Simon Johnson Tapas
A mainstay of spanish culture, tapas is for many their first introduction to Spanish cuisine… and few are better placed to make such an introduction than the experts at SIMON JOHNSON.
Like many revered traditions, the origins of tapas are highly contested. Some say King Felipe III decreed taverns to serve food alongside alcoholic beverages in an attempt to limit public drunkenness. Others say tapas was borne out of post civil-war austerity. One story is that King Alfonso X of Castile restored himself to health with sips of wine alongside small snacks.
More credible however is the claim that the custom aligns with the Spanish verb tapar, meaning ‘to cover’, after innkeepers would serve slices of cured meat or bread with sherry, allowing the patron to cover their glasses to prevent flies tainting the precious contents within. Whatever their origins, we can all agree that tapas – small appetisers or snacks shared over drinks – make the world a better place.
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Zesty and fresh, these mild pickled peppers are the perfect tapa – on their own or as an accompaniment for cheese, olives and meats.
Refined andmelt-in-the-mouthtender, Ortiz anchovies are the ultimate tapas.
Merco Manchego DOP 12 months
Dense and buttery in aroma with flavours of toasted nuts, this sheep’s milk cheese is a must-have for any tapas board.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
Considered one of the world’s most exquisite and coveted delicacies, this cured ham is like nothing you've ever tasted.
PintXos Vs Tapas
Less well-known than tapas but similar in conception are pintxos, which originated in northern Spain’s Basque Country and Navarre. Pintxos differ from tapas by being served on a bread base, and are typically speared with a cocktail stick – hence pintxos, from the verb pinchar, meaning ‘to spear.’
Culture of Tapas
Spanish life is split in two, punctuated by a mid-afternoon siesta, meaning dinner can be anywhere from 9pm to midnight. After work the Spanish socialise with friends, going from bar to bar to sample bite-size portions to fill the gap until dinner. Today, it’s very popular for Spanish diners to consume an entire meal of tapas, which they refer to as tapear. If they plan on visiting more than one tapas bar during the evening, this is often referred to as ir de tapas.
Small appetisers or snacks shared over drinks – make the world a better place.
Quality is Everything
While most everyone knows the classic tapas staples of chorizo, fried peppers and patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy seasoning or sauce), more and more aficionados have developed their palates for ingredients of specifc provenance, or from producers with quality-driven reputations: Manchego from La Mancha, acorn-fed jamón from Jabugo, anchovies and sardines from the waters off San Sebastián, and guindillas – thin, green chilli peppers native to Basque Country – are all highly sought after tapas ingredients that chefs, and people in the know, seek out.
But what about here in Australia? The evolution of tapas culture in this country has certainly benefited from the increased availability of such ingredients over the years. Notably, SIMON JOHNSON has worked with numerous suppliers across Spain’s various regions to bring their authentic flavours to local plates. Here are a few classic products curated by the SIMON JOHNSON team for you to enjoy.
For 130 years the Ortiz family have been fishing the Cantabrian Coast on the Bay of Biscay. Their anchovies are the best in the world bar none, with everything done by hand – from the fishing to the deboning and preserving. The resulting product is intensely flavoured and beautifully textured with a fine salt profile. All Ortiz product are perfect tapa, need no accompaniments, and exemplify the less-is-more tapas spirit.
Known as 'little gems', Empeltre olives are hand selected and naturally cured in water for 12-14 month without salt. Hailing from Aragon in the north of Spain, these moreish black olives are a great tapa, as they have a slightly sweet, fleshy flavour that lends itself to dry wines and as an accompaniment to other salty ingredients.
The best known of all the Spanish cheeses, Manchego is a hard-pressed and matured sheep’s milk cheese made exclusively from the whole milk of the Manchega sheep, native to the arid but fertile La Mancha Plateau in central Spain. A supremely versatile tapa that can be added to almost anything or eaten unadulterated, its creamy, nutty and salty flavours make it an accompaniment for any wine, especially robust, tannic reds.
Guindilla peppers hail from Basque Country. Harvested young and pickled in white wine vinegar, they are sweet in flavour with mild heat and gentle spice, and have a mild, tart quality from the pickle which makes them unique. When combined with anchovies and olives on skewers, they create the famous Gilda pintxos, named for the Rita Hayworth film of the same name.
There is ham, and then there’s Cinco Jotas (5-star) jamón. Made from the cured leg of the black-footed Ibérian pig, fed on the acorns of the Holm oak, jamón Ibérico de bellota is the king of cured meat with a distinct, lingering nutty flavour, smooth texture and rich savoury taste: sweet, earthy and less salty than prosciutto. Sliced thinly and often served solo, it's considered the world over as a perfect food.
A SU Salud!
While many Australians may feel a natural urge to open a cold beer to enjoy with tapas, the traditional way remains the best, with many wine styles providing a natural flavour match for the variety. Tempranillo or Garnacha are ideal with most cured meats, while Albariño or Vermentino are well suited to seafood- or cheese-based tapas, but a good Rosé will prove a match for most any tapas dish. Happy grazing!