But, about the food.
The Costa Ladies wanted to know how to peel shrimp (being Brits, they call them prawns) and clean mussels. In planning a tapas party, in my book I suggest choosing one tapa from each recipe chapter. So that’s what I did, featuring seafood in every one. Here’s the line-up, chapter by chapter.
La Tabla—Cheese or Sausage Board—I showed the Ladies mojama, “ham of the sea,” salt-cured and air-dried tuna, served, like ham, thinly sliced and drizzled with olive oil. (On a quick search, I did not find this at the usual Spanish import sites in the US. I wonder why???)
Pintxos—Bites on Cocktail Sticks. Pintxos is the Basque word for tapas. Here I show how you can just open a can for some really nice tapas. Canned mussels in escabeche with half a quail’s egg and half a cherry tomato speared on a pick; and the classic Gilda, green olive, anchovy and pickled chile pepper on a pick.
Platos Fríos--Salads and Cold Dishes. Salads and other cold dishes make up the biggest variety of a tapa bar’s daily offerings. On this occasion, I showed the group how to prepare boquerones en vinagre, fresh anchovies, marinated in vinegar. Hey, look, these are really easy to fillet—Then, just layer them in vinegar for 24 to 48 hours. Everybody got to taste the boquerones. My audience declared them “better than the tapa bar.”
La Tortilla y Más--Potato Tortilla and More Egg Dishes. Because our theme is seafood, I chose to show revuelto, or scrambled eggs, with shrimp, mushrooms and green garlic shoots. I showed the ladies the difference between small, sweet gambas and big langostinos . In Spanish, there is a different name for each one—not just shrimp and jumbo shrimp. I told the group that the vein is edible, but not pretty. Remove it for some preparations, but don’t be afraid to eat it if it’s not been removed. I also showed them how you “suck the heads “ of cooked shrimp, because that’s where the delicious roe is. The shrimp-scrambled eggs (prepared in advance in my home kitchen) were served atop toasts, a delightful tapa.
A La Plancha—Foods from the Griddle. I had no stove, so couldn’t really grill anything. Having shown off big langostinos and cigalas, sea crayfish (Norway lobster), I suggested making that sensational sauce—easy to prepare in the blender—romesco, a Catalan red pepper sauce (recipe is here). So delicious as a dip or served with grilled shellfish. I reccomended a Catalan arbequina olive oil for the sauce. The romesco was passed around with regañas, wheat crisps (recipe in the book), for dipping.
Cazuelitas—Saucy Dishes. This includes favorite tapas such as gambas al ajillo (sizzling shrimp); meatballs in almond sauce, kidneys in Sherry and patatas a lo pobre (potato casserole). I showed how to clean mussels, to be cooked in a typical marinera style with garlic and wine. My version is rather fancier than the basic fishermen recipe, as I include saffron and cream.
Fritos—From the Frying Pan. Many of us first tasted fried squid in Spanish tapa bars, supposing those golden rings to be fried onion rings! As I was running over my hour and lunch awaited the ladies, I asked if they wanted me to skip the last demo--how to clean a whole fresh squid. By popular acclaim, I continued.
Gently pull away the head. Here’s the ink sac, a silvery strip on the innards. Separate it if you want to use it for (sensational) black rice paella or squid cooked in ink sauce. Pull out the transparent quill and discard it. Cut off the tentacles and save them. Pull off the fins and save. Pull off the dark-colored skin of the squid. Look, the body is a pouch. You can stuff it. Or, for frying, use scissors to cut the squid crosswise into rings. (The ladies got to taste fried calamares at a tapas lunch, at Restaurante El Chaparral, El Chaparral Golf Club, Mijas Costa.)(Many thanks to Gertrud Roberts and Emma Walkiden of Santana Books who helped out at both cooking demos.)
Brandada de Bacalao
Garlicky Salt Cod Spread
In La Mancha this spread is called atascaburras and it’s served with chopped walnuts, but in Catalonia it’s brandada and might be garnished with black olives. Serve it spread on toasts or as a dip with breadsticks alongside. Start this recipe two or three days before you intend to serve it, as the salt cod needs to soak for 36 hours.
2 large potatoes (1 pound), peeled and cut in chunks
1 pound salt cod, soaked in several changes of water for 36 hours
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cook the potatoes in water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the pieces of salt cod that have previously been soaked. Simmer, but do not boil, for 10 minutes. Lift the cod out with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Save the liquid.
Mash the potatoes in a bowl with the crushed garlic. Stir in the oil, salt and pepper, and 6 to 8 spoonfuls of the reserved liquid to make a thick, smooth mash.
When cod is cool enough to handle, remove and discard all skin and bones. Shred or chop the cod and stir into the potatoes.
The cod spread can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until serving time. Bring to room temperature to serve.