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Spanish pintxos: the other tapas

Spanish pintxos: the other tapas

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Spain are reigning world champions; not only in football but, to my mind, in the art of small food as well.

Most of us will, of course, think of traditional tapas when our minds turn to Iberian food: of rustic bars in sweltering old towns, with gorgeous pata negra Iberico hams hanging behind the counter; of bills being written in chalk upon the countertops; of small plates of anchovies, piquillo peppers, fried chorizo and squid in round brown dishes, usually served by an impatient native; and of glasses of sherry to start it all off – bliss.

But there is another way – the way of northern Spain (and a little bit of France) in what is called Basque Country and Navarre. It’s called pintxos, or pinchos, and it’s utterly delicious.

Pintxos is a form of tapas, or finger food – hors d’oeuvres if you’re posh (or French) – and everything has a cocktail stick in it. The Spanish word for cocktail stick is, of course, “pincho”. The snacks are often served on a slice of bread and, slightly differently from their southern counterparts, all the food available can be seen on the countertop rather than being prepared in the privacy of the kitchen.

The pintxos capital is undoubtedly San Sebastian, which, along with Lyon and Sicily, could easily claim the title of foodie hotspot of Europe. It is a small town with a heavenly beach, and for a large chunk of each afternoon turns into a ghost town. Where does everyone go? Well those who aren’t having a siesta or a swim are enjoying the often thrillingly innovative snacks in pintxos bars with a glass of wine or cold beer.

Given that San Sebastian is a coastal town, a strong fishing heritage comes across in the pinxtos, with cod, hake, anchovies, octopus and squid playing the starring role in a majority of the dishes. Last time I went there I had cod brains! It was more delicious than it sounds, albeit a tad salty.

Some of the bars offer fancier versions, including lobster with caviar, cured rabbit ragùs and artichoke intertwined with some of that insanely beautiful Iberico ham. It can be a true art form.

However, the fussy foreigner’s palate is always catered to, with traditional mainstays such as salt cod croquettes – a fantastic recipe for which I’ve included below – olives, and tortilla (omelette) always being available.

In San Sebastian you don’t just visit one pintxos bar, you visit nearly all of the bars along the strip. So if you find yourself there don’t be shy; just point at what you want and they will plate it up.

In the meantime, though, give these wicked Salt cod croquettes a try – they’re very simple to make and are a perfect introduction to northern Spain’s answer to tapas.

Salt cod croquettes recipe (croquetas de bacalao)


  • 250g of salted cod (the wet stuff, not the bone dry) soaked in water overnight
  • 1 large baked potato, cooked and cooled
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 large egg
  • 40ml double cream
  • Breadcrumbs, for coating
  • Plain flour, for coating
  • 500ml milk (or enough to cover fish)


Rinse off the cod and poach it in a saucepan of simmering milk for 15 minutes. Remove cod and allow it to cool, then flake into a bowl (checking for any bones) with the potato flesh, cream, lemon zest and a glug of olive oil.

Check for seasoning (you won’t need much salt) and gently combine the ingredients, then shape into croquettes (half a sausage length) and leave in fridge for 1 hour.

Line up three bowls containing the flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs (the spiky Japanese ones known as panko are best), respectively.

Take a croquette, coat it in flour, then dip in egg and finally coat entirely in breadcrumbs.

Deep fry them in hot oil for 3-4 minutes, then serve with lemon wedges and slices of cold, marinated red peppers.

For more countries from Jamie’s Foodie World Cup, click here.

Header image taken from Jamie’s Tapas feast recipe.

Pintxos (Basque Style Tapas) and Côtes de Gascogne Wine Pairing

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Flavorful ingredients piled onto thick slices of baguette make for a fun and unique party appetizer or pre-dinner tapas snack.

This month, the French Winophiles crew is taking a look to the Southwest of France. This region falls just south of the well known Bordeaux region is a lesser-known wine region, but it still produces some incredible wines.

Image of South West France (wine region) from Wikipedia

From the SEa

Basque fishermen have been sailing the northern Atlantic since the eleventh century. While following the whale, which at the time was the most treasured catch, they encountered banks of cod off the coasts of Terranova (Newfoundland) in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

On nearby islands, some settlements still carry Basque names, and salt cod, or bacalao, is a hallmark of Basque cuisine. Some historians believe that Basques landed in America before the arrival of Columbus, but while explorers and discoverers proudly proclaim their findings, fishermen never disclose the source of their catch.

