The concept of “tapas” is quintessentially Spanish and is truly a reflection of the supremely social culture of Spain, whose people just love gatherings and celebrations of any type.
The “tapeo” consists of a selection of easy-to-eat savory dishes, much like appetizers are used in America. But rather as an opening act to the main dishes, these hearty and delicious small dishes are the star of meal.
Eaten by hand or with small forks, and consisting of mostly premium cured meats like Ibérico ham and sausages like chorizo, cheeses, olives, anchovies, pickled peppers, nuts and some classic prepared dishes like Patatas Bravas and Gambas al Ajillo, the idea of Spanish tapas is to reduce the effort in the kitchen in order to spend more time actually eating and talking. With the bounty of superb Spanish foods widely available today, hosting a tapas party this summer is as easy as stocking up on some essentials – including a fine bottle of Spanish wine.
TAPAS PARTY ESSENTIALS
Buttery and succulent Spanish hams are some of the best (and for some, THE best) in the world, and a must-have for any Spanish tapas party worthy of its name.
Serrano ham: Serrano comes from a breed of Spanish white pigs, raised under stringent standards of quality and dry-cured for at least a year in a pristine mountainous area. The result is a rich and firm ham, salty but buttery that’s always found in a Spanish tapas spread.
Jamon Ibérico: The crème de la crème of hams, the words “Jamón Ibérico” makes any foodie’s mouth start watering. Ibérico ham comes exclusively from black-hoofed pigs called Pata Negra, with a privileged genetic that makes their meat richer in delicious intramuscular fat (the same high-quality fat that gives Kobe beef breeds their characteristic flavor), and thus more flavorful and juicier than any other. But If you really want to step up your Spanish tapas game, you’ll want to go for “Iberico de Bellota” ham, which comes from Iberico pigs that have been allowed to graze in an area rich in oak tress, called the Dehesa. The pigs eat the oil-rich acorns, giving the meat a distinctive oilier and nuttier flavor – and for some, making it best in the world.
How To Serve: paper-thin slices, arranged on a small plate.
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Machego cheese: The Spanish tapas cheese by choice and excellence, Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese, which comes from La Mancha (the famous region where the mythical Don Quixote chased his windmills). A national treasure, Manchego falls under the PDO standards, which means its origin and production is controlled and protected to ensure that any and all Manchego cheeses are always equally excellent. The flavor and texture of Manchego can vary as it ages, from a supple and buttery young Manchego, to a hard and salty aged version (usually 6-12 months). Grassy, nutty, with notes of hay, getting more caramelized as it ages.
How To Serve: Cut out 1/4 –inch wedges and remove the rind, which is inedible. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. As an alternative: place a thin slice of Serrano ham over the wedge of Manchego,
Garrotxa: An artisanal goat cheese produced in small farms on the Catalonian region of Northern Spain; Romao: This cheese gets its complex flavor from being made with rosemary and being rubbed with olive oil. Made from sheep’s milk and a distant relative of Parmesan; Smoked Idiazabal: from Basque Country, a firm sheep’s milk cheese lightly smoked; Mahon: from the island of Menorca, a sharp cow’s milk cheese with fruity notes and an orange rind.
A classic of the tapeo, Spanish chorizo is made of pork and cured with smoked paprika (pimentón in Spanish) and salt. It can be spicy (picante) or sweet (dulce), which just depends on how much pimento has been used. However, keep in mind that a lot of different regions in Spain have their own versions of chorizo. Chorizo Cantimpalo for example, is made using Pimentón de la Vera, a special smoked paprika that comes from La Vera:
How To Serve: For your Spanish tapas party, you must have chorizo! Just slice the chorizo and sauté with a few tablespoons of olive oil, tossing until the chorizo is crispy.
A sprinkle of almonds is a great and easy idea for Spanish tapas, especially when you serve up some plump Marconas. Spain is the only producer of this unique almond; round, sweet and with very low bitterness, the Marcona is grown in the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Lightly fried and salted, Marcona almonds make a crunchy and delicious tapas treat that goes perfectly with a cold beer.
Other options: Largueta almonds.
How to serve: serve in small bowls or sprinkle around the cured meat and cheese board.
Not to be confused with a flat, corn Mexican tortilla! A Spanish Tortilla or Tortilla Española, is a dish that’s made with potatoes and eggs, like a very oversized potato omelet. It’s hearty, sturdy (if made properly), and incredibly delicious. A version of a Tortilla de Patatas is found at almost every restaurant and street corner bar in Spain, so it’s a must for an authentic tapas party. Add some sliced chorizo to the egg-and-potato for added spiciness and supercharged flavor.
How to serve: cut into bite-sized pieces to are eaten with by hand (perfect to hold a glass of Tempranillo wine on the other).
Spain has a wealth of olive groves, kissed by the salty air of the Mediterranean Sea. The variety of olives that it offers is astounding, like hojiblanca, arbequina, sevillano, manzanillas, amongst many others. So it’s really not surprising that a colorful array of olives are found in small bowls at any tapas party, sometimes right out of the jar, and sometimes marinated in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, sea salt and pretty much anything you can think of.
How to serve: serve a few varieties of Spanish olives in small earthenware bowls, plus add a few here and there with the plates of cured meats and cheeses.
Gambas Al Ajillo
A quick and easy disk of garlic shrimp, Gambas Al Ajillo is one of the most classic of tapas dishes. Essentially, the dish is made with fresh shrimp that’s been sautéed in garlic, olive oil, and sherry or brandy, then seasoned with a smoked paprika (although season can vary from recipe to recipe). Delicious!
How to serve: in a small bowl, with lots of the garlic sauce it’s been cooked in and some crusty bread to soak it up.
Do you have a favorite tapas recipe? Share it with us in the comments!