Salt, Water, and Cooking in Galicia

By Caroline Hatchett

By

Caroline Hatchett
Galician Scallops, Atlantic Seaweed Salt, Indian Cress, and Coastal Herbs
Galician Scallops, Atlantic Seaweed Salt, Indian Cress, and Coastal Herbs

As elemental as they are, salt and water are the foundation of Chef Iván Domínguez’s cooking. Specifically, it’s the salt and water of the Atlantic Ocean, whose waves crash into a seawall visible from the dining room of his Restaurante Alborada in the Galician town of A Coruña. 

The Atlantic ocean doesn’t play a large part in the mythology of Spanish cooking, but Domínguez and a cohort of young Galician chefs are working to change that. Drawing more from Nordic notions of time and place, they’re showcasing the pristine seafood, seaweeds, and a host of herbs and plants plucked from Galicia’s rocky coastline. 

Presenting on the main stage at the 11th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress, Domínguez presented what has become a signature dish and a symbol for the Galician food movement: Scallops, Atlantic Seaweed, Horseradish, and Coastal Herbs.

After his purveyors bring him freshly harvested scallops, Domínguez preserves them in cold, pasteurized sea water for three days. “You season the scallop this way,” he says. “There’s no loss of volume, and the flavor stays fresh. It’s the same as catching the scallop in the same moment.” 

A hard sear would destroy the nuance of the product, so he opts instead for a gentle 80°F cooking method that preserves the “perfect” texture of raw scallops. Domínguez makes a meringue seasoned with seaweed and seawater and spoons it into a shallow pot, placing a large scallop in the center and piling seaweed over top. Heating the mixture above a kiss of flame, the meringue puffs up around the scallop, gently warming and subtly seasoning the meat, just the seaweed reinforces the ocean flavor from above. It’s a spa treatment for the gods, yielding a scallop just warm to the touch. 

“When the quality of fish is at this level. We have to do everything possible to take it to the next level,” Domínguez says. 

Slicing the scallop thinly, he finishes the plate with seaweed emulsion, horseradish purée (bolstered by hake head gelatin), coastal herbs, and a tiny shallot that grows by the ocean—each garnish conferring a bite of terroir and salty complexity. It’s an original plate with the utmost reverence for product. It’s also expands the notion of Spanish cuisine—even of cooking—all in the name of a deeper understand of the land and water that surrounds Restaurante Alborada. “I’m that kind of chef. I do things that others don’t do.”

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