It’s the modern way of enjoying a meal out. Perhaps not even a full meal, but a few small and perfect plates to graze on while sipping a glass of sherry, a full bodied red or a crisp white. Tapas is indeed more popular than ever outside Spain, its country of origin.
Tapas are rumoured to be the contemporary descendants of rounds of savoury-topped bread, that were used to cover glasses to keep dust and flies out of one’s chosen cold beverage. They have developed into the centrepieces of convivial gatherings.
Any book by Elisabeth Luard is bound to be worthwhile. She is rightly considered one of the best of the English-speaking world’s food writers. She has a lilting and almost musical way with words. She embroiders phrases that are almost poetic, often amusing and always apt.
Classic is a word that is oft used but in this case it’s an honest description of this collection of tapas. If you have enjoyed tapas in an authentic bar in Spain then you will find recipes for those familiar dishes here. Croquettes are ubiquitous simply because they are delicious, moreish and the ingredients are inexpensive. Shrimps are a smart filling and this recipe stretches the seafood to the extent that just 4 tablespoons will produce 20 or so croquettes, enough for a starter for four. The key to flavourful success is using a good, rich fish stock to make the basic sauce. The chicken version uses only 4 tablespoons of chicken meat and once again it’s important to use a strong chicken broth for best results. These are perhaps my favourite croquettes.
Small pasties are popular all over South America and Spain. Each country or region has its own filling and each one reflects the best of local ingredients. There are a variety of pastry options ranging from ready-made pastry to a rich oil pastry reminiscent of that used in British pork pies. Many of these Empanadas contain meat and spices, others have tuna or vegetables. They are ideal finger-food for drinks parties or as starters.
Salt cod is something of an acquired taste but Bunuelos de Bacalao are popular on traditional tapas menus. I personally adore that creamy, salty, fishy potato mash inside a crispy fried shell. They take a little time to prepare because the dried fish needs soaking in several changes of water, but the end result is worth the effort.
The ubiquitous tapa, and a favourite with even the fussiest of eaters, is Spanish omelette. It has few ingredients and it’s a simple dish to cook. There is a knack to turning the tortilla and this might fill the novice cook with fear, but persist and you will have a potato cake of which to be proud. Serve cut into substantial wedges along with a few of the other suggestions from this delightful book.
Tapas – Classic small dishes from Spain
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018