A Tapas Experience
(This begins the series of “A Tapas Experience”)
Don’t Rush Through Life
As I have grown older, it has stirred a greater desire within me to not rush through life, to slow down and fully engage in relationships, love and of course food. The Spaniards are experts at “lingering” throughout an evening with a glass of wine, good food and extended family and friends.
Spain’s Main Square – Plaza Major
I was able to observe an “up-close and personal” view of this culture on a 500-mile hike across Northern Spain called the “Camino de Santiago” in the fall of 2015. Every city, small town or village has a main square which they call their “Plaza Mayor.” I have heard it said this square is the “living room” of a Spanish town or city. It’s an open air gathering place where social life is cultivated, where laughter and conversations fill the air. It doesn’t matter when – coffee in the morning with pastries or wine and tapas in the evening, here, in this square, you will find a beautiful scene of all generations mingling together. It impacted me greatly during my 42-day hike and reinforced my belief that, when relationships and food are melded together, it is the best recipe for enjoying life at a deeper level.
Creating A Tapas Experience
You don’t have to travel to Spain to experience Spanish cuisine. Spanish Tapas have grown in popularity over the past few years in the United States. You can find plenty of tapas restaurants in any of the larger cities. If you want to take it a step further, have a few (or a lot) of friends over and create your own memorable Tapas Experience for your guests. One thing I have said from my first rendezvous with tapas is that you must encounter them with friends. It’s a setting where casual meets simple, and the culmination of the experience is intrigue around food, lively conversation and of course Spanish wine.
A Casual and Laid-Back Get-Together
Simplicity is the key. Casual and laid back is the essence of Spanish meals. Nobody is in a hurry. A Tapas Experience should not be a come-and-go party. Otherwise, people will miss out on its true essence. Most of the tapas recipes are not complicated, and they take very little time to prepare. Many of them can be made ahead which will free you to mingle with your guests once they arrive. After all, mingling is an essential element.
A Pitcher of Sangria Begins a Tapas Experience
Begin the evening with a pitcher of Sangria and have a glass waiting for your friends when they arrive at your door. One nice thing about Sangria is you can prepare it a day ahead of time. When you are ready to serve it, just add the last ingredient of either fruit juice, ginger ale or whatever else your recipe may call for to finish it off. You will want to have additional bottles of wine to keep the vino flowing throughout the night. You will find an informative site at www.thespruce.com to help educate you about Spanish wines and to choose some good wines under $20 to pair with the food you have chosen.
Spanish Cheese and Charcuterie Tray
Along with Sangria, initiate A Tapas Experience, by introducing a beautiful Spanish cheese and charcuterie tray. This tray perfectly pairs with the glass of sangria you just placed in their hand.
- Manchego – Cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchego breed and is one of the most popular cheeses from Spain.
- Torta del Casar – Very similar to Brie with a soft and creamy center. Make a thick syrup out of a ¼ cup Spanish Sherry and 1 tablespoon sugar to drizzle over the top. Heat until sugar is dissolved then boil for about 3-4 minutes until thick.
- Cabrales – A delicious blue cheese made from primarily cow’s milk blended with goat and sheep milk. Made in Asturias, Spain and found to be very similar to Roquefort. It is considered to be one of the finest blue cheeses in the world.
- Jamón Serrano or Jamón Ibérico – These Spanish dry cured hams pair perfectly with the above Spanish cheeses. Sliced paper thin these hams have a rich/buttery and salty/sweet flavor.
- Chorizo – A dried and cured sausage in a casing. Found in the ready-to-eat meat section alongside salami. You can purchase either a sweet or spicy version, whichever you prefer.
- Spanish Olives
- Marcona Almonds
- Fig Jam
- Crusty Bread
(This tray can be assembled ahead of time, and the meat and cheese should be set out at least one hour before your guests arrive to adjust to room temperature.)
Exposing Palates to a Variety of Tastes and Textures
The food can be presented two, maybe three, tapas at a time. With each round pour a glass of wine that complements the small plates. Try to pair the wine somewhat to the selection of food as this will naturally develop into a wine tasting as well. Instead of the food coming out all at once, you now have arranged an evening where a new experience unfolds every 20 minutes or so. This cultivates an excitement and an expectation of mystery. The conversation then is centered around the various tapas and how the wine complements each of those dishes. You have now created an “experience” not just a get-together.
If you want to impress your guests, I would suggest another recipe idea – seafood paella. The paella is a dramatic presentation that looks like you worked extremely hard, but in reality, it is quite simple, only time-consuming. Paella is not considered a tapas. It is the main dish that feeds a good amount of people. I have included a seafood paella recipe below and would suggest you bring out the pan somewhere in the middle of the tapas.
