We arrived back in Spain at the beginning of July with our sights set on finally having a ‘home base’ here in Logroño. Because our house is not quite finished, we will be staying with the fam for a bit while we finish things up at the new place. For me, it has been a great opportunity to get to know Jorge’s family a bit better as well as learn a lot of cooking tips from his mom, Matilde. She is such a sweet woman and is always excited to show me her latest recipe or something she learned from her favorite cooking guru ‘El Arguiñano‘, which I have enjoyed adding to the recipes section of the blog. But it wasn’t only Jorge’s family that was anxious to see him…
Jorge’s basketball buddies were so excited to have him back in Spain, they started planning the welcome back reunion in April (4 months ago)! We were to have a chuletada – their version of a big barbeque over an open fire – with the whole basketball team and their families up in a little tiny pueblo outside of Logroño called Valle de Ocón. That morning one of Jorge’s friends, Roberto, and his family picked us up and we headed off to Valle de Ocón. The drive was beautiful, we were surrounded by vineyards the whole way. It was something new and different for me because I hadn’t really ever seen the grapevines with green leaves on them as I had never been here in the summertime. What a sight! I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is where we are going to live, surrounded by all of these beautiful vineyards!’. I was ecstatic thinking of all of the wonderful trips we could take, so close to home, enjoying these magnificent landscapes.
When we arrived in Valle de Ocón we were directed to a little dirt parking lot, the only one in the village, just a ways from the house where we would spend the afternoon. Jorge’s friend, Rafa, had graciously offered his family’s house for the occasion, and what a beautiful sight it was. He and his family had been working all morning getting the food ready and it already smelled delicious at noon (remember, here on a weekends it’s customary to wait until 3 or 3:30 to eat lunch)!! Everyone started to arrive, Jorge was excitedly telling his friends about all of his American travels; Vegas, Chicago, San Diego, etc., while I was busy just trying to get everyone’s names down. What a great bunch of people! Since the moment we arrived, I already felt like I was one of the group!
‘So, what the heck is a chuletada?’, you might be asking. I was asking myself the same question. Well, a chuelta in Spanish is a thick, juicy steak, so a chuletada is when a bunch of chuletas are cooked over an open fire. They have this handy mechanism that you open and put all the steaks in and then close it up to cook them. This makes it easier to cook both sides of the steaks and to flip them over easily. (The only thing I can think to compare it to is a waffle cooker, you put the batter inside and then use the handle to flip it over half way through to cook both sides – check out the picture below – it will probably help you understand a bit better.)
As you can see, we were either planning to feed the 5,000 or we were all very hungry! Haha! Can you believe all of those steaks? Well, José Luis (one of the crazier ones of the bunch) took a liking to the idea of cooking the steaks (thinking later he would get to chooses the biggest and juiciest one we had) and we all let him at it. But, steaks weren’t the only thing on the menu…we also had grilled chorizo, morcilla, ribs, moritos (pig snouts for lack of a better explanation), and so much more!! The fire is a very important part of a chuletada and what makes it unique to northern Spain, especially La Rioja. The wood used to grill the meat is called saramientos de viña – which are the old branches of the vineyards harvested once the grapes are picked. This wood is dried and then used for special occasions like this. This type of wood gives the meat a distinct and delicious flavor.
The table was set. We were all ready to dive in, but these guys were so nice, we sat down and they served us each and every course. We had meat, meat, and more meat, salad, deviled eggs (a special recipe that I still have to learn), olives, bread, wine, and the list goes on and on. I don’t think there is a better time to say, we ate like kings. The food was fantastic, and the company even better. Everyone had a smile on their face and it was evident that we were all enjoying ourselves!
And the best was yet to come. A little bit of a background story is needed here: When we were living in Phoenix, these guys were nice enough to send Jorge his jersey for the team, although he wasn’t going to be able to play all year. He was so touched by this kind gesture that he knew he had to do something for these guys too. Knowing that they were all great fans of the NBA and some in particular great aficionados of the SUNS, he was able to find 15 of the same shirt (more or less) and decided to bring them all back a souvenir from Phoenix. I wish you could have seen the smiles on their faces. It was a frenzy of orange being tossed about the bodega and it wasn’t 2 minutes later that each and every ‘player’ had their new shirt on ready to play! Of course the photo session was to follow to commemorate this great moment and I think Bimba, the giant English Shepard, also wanted in on the action, as you can see from the photos!
What a great way to be welcomed back to Spain! I can’t wait for the next one!!