The sea has always provided nourishment for the Basques. Squid, preferably the small ones called txipirones, are cooked in an onion sauce with their ink, to produce txipirones en su tinta. The deep black of the sauce initially evokes curiosity and sometimes aversion in the uninitiated, but after the first bite, reservations dissolve in the velvety texture of the squid and sublime taste of the sauce.

Though more and more scarce, merluza (hake), or lebatza in Basque, from the Bay of Biscay knows no paragon (with all due respect to its austral relative from the southern seas). The darker-skinned Basque hake has firm, delicious flesh. Cooks typically panfry the medallions from the upper body and either roast the tail in one piece or cut it crosswise into "steaks" for merluza en salsa verde, the classical green sauce preparation.

Merluza en Salsa Verde: This recipe is one of the front-runners of traditional Basque cooking. Salsa verde appears in many dishes: with clams alone, with monkfish or fresh cod, or with a combination of clams and hake, as in this recipe.

Marmitako, the potato and tuna stew originally prepared by fishermen on their boats, has become a standard offering in many restaurants. The tuna belly, called ventresca (or ijada in Basque), is extremely juicy, flakes beautifully, and is the best tuna for salads. It is usually roasted in the oven with just a little garlic and a splash of olive oil.

Bacalao, or salt cod, is a staple of the Basque kitchen. Basques are masters of the art of turning a stale and salty fish into something sumptuous, specially when prepared pil-pil style, in an emulsion of the cod's gelatin and olive oil. Other cod preparations, such as a la vizcaína, Club Ranero, and ajoarriero, the latter a loan from neighboring Navarra, are also popular.

A la vizcaína, or Biscayne style, describes a dish cooked in salsa vizcaína, a dried-pepper sauce. The dried peppers, called choriceros because of their importance in the production of chorizo sausages, are harvested at the end of the summer when ripe and hung from the facades of farmhouses to dry. The area surrounding Gernika is famous for these sweet and delicate peppers.

Those not destined for drying are harvested while still green, fried with olive oil, and served as accompaniment to meats and fish, and sometimes alone as a first course. Delicious red beans also come from Gernika, although Alubias Rojas de Tolosa are better known. Both are equally tender and buttery and usually cooked with sausages in a stew, supplanting the chickpea stews so popular in other areas of Spain.

Alubias Rojas de Tolosa: The dried red beans of the region are particularly flavorful and thus highly prized. If you should visit Tolosa one day, seek out one of the numerous bars or restaurants there that serves this red bean stew, which is traditionally accompanied with the spicy-hot pickled peppers known as guindillas.

Rape con vinagreta picante: Topping grilled fish with a spicy vinaigrette is one of the preferred ways to prepare fish fillets in Spain. It is specially popular in the Basque Country, where establishments known as asadores, basically grill houses, specialize in fish a la espalda, or "on its back", a name derived from cooking the fillets skin side down on a grill. Here I have used monkfish cut into medalions and pan searing instead of grilling and paired it with the same excellent vinaigrette 

A Trio of Pinchos: Basque Country Favorites

Three recipes for the price of one today! Pinchos, or pintxos, are a Spanish snack related to tapas, but usually served on bread and skewered with toothpicks to keep the toppings on the bread (and to keep track of how many one’s eaten as the toothpicks pile up). We tried pinchos for the first time when traveling in Spain a few years ago, and there were a ton of tasty topping combinations.

We’ve created three of our own versions, which are easy to prepare and look really impressive as an appetizer. You could even make a few different kinds and serve them with a nice salad for dinner. My favorite version, which should be no surprise, involves pork belly and peppers. Of the three, the Pork Belly with Green Pepper Pinchos are the only version that I actually tasted in Spain. They were made with small, green, and somewhat mild padrón peppers that were often deep-fried, salted, and served as tapas with lots of cold beer. We substituted long hot green peppers, which are easier to find, and taste somewhat similar. We also added lemon zest, which really created a nice contrast to the rich pork belly.

Check out all three versions of our Spanish pinchos recipes below!


Pork Belly Pinxtos were made with small, green, and somewhat mild padrón peppers that were often deep-fried, salted, and served as tapas with lots of cold beer.

  • 8 oz. pork belly
  • 2 long hot green peppers
  • 1 small baguette, sliced
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, plus more for garnish
  • chopped parsley, for garnish

Slice the pork belly ¼ inch thick slices.

Remove the seeds from the peppers, and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Slice the baguette and lay the slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toast them lightly in the oven. In a bowl, combine the garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, salt, and lemon zest. Rub the spices into the pork belly.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium high heat, and sear the pork belly and peppers on both sides.

