What happens when two grill masters come together to recreate a little piece of Spain? A mouthwatering chorizo sandwich.
Alex Clarke and Nicolas Carr are the founders of Bocata Sandwich, a sandwich stand in Brooklyn that prepares bocadillos, rustic sandwiches ubiquitous in Spain, every Saturday at the Williamsburg Smorgasburg. With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, Clarke and Carr can be found grilling smoky chorizo sausages to a char and deftly frying deceptive padrón peppers as they cater to the city’s most avid market goer. Their mission is simple: to recreate the classic chorizo sandwich found in London’s legendary Borough Market, focusing on carefully selected ingredients from local purveyors. For them, only the best will suffice: they source their chorizo from Despaña, their ciabatta bread from Sullivan Street Bakery. Carr was nice enough to answer some of our questions, and to tell us how this duo’s playful passion for BBQ brought them to one of the city’s most eclectic food playgrounds.
Remezcla: How did the idea for Bocata come about?
Nicolas Carr: Alex used to throw BBQ parties in his yard and I would always bring something new for him to grill – from fat octopus legs and morcilla to chorizo. The day I brought chorizo with me – I also brought roasted red peppers, arugula and ciabatta to make a sandwich I used to eat when I lived in London. The sandwich was an instant hit and people asked us to cook it at their parties – we realized we were onto something and the idea of Bocata was born.
R. What’s the story behind the name?
NC: Finding a name was probably the hardest thing we had to do. The sandwich has Spanish origins and we thought it was funny that two gringos from England and America were cooking up a Spanish chorizo sandwich. What happened to the British banger or the American hot dog? Well, frankly, they just didn’t do it for us. In a drunken stupor we thought up Gringo Chorizo, but in the harsh hangover morning light thought better of it. Speaking to a few friends, we came up with the name Bocata – slang in Spanish for Bocadillo, which is of course, a sandwich.
R: How would you describe your chorizo sandwich?
NC: It’s pretty amazing – but I might be biased. Saying that, we’ve had lots of press and they all seem to agree that it’s a tasty sandwich. Put another way – if you like chorizo – then you’ll love our sandwich because the pepper and the arugula bring out the smokiness of the paprika in the sausage. We have purposefully avoided using terms like locally produced, artisanal or seasonal because it’s just a sandwich – and we don’t want it to sound elitist. It’s not – it’s a chorizo sandwich. Saying that, those terms do apply – but we’re more interested in making the tastiest sandwich we can and sharing our passion for chorizo (no jokes please).
NC: What ingredients go into the chorizo sandwich? How do you prepare it?
NC: When we started – we agreed we wouldn’t cut corners. That means we buy the best ingredients we can lay our hands on. The bread comes from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and is some of the tastiest bread you can find in NYC – or anywhere else for that matter. We toast it up on the grill – add some peppery arugula to help you meet your five-a-day then add a little extra virgin oil and sea salt. On top, we add a hot grilled chorizo (spicy or classic) that we source from Despaña who make their own chorizo in Queens. We then finish the whole thing off with a fire-roasted red pepper to bring a little sweetness to the occasion. When assembled – the sandwich is a monster and we often have people share it (just don’t ask me to cut a spicy – it’s tricky) – although how they can share is beyond us as we eat about 3 a day (we call it quality control – you can call it greed).
R: How have you made it your version of the chorizo sandwich?
NC: Our “classic” really pays tribute to the sandwich that I used to buy in London at Borough Market – we didn’t want to mess around with it too much. We’ve introduced a special with the same bread, arugula and chorizo but also added aged manchego and membrillo (sweet quince paste). Boy is it popular – it sells out early every week! Something about chorizo and manchego makes NYC go crazy – and us too. We also serve a side of small green peppers (Padrón or Shishito – depending on availability). They are fried with olive oil and coarse salt. Most taste sweet and mild, although a small number are hot and spicy, which gives its character to the dish – we call it pepper roulette.
R: How did you get into food?
NC: My best friend’s dad was French and the head chef at a Michelin starred restaurant in London. I remember getting up at the crack of dawn to go to Epping Forest (a forest outside London) with him and my friend to pick wild mushrooms. We’d then head back home – watch the English lose to the French in rugby (if not – he wouldn’t cook) and then eat the most incredible food I had ever had. These experiences make an impression on a 6 year-old boy who was used to English classics like sausages and mash and fish and chips (both amazing by the way).
R: What is your favorite food memory?
NC: Back to the French chef – he came around to our house one evening and saw that my mum was cooking lentils for dinner. When he asked her what she would be serving them with, she replied “cheese.” He was horrified – as the French often are with food. The next evening after work he comes back with half a pig slung over his shoulder. Dropping it on the kitchen table, he said the next time we eat lentils we should eat them with pork. In hindsight, he traveled for 40 minutes on the London Underground in rush hour with a pig over his shoulder. What a hero!
Karina Taveras is a cook who loves to write and a writer who loves to cook (with sazón!). Her stories have appeared in Saveur magazine, Islands magazine and the NY Daily News. She’s the Publisher and Executive Editor of Latinfoodie, a bilingual blog about food and travel. Her earliest food memory includes pairing saltines and condensed milk to fuel an afternoon of hopscotch in the yard. She lives in NYC with her husband and dreams of living by the sea.
Photo Credit: Joe Geinert