Monday, September 27, 2010


The first time I encountered a mixed drink made with Sherry—a Sherry-tini—I  was horrified. I guess I’m a purist—I like my fino Sherry straight up and chilled, in a proper stemmed Sherry copa. Likewise, it seems a shame to mess with a mellow amontillado or palo cortado.

Nevertheless, I must admit that Sherry, slightly nutty, lightly fruity, a tiny bit salty, adds complexity and depth of flavor to a cocktail. It’s anyway more interesting than vermouth. I decided to give it a whirl. Or shake. Or stir.

By the way, Sherry is a protected denomination for wines made in the region of southern Spain around Jerez. (That’s why I always write Sherry with a capital “S”.) It comes in several types. The driest one is pale fino. One sort of fino comes only from Sanlucar de Barrameda and is called manzanilla. So far, I’ve only experimented with fino in cocktails, but I am guessing that oloroso Sherry, on the sweet spectrum, might make a good mixer.

Gorgeous autumnal weather is a fine excuse for a cocktail party. Here are two to try, plus a recipe for cheese puffs to accompany the drinks.

Sherrytini Cocktail

Dry Sherry stands in for vermouth in this twist on a classic martini. If you use manzanilla Sherry, spike the drinks with manzanilla olives. If you choose dry fino, finish with a twist of orange peel. Warming the twist over a lighted match releases the citrus fragrance. Chill the martini glasses before mixing the cocktail.

Makes 4 cocktails.

8 olives or 4 twists orange peel
Cracked ice
8 oz gin
2 oz manzanilla or fino Sherry

Stick olives on 4 picks and place in four chilled martini cocktail glasses. Or, if using orange peel, hold each strip of peel, skin side down, briefly over a lighted match. Drop the orange peels into cocktail glasses.

Place ice in a jar or cocktail shaker. Add the gin and Sherry. Shake or stir. Strain the Sherrytini into the cocktail glasses and serve.

Sherry-Lemon Cocktail

Makes 4 cocktails.

Grenadine is pomegranate syrup. It gives a fruity flavour and a deep blush to this cocktail. If available, add a few ruby seeds from a fresh pomegranate to the drink. Brandy de Jerez is Spanish brandy from the same region where Sherry is made.

Cracked ice
4 fl oz dry Sherry
4 fl oz Brandy de Jerez
6 tablespoons grenadine syrup
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 strips lemon peel

Put the ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour over the Sherry, brandy, grenadine and lemon juice. Shake the cocktail. Strain into four cocktail glasses. Hold each twist of lemon peel, skin side down, briefly over a lighted match and drop it into the cocktail.

Buñuelos de Queso
Cheese Puffs

Vary the flavour by choosing different cheeses. Manchego is excellent, but smoked Idiazábal will give the puffs a different dimension. The puffs can be fried or baked.

Makes about 45 puffs.

1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup plain flour
4 eggs
2 cups grated cheese
Olive oil for deep frying

Place the water, salt, thyme, cayenne and oil in a pan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring hard with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and allow to stand 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Thoroughly mix in one egg before adding the next. Stir in the grated cheese.

Place oil in a deep frying pan to a depth of 1 in and heat it until shimmering,  360ºF. Dip two teaspoons in oil. Scoop up batter with one spoon and use the other to push the batter into the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan. Puffs will bob to the surface. Carefully turn them so they brown on both sides. Remove when golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately.

Variation: Bake the cheese puffs instead of frying them. Line an oven tin with baking parchment. Drop spoonfuls of the batter at least 1 in apart. Bake in preheated oven, 375ºF, until golden, 30 minutes.

Friday, September 17, 2010



A simple baked potato, a heap of green beans, cooked artichoke, chicken breast or succulent grilled shrimp—a good sauce will improve any one of those easy-to-prepare foods.

And, from the repertoire of Spanish sauces, there is none more hallowed than romesco, a Catalan sauce of toasted nuts, dried red peppers, garlic and olive oil.

Although originally a sauce from Tarragona (Catalonia’s second city after Barcelona, having nothing to do with the herb tarragon), romesco is popular everywhere in Catalonia. It accompanies calçotada, grilled spring onions with butifarra sausage. It also makes a cook-in sauce for fish and shellfish stew or chicken.

The principal ingredient is the ñora pepper, a plum-shaped, bittersweet dried pepper with crinkly skin. Traditionally the sauce was confected by grinding the all the ingredients in a marble mortar. Now it’s quickly made in a blender or food processor.

Ñora peppers are used to make pimentón (paprika). So, if you have not got peppers to confect this sauce, substitute pimentón/paprika (but, not smoked pimentón). You can use almonds and/or hazelnuts—I like both. Fry them until crisp so that they grind up better. Often a not-too-sweet cookie, called galleta María, is used along with the nuts to thicken the sauce. If not available, use fried bread.

