Tapas... what are they? For someone who can barely speak to ten in Spanish, the answer drove me nuts! I kept having people talking to me about them, and I would just nod my head, with a silly grin on my face, hoping they wouldnt realize I had no clue what they were talking about. After all, This little cook is severly allergic to Mexican food. Yes, ALL mexican foods. If it tastes good, you can bet I can't eat it without a lot of torture soon to follow.
So, when I was hired at the "new" place in town here in Fort Davis and was told they would be serving "Tapas" at the bar, I figured I had better brush up really quick. And with the help of the everlasting internet and the About.com site, I was able to figure out that they were Spanish... not Mexican (ask any Spainard and he will tell you there is a BIG difference between them) along with several other interesting facts.
My favorite one is that on a long trip, King Alfonso had stopped to rest in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the southern province of Cádiz, and he ordered a glass of jerez or sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the inn keeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. King Alfonso apparently liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or “cover” just like the first.
But that still doesnt tell you what exactly they are... does it? Basically they are a Spanish Bar Appetitizer which can be anything from an olive and onion on a toothpick to more elabrate meals such as shrimp and squid. I have gathered a few recipes below that you all can try for yourselves at home. Let me know how they turn out!
Patatas Bravas Serves 4
5-6 medium potatoes
salt to taste
1 1/2 - 2 cups Spanish olive oil for frying
1 - 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
toothpicks for serving
1) Peel the potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1/3" to 1/2" chunks as follows: Cut the potato lengthwise, then cut it lengthwise again. You should have four long pieces. Now, cut each of those pieces into 3-4 pieces, cutting crosswise. This should give you nice bit-sized pieces, small enough to use a toothpick to skewer. Sprinkle with salt.
2) Pour olive oil in a wide, deep frying pan, with a heavy bottom. Heat the oil on medium high until hot. To test the oil, carefully place one piece of potato in the oil. It is hot enough if the potato immediately fries. If there is no bubbling/frying, the oil is not hot enough and the potato will absorb too much oil. Once the potatoes are fried(about 10 minutes), use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove and set them aside to drain.
3) Using a small 8-inch frying pan, put 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the pan. Heat over medium heat. Pour tomato sauce into the pan and "saute" the tomato sauce for 5 minutes. Turn heat down and add the mustard, stirring well. Finally, add the Tabasco and paprika, and mix well. Taste the sauce and adjust as necessary with salt, more Tabasco, etc.
4) Place the potatoes on a plate or in a wide open dish. Pour the sauce over the potatoes and serve warm, with toothpicks.
Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) Serves 4
1 lb shrimp, 25 count to a pound
4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 oz of cognac (you may substitute dry sherry instead)
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon for juice
The shrimp can be peeled first, before cooking them if you prefer. In addition, if you like larger shrimp, you may purchase shrimp with fewer count to a pound. However, 25 to a pound are about the right size for this tapa.
1) In a sauté pan or heavy frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about one minute or until they begin to brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic!
Raise the heat to high and add the shrimp, lemon juice, sherry or cognac and paprika. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl – about 3 minutes.
2) Remove from heat and transfer shrimp with oil and sauce to a warm plate or serve right from the pan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with fresh bread.
Croquetas de Jamón (Ham Croquettes) Serves 6
1/2 cup (100ml) chicken broth
8 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup (107 gr) flour
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
dash of ground pepper
1/2 cup very finely hand-minced ham
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 teaspoons water
bread crumbs for coating
olive oil for frying
Tip: Make sure that the ham if very finely minced, so it can be mixed thoroughly with the dough.
1) Heat the 8 Tbsp olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk and the chicken broth, stirring without stopping. Add nutmeg, salt andd pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and smooth.
Add the minced ham and continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes on low heat, continuing to stir. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
2) Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and refrigerate at least 3 hours until mixture is cold. If you are preparing a day or so ahead, you can cover the mixture tightly and keep refrigerated until you are ready to fry the croquettes.
TIP: If the mixture is spread out in a thin layer on a flat dish, you will need to refrigerate it for less time. A large glass baking dish works well.
3) Pour the bread crumbs into a small, wide bowl. Beat the eggs with water in a small, wide bowl. Cover your hands in flour, then divide the mixture into 1-inch balls and set on a plate so that they are not touching.
Pour enough olive oil in a medium to large frying pan to cover 1/2 inch deep. Heat the olive oil for frying to about 355F degrees. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg and coat with crumbs by rolling in bowl. Place the croquettes in the hot oil and fry quickly, turning several times, until golden. Remove the croquettes with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Serve immediately.
*If croquettes will not be served immediately, place in a warm oven (200 degrees) for up to 30 minutes.
*If you prefer, you can use a deep-fryer to fry the croquettes. Be sure not to over-cook them!
If you want variety or simply do not eat ham, substitute 1/2 cup finely minced, cooked chicken for the ham.