Tuesday, January 13, 2009

80 Plates: Spain/Tapas

Last night my book club met and our dinner theme was tapas. I was excited because not only do I love, love, love tapas, but the theme fit in nicely for my new cooking goal! I did some research and came upon the site Spain-Recipes.com, which claims to have authentic recipes from Spain. It is a great site, and some of the foods my Lit Chicks were mentioning bringing were mentioned on the site, so I decided it must be pretty authentic. I selected two shrimp recipes to prepare: prawn and bacon brochettes and torillas de camarones (shrimp fritters). I was also tremendously excited by the prospect of breaking in my new Wusthof knife, a gift from Elizabeth who read my knife lament in the Coq Au Vin entry. Thank you, Elizabeth!

The recipes looked pretty easy, which is why I selected two of them. I made my shopping list and went and picked up supplies. This was not easy, however, and unfortunately I didn't have a whole lot of time to go running around looking for things. So, I was forced to substitute medium shrimp for small shrimp, which my local grocery store elected not to carry, and also I was unable to find pimentos, but I accept that maybe I was not looking in the right place. Additionally, my store didn't carry thinly sliced bacon--my choices were thick cut and center cut, so I went with the center cut, which looked a bit thinner than the thick cut, but was not what I would call thin by any stretch of the imagination.

Ok, so I'll start with the tortillas de camarones. This was a recipe I had high hopes for. I love shrimp and I love fried anything. The recipe looked pretty straightforward. It called for either chickpea or regular flour, and I went with regular as my local store didn't appear interested in carrying chickpea flour either!! (What was it interested in carrying!?) I peeled and boiled up the shrimp as directed, reserving some of the water. I put the shrimp and the water in the refrigerator. What was most maddening about this recipe as I read it was that EVERYTHING had to be cooled. You heat the shrimp, then you cool it. You boil the water, then you cool it. And to be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of time.

As soon as that was going, I started chopping up the green onions. Usually this is a task that is a royal pain in the butt. But not problem with my new knife! The onions were literally falling apart at the slightest touch of that thing. I experimented with the cuts, cutting thick slices and thin, paper thin in fact. Honestly, it reduced strain and pain and work by a thousand percent. I've got to get some more of these--at the very least I need to pick up a Wusthof chef's knife.

So I got that all chopped up beautifully and began to prepare the batter for the fritters. It was a very simple batter--flour, salt, onions, parsley, and the pimientos I would have added if I'd have found them. After mixing that together, I slowly poured in the water and it became a nice batter.

And guess what?! It needed to be refrigerated for at least an hour! AUGH! By now it was 4:30 and it was getting close to time for me to leave to head north for book club. I quickly put the bowl of batter in the fridge to start cooling off. I also needed to chop the shrimp. The shrimp was supposed to be the size of coffee grounds, and so I decided I could either stand there all night chopping shrimp or I could bust out the food processor, which is what I did, taking the path of least resistance. I pulsed them instead of letting it run, since I didn't want shrimp paste. I kept a very close eye on them, so I actually did a good job with getting them chopped into little bits. I wouldn't say they were coffee ground sized, but they were definitely teeny tiny.

Ok, so all that went in the fridge, and then I had to decide how to transport everything to Alexandria, keep it cool so that it could somewhat refrigerate until I got there and be an appropriate temperature and be ready to cook. I spied the leftover disposable pans from our dinner party on Saturday and decided to construct a mobile refrigeration unit. I scraped the batter into a Ziploc container, and put it in the middle of a pan, and then surrounded it with ice cubes. The shrimp went into a second container, which I put in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack.

This may seem excessively fussy, but the recipe said the fritters should be served immediately, so I was concerned that I would be able to cook them as close to time for book club (7:30) as possible. I was determined to cook them up north.

