10 Classic Tapas from Elisabeth Luard
British writer Elisabeth Luard lived with her family in the southwest of Spain for many years. She has written many books, a number of them about Spanish cuisine, including most recently The Food of Spain and Portugal: A Regional Celebration (Kyle Books, 2007). We asked her for a list of ten classic tapas, the kind to be found in top tapas bars all over Spain. Here’s her selection:
1. Jamon serrano, mountain-cured ham: salted, wind-dried ham, given lengthy cellaring to develop color, texture and flavor. The reward for careful husbandry: ruby-red semi-translucent slivers of meat with a nutty flavor, delicate fragrance and an exquisitely buttery feel in the mouth. The best is jamon de pata negra, jamon de bellota, or jamon iberico, all terms for ham from acorn-fed black pigs of the semi-wild Iberico breed. Always served at room temperate, and eaten with your fingers - metal does the delicate flesh no favors.
2. Boquerones en vinagre: fresh anchovy fillets lightly pickled in vinegar with salt and garlic, at their best home-made in the little fishing ports of Andalusia and the Levante. Small and oily-fleshed, anchovies, have a short shelf-life; the treatment adds a few days’ grace, a practical response to lack of refrigeration in a hot climate. Serve drained from the pickle, dressed with slivered garlic, chopped parsley and a thread of olive oil.
3. Croquetas: bite-sized croquettes made with thick bechamel, often using stock rather than milk, flavored with chopped ham, shrimp or cheese, rolled into little bolsters, carefully egg-and-breadcrumbed and fried crisp. The softer the inside and the crisper the outside, the more admired the skill of the cook. Serve piping hot.
4. Gambas al ajillo: fresh shrimps cooked in olive oil with garlic and chili in a cazuela, a small, shallow earthenware casserole; the shrimps are cooked as briefly as possible and served sizzling hot with a little wooden fork so you don’t burn your tongue. A luxury tapa, a speciality of big cities - Barcelona, Seville, Madrid - where people can afford it, though you’ll also find the dish in shrimp-fishing ports. Also known as gambas pil-pil, a reference to the bubbling noise the shrimps make as the oil heats up.
5. Tortilla española: busy cook’s standby, thick egg-and-potato omelet cooked like a pancake in an iron pan. Sliced, cubed or roughly slivered potatoes are gently stewed in olive oil till tender, then stirred into beaten eggs and poured back into the pan. As soon as the surface begins to set, the cook reverses the pan onto a plate and slides the tortilla back in to cook till the inside is moist and the outside firm but not leathery. Some add slivered onion with the potatoes; in rural Andalusia, wild asparagus is included in season; Barcelona may slip in a few slices of spicy butifarra sausage; Granada’s gypsy-version, tortilla Sacromonte, includes choice bits of brains and sweetbreads. As a tapa, serve at room-temperature, cut into bite-sized cubes.
6. Albondigas en salsa: savory little pork and beef meatballs, braised in a sauce that could be based on gently spiced tomatoes, or parsley, or fragrant saffron and almonds.
7. Higados de pollo al vino de Jerez: Chicken livers braised in sherry, a combination that seems divinely ordained.
8. Patatas bravas: bite-sized potato chunks, deep-fried, boiled, or sautéed, spiked with chili (the brava element) with or without tomato and garlic. Also comes with a garlicky aioli. Cheap and cheerful, the simplest and most economical of tapas. Invention is claimed by the Bar Tomas in the Sarria district of Barcelona - and by the queues at the bar, they’re right.
9. Pinchitos moruños (Moorish kebabs): Little meat cubes (usually pork) marinated in oil, garlic, and spices--cumin, coriander, sometimes turmeric and chili--threaded on skewers and grilled. A speciality of ferias in Andalusia, when the pinchito-seller, resplendant in scarlet fez, cooks his wares to order over a little charcoal brazier.
10. Pulpo a la gallega: Octopus with sweet pimentón (paprika), a speciality of Galicia on Spain's rocky north-west coast. A day-boat catch, fished from hideaways along cliffs and rocky shorelines, octopus is not an easy option for the home cook, since it must be beaten to tenderize before cooking begins. Cooked whole in salted water in a large pot, octopus takes 2-4 hours to soften, depending on size. The fine purple veil is scraped off, the little sucker-bones removed, and the tentacles cut into bite-sized pieces and dressed with olive oil, finely-chopped garlic and a generous dusting of pimentón.