Posted July 16th, 2019
An Iona Food Masterclass With José Pizarro
Back in May, our very own Iona Insider was invited to an evening to celebrate the reveal of P&O Cruises’ new Local Food Heroes. Yesterday saw Chris return to the restaurant of one of those heroes, José Pizarro, in London’s Broadgate for a masterclass on the Spanish-influenced food that guests can look forward to when they sail on board the forthcoming Iona, set to make her debut in May 2020.
After it was revealed that she will be spending her maiden season sailing through the Norwegian fjords, it was announced that Iona will turn to Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands for the winter. And that’s where José comes in. Having grown on a traditional Spanish farm, watching his mother creating delicious concoctions in the kitchen, he is now keen to highlight the food values of Spain to P&O Cruises’ customers.
Food is a big deal in this part of the world. Large families gather together to share flavourful dishes and recount the day’s events. This is one of the reasons why tapas is such a popular option; it allows for conversation, for a relaxed atmosphere and for people to sample may different dishes during one meal.
José’s passion and enthusiasm for Spanish fare is immediately obvious from the moment you meet him. Welcoming us into his restaurant with open arms and a big smile, he got straight into this culinary masterclass by introducing us to one of Spain’s most treasured pieces of food produce – jamón ibérico. On the table in front of us was an entire leg and José started to explain to us the journey that the pig takes to get to this point. The black Iberian pigs are given at least two hectares each in which to roam, allowing them to build up layers of muscle and produce tender meat. Then, towards the end of their lives, they’re fed on a diet of acorns which infuse the meat with rich oils that have such a big impact on the taste.
Following that, an important curing process occurs whereby the legs are sealed with salt and hung to be aged for around six years, with the farmers regularly applying oils to ensure the meat stays moist. The result is an extremely flavourful cut which, due to the amount of work involved and the prestige of jamón ibérico in Spain, costs around £2,000 when bought from a quality and sustainable producer.
We were grateful to José for telling us this moments before he handed over the knife for us to have a go at carving the ham. Wafer thin slices are needed in order to get the most from the leg as possible and the technique involved is all about letting the knife do the work. Needless to say there were a few nervous faces at the thought of ruining such an expensive cut of meat.
The result is definitely worth all of the preparation though. The moment the ham hits your tongue, the oils from the acorns pass on a grassy flavour that is difficult to explain. The meat itself melts in the mouth and definitely leaves you wanting more. The intensity of taste varies depending from where on the leg the meat is taken, with pieces cut from closer to the shin bone carrying the most flavour. And it’s a flavour that shouldn’t be diluted too much. When asked the best way for jamón ibérico to be served, José said it should be eaten on its own or just on a piece of crusty bread.
Elevating A Classic
Continuing the theme of simple dishes that wow you with flavour, we then stepped into the kitchen to learn how to make José’s famous (and very popular) chocolate pot. Taken directly from his nana’s kitchen, the addition of two unusual ingredients really elevate this dessert to something much more decedent. The chocolate mouse is made in the usual way – by combining 70% chocolate, double cream, milk, sugar, cocoa powder and egg yolks over a gentle heat. The trick during this part is to maintain a slow, continuous stirring motion to ensure the end product is silky smooth and shimmering.
Once the mixture has been poured into ramekins and set, the real magic happens. A final flourish of José’s own extra virgin olive oil is added, along with a sprinkling a salt. Not only do these help to balance out the sweetness of the chocolate pot, they also help to intensify its richness and make it even more indulgent. This was something that we all definitely appreciated, as we quickly devoured the three pots that had been made in advance for us to try.
From Crumbs To Croquetas
The final thing we were able to get ‘hands-on’ with will be a staple amongst José’s tapas offering in the Glass House on board Iona – croquetas. In this case, the filling was squid, but these little balls of joy can also be made using ham, chicken, aubergine and a range of other fillings. In some countries, croquetas (or croquettes) are usually oozing with potato but, in Spain, a béchamel sauce is used at the centre of the breadcrumbs.
We were shown how the process is relatively simple yet involves some precision and care. The squid is chopped and caramelised before the sauce is made using flour and butter. Milk is then added slowly. As with the chocolate pot, stirring constantly and adding the milk a little bit at a time are both important steps to getting a smooth consistency without lumps of flour. Just before the mixture is put in the fridge to set for 24 hours, the chopped squid is added along with squid ink. This gives everything a black/grey hue which, as José said himself, doesn’t look especially appetising. However, once the balls have been rolled in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried, the initially off-putting colour is superseded by the amazing taste.
To add a little competitiveness to the kitchen, a challenge was laid down to see which team of two could measure out, roll, dust and breadcrumb their croquetas the quickest. The hardest part was ensuring that each ball was made up of precisely 30g of mixture to ensure consistency and precision. A precision that makes José’s food stand out and keeps customers comes back through the door.
Once our work at the hotplate was done, we sat down to enjoy a lunch featuring the things we had all just made (plus a few extras that were cooked up for us). This gave everyone a chance to talk about what we had learnt and discuss the delicious dishes that continued to arrive on what seemed to be a never-ending conveyor belt of Castilian cuisine.
We all agreed that José’s incredible passion for authenticity and provenance in terms of ingredients is something that guests are going to love on board Iona. Through his food, he aims to immerse diners in Spanish culture and, in the short time they are at the table, show them how food is an experience and why great food can be nothing short of uplifting.
If you would like to learn more about the dining venues that will be on board Iona or you want to ensure you have the chance to taste José Pizarro’s food for yourself, call us on 0800 035 0701 today. You can also sign up to our mailing list to keep up with the latest news and offers from the cruising industry.