Recent figures on the quantity of booze that we quaff, both in this country and the UK, have sent quivers of alarm through everyone, even the politicians.  Those of us with teenage children are even more panicked when we read about the current trend for binge drinking and the express desire of many young people to get ‘slammed’ in as short a time as possible.  They down shots one after the other in quick succession to the cheers of their friends until they are scarcely able to stand - this kind of scenario is every parent’s nightmare.

So where is the entrepreneur who will start a chain of funky Tapas bars in Ireland.  Better still could the Vintners Association of Ireland encourage their members to serve a selection of Tapas for their punters to eat with their drinks - I’ve got a pub grub course coming up just after Easter and I will certainly include a few tapas in it to get people started.

Overall the pub grub in Ireland is improving by leaps and bounds.   Recently the results of this year’s Club Orange/Licensing World Pub Lunch Awards Competition were announced, so if you are fortunate enough to have one of those pubs in your area go along and investigate - the overall winner was Lennons Café Bar in Carlow, and the monthly winners were Ryans Bar in Navan, The Purty Kitchen in Dun Laoghaire, The Huntsman Inn in Galway, The Marble City Bar in Kilkenny, Eagle House, Glasthule, Co Dublin, The Vintage Bar in Kanturk,  Co Cork and The Thatch, Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly.

Tapas according to the Spanish Tourist Board was ‘originally a mouthful of food included in the bar-price of a drink, tapas are designed to accompany drink and good conversation, and whether thirst provoking or absorbent, they should be easy to eat so they don’t interrupt the flow of conversation.”

In Spain its customary to move from one bar to another, sampling each establishment’s fare before moving on to the next    The days of free tapas with drinks are long gone, but the tapas phenomenon is going from strength to strength.   These tasty little bites are now sometimes served as a starter, or as a substantial evening meal shared between friends.  In London alone, there are hundreds of traditional tapas bars, as well as more sophisticated restaurants serving a tantalising variety of classics.

One of my favourites is Goya in Lupus St. SW1, simple, unpretentious,  yet sophisticated.  Perhaps because of its proximity to Westminster it has “established a peculiar place in the heart of Britain’s political class, particularly the Tory element”, according to Time Out.  Nonetheless, it is frequented by students and publishing types as well as the occasional politician.   The British appetite for tapas is such that there is now a nationwide chain of Spanish restaurants called La Tasca. Founded in 1993 in Manchester, it is now reputed to be the fastest growing group of its kind in the country with 19  already open and plans to open another 30 in the next three years.

The menu offers about 30 tapas as well as main courses and puds and of course Spanish wine and beers. 

They are generally served in small portions with a fino sherry, Tapa is the smallest while the racion is about double the size.  In Spain, where lunch is rarely eaten before 2.30 or even 3.00pm and dinner 10.00pm, tapas fulfil not only an important social function, they help to take the edge off peoples’ appetite while they wait for lunch or dinner to be served. 

Here are a few simple ideas to get you started.

*Brendan Ross from Droumdrastil in Dunmanway, West Cork recently set up an enterprise producing quail eggs.  Quail Eggs, cooked for just 3 minutes, served with celery salt are simple and delicious.  They will be hard-boiled in that time.

Brendan Ross, Coturnix Quail, Tel. 087- 2065067

Garlic Mussels

Our own juicy Irish mussels would make delicious tapas.

Serves 6-8
48 mussels, approx. 32-4 lbs (1.57-1.8kg)
Garlic Butter
3 ozs (85g/: stick) soft butter
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) olive oil
Fresh, white breadcrumbs
Check that all the mussels are closed. If any are open, tap the mussel on the work top, if it does not close within a few seconds, discard. (The rule with shellfish is always, ‘If in doubt, throw it out’.) Scrape off any barnacles from the mussel shells. Wash the mussels well in several changes of cold water. Then spread them in a single layer in a pan, covered with a folded tea towel or a lid and cook over a gentle heat. This usually takes 2-3 minutes, the mussels are cooked just as soon as the shells open. Remove them from the pan immediately or they will shrink in size and become tough.

Remove the beard (the little tuft of tough ‘hair’ which attached the mussel to the rock or rope it grew on). Discard one shell. Loosen the mussel from the other shell, but leave it in the shell. Allow to get quite cold.

Meanwhile make the Garlic Butter. Peel and crush the garlic and pound it in a mortar with the finely chopped parsley and olive oil. Gradually beat in the butter (this may be done either in a bowl or a food processor). Spread the soft garlic butter evenly over the mussels in the shells and dip each one into the soft, white breadcrumbs. They may be prepared ahead to this point and frozen in a covered box lined with cling film or tin foil.

Arrange in individual serving dishes. Brown under the grill and serve with crusty white bread to mop up the delicious garlicky juices.

Chorizo in Puff Pastry (Chorizo en Hojaldre)

This tapa, is one of my favourite ways to prepare chorizo.   They may be prepared ahead and frozen, ready to cook for a party.

Serves 5-6 (makes 16)
8 ozs ( 225g) puff pastry (preferably homemade)
4 ozs (110g) chorizo sausage, cut in ¼ inch (5mm) slices
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Roll the puff pastry to one-eighth (3mm) thickness.
Cut into circles ¼ inch (5mm) larger than the slices of chorizo.  Place a slice of chorizo in the centre of each pastry circle, paint the edges of the pastry with the egg yolk and cover with another circle of pastry.  Press the edges together with a fork to seal.  As each puff is made put it in the fridge, so that the pastry does not soften.  (The puffs may also be frozen at this point.)

Place the puffs on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 450F/230C/regulo 8, on the upper shelf in the oven for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed.

Fried Salted Almonds

From ‘Tapas - the little dishes of Spain’ by Penelope Casas.

Almond trees grow in many parts of Spain, but almonds as tapas seem to be more popular in Sevilla than elsewhere. When almonds are freshly fried, as they often are in Sevilla, they are really something special.

Serves 4-6
Oil for frying.
4 ozs (110g) blanched whole almonds
coarse salt
In a pan heat the oil at least ½ inch deep to about 400F and fry the almonds until lightly golden.    Or, better, use a deep-fryer.  Drain and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Fried Squid Spanish Style

Fried squid are a very popular tapa almost everywhere in Spain.  Be careful not to overcook or they will be tough and rubbery.
Serves 4-6
2 lb (900g) of the smallest available cleaned squid, or about
1lb (450g) if cleaned
flour for dusting
oil for frying
2 eggs, lightly beaten
lemon wedges
Cut the body of the squid into ½ inch (1cm) wide rings, leave the tentacles in one piece. Dry well with paper towels or the squid will spatter when cooked. Dust the pieces with flour.

In a large pan have the oil at least 1 inch (2.5cm) deep and heat to about 380F, or use a deep fryer if available. 

Coat the squid rings and tentacles completely with the beaten egg.  Remove one at a time and put immediately into the hot oil.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until just golden.  Drain and sprinkle with salt.  Serve immediately garnished with lemon wedges.

As an alternative you could coat the squid with a batter instead of flour and egg, this will produce a crunchier coating.  A plain batter or a beer batter could be used.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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