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Tapas-Style - Tapas-style

[Do Not Use]DK Publishing logo[Do Not Use]DK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks


Tapas are a style of eating rather than a particular dish. It’s a way of life in Spain, where appetizing hot or cold bites are eaten with drinks. There are robust rustic dishes, such as grilled chorizo, and simple platters of jamon (Spanish ham), olives, and cheese. The most typical of all is the delicious Spanish omelet, the tortilla, which nearly always makes an appearance when tapas are served.

What are tapas?

Tapas derives from the word “tapar,” which means “to cover.” Traditionally, small bites of food, such as a piece of toasted bread with a slice of ham on top, would be balanced on top of a glass of wine or sherry. Simple, traditional tapas such as olives, cheeses, and meats are still served all over Spain in bars to accompany an apéritif before lunch or dinner. There are no standard tapas to serve together, just plenty of small bowls, with a good range of fresh flavors. When making tapas for a group, serve them all on one platter, along with a choice of two dishes of meat, fish, vegetables, and egg and cheese.

The Spanish platter

A selection of good meats, cheeses, and pickles makes for perfect tapas.

Cooked meats

Jamon Serrano (Spanish ham) is a delicious, sweet dry-cured ham that is served raw and sliced paper-thin. It has a deep, rich texture due to the traditional curing methods.

Jamon iberico is another cured ham, highly prized and expensive. It comes from the Iberico pig that is native to Spain.

Chorizo There are lots of varieties of chorizo, the spicy pork sausage of Spain. It can be smoked, unsmoked, fresh, or cured. Its unique taste is spiced with aromatic flavors, and usually features garlic and paprika. Cured chorizo can be served raw, sliced alongside cheese and olives. Fresh chorizo is often cubed and cooked.


You can serve Parmesan cheese as an alternative to Manchego, but keep in mind it’s stronger and saltier, so you’ll need less of it.

Manchego is the most widely known and widely available Spanish cheese. This salty cheese is made from milk from the Manchego sheep and can be soft or hard, depending on how long it has had to ripen. There are two types: the artisanal (farmhouse) type which is made with unpasteurized milk, and the commercial type made with pasteurized milk. They are both available either semi-cured or cured. Manchego is perfect served alone with a chunk of bread, with a glass of fino or manzanilla sherry, or with quince paste or honey.

Olives and pickles

Manzanilla olives are the most popular choice for tapas. They are large, green, sweet Spanish olives that are often stuffed with anchovies or flavored with lemon, thyme, or oregano. They are the simplest tapas dish. Place them in a small bowl, with cocktail sticks for serving.

Pickled capers Jars of pickled capers, and whole caper berries with their stalks on, are a popular tapas accompaniment.

Pickled anchovies White anchovies are often served in little bowls, either marinated in a dash of white wine vinegar and a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley, or teamed with strips of roasted red pepper and served with cocktail sticks, or on top of sliced bread or toast, sprinkled with paprika.

The ultimate Spanish omelet

A simple tortilla made with potatoes, onions, and eggs.

Peel and slice 5 medium potatoes, about (1/4in) (5mm) thick. Put about 10fl oz (300ml) of olive oil in a deep-sided ovenproof frying pan (preferably nonstick), then add the potatoes, and cook at a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft when you poke them with a sharp knife. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and put them in a large bowl to cool.

Halve, peel, and quarter 3 medium onions, and slice to make crescent moon shapes. Pour most of the oil out of the pan (you can sieve and re-use), and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until soft and beginning to caramelize. Add to the potatoes and leave to cool.

Whisk 5 eggs with a fork, then pour into the cooled potato and onion mixture, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and combine gently so all the potatoes get coated, trying not to break them up too much. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in the frying pan until hot, then carefully slide the mixture in, spreading it evenly so it covers the base of the pan. Reduce the heat to low-medium and cook for 6–10 minutes, or until almost set.

Cookin the oven for a further 10 minutes, or until set and golden. Alternatively, cook one side, then invert onto a plate and add back to the pan to cook the other side. Remove from the pan, leave to cool and completely set, then slice into wedges. Serve warm or cold.

The Spanish kitchen

The essentials

Olive oil is a staple in the Spanish kitchen, and is used liberally in cooking, or used to drizzle over tapas dishes such as roasted peppers or marinated artichokes. It can be served in a bowl, with rustic bread for dipping.

Garlic is essential in Spanish cooking and is added in generous quantities to many dishes. Use for aïoli (garlic mayonnaise), or for garlic shrimps.

Onions are used extensively in Spanish cooking. Choose the mild, sweet, yellow-skinned ones to make the Spanish omelet.

The spice rack

Paprika (pimento) is the best-known spice of Spanish cooking. The highest-quality paprika comes from the western La Vera region, and is oak-smoked to give it its distinctive smoked flavor. It is made from ground chile peppers, and comes as hot (picante) or sweet (dulce) paprika. It imparts a wonderful color and depth of flavor to a variety of dishes, particularly pork and chicken, and is used in many tapas recipes, or simply added as garnish.

Saffron is a sweet, yellow, expensive spice, and should be used sparingly—not only because of its cost, but because it can have an overpowering taste if overused. Its strands are traditionally used in paella, chicken dishes, and can also be added to zucchini salads.

Cinnamon is used throughout Spain to flavor meat and vegetable dishes. It comes as a bark, or ground to a deeply aromatic powder. Add the bark to rice dishes whilst cooking, or add the powder to chicken dishes.

Nutmeg is another aromatic spice often used in Spanish cooking. Use it sparingly and freshly ground into potato dishes, meat stews, or sweet dishes such as custards.

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