SEASONAL SPANISH FOOD by JOSE PIZARRO: A REAL SPANISH COOKBOOK FROM A REAL SPANISH CHEF
As regular readers of the blog will know, DH are often fairly disparaging about the state of Spanish restaurants in London. The road to bad tapas is littered with good intentions, dry plates of badly carved, over priced jamon and glasses of poorly chilled Manzanilla.
There is, however, one place (or should that be three places?) on which we cast a favourable eye, and those are the three restaurants which come under the banner of Britain's finest importer of Spanish food, Brindisa. We have yet to be delivered a bad meal in the Borough Market, South Ken or Soho branches and have returned to them for many repeat visits, which when the blog demands we are always looking for new and interesting places, speaks for itself.
There are a few reasons why the Brindisa offering is above the others in the city. One would obviously be the use of exemplary ingredients, which are from the range imported from the mother company. The second would be the ambiance, which is as close as we have found in the capital to our experiences in Spain without it becoming a theme park.
The main reason, obviously is the food, which is overseen by DH's favourite Spanish chef in London, Jose Pizarro. Those of you who were lucky enough to attend the DINE WITH DH at Casa Brindisa will have sampled some of JP's best dishes. Over many lunches I have had as many enjoyable conversations with him about his past as a child in Extremadura (Jamon Iberico country) his time as a head chef at the Michelin starred El Mesón de Doña Filo and now his role as Executive Chef for the three branches in the mini chain of Brindisa restaurants.
I am delighted to then, quite shamelessly, shill his splendid new book SEASONAL SPANISH FOOD, published a few weeks ago by Kyle Cathie. It is full of the sort of recipes that you might actually want to eat and although self effacing Jose Pizarro may not yet be receiving the plaudits of some of London's other would be Iberian experts (think Sam & Sam and Sam & Eddie) the fact that the Spanish Ambassador offered him the Embassy in which to hold his launch party tells you all you need to know about the regard in which he is held by his countrymen.
SEASONAL SPANISH FOOD contains many excellent recipes, but For DH, there is only one test of a Spanish chef's chops and that is by the quality of his croquetas. The outside should be crisp and break to reveal a soft bechamel studded with jamon or flakes of salt cod. Brindisa's are the best in London and I am pleased that JP has agreed to share his recipe with us.
It is well worth a try, as indeed is the book worth seeking out.
Croquetas are one of the most popular dishes in Tapas Brindisa; we make around one hundred and fifty every day. I spent ages perfecting this recipe. Usually the roux is made with butter, but I use olive oil because I think it gives a better flavour.
In Spanish delis you can often buy cubed Ibérico ham (left over from carving the legs), which is ideal for this recipe – meat from close to the bone has the best flavour. If you cannot get hold of Ibérico ham, use Serrano ham instead, or indeed other cured hams such as speck or Parma ham.
Croquetas are a bit of a fiddle to make, but they can be frozen and make
great party food, so have a go.
Makes 15 to 20 croquetas
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ small leek, diced as small as possible – 3mm pieces
70g Ibérico or other air-dried ham, diced very small
60g plain flour
75ml ham or vegetable stock
325ml whole milk
freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground
75g plain flour
2 large eggs, beaten
oil, for frying
Heat the olive oil in a pan until it starts to shimmer, then add the leek and sauté until soft but not coloured. Stir in the ham, fry for another minute, then stir in the flour and fry over a medium heat until the mixture is golden but not burnt. This will take about 5 minutes. It is important that the flour is cooked properly otherwise the croquetas will taste of flour.
Combine the stock and milk in a small pan and heat until hot but not boiling. Season the liquid with a few scrapes of nutmeg. Gradually add the liquid to the roux, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring the mixture all the time. Once you have incorporated all the milk, continue to cook the sauce for about 5 minutes until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan when you stir it. At this stage, add a couple of turns of the pepper mill, taste the roux and adjust the salt if necessary – the ham can be very salty to start with. The sauce is now done: it’s got to be really thick because you don’t want the croquetas to turn into pancakes! Smooth the sauce on to a baking tray (30cm x 20cm is fine) then cover with clingfilm to stop the mixture drying out. Leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge for an hour.
When you are ready for the next stage, line up three bowls: one with flour, the other with beaten egg, and the third with the breadcrumbs. Dust your hands with flour, take a ball and roll it between your palms. The size of the croquettes is up to you, but the easiest is a walnut-sized ball. Next, dunk the croqueta into the flour – you want more of dusting than a coat – followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Put the croquetas on a tray and when you’ve used up all the mixture, put them all back in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If you have a deep fat fryer, heat the oil to 175°C/325°F and fry the croquetas for a couple of minutes. If not, heat the oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, then add 3 or 4 croquetas at a time and fry until they are golden all over. You don’t want them to cook too quickly otherwise the centre won’t be hot enough.