I'm loath to stop talking about the sea. Salt slicked as I was for most of last week, I think maybe the sea marinated me in its briny waters a little. I walked away shot through with its peculiar taste.
It's a taste that, on the Costa Brava at least, mingles easily with that of rum, the kind that Catalan sailors would once bring back from Cuba. At night, by the sea, the sailors would sing songs about the loves they left behind in Havana and drink a flaming beverage called the Cremat. Even though the sheen has worn well off the sailors and Spain's colonial empire, the Cremat is still all good. So are the songs (Havaneres), which have become a popular part of Catalan tradition.
We tried the Cremat on the terrace of Can Gelpí with our friend Guillermo, the waves crashing around us, just as it was meant to be tasted.
At Can Gelpí, which is famed for its Cremat, no part of the experience was a disappointment. The Cremat arrived on our table in a large clay bowl engulfed in bluish flame. It was set down with a single cup of cafe solo (espresso), three espresso cups and a ladle. We were then left to our own devices. We waited and waited for the flames to abate, but they burned on. The minutes passed and the flames soared. We were aware of the alcohol, of course, and reluctant to lose all of its bite. Eventually, thinking that the spectacle had gone on for far too long, Felipe blew out the flame. I think we were just shy of the 10 minutes that the Cremat is supposed to burn. Little did we know. We shared the coffee between the three cups and ladled out the alcohol. We were completely wrong about the procedures that accompany the Cremat, needless to say, but the result was not at all unpleasant. Quite pleasant it was. Indeed, indeed.
I've since learned the ways of the Cremat and cobbled together a recipe from our boisterous night at Can Gelpí and the few internet recipes that I've seen (virtually all in Catalan). Please forgive any imperfections.
Recipe for 6 generous servings of Cremat:
1/2 a bottle (325 mls) of dark Cuban rum
1/2 a bottle (325 mls) of aguardiente de caña (replace it with an equal amount of rum in a pinch)
A cup of cognac or two (optional)
About 75-100 grams of sugar (feel free to add more or less to taste)
The peel of one or two lemons (in long, elegant strips)
One or two sticks of cinnamon (absolutely no powder)
5 or 6 coffee beans (optional)
About 1/2 cup of brewed espresso coffee
Allow night to fall. This is not a daytime drink. Then, in a heatproof earthenware bowl, mix everything but the cup of coffee and set aflame. Let it burn. And, oh, it will burn. For a very long time. You will begin to think, "Should it really be burning this long?" It should. About 10 minutes they say, until the flavours are well blended. Don't worry, let it sit burning on the table to impress your friends.
When you think it's ready, or when there is sufficient general panic that all the alcohol has been consumed by flame (as in our case), pour in the espresso and cover with a lid to extinguish (or just blow on it as Felipe did). Spoon into espresso cups with a ladle and break into song about your lost Cuban love. You might even shed a tear. Who knows. The ways of the Cremat are a little unpredictable.