Ok, time to move on to the prawn and bacon brochettes. These were going to be relatively easy. Wrap shrimp in bacon, skewer, season, roast. Which is pretty much what I did. However, because the shrimp had to be skewered through both the tail and the fat part of the shrimp, I recommend you wrap the shrimp so that the loose "end" of the bacon is either at the tail or the fat part so that it'll stay skewered, laying the shrimp on the bacon like so:

If you start out by putting the first loose end right on top in the middle of your shrimp and then wrapping it around, ending where the skewer goes in, your little bundle should hold together quite nicely.

Because my skewers were pretty large, I put 4 shrimp per skewer. I didn't add much salt due to the bacon being pretty salty, but I did grind black pepper over them and drizzle them with olive oil a bit. I thought they looked quite pretty when laid out.

Everything prepared, I put these on ice as well, and loaded up the car, hauling butt up to Alexandria. I made it in about 45 minutes, which was not bad considering I left at 5:00 and once you hit the Beltway in Alexandria, you never know what's going to happen. As soon as I got there, it was time to start cooking!

I preheated the oven for the brochettes and began heating the oil for the fritters. I unpacked all the supplies and mixed the little minced pieces of shrimp into the batter. Then I began scooping them by the tablespoonful into the hot oil.

This turned out to be a little bit of a challenge, as after they were in the oil, they had to be pressed to a 3 1/2 inch disk and could only cook for one minute per side. This called for SPEED. I must say, I probably didn't do as well as I could--they certainly weren't three inches in diameter, but they were thin and crispy on the outside, which is all I could hope for. I let them cook a bit longer than 2 minutes.

When the first batch was done, I tried one and thought it was a little bit bland, honestly. I had my sister try it and she thought they were a little tasteless too. I made another batch, and same thing. So I finally decided to doctor them. I added some seasoning salt, a little minced onion, and a pile of garlic paste to the second half of the batter. It improved them some, but honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by this particular dish. And I can't honestly think that adding a half teaspoon of pimentos would make that much of a difference. It did help when they were done and I drizzled lemon juice over them, but not really enough to say so.

Meanwhile, I put the brochettes into the hot oven (425 degrees). After the recommended cooking time, they looked a little iffy to me, the bacon was rather pale. So I left them in an extra few minutes until they were really sizzling.

Again, I considered these just alright, if I'm being honest. Some of the girls in the book club seemed to really enjoy these appetizers, but there were A LOT of leftovers, and in this crowd, people eat very well (my sister brought a HUGE dish of mini cream puffs and eclairs and they were G-O-N-E gone). So I would have to speculate that these were not a huge hit.

In fact, typically if I have book club leftovers, I'll bring them home, but I wound up sending these suckers home with Judy last night. I didn't hate them, I just didn't love them.

I think I will have to re-visit Spain in the future, and perhaps make paella or something else interesting. All the other tapas we had last night was really, really good, and other tapas I've had is fantastic, so I know it can be good, and I don't happen to think that I particularly screwed up the recipes or anything. I think I may have just hit on a couple of duds!

Two countries down, 78 to go. Planning on trying to find Kenyan and Indonesian recipes for inauguration day. I've eaten Indonesian food before and really enjoyed it, but have no idea about recipes for Kenya! And the General has requested our next experiment be something from South America, so I am actively scouting out recipes from South America as well--perhaps Brazil? If anyone has any great, authentic recipes, lay 'em on me!

Happy eating!

3 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Elizabeth said...

You can now see that giving you a knife was actually a selfish ploy to get more yummy things. :)

It worked, too! Yum.

Seraphim9 said...

That's it.......I'm packing up and moving in with you so I can go to book club and cook with you (and eventually open a bakery with you).

LOL...my work verif. - inglitis. That is a disorder that afflicts those who plunked down $240 at Best Buy, went home, and watched the entire DVD box set of "Little House on the Prairie".

Sarah said...

If you ever need any random flours, let me know. Thanks to Russ's gluten-free thing, we have pretty much every flour known to man EXCEPT regular kind (although I do keep that in the house in case I'm baking for someone other than Russ!) Wegman's prolly has it.
I confess I didn't try the bacon wrapped shrimp because I'm trying to be good to my cholesterol, but it looked amazing!