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help with tapas party

Hello hounds! I'm a longtime lurker but this is my first post. I'm having a tapas party over the weekend and could use some help with planning, advice with the menu, etc. Here's what I'm considering so far (though this may well need to be whittled down!), with some questions interspersed:

-tortilla Espanola: This can be made ahead and served cold or room temp, right? I've always just had it by itself, but should it be served with a sauce (e.g. aioli or romesco)?

-pastéis de bacalhau (codfish fritters): Obviously these will need to be fried at the last minute, but can the batter be prepared in advance?

-lamb meatballs: Found a recipe on Chowhound (courtesy of MMRuth). How far in advance can these be prepared?

-pan tomate: I just tried making these last night and they were delicious! Must they be served warm/freshly toasted, or can they be assembled ahead of time?

-chickpea & spinach stew: I found a recipe here (attributed to The New Spanish Table) that uses frozen spinach. I always use fresh, but it would be much easier and less time-consuming to use frozen. I assume with all the spices the difference in the end result will be negligible. Thoughts?

-mushrooms w/ garlic & sherry

-deviled eggs w/ Spanish paprika

-bacon wrapped dates and/or goat cheese stuffed figs

-manchego & quince paste

-olives: I'm intrigued by this recipe (http://www.leitesculinaria.com/recipe...), but thinking about just using the marinade... although I do have a jar of piquillo peppers and was not sure what to do with them.

-almonds: Given the cost of Marcona, I think I'll just put out a dish of regular roasted almonds.

I had also thought about: patatas bravas (but is that too much potato with the tortilla and cod fritters?), gazpacho, jamon serrano or chorizo, vegetables with romesco, or shrimp with garlic sauce. Re the latter, would frozen shrimp--say from TJ's or Fairway--be up to par?

Many of the dishes require Spanish paprika. I remember reading something in the NY Times mag recently about La Tienda's paprika, but I don't think I have time to order it. Would whatever brand is available locally (meaning at Sahadi's, for New Yorkers) be acceptable, or should I go to Penzey's? Also, there seem to be several varieties available. I was planning to buy both hot and sweet. Right?

Finally, I'd like to make both white and red sangria. Any recommendations for decent cheap wine to use, or any favorite recipes?

I greatly appreciate your feedback and suggestions!

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  1. For pa amb tomàquet (what all pan con tomate aspires to be, hehe), you can toast the bread up to an hour in advance (half an hour if the humidity is > 60%), and you can even rub the garlic on in advance, but don't rub on the tomato until you're ready to serve, or it'll get soggy.

    Combine your fig/date dish -- goat cheese-wrapped figs with Serrano (or other country-style) ham rolled around it.

    An easy one to do is peas with onions and bacon.

    If you're going to tart up your wine as sangria, honestly, use Two-Buck Chuck.

    Good luck!

    1. well, for the sangria, lambrusco, although italian, is a good one. the brand i ussually get is about $6 for a larger bottle. comes in a screw top, fruity, would work excelently. you can indeed make up the fritter batter ahead of time; we do it in restraunts all the time- it will keep for a couple of days. serrano ham wrapped around just about anything tastes good- tomatoes, melon, asparagus, figs, whatever. tomatoes are in season now, so make sure to use them. a gazpatcho would be in order. you can make it the day before, and then put it in plastic shot glasses, garnish with chiffinoded basil, and serve them as 'soup shooters.' the normal hungarian paprika should be adiquate. the manchego, on the other hand.... wouldn't recomend it w/ quince puree....i would bread it in panko, drizzle it w/ olive oil, and bake it, serving w/ bread and either a citrus or sherry vin glaze. for the shrooms, try this: steam the mushrooms with the vinagear, then marinate with the other stuff(onions, or whatever), and olive oil for at least an hour. meatballs can also be done ahead. you could mix up the actual meat balls and bake them even the day before, and then warm them in the sauce the day of. deviled eggs sound wonderful. for any spanish food though, just remember to use lots of bread, and lots of olive oil. hope it turns out great!

      1. Welcome! Your ideas for a tapas party sound great. What time should I be there? :-) Seriously, I have a few tips and thoughts:

        - tortilla Espanola: Don't refrigerate the tortilla - the cold makes the eggs go rubbery. Make it earlier that day and let it sit. (Make sure it has time to get to room temp; it really is better when it's not hot.)

        - chickpea & spinach stew: I've never made this, but I'll bet frozen spinach would be fine.

        - olives: This recipe sounds great! I'm betting you can make it a day or two ahead. I often marinate olives with orange juice/rind, garlic, and fennel seed; the longer they sit, the better they are. (I do mine at least a week ahead.)

        - manchego & quince paste: Crazy simple, but always wildly popular when I serve it. Don't skip this one.

        - almonds: Warm them in the oven with salt and a drizzle of Spanish olive oil before serving them, and no-one will notice that they're not Marcona almonds.

        - shrimp with garlic: If you do this, go for the fresh shrimp. Frozen is never as good.

        - paprika: There is a unique taste to Spanish smoked paprika, whether from La Tienda or elsewhere. (Are you in New York? Surely someone sells smoked paprika somewhere nearby...) But if you can't get that, any good paprika would probably be an OK substitute. Me, I'd go for Penzey's over Sahadi, but that's because the Sahadi's stuff that makes it to the midwest is usually pretty old...

        Most importantly, it's worth splurging on a few good ingredients, especially some Spanish olive oil - there's nothing better for making things taste "Spanish". And top-notch anchovies are worth the price.

        Have a great time!


        1. Sounds wonderful. What a great mixture of tastes. Sorry, I have no suggestions. I'll just sit here and drool...
          My husband makes the best smoked almonds though! Just smoked, no salty, sweet, dusted stuff. Just smoked in the smoker. Good luck and enjoy. Again, your menu sounds great.

          1. Your party soiunds like it will be a big hit!

            For the stew...I might suggest going with your latter idea of doing a gazpacho. This is for three reasons:

            1. It is summer time and tomatos are so delicious right now! Take advantage of that and make a delicious seasonal gazpacho!
            2. If it is hot where you are gazpacho will be cool and refreshing.
            3. You don't have to worry about it sitting and getting cold. Just prepare in advance sit it in the fridge and you coiuld serve it punch style with a laddle in it and just let it sit.

            I also have a question...I love manchego and quince when I had it but for a party how do you serve it? Is it quince paste? Do you just lay it out on a platter for people to mix themselves?


            3 Replies
            1. re: j2brady

              For the Manchego-Quince tapas, I usually just thinly slice the cheese and quince paste (about a 1/4-inch or thinner) and layer one of each, cheese on the bottom. If I'm feeling super-fancy, I cut triangle shapes. Then I arrange them nicely on a plate.

              Here's a visual aid, courtesy of Dean & Deluca:

              If necessary, I put a knife on the plate so people can scoop up a slice, but if they're layered well, you can just reach in and grab a piece.

              Sometimes, I put the cheese-and-quince on a thin slice of bread (usually a baguette). It's a bit easier to pick up, but doesn't really add anything; in fact, it detracts from the intenseness of the cheese-fruit combination.

              One more note: It's worth splurging on the cheese - get real Spanish Manchego, not the Mexican or American version. But to my taste, at least, it's fine to use the supermarket quince paste (aka mebrillo) from any good Hispanic grocery. (Note that quince paste isn't jam, but is a very firm substance that can be sliced and picked up pretty easily, although it's a bit squishy.


              Oh, now I've gotta get some Manchego on my way home tonight. Luckily, I have a three-year supply of mebrillo in my cupboards.


              1. re: AnneInMpls

                Thanks for the great picture!

                I am planning a tapas diner for my favourite guinea pig..my boyfriend. I have been recenlty inspired after reading about the tapas made on the Amateur Gourmet site.

                I love tapas! Luckily I spoilt for Mexican/Latin grocers here in Toronto.


                1. re: AnneInMpls

                  Oops - the Spanish term for quince paste is "membrillo". I can't type (or proofread)...


              2. No sauce on the tortilla.
                For the cod fritters, you'd just have to change the name (the name you gave's Portuguese I believe) to croquetas de bacalao, or something. Or make 'tortillitas' (shrimp fritters) to be served with an herbed yogurt or allioli (that'd replace the shrimp garlic).
                Gazpacho is a great suggestion.
                For your paprika, jamon serrano and other goodies from Spain, you can check out this store in NYC (they even take orders for tortilla espanola one day in advance)
                Mon-Sat 11-8; Sunday 11-5
                408 Broome Street
                New York City, New York 10013

                1 Reply
                1. re: leeds

                  Or, since several of your dishes seem to be of Catalan origin, "truita de bacallà".

                2. The pasteis can be made and fried ahead of time. I actually love them at room temperature, even though they lose a bit of their crispness. But if you want them hot, you can make them ahead of time, then just quickly warm them up in the oven. That will save you some last minute scramble time. Good luck, sounds delish!

                  1. Lamb meatballs - certainly can be made the day before and reheated.

                    Tortilla - sometimes served with mayonnaise, serve at room temp, I would make it first thing in the morning - it is always more time consuming than I think it should be.

                    Gazpacho - I've served this in very small glasses (like those little moroccan tea ones) at tapas parties - very refreshing and can be sipped from the glass. I've posted a cilantro gazpacho recipe on this board, or there are also recipes posted by Butterfly.

                    Paprika - I'm pretty sure I've seen Spanish paprikas at Citarella/Fairway etc., but I'm sure that Spanish store in Soho would also have it. I love devilled eggs with it, as you suggest.

                    Chickpea/Spinach stew - great recipe - I use baby spinach, pretty much cooks with the heat of the dish if I recall correctly.

                    bacon wrapped dates and/or goat cheese stuffed figs - don't know if this is really Spanish, but sounds delicious.

                    I would suggest adding the gambas al ajillo (spelling?) - shrimp with garlic - I prepare ahead of times in terms of peeling/deveining shrimp, putting the oil, pepper, garlic in the cazuelas, and then heat up and add the shrimp as my guests start to arrive. I don't use a bag of frozen shrimp - what ever looks freshest at the seafood store.

                    An alltime favorite - canapes with avocado and marinated anchovies. I slice french bread, brush on the leftover oil from the frittata (nice onion flavor), toast, then, at the last minute, spread with mayonnaise, add a slice of avocado, and a piece of marinated white anchovy (sold at Dean & Deluca, sometimes Citarella, WFs already packaged - also at Broome St. Spanish store). Yumm.

                    Some sliced chorizo would also be good - I have a recipe for simmering it in sherry, which can be done ahead - let me know if you want it.

                    You might consider serving a dry light sherry (La Ina, or a manzanilla, or papirusa (sp?)) in addition to Sangria. My favorite Sangria recipe, posted last year, is a berry rose one, but probably wouldn't go so well with food.

                    OK -this is now making me hungry for tapas! Good luck ....

                    1. Everything sounds great! You and your guest will have a great time!

                      A few suggestions:

                      1) I think the tortilla alone without sauce is the best. During my time in Spain, I have rarely seen it serve with any sauce. Plus I think adding aioli or romesco, which are both heavy sauces, to an egg-based dish like tortilla is too heavy. Tortilla should be served at room temperature. As mentioned before, it can be made hours ahead of time.

                      2) Suggestions for your piquillo peppers:
                      a) slice them up and add them to your tortilla. If you are planning on making a potato based tortilla, it will add some color and a little zing.
                      b) This is a dish my Catalan in-laws make and it is tasty and easy, Cod-stuffed poquillo peppers. Take the brandada de bacalla (or you can just use the cod paste you were planning on using for your coquettes) and stuff them into the peppers. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the filling is cooked through. Take a few unstuffed piquillo peppers and puree, simmer with a bit of heavy cream, and reduce a bit over the stove. Pour the sauce over the stuffed peppers.

                      3) Pa amb Tomaquet (in Catalan) can be assembled ahead of time. Or you can serve it in a more rustic way as they do in a lot of restaurants in the countryside: a basket of toasted bread, cloves of garlic, and bowl of pureed tomatoes (or you can put out whole tomatoes too) so that people can assemble it themselves.

                      4)For the summer, I'd go for "white sangria" or sangria made with cava. I think there are several recipes on the board if you search. You can use Frexinet which is pretty cheap (about $6-7 per bottle at Astor).

                      Good luck and let us know how it turned out!

                      1. Wow! This is incredibly helpful. Many thanks for the terrific suggestions and answers to my questions.

                        I went to Despana this evening and had a truly lovely experience there. I enjoyed trying all the samples and the men working there were very generous. They even gave me a free bag of bittersweet paprika, so now I have both that and the spicy paprika! Which do I use when?

