Traveling the world through cuisine

Tapas In Madrid

Tapas in Madrid

If there is any one cuisine famous for what I like to call Appetizer Culture, it would be Spanish. Tapas is a culture that has permeated the globe, and I can’t think of a better place to experience this culinary tradition than Madrid. The capital city of Spain, it’s unique in how many small tapas bars it offers within its city limits.

Stroll the streets around the central core of the city and you’ll find a myriad of small, quaint little pubs mainly serving one or two specialities with a few alcohol choices. Both residents and visitors can and do simply bounce from one place to the next, enjoying a little of everything.

Beyond Madrid’s center, you’ll find tapas culture is more relegated to more traditional restaurant settings, or buffet-style eateries. Over here in the US, tapas is seen as fine dining with great spots in most major cities and suburbs.

The culture in itself is much of the same ideology as the Greeks have in meze or the Italians with antipasti. Small plates of food served with drinks in a casual social setting. However, outside of the flavors, what really distinguishes tapas culture is in how Spaniards tend to have dinner much later in the evening.

Tapas culture is more a sociable after-work ritual of grabbing drinks and some small amounts of food before later going for a full dinner, as opposed to a full meal or a starter of a bigger meal. So maybe you’ll get tapas at 6PM but later sit down to dinner at 10PM.

Tapas at home

While a stroll through Madrid’s tapas scene would be wonderful, most of us are resigned to our local restaurants, or trying it at home. I took the DIY approach for my mother’s birthday, and made five wonderful dishes my family thoroughly enjoyed. It would have been six, but I need to work on making proper croquettes.

We’ll start our Spanish feast with a simple, but flavorful dish that’s quite popular all over the world. Succulent shrimp sauteed in olive oil with garlic and seasonings, then served with good bread. The sauce is wonderful for soaking the bread in.

Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic)

Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp of crushed red pepper
  • 1 shot of dry sherry
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1 lb of shrimp
  • 3 tsp of parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a frying pan, warm up the olive oil on medium heat
  2. Place in the garlic and red pepper. Sauté for one minute.
  3. Raise the heat to high and add in the sherry and paprika, then the shrimp.
  4. Stir well, sauteing until the shrimp are fully cooked (roughly 3-5 minutes).
  5. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper
  6. Top the dish with the parsley and serve.

Quick Notes

If you can, try to find raw shrimp, as they will soak up the sauce while cooking. It’s up to you if you want to peel them before or after cooking. Size is up to you based on your personal taste.

If you can only find cooked shrimp, then make sure they are fully defrosted and patted dry. Watch them carefully so you only heat them up in the sauce, as opposed to overcooking.

Variations

If you would rather not play with anything spicy, then feel free to omit the red pepper.

If you have no dry sherry, then use a shot of cognac.

The choice of bread you use to serve is up to you. A baguette is ideal, but I also like to use thick artisan bread.

Serving Suggestions

Serve the shrimp immediately with sliced bread and a slice of lemon for those wanting to add it. You not only eat the shrimp, but scoop up the garlic sauce with the bread. It’s heavenly.

In researching potential recipes to try, I found this wonderful idea for broad beans with pork. Usually the Spanish chefs would use fava beans for this recipe, but I was unable to get any, thus I went with lima beans. As for the ham, I skipped over traditional Serrano ham and found a wonderful flavor with prosciutto.

Habas con Jamon (Broad Beans with Ham)

Habas con Jamon (Broad Beans with Ham)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 2 cups of broad beans, cooked
  • 2 oz of prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a saucepan, heat up 2 tbsp of the olive oil on medium-high heat.
  2. Add in the onion and cook until soft
  3. Stir in the beans, then the proscuitto and parsley.
  4. Cook for a few minutes until hot, then season with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer to a dish and drizzle with the remaining olive oil before serving.

Quick Notes

Do not season this dish until after adding in the meat. It’s usually salty and thus might deter the need for added salt.

Be careful when you add the oil. Just give the dish a nice drizzle. You don’t need to drown the dish in olive oil.

Variations

Usually fava beans are chosen for this dish, but I’ve found it difficult to locate them in my neck of the woods. I ended up using one 15.25-oz can of lima beans. Loved it.

The choice of “ham” is also up for variation. Many Spanish will use Serrano ham, but I liked the flavor of prosciutto.

Another popular tapas dish is patatas bravas (“pah-tah-tas brah-vahs”). Potato chunks sauteed to a nice crispy texture, then covered in a zesty tomato sauce. Get the full experience by using toothpicks to eat them.

