Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Cadiz region cookery course

I'm so excited about my latest travel discoveries I just have to share...

Last week I was away for a few days holiday in Spain with some girlfriends
Discovery no1: female only holidays are a joy!

We stayed in an apartment in Conil de la Frontera on the southern coast not far from Cadiz. Its a working town, not at all touristy but with the bonus of a giant sweep of beach which is blessed with a constant ocean breeze. Sevillanas flock here in summer to escape the oppressive heat of the city. The beach is delightful and I am a self confessed sun worshipper but...
Discovery no2: a couple of
days sun 'fix' is enough for me, the urge to explore is greater than the need to tan.

Which led us to...
Discovery no3: Annie B's Spanish Kitchen and...
Discovery no4: to understand a region's food adds tenfold to the enjoyment of your holiday and a cookery course is a fine way to appreciate that!

In this part of Spain fish, salt and sherry are the three most important ingredients but, for the uninitiated, are not necessarily the easiest to embrace. Knowing where to shop, what to buy, where to dine out and what to order can be challenging, especially if you don't speak Spanish. A day with Annie will put you on track...

Our culinary experience began with shopping in Conil's central market for the pick of the day's catch. A thorough examination of each of the displays was conducted and some serious quizzing of the stall holders before Annie made our final selection - 1kg of glinting fresh anchovies, almost transluscent white prawns, two plump shiny sea bass and a large local flat fish the like of which you would not find in your local Sainsburys.

Then it was off to to her charming house in nearby Vejer de la Frontera. Annie's story is intriguing - a Scot by birth, with a background in catering in the UK, she stumbled upon Vejer back in 2000 and fell in love not only with the food and the climate, but the region, the lifestyle and eventually a house which, she confesses, she simply could not resist. Its not hard to see why - atop a steep hill in this impossibly pretty white town and centred around a courtyard with a small pool, the view to the coast from the roof terrace alone is enough to make you wish you lived there too!

After much cooing and photo taking, we settled down in the open kitchen to begin lunch prep. Annie, along with her able assistant Pepe, was in charge, but allocated tasks to us all as she worked to get us all involved and familiar with the processes. First there was a cake to be made and popped into the oven, various sauces to be prepared and fish to be gutted. It didn't take long though for the (first of several bottles of) sherry to be opened and the Fino/Manzanilla preference debate to hot up. I'm not usually a sherry fan but, under Annie's expert guidance, I have become a convert. Freshly fried boquerones and chilled Manzanilla - can there be finer match?

This is no gourmet cookery school - its very relaxed, no culinary experience is required and the actual cooking processes can easily be mastered by all. The key is Annie's skill in sourcing the best and freshest ingredients, preparing menus in simple but authentic local style and then pairing them with carefully chosen sherry and wines. The menu theme can vary but ours consisted of:

Appetisers: (devoured while prepping)
Anchovies 2 ways - pickled and fried
White prawns with an Asian dipping sauce (not local obviously but truly delicous)
Followed by: (served in the shady courtyard at the poolside table)
Ajo blanco - a velvety smooth almond and garlic cold soup
Fish baked in a salt crust and served with a salsa verde, new potatoes and roast asparagus
Orange and almond cake served with creme fraiche and local strawberries

All of the above washed down with a delightful selection of wines including a wonderful Alborino from the Galicia region and a fruity white Rueda.

It was hard to drag ourselves away as the day drew to a close around 5pm - there's something so convivial about preparing food as a group and then sitting down to share it. From just this one day I learnt so much about the region, its food and wines and it left me longing to find out more...

Annie runs a whole range of courses from one day (from 60 Euros pp) through to 5 night gourmet discovery tours of the region. For details visit her website

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