~ Time for Tapas: Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp ~
A small portion of any hot or cold, savory edible that can be eaten in just a few bites, forkfuls or slurps. Here in America, we call them "snacks". In Spain they're called "tapas". Like the American snack, anything can be a tapas if eaten in a small enough portion. In Spain, tapas is a style of eating, and going out for tapas is one of their most popular activities. When going out for tapas, you're not going out for dinner (although, if you eat enough tapas, they can be the equivalent of a meal). You start out eating tapas and finish eating tapas, meaning, tapas is not a starter to a meal. I describe it as going out for "drinks and snacks" -- skipping dinner so to speak.
What to expect when eating in a tapas bar or restaurant:
In Spain, dinner is usually eaten between 9:00 PM and 12:00 Midnight. After work, it is common practice to meet at a bar for "tapas", "drinks and snacks", then go home to relax and go back out for a late dinner. Historically, pre-19th Century, tapas were small complimentary offerings served by innkeepers at the bar to patrons, or in the rooms of travelers. Most innkeepers couldn't write and most travelers couldn't read, so, tapas offered a sample of the dishes available from the kitchen that evening. Nowadays, it is very common for small bars to keep 8-12 tapas in warmers for customers to eat while drinking -- sometimes they are free, other times the cost is minimal.
How to order tapas in a tapas bar or restaurant:
There is a protocol for ordering tapas too. In many establishments tapas are only served at the bar, not at the tables. If this is the case, what you will be able to order at the table are "raciónes" ("large, shared plates"), a collection of small dishes brought to the table on a platter. The Spanish word for this style of tapas eating is "tabla". Whether seated at the bar or at a table, don't order too many tapas at once -- the tapas are already prepared, meaning, there's little wait time and ordering 5-6 could bring too many to you at same time. Another reason: Rolling tapas carts typically pass by tables so diners can pick items that appeal to them as the carts "walk by".
Gambas al ajillo (garlicy shrimp sautéed in garlicy olive oil) = one of & perhaps Spain's most popular tapas.
Gambas al ajillo is a Spanish classic, and, relatively speaking, it is pretty easy to make at home. It is also an example of a "ración" ("family-style meal") turned into one of Spain's most popular pub-grub tapas. Sweet shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop (in a seasoned 10" terra cotta "cazuela" (ka-sway-la) -- a glazed, earthenware skillet shaped similar to a straight-sided chef's pan) in a goodly amount of Spanish olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic (shaved and/or minced) and a sprinkling of sliced small red chiles, to taste, for heat. When the shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes, a splash of sherry vinegar, plus a pat of butter to finish off the sauce get added, and the dish, complete with the oily garlic-sauce and a parsley garnish goes on the table. The dish is served ASAP, family-style, in the cazuela, with plenty of grilled rustic bread slices for sopping up the garlicy oil.
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, divided thoroughout recipe, 1/4 cup for tossing into shrimp and spices, 3/4 cup for infusing with the garlic and chile peppers
8-10 large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
4 small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish
rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment
~Step 1. In a large bowl, using a large spoon, toss the shrimp with the baking soda, Spanish paprika, sea salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Set aside at room temperature. Slice the garlic cloves and the chile peppers, placing them in a small bowl as you work. Add the remaining 1 cup olive oil to the garlic and chiles and set aside, to steep, at room temperature, 1 hour. During this hour, stir the shrimp a few times.
~ Step 2. Place the garlic-chile pepper-oil in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pans. Heat over low heat, until garlic is softened, very fragrant, ever-so-gently sizzling and moving around in the pan by itself, but not browning, 8-10 minutes.
~Step 3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until turning pink, firming up and just short of being cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Stir in sherry. Turn heat off. Stir in butter. When butter has melted, stir in half the parsley. Portion into desired-sized serving bowls. Serve immediately with garlic sauce drizzled over the tops. Garnish each with remaining parsley.
What this dish is, what it is not, &, troubleshooting tips:
Troubleshooting Tips from Mel: Prepared as directed, this dish renders some of the most tender, succulent shrimp you will ever eat. Do not confuse this process with deep-frying because it IS NOT. The garlic and chile peppers "slow poach", in that, both soften and release their flavor without browning (which renders both bitter). There is no big sizzle when the shrimp hit the pan. The baking soda, gives the exterior of the shrimp the signature "pop", not to be confused with "crunch" and it works magic. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT overcook the shrimp -- they will continue to cook while the butter melts, the parsley gets stirred in, and, on the trip to the table.
Serve ASAP garnished w/toasted bread for sopping up sauce:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides
Cook's Note: Cóctel de camarónes. That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp. If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern twist on the classic a try -- plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño. : ~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)