Patatas Bravas (Potatoes with Tomato Sauce)

Patatas Bravas (Potatoes with Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup of dry sherry
  • 1 can (14 oz) of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp of crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp of paprika
  • 2 lbs of potatoes, cut into small chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Making the sauce

  1. In a sauté pan, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat.
  2. Place the onion into the oil, sauteing until soft.
  3. Stir in the garlic, cooking until fragrant.
  4. Pour the sherry on top and bring the entire mixture to a boil.
  5. Add in the tomatoes, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until a thick sauce forms.
  7. Pour the sauce into blender or food processor, and process until smooth.
  8. Set the sauce aside.

Finishing up

  1. Place paper towels aside for later use.
  2. In a clean sauté pan, pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
  3. Heat up the oil on medium-high heat.
  4. Place the potatoes into the oil and cook until a crispy exterior forms.
  5. Scoop up the cooked potatoes and place on the paper towels to drain excess oil.
  6. Serve the finished potatoes on a plate with the sauce poured on top.

Quick Notes

Be careful when cooking the potatoes. You want a crispy exterior with a soft interior, but you also do not want them very greasy. Make sure your heat is up and the oil is hot.

Variations

If you hate spicy food, then omit the crushed red pepper. If you do not have dry sherry, use white wine. If you have no red wine vinegar, then use white.

In some areas, patatas bravas are served with added toppings such as chorizo, Spanish sausages, baked chicken, and fried fish. You can also keep extra sauce aside and top eggs with them.

Healthy It Up

If the idea of frying potatoes doesn’t appeal to you, then try coating the potatoes with oil and roasting them at 450° in the oven.

Serving Suggestions

To get the full experience, serve them on a small plate with toothpicks as utensils. Ideal beverages would be red wine or maybe a good beer.

Now then, we’ve had seafood, beans, and potatoes, but how about some real protein? Granted the pork in the beans can count, but I wanted a nice hearty tapas dish for all the meat-lovers. So I learned of seasoned spanish meatballs topped with a robust tomato sauce. This one will go quick.

Albondigas con Salsa de Tomate (Meatballs with a Spicy Sauce)

Albondigas con Salsa de Tomate (Meatballs with a Spicy Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp of thyme
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can (28 oz) of plum tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tbsp of red wine
  • 1/2 tsp of rosemary
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, place the ground beef, onions, garlic, Parmesan cheese, egg, and thyme.
  2. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then mix the ingredients thoroughly.
  3. Shape the mixture into small meatballs roughly 1 1/2" to 2” in diameter.
  4. In a smaller stock pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat.
  5. Place the meatballs into the pan in groups, sauteing and browning them.
  6. When the meatballs are browned on the outside, add in the tomatoes, wine, rosemary, and sugar.
  7. Stir gently and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to low.
  9. Cook the mixture until the meatballs are well done.

Quick Notes

When you cook the meatballs, just brown the outside. You do not need to cook them thoroughly until we simmer them with the sauce.

Be sure to taste your sauce as you cook it. If it’s too acidic, add in some more sugar. If you end up with a slightly sweet sauce (and do not want it) then add in salt.

Serving Suggestions

Serve the meatballs with a garnish of fresh parsley. Some also like to serve this dish with a side of yellow rice.

Rounding out this feast is a vegetable dish, because it’s not a full meal without them. Pisto (“peace-sto”) is a simmered stew of summer vegetables sitting in a tomato sauce. In many ways, it reminds me of the Greek dish briam, or a french ratatouille. It’s easy and wonderful to put on your table for a tapas feast.

Pisto (Simmered Summer Vegetables)

Pisto (Simmered Summer Vegetables)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large eggplant, cubed
  • 2 zucchini, sliced into discs
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) of tomatoes, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a stock pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat.
  2. Place the onion into the oil and cook until soft.
  3. Add in the garlic and cook for another thirty seconds to a minute.
  4. Increase your heat to medium-high.
  5. Place the eggplant into the pot and stir occasionally until softened and slightly browned.
  6. Add in the zucchini and bell peppers.
  7. Cook the mixture for another ten minutes.
  8. Pour in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Bring the mixture to boil and then cover the pot while reducing the heat.
  10. Simmer the stew, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.

Quick Notes

Be gentle when stirring the vegetables. Stir too hard and you’ll break cooked items apart. You want a nice stew, not mush.

Serving Suggestions

Serve this stew hot or cold, preferably garnished with fresh parsley and accompanied by thick slices of artisan bread.

Beyond the recipes

I’ve only scratched the surface with the five recipes I’ve included. There are loads of dishes one could try in a typical tapas setting. Here’s a short list of some you might want to look into.

  • Whole blanched almonds
  • Pickled anchovies
  • Goat cheese dressed with olive oil
  • Various croquettes
  • Olives
  • Fried mushrooms
  • Sauteed pigs ears
  • Various seafood such as shrimp, squid, clams, or snails
  • Jamón Ibérico or Serrano

Tags: Spanish, tapas, appetizer

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