Recently I had dinner at Costa Brava, the Spanish restaurant on Garnet in Pacific Beach. My friend Ines and I shared about half a dozen lovely little tapas dishes—briny aceitunas con anchoa (olives stuffed with anchovies), flaky empanadillas de Atún (tuna in pastry), sweet and salty dátiles con tocino (dates wrapped in bacon), a gorgeous tortilla Española (Spanish potato omelet with onion and egg) and a couple of other delicious plates.
So, I was looking forward to heading over to the little market, Pata Negra, that Costa Brava’s owner Javier Gonzalez also owns. It was closed by the time we had finished but I went there for a visit this week in anticipation of Javier being a guest on The Gourmet Club.
2 cups Calasparra rice or bomba rice
In fact, when I accompanied Gonzalez to the restaurant for a sampling of tapas, he put out plate of three anchovies, naked to the world. They were delicious on their own, similar to pickled herring, actually, but he showed me how to wrap one around an olive (stuffed with anchovies, of course) and then pop into the mouth. Absolutely delicious.
A good Spanish kitchen needs olive oil and vinegar and you’ll find a nice variety of quality goods here. I bought a bottle of the Castillo de Tabernas single variety olive oil (there’s also a blend of three olives). At .1 percent in acidity, this is used only for flavor, not cooking. If you want to cook with olive oil, don’t use any olive oil over .4 percent acidity or you’re simply wasting good oil.
You’ll also want an assortment of paprikas—and, don’t mistake these for the stale stuff you find in the supermarket. These are highly charged, flavorful paprikas. They come in picante, dulce (mild), bittersweet and smoked. Use them singly or mix some together to layer flavors.
My favorite part of the shop is dedicated to the sausages and, of course, what Pata Negra is now known for locally, its Jamón Ibérico, or Spanish ham. The best place to learn more about this ham is on the Costa Brava website, but briefly, these hams, newly available to the U.S. market, come from black-hoofed Iberico pigs who feed freely on acorns and wild plants. The Jamón Ibérico has a gorgeous rich red color and is served paper thin. The nutty flavor is reminiscent of those acorns and yet very delicate. Because this is such a rare and expensive treat, even in Spain, Jamón Ibérico is reserved for special occasions and generally eaten simply on its own or perhaps as a wrapper for shrimp that had been sautéed in olive oil, garlic and paprika. Below store manager Fernando Hernandez shows it off on a jamonera and you can see the difference between the Jamón Ibérico and Serrano ham, which the shop also sells.
Pata Negra also carries blood sausage and a variety of chorizo, including the Basque region’s chorizo de Bilbao, one of Spain’s most popular cooking chorizos and made with garlic, pimenton and pepper. At Costa Brava, I enjoyed pieces of grilled chorizo de Bilbao, both unadulterated and nestled in a piece of steaming freshly baked roll. Buy a package and butterfly each one for grilling, then snuggle it in a hot roll and enjoy with a good cold beer.
Have some thoughts about Pata Negra or other ethnic markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below: