I like to keep a minimal kitchen: I’m not interested in all the latest gadgets and gizmos. I like my good knives, one sturdy kitchen knife and one paring knife. I like my food processor.
I’ve had my casserole for 20 years and my cast iron skillet for longer. But when it comes to cooking tapas, I must make exceptions – this is one of those occasions where the right gear makes a real difference.
While a sauté or frying pan will take care of most people’s frying needs, especially if they have a heat-proof handle so they can be put in the oven, I absolutely adore my plancha.
I use a stove-top one from Valira, which I swear by, and you can also find them to go over your barbecue grill too, which adds a delightful smokiness to your food.
In addition to providing a hot, flat cooking surface, the plancha also has a moat around the cooking surface into which your excess cooking oil will run, making for (arguably) a healthier fry that you’d have in a conventional pan.
Earthenware cazuelas are also extremely useful. Earthenware makes for excellent oven to tableware, and they look the part, but I also think their heat retention helps to keep a dish like albondigas or chorizo al vino warm at the table.
For good tortillas, you need a small frying pan with a lid. I favour one that’s about 15cm in diameter.
The smaller pan makes it much easier to turn the tortilla out onto its lid and then slide it back into the pan to cook its bottom properly – I’d far rather make two small tortillas successfully than one larger one which I end up dropping all over the floor from a bigger pan. There is no five-second rule for runny egg.
Finally, as far as equipment goes, if you want to be able to serve up the full variety of tapas, you will need a decent deep-fat fryer.
From baby artichokes via croquettas to zucchini flowers, there’s a lot of deep-frying in tapas. I stand guilty as charged for deep-frying in a wok from time to time, but a proper deep-fat fryer will save you a lot of potential misery and insurance claims.
There are also a number of ingredients you simply cannot do without. First off: good olive oil. There is no Spanish cooking without copious amounts of olive oil, a regular one for cooking and an extra virgin for dressing. (For the former, I recommend Brindisa’s Arbequina Olive Oil; for the latter I suggest trying a few different oils to find the flavour you like best.)
Olive oil’s polar opposite, vinegar, is also essential. It’s all too easy to end up with far too many bottles of vinegar based on white wine, red wine, cider, champagne – you name it.
But a good sherry vinegar is a wonderful, versatile ingredient. You can do no better than hunting down the one made by Valdespino.
Of course, the perfect accompaniment to your home-cooked tapas is a cool glass or two of Mahou from Spain’s leading brewery in Madrid.
All food writers bang on about the importance of good salt. I am no exception. When I say salt, I always mean sea salt. In the UK, that means salt from Maldon, Halen Mon or the Cornish Sea Salt Co. All are excellent.
Only two essentials remain: paprika and saffron, both of which, if you think about it, provide the colours for the Spanish flag. Paprika comes in several forms, mild or hot, smoked or unsmoked.
Ideally, you want Spanish rather than Hungarian paprika for tapas, because they taste slightly different. As for saffron, yes, it’s expensive.
But you don’t need to use much for it to make its presence felt, and just a few strands will add a shaft of sunlight to your cooking on even the bleakest day.
For more information on the real taste of Madrid, visit mahou.com #perfectpairing #mahou