Mark Hix: How To Make Great Tapas

This month, three simple, fresh tapas recipes from our resident foodie

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The idea of tapas has grown exponentially since the days when bars in Spain would give away bite-sized snacks with glasses of vino. More often than not, these tapas would consist of unwanted fish remains, donated free to said bars by local fishermen. Spanish men would head out on a bar crawl, or tapeo, and indulge in a drink and a bite in several bars – the continental equivalent of our seven pints and a Ruby Murray.

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When I was growing up in Dorset, I remember my father and his friends sitting in small boats by the beach waiting for the water to bubble with shoals of sprats. They would all but fill the boats and as far as I know, the proceeds of Dad’s catch were spent quayside at the local pubs. I’m not sure what my father’s friends called these sessions, but the nearest thing they probably got to tapas back then was a packet of Twiglets.

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These days, we can do better, with countless restaurants offering high-quality tapas at reasonable prices. Rather stay at home? Here are three recipes to get you started on the tapas trail. Just don’t forget the rioja.

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Queenies With Chorizo Crust (above)
Serves 4

As a kid, I watched the trawlers come in piled high with sacks of queen scallops, or “queenies”, as the locals called them. Fishermen don’t really bother scouring the seas for them these days, as the preparation is probably more trouble than the tiny molluscs fetch on the market. My friend Mark Hawkers’ father was a trawlerman and when the haul was good his mum would cook some of the catch and send us off to school with polystyrene tubs of queenies doused with malt vinegar. Better than a packet of Hula Hoops.

Ingredients:
A piece of cooking chorizo weighing about 60–70g
30g fresh white breadcrumbs
1/2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 queen scallops, shucked and left in the half shell

Directions:
1 | Remove the skin from the chorizo and break the flesh up as small as you can or chop it finely with a sharp knife.
2 | Put the chorizo in a small frying pan and cook on a low heat for 5–6 mins, stirring and breaking the chorizo as it cooks.
3 | Remove from the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste if needed.
4 | Pre-heat the grill to maximum temperature. Lay the queenies on a baking tray and spoon the chorizo mixture on top. Grill for 2–3 mins until lightly coloured and serve immediately.

Fried Prawns
Serves 4-6

Prawning off the pier in West Bay with drop nets was a popular after-school activity when I was young. The catch was never big, but 100 or so prawns made a delicious teatime treat, with brown bread and butter. British prawns are generally quite small but are delicious deep fried in their shells – you simply eat the whole prawn, head, legs and all. You can deep-fry them from raw. Alternatively, use small raw or cooked imported ones.

Ingredients:
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
150–200g self-raising flour
Sea salt and cayenne pepper
150–200ml milk
300–400g fresh British prawns with the shells on, or small whole imported prawns
Wedges of lemon, to serve

Directions:
1 | Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160–180°C in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
2 | Have two bowls ready, one with the flour, well seasoned with the salt and cayenne pepper, and the second with the milk. Coat the prawns in the flour, shaking off any excess, then dip them in the milk and then coat them in the flour again.
3 | Fry the prawns, a couple of handfuls at a time, for 3–4 mins, moving them around in the oil with a slotted spoon until golden and crisp, then transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper. Season the prawns with sea salt and serve with fresh lemon wedges.

Padrón Peppers
Serves 4-6

These small, green, chilli-like green Spanish peppers are becoming increasingly available in delis, greengrocers and supermarkets. They make a dead simple, tasty tapas dish with very little preparation necesary.

Ingredients:
2–4tbsps olive oil for frying
200–250g padrón peppers
Flaky sea salt to serve

Directions:
1 | Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the peppers for 2–3 mins, turning them as they are cooking but not allowing them to colour.
2 | Season well with the sea salt and serve immediately.

Taken from Esquire's May issue, on newsstands now.

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MORE FROM MARK HIX:

Vietnamese
Cooking With Rhubarb
How To Cook Shellfish
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