The pork should be nicely browned but not too crispy. The peppers should be wilted and browned. Assemble the pinchos by placing the pork belly on each piece of toasted bread with a seared pepper on top. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt, lemon zest, and chopped parsley.


The second pincho is a Steak & Chimichurri pincho. Chimichurri is an Argentinian condiment made with parsley and garlic, and with steak, the combination of flavors in incredible.

  • 12 oz. sirloin steak
  • 1 small baguette, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pat the steak dry and season with salt. Heat a cast iron pan over high heat, add a bit of olive oil, and cook the steak to desired doneness. It should have a good sear on both sides. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes while making the chimichurri. In a bowl, combine the parsley, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Slice the steak and distribute the slices over the bread.

Top each with a little dollop of chimichurri. The combination of flavors will blow your mind!


Our third and final version is a Gambas al Ajillo Pincho. Gambas al Ajillo, or shrimp with garlic oil, is a really common tapas item in Spain. Really easy, and really good.

  • 1 pound shrimp (21-25 size, peeled, deveined)
  • 1 small baguette, sliced
  • 1 head of garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Clean the shrimp and pat dry. Slice and toast the baguette.

Peel all the garlic and mince finely. Add to a pan over medium low heat with ¼ cup olive oil. We have this clay pot from Spain, but any pan will work. Keep stirring, allowing the garlic to sizzle lightly (you want to make sure not to burn the garlic) for a few minutes. Add the paprika and salt and stir.

Bring the heat up to medium and add the shrimp to the pan. Let the shrimp cook for 90 seconds, flip, and add the white wine. Let everything cook together for another 2 minutes, or until the shrimp is just cooked through. Place shrimp on toasted bread, drizzle with garlic oil, and garnish with parsley.

Please try each of these Spanish pinchos recipes and then comment and rate them!

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Origin of tapas: History

There are many myths about tapas. Some people say tapas were originated by the farmers, who said eating small portions while drinking a small glass of wine, provided them more energy to keep working.

But the most famous stories come from two Spanish kings. The first one says that when Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise), was ill, he needed small amounts of food and wine to recover. Once he got better, he ordered all the bars to start serving small snacks with the wine.

The second story is from Fernando VII. It says, Fernando VII visited once a restaurant and ordered a glass of wine. The wine had a slice of cheese on the top, even though he knew it was used to cover the wine from bugs, he decided to eat it (his court did the same), since then he always ordered the wine with a “tapa”.

Patatas Alioli: Alioli Potatoes

This is a garlic lover's tapa—fried, warm chunks of potatoes are smothered with alioli sauce, a garlic mayonnaise. Traditional Spanish alioli includes only olive oil and garlic which gets its thickness from intense emulsifying so this alioli potatoes recipe includes egg yolks to speed up the process.

You can serve patatas alioli with patatas bravas as the "bravas" and alioli sauces will compliment each other.

Pulpo a Feira

Though it originated in Galicia or the neighboring region of leon, pulpo a feira, as it is known in Galician, or pulpo a la gallega, as it is called in Spanish, is now popular throughout Spain. It is usually served on wooden plates with cachelos, potatoes that have been boiled or roasted in embers with their skins on.

The Author: Easy Tapas Recipes

Read full Recipe: Easy Tapas Recipes

Photo credits: © Food Lover Tour

How do you eat Spanish tapas?

While tapas are often thought of as a simple snack alongside a drink, it's often more about sharing and eating gradually - you can easily make a meal out of them (see more ideas in what are tapas).

You can mix and match a range of dishes, but here I've gone for a few favorites that provide a range of flavors that all come together to make a delicious, easy meal.

Some of these Spanish tapas are so easy I'd hardly call them recipes, but they still make great little dishes. It might look like a lot of ingredients and different things to put together, but nothing takes much preparation. Plus to me, half the fun of tapas is trying a few things.

Pan con tomate y jamon - Bread with tomato and ham

Pan con tomate (or pa amb tomaquet, in Catalan, where it originates) is a classic in Spanish tapas. You'll often get it on the side whatever you order, particularly in Catalunya where I first had it. As the name suggests, it's bread with tomato, but it's so much better than just that thanks to some good oil and garlic.

Traditionally in Catalunya, you rub toasted bread with a garlic clove, then rub it with the cut side of a tomato and drizzle on olive oil, but in other parts of Spain, it's common to make a tomato, garlic and oil blend to then spread over the bread, toasted or untoasted - you can see more about how to make both in my pan con tomate post.

