Stor and phots by Manos Angelakis
More about tapas, pinchos, pintxos and montaditos.
When you visit Spain, there is an unwritten etiquette that locals follow when visiting bars and tascas for tapas.
In the summer, where siesta is still part of the daily routine, start visiting bars/tascas early enough, around 8:30 in the evening, since many of the tascas start closing around midnight depending on the town and region. In smaller towns late in the evening food, especially hot food might run out at some point.
Expect to have only one or two tapas for every glass of wine or beer you consume. If you are in a large city, you should move to a different bar after one or two drinks.
Pace yourself. Do not drink too much in any one bar. Going tapear, i.e. strolling from bar to bar to try different tapas, pintxos, pinchos, montaditos or piparras is part of the Spanish daily routine.
Most bars that offer tapas have one or two specialties they are known for, but it is normal to have 12 and sometimes more different offerings, again depending on the region and size of city or town.
Keep a mental note of what you have eaten and drunk. The memory of most Spanish barmen is phenomenal, but it doesn’t hurt to have a good idea about what you have consumed.
Never push your way through the locals to the bar to quickly order drinks or hot tapas.
In the Basque areas you can throw your paper napkins on the floor; in many regions it is an accepted local custom.
Ask staff in the hotel you are staying, or the concierge in the better hotels, which is a good place to have tapas in their city. Most Spanish people are very proud of their local bars and know intimately which one is good and which one is a tourist trap.
Recipes for classic pinchos/tapas:
Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) 4-5 servings
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 good-sized pinch of chili flakes
1 lb. prawns (very large easy-peel preferred)
1 large lemon
4 oz. manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso or other dry sherry
4 oz. extra virgin olive oil
3 pinches smoked Spanish paprika
Sea Salt to taste
In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and pepper flakes until garlic starts to color. Raise heat and add prawns. Squeeze the lemon over the prawns. Add the wine, paprika and salt. Cook until prawns turn pink on all sides, stirring continuously. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle parsley over prawns. Use a toothpick to mount each prawn to a slice of baguette and spoon some liquid from pan over each prawn (just enough to keep prawn moist). Serve immediately.
Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes in spicy sauce)
This is one of Spain’s beloved dishes and every bar and tasca in the country serves a version of it.
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ½ oz. olive oil, for frying
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste
3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 ounces roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
2 tbs. sherry vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 1/2 tsp Spanish smoked sweet paprika
1 tsp hot paprika
Sea salt to taste
To make Salsa Brava. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, red peppers, vinegar, sugar, smoked paprika, and hot paprika. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let sit for at least 30 minutes prior to use. Sauce can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator for up to a week.
Method for Patatas Bravas
Add potatoes to boiling salt water. When they soften enough to easily pierce with a fork remove from heat and drain. Cut potatoes. Heat oil in a frying pan on high heat until it begins to sizzle. Add the cut potatoes. Fry until they turn golden brown. You can replace a deep fryer for the frying pan. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to soak up the excess oil. Season with sea salt and cayenne, and top with Salsa Brava.
Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette)
The Tortilla is another ubiquitous item, like the Patatas Bravas, at every bar and tasca in Spain. Each cook makes his or her own version that tastes quite different from the Tortilla of the bar next door but the basic execution remains the same; it is an omelet that contains fried potatoes and onions, plus whatever other ingredients the chef would like to include or has seasonally available, or the omelet is served with only the three basic ingredients. The Tortilla preferably accompanies very young, aromatic, fruity, un-oaked red wines or Cava.
3 large potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced thin
1/2 white sweet onion, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Fry the potatoes and onion with a pinch of salt in a generous amount of oil on medium heat. Soften the ingredients but do not brown. Remove the potato and onion mixture from the skillet and drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat well with a whisk. Add the potatoes and onion and a generous pinch of salt. Heat olive oil in a small pan over high heat. Ladle the potato, onion and egg mixture into the pan until it is 3/4 full. Stir gently with a wooden spoon until the edges start firming up. Loosen the outer edge of the omelet and flip it. Or, if you are not adept at flipping an omelet, cover the pan with a large plate and turn it over so the omelet falls into the plate. Slide the uncooked side back in the pan from the plate. Cook for 1 minute more and remove from the heat. The omelet should not be too dry, as the tortilla is tastier when the eggs remain soft. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cool to room temperature, then slice in wedges.
For the original tapas etc. story see Tapas & Pintxos
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