Tapas from Spain

Tapas is one of Spain’s more endearing rituals, a way to relax and unwind at the end of a hot day. It is not meant to be a meal as such, although a selection of tapas or a few racion (larger plate) can be quite filling.
A Tapa should be an individual portion on a small saucer, correctly, a new tapa comes with each new drink and dishes are not repeated.
A few little Tapas make a perfect hassle free starter for a dinner party or they can indeed be the main event – Lots of delicious bits to nibble – some salty and thirst provoking, others ‘absorbent’ – all easy to eat so they don’t interrupt conversation. In fact it would be difficult to think of a better way to entertain a few of ‘your mates’ to use ‘Jamie speak’,- just prepare a selection, uncork the Manzanilla or Rioja, turn on the flamenco music and chill.
Naturally enough much tipsy speculation has taken place as to the origin of Tapas but they are said to have originated in the taverns of Andalucia in Spain in the 18th Century when a piece of bread or a small dish of olives or salted almonds were placed on top of a glass of sherry to keep the flies out. The word simply means ‘to cover’.
The days of free tapas with drinks are almost gone, but the custom continues and is at last gathering momentum in other countries. In Spain people eat when they drink and drink when they eat. Drunkenness is rare, while spirits and decibles soar, excess alcohol is effectively absorbed by sporadic eating. In Spain it is customary to have a glass of wine or sherry and tapas after work, moving from one bar to another, sampling each establishment’s fare before moving on to the next, - a ‘Tapas crawl’. Everyone stands and guests spill out onto the streets in the most popular bars. The Tapeo is something spontaneous, convivial and informal. Ir de Pinchos means to make a tour of the bars to check out what temptations are on offer.
Even in the poshest bars non-natives may be surprised to find the floor by the counter littered with used paper napkins, cigarette butts, olive stones, even the odd mussel shell, all of which indicate the lip smacking enjoyment of the tapas. 
Tapas are now served all over Spain and a typical tapas bar might have 40-50 tapas ranging from simple bowls of salted almonds, little plates of Serrano ham on crusty bread, Manchega cheese with a sliver of membrillo, to kidneys in sherry, octopus, baby eels or grilled razor clams…. Nowadays some of the young chefs are developing ‘evolved tapas’. These new ’tapas maestros’ are using universal ingredients to come up with a selection of fusion tapas.
The idea of nibbling a variety of tasty morsels while you drink is an eminently good idea, one I wish the Irish Vintners Association would encourage their members to offer to their punters. Its lots of fun and so much more civilized than going out with the express intention of getting slammed as soon as possible.

Scrambled eggs with anchovy and red pepper on toast

Serves 4
100g (3½ oz) anchovies, (good quality in extra virgin olive oil) (In Spain they would use fresh anchovies)
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil for frying
1 small tin (100g/3½oz) red piquillo peppers, drained and cut into thin strips
2 eggs
4 thin slices of French bread, toasted 
1 small green pepper, cut into thin strips and quickly fried

Saute the garlic in a little olive oil, add the anchovies and gently heat through, add the red peppers. Beat the eggs and add to the mixture , stir until mixed together and the eggs are just set. 
Have the toast ready and immediately spread the mixture on the slices of toast. Make a criss-cross of green pepper strips on top. Serve.

Duck or Chicken Liver in Sherry
Serves 4

Duck’s liver has a smooth, light texture and a stronger flavour than chicken liver, but you may use chicken liver if you prefer – this makes a very rich tapa or starter.

225ml (8fl.oz) sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry
300g (10½ oz) fresh duck or chicken livers, cut into thin slices
salt to taste

To make the sherry sauce, cook the sherry in a non-reactive saucepan over a very high heat until it begins to foam. Reduce the liquid until it becomes thick and sticky, then remove from the heat.
Fry the slices of liver quickly in an ungreased pan for about 1 minute on each side, until sealed and lightly browned. Place on serving plate, pour on the sherry sauce, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Honey-baked Chicken Thighs

Serves 4
This tapa would make a tasty party starter at any time, but would be wonderful served with a dry white wine or dry sherry on a leisurely summer’s day

250g (9oz) liquid honey, buy a good locally produced honey
100g (3½ oz) butter
1 teasp. curry powder
1½ teasp. dry mustard powder
75ml (2½ fl.oz) tomato ketchup
8 chicken thighs

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

Make the honey sauce by combining all the ingredients except the chicken thighs in a saucepan. Mix well and bring to the boil, remove from the heat.
Put the chicken thighs in a single layer in a roasting tin, pour the sauce over and bake in the pre-heated oven for 35 minutes approx, or until the chicken is dark and glossy and cooked through. Serve immediately. 

Chorizo with fino sherry

This recipe comes from Sam Clark at London’s Moro restaurant.
Serves 4 

200g (7oz) semi-cured chorizo suitable for cooking 
75ml (3floz) fino sherry
a little olive oil

Cut chorizo in half lengthways and then into little bite-sized pieces.
Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add a few drops of olive oil. You don’t need very much as the chorizo will release its own. When the pan begins to smoke, add the chorizo and fry, turning quickly when one side is coloured. This will take a matter of seconds. When both sides are crispy, add the fino sherry, watch out for the hissing, and leave for a few seconds to burn off the alcohol. Transfer to a dish and enjoy immediately. You can grill these chorizo just as easily, but omit the sherry.

Country –style potatoes with chorizo and peppers

Serves 4
400g (14oz) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
50g (1¾) oz unsalted butter
3 tablesp. olive oil for frying
125g (4½ oz) onion, thinly sliced
20g (¾ oz) red pepper, thinly sliced
20g (¾ oz) green pepper, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
30g (1oz) Serrano ham, cut into thin strips
50g (1¾ oz) chorizo, cut into 1 cm (½ inch) slices and lightly fried
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the potatoes in the butter and 2 tablesp of olive oil in a frying pan over a low heat for 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the potatoes and set aside in a bowl. In the same pan use the remaining fat to sauté the onion and peppers over a low heat, adding more oil if necessary. When the vegetables are tender, add the garlic and cook until it is golden. Add the vegetable mixture to the potatoes in the bowl, stir in the ham and chorizo and set aside.
Fry the eggs in a little oil until the white is firm. Add to the vegetable and meat mixture in the bowl and stir to break up the eggs. Combine all the ingredients, season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and tip on to a serving plate. 

Potato and Cod Stew

Serves 4
250g (9oz) salt cod 
4 leeks, cleaned and coarsely chopped
4 tablesp. olive oil
1kg (23 lb) potatoes, peeled and diced
1¼ litres (1¾ pint) fish stock
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the cod in water for 2 days, changing the water a couple of times a day. Rinse. Flake the fish, leave behind any bones and skin.
Saute the leeks in olive oil in a large heavy pan until tender. Ad the diced potatoes and continue to sauté over a very low heat for 15 more minutes. Add the fish stock and tomatoes, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the flakes of fish and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve hot in individual soup bowls

Mushroom and Cumin Salad

Ensalada de Setas
Serves 4

2floz (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
½ lb (225g) flat mushrooms or
¼ lb (110g) wild mushrooms, such as puffballs or oyster mushrooms
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon freshly ground cumin
freshly ground pepper
a squeeze fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Leave the mushrooms whole if they are small; otherwise, cut in halves or quarters. 
Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic and mushrooms, salt, freshly ground pepper and cumin. Toss on a high heat until cooked. Add a squeeze of lemon and the chopped parsley. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve warm or cold.

Garlic Shrimps

Gambas al Ajillo
Serves 4

4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
2 dried red chilli peppers each broken into 3 pieces (discard the seeds)
1 bay leaf
Spanish Extra virgin olive oil
10 ozs (285g) shrimps or Dublin bay prawns, shelled
1 large or 4 individual fireproof ramekins

Divide the sliced garlic and chilli pepper more or less evenly between the 4 ramekins, add 5 tablespoons of olive oil and add 3 bay leaf to each . Heat over a medium heat until the oil begins to sizzle. Just as the garlic turns pale gold add the shrimps or prawns and cook stirring gently until just done, they will take 2-4 minutes depending on the size. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve immediately in the cooking pot or pots with lots of crusty bread to mop up the delicious oil and juices.

Foolproof Food

Baked Potatoes

– real comfort food
Baked potatoes are brilliant – filling and inexpensive. Buy the biggest you can find. There are lots and lots of toppings that are yummy and nutritious, even grated cheese with chopped parsley or chive is delicious. Look in your fridge and use your imagination!
8 x 8 ozs (225g) old potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
Sea salt and butter

Scrub the skins of the potatoes very well. Prick each potato 3 or 4 times and bake in a preheated hot oven 2001C/4001F/regulo 6 for 1 hour approx. depending on the size. When cooked, serve immediately while skins are still crisp and make sure to eat the skins with lots of butter and sea salt, Simply Delicious!
Suggested Stuffing for Baked Potatoes

Garlic mayonnaise with tuna fish
Fromage Blanc with smoked salmon and chives
Garlic butter with crispy rasher.
Mushroom a la crème

Hot Tips

For lots more Tapas ideas – enrol for the half-day Discovering Tapas Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School on 12th May – Tel. 021-4646785 www.cookingisfun.ie  
Night classes currently in progress, Wednesday nights 7.30pm – telephone to book place

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and Bord Bia have lots of suggestions for romantic meals and special gifts availing of high quality food ingredients from Irish producers – chocolates, honey, ice-creams and shellfish are amongst the speciality Irish food products recommended by Bord Bia for this special occasion, check out www.bordbia.ie 

For lovers of Spanish food 
The Spanish Commercial Office in Dublin Tel 01-6616313, Fax 01-6610111, is a good source of information on Spanish food imported into Ireland – all the main supermarket chains and independents carry a good range of Spanish products – charcuterie – cheese- oils and even ready made tapas for those in a hurry. Specialist food shops carry charcuterie and cheese – Sheridans Cheesemongers import Spanish Cheese and Mitchells Wine Merchants carry fine wines from Spain including sherry. www.spaingourmetour.com  for lovers of Spain and its food.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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