                        Okay, you've all convinced me that I should make gazpacho. Unfortunately, I'm housesitting right now and can't find a food processor or even a blender in the apartment! Is it possible to make gazpacho by hand?

                        Finally, re the pastéis de bacalhau: I was inspired by Carb Lover's report on making these, and am using the recipe she recommended from Leite's Culinaria. I guess my menu has a pan-Iberian, not exclusively Spanish, theme to it. Perhaps it's not all the most authentic, but as long as it's delicious, I'll be happy!

                        1. gazpatcho is orriginally made by hand. take a big bowl, and some sort of implement to crush with(like a large nmortar and pestile). put in some chunks of bread and olive oil, and a little water. pound until bread is disolved cut up veggies, and pound some more. if you're using tomatoes, pick out the skins. add any veggies you want chunky, toss in some salt, a little sherry vin, and maybe a pinch of crushed red pepper. done! that's the traditional, spanish way of doing it. everything can be done without the food processer/blender/standing mixer- they just make the job easier.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ashwood

                            As an aside on the Gazpacho, all the recipes I have (traditional Spanish ones) call for straining the soup through a strainer or chinois, pressing with the back of the spoon to get all of the flavor out. Then, a small amount of garnish might be added, depending on the recipe. My sense is that traditional Spanish gazpacho bears little resemblance to the chunky soup often called gazpacho in American restaurants.

                            Here's a link to a gazpacho recipe on www.tienda.com - note - no straining and refers to using a mortar and pestle. http://www.tienda.com/recipes/andalus...

                          2. We have found the MArcona Almonds at COSTCO in a can.

                            The shrimp in garlic is usually served still sizzling. You can have everything prepared ahead of time, and after people arrive, excuse yourself for 3 minutes and quickly do the shrimp. You can have the shrimp.

                            A great dessert you can serve is the Spanish Tarte De Santiago, it is a spanish almond cake. Sometimes it can be found in Itialian bakeries.

                            Jamon Serrano is always a winner.

                            Good Luck!

                            1. Tortilla a la espanola in only occasionally served with a sauce, per Penelope Casas' cookbook TAPAS. Here's the basic sauce recipe:

                              Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and saute 1 small onion, finely chopped, and 1 clove garlic, minced, until onion is wilted. Add 1 small tomato, chopped, turn up the heat, and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup of chicken broth and a few strands saffron. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then strain, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in pimiento strips, cut from half a pimiento. Cut the tortilla in 1.5 inch squares. Place in the sauce, cover and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature and serve.

                              I don't think it sounds particularly good, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

                              1. Quick question: Despana was out of sweet paprika, so I now have hot and bittersweet. Can the bittersweet be used in place of sweet? Specifically, can it be used in the chickpea-spinach stew (which I just started--with the bittersweet--before realizing that the recipe specified sweet, not smoked paprika!). Do I need to throw it out, go find sweet paprika, and start again, or will it be okay this way?


                                1. Hi Chowhounders. I too am planning a Spanish Tapas party in March for over 40 people. I actually won a 30lb cured Serrano Ham, which gave me the idea to do Tapas. I've read all the posts in this tread, and its' a little old so some of the links are broken. I wonder if anyone else has any additional ideas that centre around how to use this 30lbs of Serrano? Ya, there is ham/melon (figs- can't be found around here at this time of year) and maybe some ham wrapped dates. Any other ideas out there? Or current links to get the creative juices flowing?

                                  I'd like to do the bulk of the cooking in advance if possible.


                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: TSAW

                                    TSAW, congratulations on your win.

                                    I am a bit of a traditionalist so my principal comment is this: Make the Serrano the centerpiece of the party by mounting it on a Serrano ham holder, which will both display and permit proper slicing of the ham.
                                    Serve it in small thin slices with other Spanish foods like Spanish olives, cheese (Manchego is terrific) and several Spanish wines like Tempranillo, Garnacha, or Palomino, and include a couple of sherrys. like a Fino and an Oloroso, or whatever you prefer. Bear in mind you will need a wine sufficiently robust to counter the saltiness of the ham.
                                    Finding some simple traditional tapas recipes with Serrano can be accomplished with a Google search. I would avoid the temptation to either get too fancy, or to stray from traditional recipes, which are typically the easiest. Remember the ham is clearly the star.

