Winter 2008 - Tapping into tapas

12/04/2013 11:04
Visiting Brindisa in Borough Market gave Craft Guild chefs an insight into the ingredients behind an authentic tapas menu.

Tapas Brindisa stands on the corner of Southwark Street, close by London’s Borough Market, and is abuzz with a constant stream of customers day in, day out. Its success lies in the extensive tapas menu it offers and the care it takes in selecting authentic ingredients.

These are sourced by leading Spanish food importer, Brindisa, which has capitalised on Britons’ growing affection for Spain’s cuisine and its ingredients. Now in its 21st year, the company combines the best of Spain’s larder with the best of British produce at its restaurant, and Craft Guild chefs were invited to see for themselves some of the ingredients that make this style of cuisine so special.

The visit, organised by Westminster Kingsway College’s senior chef lecturer José Souto, included a demo of the difference between hams and how they are produced.

Its own ham carving corner, known as a jamoneria, is where customers can order and take home freshly carved ham, and among its top selling Iberico hams are Joselito Gran Reserva ham on the bone, Jabugo recebo, Teruel DOP and Trevélez IGP. Master carver José Daniel Valero took the group through them one by one, explaining the difference between white and Iberico [black] pigs.

He explained that the bellota ham from Iberian pigs is free range and thrives mainly on a diet of acorns while European white pigs are farm reared and fed on a diet of cereals and beans. The weight between the two was different as well, the Iberico being a minimum 24lbs while the white pig weighed much less.

The curing process was similar – sea salt for the curing and water to clean, but the most important aspect of getting the perfect ham was getting the right balance of temperature and humidity, he says. “In each ham there are 20-22 textures and Iberico has a texture and appearance like the marbling on beef. The fat is very important, as is the fat in all Spanish charcuterie, for the taste. If you take away the fat from any piece of meat you won’t have taste.”

His best was the Joselito Gran Reserva in which, he says, you can quite clearly see the oil in the meat, and is expensive at £19.95 per 100g. “This one needs less salt for the cure. A leg can cost £600 but hanging for four years costs a lot of money,” adds Valero.

To make sure you’ve got a good ham, Valero says, there are different tools to check them. In Spain they use a beef bone to pierce the skin and you can tell by the smell on it whether it’s good or not – a process not dissimilar to the testing of parma ham where Italians use a special horse bone to do the job. But, says Valero, “if you don’t make the right hole in the right place you can cause contamination”.

Head chef José Pizarro spoke about the different charcuterie and how it is used on tapas menus. Tapas is about relaxed eating, small dishes and sharing platters and the group was served a selection of meat to try, ranging from the Joselito Gran Reserva and Teruel DOP lomo [loin] to spicy chorizo and cured beef. Gran Reserva lomo was lightly coated in pimenton while the Teruel ham was rubbed with oregano, garlic and paprika.

The latter is one of the most important ingredients in Spanish cooking – not just for flavour but for the rich red colour it gives to dishes, and clearly shown by the fillet of pork with paprika and red pepper dish.

Joselito Iberico was so thinly sliced it was almost transparent and the surface very oily. Asked whether it was better to leave it to stand for a while after cutting, Pizarro said it was best to cut and eat straightaway. “You have to cut ham very thinly and with care, and respect the food you deal with,” adds Valero.

Chorizo varieties range from Alejandro coarse and fine cut to the Euskal chorizo from the Basque country’s native pigs which, says Valero, is similar to the Iberico but smaller and eats chestnuts and acorns. It goes particularly well with fish such as sea bream and mussels, and with squid, and is good for breakfast such as grilled Leon chorizo with eggs and potatoes. It was also demonstrated as an appetiser as wrapped chorizo in a ‘potato crisp’ and served with a pepper dip.

With chorizo, a sparkling rosé cava to balance the spices or red wine such as the Riberadel Duero La Planta tempranillo rioja was recommended, but fino sherry for dark meat. This was particularly so for the air cured, smoked beef that came from specially bred animals in Leon in north west Spain. When cured it becomes dark, rich red meat, therefore served as it was with pomegranate offered a stunning colour combination.

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