Cooking Tips · Techniques

Throw a Tapas Party

This is the third in a series of Cooking Tips on Spanish cooking. First, I talked about the Spanish ingredients you will want for authentic dishes. Then, we delved into the world of one of the most popular Spanish dishes – Paella. If you asked people what food other than paella they associated with Spain, the answer would probably be Tapas. So, in this Cooking Tip, I would like to talk about what Tapas are and how to throw your own Tapas party.

Tapas are not really a type of food but a style of eating. They are small plates that are typically consumed at bars before lunch and dinner. The origins are not entirely clear but many say it began as a slice of ham or chorizo placed over the mouth of a wineglass and served complimentary. The verb tapar means “to cover” and some say this was originally done to keep flies out of the drink. For an in-depth discussion of the possible origins of tapas, see this article from Spain Food Sherpas.

In Spain, a person does not visit a tapas bar for the purpose of eating but rather to socialize along with a bite to tide them over during the long hours between lunch and dinner. What can constitute a tapa varies greatly. It might only be a dish of olives. Some places serve different sizes with the tapa being enough for one person. If called a media ración, it should be enough for 2 people to share and a ración would be even larger.

Here in the US, Tapas restaurants have become very popular and I have eaten in some excellent ones. However, they might be more accurately termed “Small Plate” restaurants. Even though they serve tapas-sized dishes, they might not be traditional Spanish dishes. In my opinion, that is a not necessarily a bad thing. Just do your research if you are looking for something traditional.

Traditional Spanish tapas are fairly simple. It might be a dish of olives or a meat/cheese plate or it could be more. They might be hot or cold. Here are a few of common tapas.

  • Marinated olives
  • Marcona almonds
  • Cheese and meat board – Serrano ham, Spanish chorizo, Manchego cheese, Cabrales cheese, quince paste, olives, fruit, baguette.
  • Tortilla Española – also known as a Spanish omelet. Typically made with potatoes, onion, and eggs. Some recipes include ham or chorizo. It can be served hot or cold.
  • Patatas Bravas – crispy fried potatoes covered with a spicy tomato or a creamy garlic sauce
  • Gambas al ajillo – shrimp sauteed in olive oil and abundant garlic.
  • Gambas Paco Alcalde – shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce
  • Croquetas (croquettes) – A lightly breaded and filled bite. The filling might be mashed potatoes and ham, wild mushrooms, seafood or cheese.
  • Chorizo al Vino – Spanish chorizo cooked in Spanish red wine and served with crusty bread.
  • Pincho morunos – skewers of pork marinated in spices and then grilled.
  • Ensaladilla rusa – a type of Russian (yes, Russian) potato salad made with mayonnaise, eggs, potatoes and carrots. Sometimes tuna and peas are added.
  • Albóndigas – meatballs, typically served with different sauces.
  • Empanadas – A crispy dough surrounding a variety of fillings.
  • Piquillo Peppers filled with Shrimp or Tuna
  • Dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon
  • Chorizo lollipops – these may not be the most traditional tapa but they are simple and delightful. Make a sugar syrup, place sliced chorizo on a skewer and carefully dip in the syrup, allowing the excess to drip off.

My husband and I often find that the best dishes when we eat in a restaurant are the appetizers, not the main course. Ordering a number of appetizers is very common and popular. This is essentially what a tapas restaurant does. If you do not have that kind of restaurant or you would like to turn your home into that restaurant, consider throwing a tapas party. Even better, book me to come to your house and do a Tapas Cooking Party!

Here are some tips for hosting your own tapas party.

  • For an intimate gathering, you may want to serve the tapas at a leisurely pace starting with lighter ones and progressing to more filling ones.
  • For larger parties, bring out most of tapas at the beginning so guests can help themselves. If the tapas need last minute prep and are meant to be eaten as soon as they are served, space them out over the night and pass them around as they come out.
  • You may or may not want plates. Tapas that require forks/plates are better for smaller gatherings. For large groups, you will want to mostly serve finger foods.
  • Present a variety of tastes and textures.
  • Choose at least one from each of the following categories:
    • Cold/marinated
    • A tapas in a sauce
    • A tapas with bread/pastry
    • A tapas that is fried, baked or grilled at the last minute
  • Balance the tapas as far as vegetables, seafood and meat

Now you have sufficient information to have not only a great Tapas party but with the prior two Cooking Tips, you can also serve paella as well as experimenting with other Spanish food. Have fun!