                                    OTOH, if you want to impress your foodie friends even more, you could do a search for some of Ferran Adria's simpler recipes using Serrano. There are a few that are on the net that a normal person could make at home.

                                    1. re: Scary Bill

                                      I agree that it would be a nice idea to use the Serrano as a centerpiece for the party, with several other (perhaps non-meat) options, such as tortilla. If there are links that I've posted that are out of date, I'd be happy to try to find the right information. In terms of slicing it really thin - I've often had it sliced not quite so thin, and, as with prosciutto, I actually prefer it that way.

                                    2. re: TSAW

                                      That is a good prize!!! My advice is to slice it as thin as possible.

                                      1. re: TSAW

                                        To echo what the others have said: stick with a tapas and/or bocadillos theme and serve it as the centerpiece with
                                        Olives, pimento, buns, machego cheese, membrillo (Quince paste), boquerones, patatas bravas, tortilla patatas, gambas y ajillo, olive oil, tomatoes, fruit, nuts, etc...and lots and lots of Spanish wine.

                                        Sharpen your longest ham knife (or have it sharpened). If you don't have a ham holder (and most people don't) and don't have access to one, you might have to DIY something.

                                        1. re: fmed

                                          Thanks for all the great ideas. I would love to use the ham as a centrepiece but no, don't have a ham stand (until I won this, I had no idea what a ham stand was!). I'm not much of a DIY person but maybe I can think of something. I have a very good deli-meat slicer. I plan to cut off a chunk of the ham and use the slicer to cut it. I am not sure hand cutting would make those nice thin slices.

                                          I plan to stick to tapas, with the bulk of it being done in advance. Some ideas I have the incorporate ham are; melon soup shots w/ham on top, Serrano stuffed tomatos or mushrooms, ham croquettes, crustini topped with Serrano & manchego, asparagus wrapped w/Serrano. All just ideas at this stage.

                                          I had planned to make a red sangria and cava sangria, various spanish wine and beer.I hadn't thought of the sherry. Great idea. thanks ScaryBill.

                                          If anyone could add to the plan or figure out a make shift ham holder (I barely have tools!), I'd appreciate it.

                                          1. re: TSAW

                                            I caution you about using an electric slicer...the reason why it is better to slice by hand is that an electric slicer creates friction which melts a bit of the fat. The slices turn out tasting a bit greasy and have a greasy mouthfeel. If you can dial down the speed, it might work just fine, however. You should test it.

                                            Re: ham holder - if you plan to slice it with a machine, then you won't need one. I'm fairly handy so I can imagine building such a thing using wood I have in my garage. (I do have access to one, so I haven't bothered).

                                            You can buy them online for about $100. But if you want to take a stab at DIY, I would start with an old wooden cutting board, screw on an wooden upright with a notch to hold the shank...so you can then strap it down with wire or steel plumbers tape. Use screws that penetrate upwards through the cutting board to create gripping "teeth" to hold the meaty end onto the board. You can get fancier than this, of course, - with clamps, etc.

                                            Have a look at these cool ones for inspiration:

                                            1. re: TSAW

                                              Spanish sherry is one of the world's most unappreciated wines considering the time and investment it takes to make it properly and the incredible depth and complexities achieved by the winemakers.
                                              If you do not know much about sherry, go to a place like Willow Park and have the very knowledgeable staff there help you pick one or two out. Tell them what you are doing and they will match the Serrano with the proper sherries. Harvey's Bristol Cream is unfortunately what most people think of when they think of sherry, but it is truly the baloney of the sherry world.

                                          2. re: TSAW

                                            Jamon serrano looks pretty wrapped around bundles of baby arugula. But I agree, the best way to serve it is in slices on its own.

                                            I just had a tapas party myself, and can recommend the following recipes/tapas ideas:

                                            tortilla espanola: http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/recipe...
                                            salted boiled new potatoes with red (or green) mojo: http://www.weareneverfull.com/work-yo...

                                            The red sauce is incredibly delicious, esp. with smoked paprika.

                                            Also, I like serving blanched salted green beans with garlic aioli.

                                            Best of luck to you if you decide to make your own aioli. It is not easy, and if you're like me, it will turn out much more pungent (and "olivey") than you are prepared for. I've read that many restaurants start with good quality mayo, and now I understand why.