dish together. At the last moment we drain the escarole, so that it stays crunchy. Make sure there isn't a single drop of water left on it. Add a little of the dressing we've prepared and stir it. We add pieces of the shredded fish with our hands, so that it is well distributed throughout the dish and each diner gets seven or eight pieces. Add the anchovies and olives and cover everything with a little more dressing. This way, stirring and mixing the ingredients will be easier.
This is the basis of a good Sitges xató, this and ensuring that the ingredients are top quality, as Rosa Maria Carbonell points out, who is also very aware of the details and ingredients that her father insisted could not be used, because the real xató doesn't allow for shortcuts. So keep in mind the most frequent mistakes: the ñora peppers must be peeled by hand, it's wrong to grind them up with their skin; you have to be generous with the almonds, it's also a mistake to skimp on them or mix them with hazelnuts; in no event should you add bread or tomato; and tuna or anchovies in oil should never be used, they have to be salted.
And if we've made the xató, what else can we eat?
Rosa Maria Carbonell's recommendation is to follow the example of what they offer at Cal Noi: after the xató, a tortilla tower. They make thin tortillas of artichokes, white beans, white butifarra sausage, black butifarra sausage and peas, place one on top of the other and cut portions as if it were a cake. And so we have the ideal accompaniment for xató, just before finishing the meal with a coca de llardons (crackling pastry).