Every Catalan claims to have some secret touch to making a perfect romesco—a few drops of anisette or brandy, dried mint, roasted tomato. The essential ingredient is extra virgin olive oil, preferably a fine Catalan arbequina oil.

Romesco is an all-purpose sauce that can accompany hot or cold foods. Serve it with boiled vegetables, grilled shellfish, poached fish or charcoal-grilled spring onions. If you are serving it with seafood, use fish stock to thin the sauce. Otherwise, add just enough water to make a sauce the consistency of pouring cream. Unthinned, use it as a dip with raw vegetable dippers.The sauce keeps, refrigerated, for several days.

Catalan Red Pepper Sauce

Makes 1 ¼ cups.

2 tablespoons pimentón (paprika)
4 tablespoons red wine
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 skinned almonds
12 skinned hazelnuts
1 slice bread, crusts removed, or 3 María cookies
3 cloves garlic
Pinch of dried mint
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Pinch crushed red chile flakes
Water or fish stock (about ¼ cup)

Stir the pimentón and red wine together to make a paste.

In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and fry the almonds, hazelnuts, bread and garlic until bread is toasted. Remove and transfer them to a blender or food processor with the pimentón paste, mint, vinegar, chile and salt. Blend to a smooth paste. Gradually blend in the remaining oil. Add enough water to thin the sauce to the consistency of thick cream. 

Monday, September 6, 2010


Cojonudo--"ballsy", a tapa of quail eggs and ham.
What a great promotion—a tapa and glass of wine for only €1.50 (about $1.90) at any of 13 different bars and cafés around the village, all within walking distance of the main plaza.  The ruta de tapas, tapa route with special prices, took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays during summer months. For the price, you could have one drink and tapa in each bar. The promotion attracted tourists, but it also brought out the locals. It sure was a great excuse to get together with friends, stroll about and sample a variety of tapas.

Tapas are not just about the food. Part of the way of life in Spanish towns, tapas are an excuse for getting out and about, catching up with friends, meeting new ones.

Tapas are trendy in America. There they are usually interpreted as small-plate dining, a series of dishes to be shared at the table. But, on home ground, in Spain, tapas are not really an alternative way of dining. For one thing, you might never sit at a table to eat tapas. You stand at the bar or at little side tables, a window ledge, an upended barrel, any place to set a wine glass and small plate. And, you may or may not consume a quantity of tapas that adds up to a whole meal.

The tapeo is a movable feast. The movement is part of the entertainment. Spaniards say that tapas will never really take off in other countries until you find two or more tapa bars within walking distance.

But, about the food. I’ve had better tapas in Sevilla, Málaga and Madrid, but, I gotta say that, for the price, these were fantastic. Most bars served a single tapa for the special price, but some gave us a whole selection.

Here are some of my favorites. Chanquetes de la tierra, land “fish.” Chanquete is a teensy fish, somewhat like whitebait, that is floured and fried in olive oil. It is incredibly delicious—but now forbidden, in order to prevent the fishing of other species in larval stages of growth. Land chanquetes are shredded zucchini, floured and fried. Delicious.

Ensaladilla rusa, "Russian" potato salad.
Ensaladilla rusa, or “Russian salad,” is a potato salad, bound with mayo, with the addition of peas, carrots and red pepper. This one was served in big spoons.

Cojonudo, slang (meaning, more or less, “ballsy”) for fried quail’s egg on toast with ham or chorizo.

As this village is no longer homogeneously Spanish, we also sampled some lovely samosnas (Indian) at one bar and Argentine grilled beef with chimichurri at another.

Ham and Quail Eggs on Toast

To crack the quail eggs, give them a sharp tap with the blade of a knife, then break onto a saucer. Slip the egg from the saucer into hot oil in the skillet. Fry four or five at a time. They cook in jiffy, so have the toast and ham waiting when you start the eggs.

Makes 10 tapas.

10 toasts made from sliced baguette
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ½ ounces thinly sliced serrano ham
10 quail eggs
2 piquillo peppers (from a can)
Coarse salt
Hot pimentón (paprika) or cayenne

Place the toasts on a serving dish. Brush a skillet with a little oil and heat it. Lay the slices of ham in the pan, turn them quickly and remove. Divide the ham between the toasts.

Add remaining oil to the pan on medium heat. Break eggs, one at a time, into a saucer and slide them into the pan. Cook until whites are set but yolks still liquid, about 40 seconds. Lift the eggs out of the pan and place one on top of each toast.

Cut peppers into strips and lay one strip alongside each egg. Sprinkle with salt and pimentón. Serve immediately.