Well, yet again this post doesn’t come with recipe. I’ll say that right up front. But that’s not for lack of trying. Instead, I’m going to share a little taste of tapas with all of you who haven’t had the opportunity to get out there and eat too much food on tiny little plates. Tapas are definitely making waves in the cooking community; they are trendy. Tapas are leaking into restaurants, bar menus, magazines, and food television. Cool. But nobody can beat the Spanish, who invented the damn things. How can you tell? Vocabulary!
First, what the heck does tapa mean? Literally its a cover, or lid. In the past, when they served you a ‘jar’ of beer, the bartender or waiter would put a little plate on top to cover your beer, to keep flies, mosquitoes, dust, or whatever other beer-threatening objects may be lurking, out. If not a small plate then, well, a slice of bread with some jamón on top. It’s interesting that the word itself has become such a globe trotter, because even though the tradition stretches back ages, the word only entered into accepted, official, Real Academia Spanish in 1939. In the words of my friend, Jose, who was happy to catch me up on Spanish culinary history, “es muy, muy andalu.” That is to say that the word tapa is actually specific to the southern region of Spain. If you go traveling within the Iberian Peninsula, the word will vary wildly with the other regional dialects and languages.
But the word that has captured my heart and captures real Andaluz attitude is not tapa, but tapear. This is a real verb in Spanish, and it refers to the very specific act of going out to eat tapas. It implies barhopping late in the evening when the sultry heat of the south is dissipating and nothing but cold beer and cheap, strong red wine accompanied by platelets of olives, fried almonds, salt cod, pork loin, slivers of cured ham, triangles of salty equally cured cheese, little fried packets of bechamel, sweet marinated red peppers, roasted potatoes in a mix of fresh mayonnaise and a piquant red sauce, pickled broad beans, and whatever the restaurant owner or chef can invent.
If you are going to tapear, you will be out in the street, chatting and lingering over your food for at least two hours. The intense aficionados will know what tapa they want to eat at what bar and will plan accordingly. You are not eating. You are not even eating out. You are out to tapear. There is a difference.
Wow, that was a lot of words.
You all are now going to go eat tapas with me. Unfortunately, you won’t be tapear-ing, because all of these pictures are coming from the same place:
This is my favorite restaurant in Seville. I am not alone. My friend, Sergio introduced me to it, after prepping me four months before my arrival in Spain with the Spanish equivalent of omg omg you need to eat this.
He followed the invitation with the explanation that he wanted to take me there so I could try to puzzle out what is in the sauce of a certain dish: solomillo al eneldo. That is, pork loin with dill sauce. But before we get into that long story, let’s take a gander at what else was on the table.
Recently, we went out to celebrate Sergio’s half birthday, which happened to fall on a Tuesday. Any reason really to go.
That’s when a half-birthday miracle occurred: Tuesday nights are Crazy Tapa nights, and therefore beer, sodas, and all tapas are only 1 euro. Life is good.
Here is what the menu calls adobo. Adobo is marinade, either noun or verb. This is marinated fish, then coated in flour and fried. We honestly can’t remember what type of fish it actually was, but my roommate Rosa says it would probably be cazón, or dogfish. Before you recoil, let it be known that it was one of the tenderest, most tasty bits of fish I have ever eaten. And even knowing it’s a little sharklet that I last saw in high school biology dissection lab, I will still happily be ordering it again next time.
Grilled mushrooms, in a super light dressing of olive oil (of course), garlic, and parsley.
This is salmorejo. It’s a cold Spanish soup similar to gazpacho, but more common in the south, a specialty of Córdoba. It’s garlicky and refreshing, with more bread than gazpacho. Here you see it served as it should be, with little chopped bits of hard boiled egg and jamón.
And these are croquetas. They are a mix of a certain filling, whether ham, other meats, or cod, with bechamel sauce, then covered in bread crumbs and fried. These are the ultimate comfort food of Spain. Grown adults argue about whose mother’s croquetas are better, what flavor, etc. These are the taste of childhood here.
And of course, solomillo al eneldo. What is not pictured is solomillo a la pimienta, or pork loin in a pepper sauce. The picture blurred, then we ate it.
The phrase dill sauce is actually misleading. The dill is added after the sauce is actually made. It’s an integral part of the flavor profile of the dish, but not actually part of the sauce itself. I wish I could give you the recipe of the sauce, like I could with Molly Ward Gardens’ lemon aioli, but no dice. I am not a trained chef, I cannot use my wondrous palate to decipher the subtleties of a sauce. I’m working on it, but I don’t really know enough about either cooking or Spanish flavors to just bust it out. But maybe if we go out a few more times…
This dish really is absolutely wonderful. Its a few slices of pork loin cooked to juicy, crispy perfection on a hot griddle, placed on top of some home made french fries and slathered in a sauce that tastes like happiness. It is a smooth, aioli-like sauce that is mellow with the tiniest bite at the end, with the earthiness of the dill sneaking in just after to remind you where the name came from. It’s visually appealing as well, so it’s just a genuine pleasure to eat it.
I actually got desperate, and asked the waiter what the ingredients were. And when I say asked, I mean pretended to have bizarre food allergies in order to trick the secret out of him. Didn’t work. I do know however, that I was right about the consistency. He says it’s like the base of a thin mayonnaise, starting with eggs and olive oil (probably just the yolks). Beyond that, my only clue was ‘natural spices’. Great. What I can recognize is garlic and what I believe to be spicy pimentón, or hot paprika more or less. A pinch of freshly, finely ground black pepper, and a hearty sprinkling of dried dill afterward and that’s all I can taste. Soon we’ll give it a crack and I’ll report back.
In the meantime, we made swift work of what was in front of us.
Then we went back for seconds.
And if you still aren’t happy, then take it up with the complaint book of the establishment.