Creating Rustic Ambiance for A Tapas Experience
I am all about the ambiance! For a tapas experience, I would choose a rustic-type, laid back setting – outdoors on the back patio or back yard with strung lights. Design a backyard farmhouse setting and bring out an old, distressed table that has maybe been in your attic collecting dust. See if you can gather a variety of wooden chairs that will create an eclectic feel around the table. I guarantee you can find both the table and the chairs for little to nothing at any given garage sale if you are willing to take the time and effort. These would be great additions for constructing your future entertaining experiences.
Another way to add to the rustic charm is to stain some long 2×4 boards and lay them lengthwise on your table over a white table cloth. Add an elegant feel with different size white candles in glass containers that sit on the boards. Lit candles always add to the setting.
Serving Trays and Dishes
When serving, you can use an array of slate trays, wooden cutting boards, terra cotta dishes, colorful, ceramic pottery, etc. to display your tapas. Any of these are a perfect complement to the food. You will want to have several stacks of small 6-inch appetizer plates set out for guests to grab a new one when needed. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can find these plates on clearance at Home Goods, World Market, Crate & Barrel, etc. If you plan on entertaining often, these little jewels are a must to have in your cabinet. Of course, you can always use small paper plates for easy cleanup if you choose. Don’t forget the napkins. I love the colorful patterns that you can find nowadays. Since everything is a nibble, the primary “utensil” for the evening will be cocktail picks. Set plenty of them around in a few different places along with small trash cans to collect the used ones.
Add Some Flair
If you’re ambitious and have friends that can teach a little salsa dancing, why not clear an area, turn up the volume and let the lessons begin. You could include in the invitation that salsa dancing will be an added ingredient to the evening’s entertainment.
The key to success for “A Tapas Experience” is in creating a backdrop where the casual ambiance is intentional, time slows down, friendships are celebrated, and the food is explored in a whole new dimension.
A Tapas Experience
Seafood Paella – an impressive presentation of a classic Spanish dish. The flavors mingle together and are fantastic on your taste buds. This recipe was adapted from bonappetit.com. It looks complicated but it is quite easy, just a little time-consuming.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 60 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Yield: 10 servings
- Category: Spanish Cuisine
- 1 large jalepeño chile, coarsely chopped
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 10 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 3-4 skinned, boned chicken thighs (about 12 oz), quartered
- 6 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), cut into ½-inch pieces
- 6 ounces chorizo, remove casing and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 large Spanish or sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch strips
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into ½-inch strips
- 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 3/4 cup dry Sherry
- 3 cups calasparra rice (paella rice)
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 4 wide strips orange zest
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 14 mussels, scrubbed
- 6 green onions, trimmed
- 8 ounces haricot verts, trimmed
- 14 large head-on, shell-on shrimp
- freshly ground pepper
- 3 lemons, quartered
- Add the jalapeño, parsley and 6 tablespoons of olive oil to a food processor and puree until the mixture is smooth. Add kosher salt to taste. Set aside.
- In a large paella pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add chicken and sautée two minutes on each side. Remove from the pan. Reduce heat to medium, and add pancetta. Cook until browned and crisp, 4-5 minutes. Add chorizo to pancetta, stir until chorizo is warmed and remove from the pan. Add onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until soft, 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add both paprikas and garlic and cook until fragrant for about 1 minute. Add sherry to the pan and bring to a soft boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the liquid is almost evaporated, 4-5 minutes. Add rice to the pan and stir until it is coated. Cook until it becomes somewhat translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in broth and orange zest along with saffron. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to boil and reduce heat and simmer until rice is almost tender – 15 minutes.
- Pull out the orange zest, add chicken, pancetta, and chorizo to the pan. Nestle the mussels into the rice mixture. Cook until the mussels begin to open, 12-15 minutes. Cover with foil and cook until the mussels are fully opened (discard any that do not open), about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep covered. Let it steam for about 10 minutes.
- While the paella is cooking, heat a cast iron grill to medium high heat. In three separate bowls, toss the green onions, haricot verts, and shrimp with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in each bowl. Season all with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Grill onions until greens are charred and bulbs are tender 4-5 minutes. Next grill haricot verts, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes until they have nice charred grill marks on each side. Next grill the shrimp until cooked through and they become opaque and shells are charred, about 3 minutes per side. Last, grill lemons until charred, 1-2 minutes on each side.
- Arrange the green onions, haricot verts, and the shrimp on top of the paella. Drizzle with the chile-parsley oil and squeeze some of the juice from the charred lemons over the paella. Add the lemon wedges to the pan. Serve warm.
- Calories: 724
- Sugar: 4 g
- Sodium: 1166 mg
- Fat: 32 g
- Saturated Fat: 7 g
- Unsaturated Fat: 15 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 50 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 50 g
- Cholesterol: 121 mg