The friend is Lars Kronmark, a chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, in St. Helena, Calif. I met him when I was a seminar presenter and workshop moderator at the CIA’s Worlds of Flavor conferences in 2002 and 2006 (read an interview with me). Lars was my section chef on my first trip to Greystone. He calmed my stage fright at finding myself for the first time in a professional kitchen and made sure all my Spanish recipes were prepared to perfection. In chatting, we discovered that his mother lives not far from where I live on the sunny Costa del Sol. He visits her on vacations and sometimes calls me when he’s in town.
Lars and his mother were lunching at El Tostón, a tapas and wine bar right in the center of seaside Fuengirola. What Fuengirola lacks in charm it makes up with chutzpah. The town has lively street markets on Tuesdays (an “everything” market—food to underwear to children’s toys to household stuff) and Saturdays (rastro flea market with crafts, antiques and junk) that attract tourists and locals alike. Fuengirola also is a great beach town, with chiringuitos, beach shacks, where you can eat espetones, fresh sardines grilled on the beach.
The tapas lunch started with carabineros, enormous, bright red shrimp cooked on the plancha grill. You peel them yourself, suck the delicious juices from the heads, eat the sweet flesh and finish with finger bowls for clean-up. Next came chunks of tuna, cooked rare and accompanied by two sauces, encebollado, onion confit, and a slash of red romesco looking rather lurid, but tasting of garlic, sweet peppers and a hint of vinegar.
Most delicious of all was shoulder of baby goat, a Málaga specialty, cooked sous vide, so that it was meltingly tender and juicy. Is it time for me to try sous vide in my home kitchen? With grilled baby vegetables, this was an outstanding dish.
Bodega el Tostón has a list of more than 500 wines. It started out specializing in Ibérico ham and Manchego cheese, but has expanded the tapas list over the years. Other great dishes to try are morcilla, blood sausage, from Ronda; fried eggplant with honey and any of the versions of bacalao, salt cod.
Now, it’s back to picking olives—
This recipe for grilled tuna and onion confit comes from my book, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN.
Grilled Tuna with Onion Confit
Both in Andalusia and in the Basque Country, atún encebollado is a favorite tapa. It consists of tuna braised with lots and lots of onions. This is a modernized version. The tuna is flash-cooked on a grill pan and served with a deeply flavorful onion sauce. Pedro Ximénez, aka PX, is a grape varietal producing wines with alluring caramel and figgy flavors. If you can´t find PX wine, use a medium Málaga Muscatel or oloroso Sherry.
Makes 10 tapas or 2 main dishes.
3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for the grill
1 clove garlic, chopped
Grated orange zest
2/3 cup PX wine
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
12 oz tuna steak, 1 inch thick
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon orange juice
Cut the onions in half, then slice them thinly crosswise. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions and garlic. Cook very slowly, stirring frequently, until onions are dark brown, 40 minutes. Do not let them scorch.
Add the orange zest, PX wine and vinegar. Simmer another 10 minutes, until the sauce is syrupy. Reserve.
While onions are cooking, season the tuna with salt and pepper and sprinkle with orange juice. Allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Heat a ridged grill pan and brush with oil. Grill the tuna steak 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until browned on the surface but still pink on the inside. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.
Use a sharp knife to remove and discard skin and dark section of tuna meat. Cut into 10 squares, approximately 1 ½ in. Stick each piece on a pick and spoon over the onion confit. Serve warm or room temperature.