Baluarte’s alma mater promotes his roots by promoting product and conducting research into the gastronomy of 60 years ago
Óscar García is one of the few self-taught chefs left on the Spanish scene, bent on making a patriotic banner of the High Lands and Pine Groves of Soria, “a region which is quite different to other parts of Castilla y León”, he admits. “A hostile yet beautiful land”, which he wishes to glorify at his restaurant, Baluarte, a personal statement of a universe that has drawn increasingly closer to the native produce of Soria and Castilla with a fresh gaze, with no concessions made to traditionalist trends in defence of pleasant, amiable, indulgent tastes. “We’re carrying out research into local cuisine 60 years ago, people who grazed their cattle in the high lands and pine groves at altitudes of over 100 metres, where the cold imposed survival cookery dominated by marinades”, the heart and soul of Baluarte recounts. Perhaps that is why his food exudes some of the cold in Soria that rips through several layers of clothing during the winter months, where the product plays the lead role to bring on sensations of taste.
A region with a population density of only two people per square kilometre, “where the fare must be very simple, product-based and well thought out”, he says. And, talking of Soria’s produce, the main event is sheep, along with the wood pigeon, the partridge, and truffles, to which the Michelin-starred chef turns his hand to prove that creative cuisine with both roots and personality is possible. One perfect example is ajo carretero, a Soria lamb and garlic stew in three phases. “We use a machurra sheep because its fat and taste is vastly superior – it’s a hardy species because it had to walk more”, García explained as he cooked in an awestruck auditorium.
For the first phase “we use the neck of the machurra, and cook it at 100 degrees for two hours, and garnish it with onion, garlic, tomato, green pepper, paprika and bread crumbs”. This could be termed a “survival” dish in a region where cold weather is the order of the day. The second phase is the shoulder – six hours at 65 degrees – accompanied by its juice emulsioned with holm oak resin and sage, garlic, leek, carrot, turnip and chili pepper. “To finish off we cover it with sage slush to simulate what was used as winter fodder for the sheep”. The last touch is stock with a hint of paprika. Marinades must be a feature of any self-respecting Soria menu, and the Baluarte variety is partridge, because “its acidity and taste make for easy eating on a long menu”, the chef points out. It is marinated for 45 minutes, then emulsioned and garnished with milkcaps and a gazpachuelo soup made from the intestines as a kind of coat to cover it.
This comes before one of the star attractions in the High Lands, the truffle, and Óscar García has both the sweet and savoury variety. In the savoury version, the truffle teams up with the wood pigeon. “This is a migratory bird that flies south and fills up on acorns, and this gives a different taste in the mouth”, claims the chef. To soften up the pigeons, he pasteurises them for 45 minutes, sprinkles some white miso and Soria bacon over them, and lets them mature for 48 hours prior to plating. Finally we are presented with its breast featuring the truffle at the centre on a beetroot earth bed, corn cooked al dente, and a reduction of stock from the pigeon carcass. For dessert, frozen cream of thyme and sweet potato foam with custard burying the truffle as a simile of the origins of one of the main attractions of High Lands gastronomy.