Revealed: The secrets behind cracking croquetas and beautiful bunyols
How lucky are the people of Manchester to have access to such a bounty of excellent Spanish and Catalan restaurants? And we seem to be casting off the constraints of a formal sit down meal in favour of really getting into the Spanish spirit of casual dining – grazing on small plates along with a cool drink or two.
Thanks to Tast Catala on King Street, we can even experience authentic regional specialities from Barcelona and the Basque region. The three-floor restaurant is equally happy to cater for the casual diner popping into the bar, diners wanting a more leisurely experience, or fine diners wanting a taste of multi-Michelin starred Paco Perez’s special menu.
But the team behind Tast are generous folk, not only are they happy to feed us, they are willing to actually reveal some of the secrets behind their dishes thanks to their new series of special Sunday masterclasses.
Confidentials’ food and drink editor Deanna Thomas went along to their first Catalan cookery class to discover what it’s all about….
Every Tast masterclass begins with a welcome glass of Cava and a chance to meet your fellow classmates in the ground floor bar. I really enjoy the informality of cooking classes and the range of people it attracts of all ages and backgrounds – friends, couples, folk coming on their own and even enthusiastic teenagers wanting to learn how to feed themselves well - and impress their friends and family while doing it.
There’s an immediate friendly camaraderie and palpable behind-the-scenes excitement in being allowed beyond the pass into the kitchen. And what a kitchen! The ‘yellow’ kitchen serves Tast’s top floor dining space and has been designed to the specifications of Paco Perez with only the very best equipment.
Head chef Miquel Villacrosa, who has an easy-going friendly manner and an utterly infectious enthusiasm for cooking, ran the first cookery masterclass - making croquetas from scratch. These deep-fried, breaded balls of flavoured bechamel are arguably the most famous Spanish tapas dish of them all, but some are better than others and Tast’s are the best.
First, Miquel got us all suited and booted with tall paper chef’s hats, plastic aprons and a visit to the hand-washing station. The group then positioned ourselves round the stainless steel table while Miquel (together with sous chef ‘also Miquel’) talked us through the methods of making large quantities of red pepper and Jamon Iberico croquetas.
They’ll be running a series of further classes, so I’m reluctant to reveal any spoilers for those keen to attend, but the Miquels went though each stage of how to make thick béchamel base, revealing how they extract the most flavour out of each ingredient along the way and achieve that smooth, silky texture.
Volunteers stepped up along the way to share the tasks of mixing, stirring, and adding each ingredient. Then we learned how to shape and coat the croquetas and picked up tips to avoid them bursting or going wrong.
After a couple of hours earning our kitchen stripes, the group was invited back down to the ground floor, where a communal table had been set up for us by the bar area. It gave us the chance to relax and chat about what we’d learned over a selection of Tast’s gorgeous ham and chorizo with a glass of wine or beer to match and huge slabs of their delicious tomato bread.
Miquel and the wonderful front of house team then delivered the fruits of our labour – crisp, hot, delicious croquetas straight from the fryer. Health and safety reasons dictated that we weren’t able to cook them as a group in the restaurant, but we were each given an additional box of uncooked croquetas to fry at home.
The interactive event lasted three hours, which sped by and turned out to be a brilliant way to spend part of a Sunday.
Tast’s next interactive masterclass is all about bunyols - Sunday 7th April, 11am to 2pm.
Learn how to make authentic Catalan pastry from Julià Castelló owner of Xuixo Castelló, a family pastry business which was established in Girona in 1898. Guests will enjoy a glass of Cava on arrival followed by the interactive masterclass. Afterwards there’ll be a chance to enjoy eating their own bunyols with a glass of sweet Moscatell along with some tomato bread, potato omelette, calamari and chicken wings.
Places cost £40 per person and the class is limited to 24 participants
Book your place here.