It's so simple but has a great flavor and is great to then top with other things, Adding serrano ham is one of the most common, but you can also get various pizza-like llescas (Catalan bread pizza) that start with the pan tomate base. If you can't find serrano ham, then prosciutto is a close alternative.

Manchego y membrillo - Manchego cheese and quince paste

Manchego is a classic Spanish cheese and a common way to serve it is with membrillo, a quince paste. I can get both Manchego and membrillo in my local Wholefoods but if you can't get them, you could use another good-quality flavorful hard cheese (ideally aged sheep's milk to be in similar style) and honey instead. The two together are a lovely pairing, either alone or on top of bread.

Spain doesn't tend to do that broad a range of desserts and so cheese, particularly with membrillo, is a common menu item instead. If cheese is your thing, also take a look at my Spanish cheese plate where you'll see tips on different Spanish cheeses and what else to add.

Ensalada de naranja y aguacate - Orange and avocado salad

Many Spanish salads are incredibly simple, as you can see is the case here. Simple slices of oranges, avocado, red onion and some black olives lightly dressed with oil and vinegar.

Orange and avocado are common crops in the South and you'll find olives in many areas of Spain. Many Spanish dishes are all about using good quality ingredients and letting them shine and this is certainly one of them.

Ensaladilla rusa - Russian salad/potato salad

Somewhere along the way the Spanish have adopted what they call Russian salad by adapting a potato salad, which was probably more commonly made with ham originally, as their own. It can be simply potato, mayonnaise and peas but it's commonly a mix of carrots and peas and tuna in there as well, along with some red onion, oil and vinegar.

I know this isn't strictly no-cook, but it's a great way to use up leftover cooked potatoes. It's a dish that goes with pretty much anything and was something we'd often get as part of a selection of tapas when I lived in Spain.

Gazpacho - Chilled tomato/vegetable soup

I shared a recipe for gazpacho previously but it seemed only right to include it here as it fits in perfectly with the uncooked tapas theme. It's also very simple to make (see full details, including how-to video, in other post).

None of these dishes take more than a few minutes to make so they are perfect for warm days. So don't despair if you don't feel like cooking: these simple cold Spanish tapas are the perfect solution for summer. Lots of great flavor with little effort.

12 Fresh Homemade Pasta Recipes

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Free Tapas

In Southern Spain there are some cities which are known for their free tapas. I´m lucky to live in one of them: Granada. Also nearby the cities of Jaen & Almeria also offer complimentary snacks with drinks.

Choosing your tapa

When you go to a tapas place serving free tapas, you get what that have that day. Sometimes there isn´t a choice. As you drink a second or third round the tapa is different. This photo above of Guacamole on white bread with some cold cuts and olives was a complimentary tapa in Granada we didn´t choose it.

Then some other places have a different system. Blackboards or menus on tables with tapas lists of their selection. You choose. This menu pictured above is from a tapas bar in Almeria. The free tapa I choose is called a Tuna Cherigan. Depending on the bar, some don´t like to prepare four different tapas for four people. They may suggest two kinds of tapa for one group or family.

It depends if they are busy and how they are organised.

5 ways to throw a pintxos party

Depending on who you ask, pintxo translates to ‘spike' (hence the use of toothpicks through foods), small plates, or the one we subscribe to an excuse to socialise.

The Basque country and Navarre's take on finger food hails from the north of Spain, with the stunning coastal town of San Sebastian arguably its HQ.

For the transient tourist, pintxos (pronounced peen-tchos) could easily be mistaken for tapas, but the bite-size, flavour-jammed morsels vary slightly from their southern counterparts. The town’s strong fishing history means seafood is a star contender, with salt cod (bacalao), octopus, mussels, anchovies, lobster and hake all abounding.

In San Sebastian particularly, Spanish chefs have applied French nouvelle cuisine techniques to their tapa creations, lending more time to presentation.

The Basque country is dotted with bars where jocular locals and tourists elbow it out to swipe small plates off the counter. The floor is a sea of crumbs and napkins beer and wine is swilled with loud conviviality. Pintxos is not a meal to be savoured – diners usually move onto the next bar after a few plates for the next round: it’s the ultimate progressive meal.

While we save for our next trip to the land of siestas and sangria, we do so without abstaining from this laidback fete par excellence. Here’s everything you need to know to throw your own pintxos party - sans the view. Sorry.

You don’t eat pintxos alone

Squeeze in as many people as you can to really recreate that stuffy, sweaty San Sebastian pintxos bar vibe. If you’re feeling game, add a few neighbours or folks you’re not so acquainted with to the fold – pintxos bars are always teeming with people just off work, hungry and keen to chat. You’re almost certain to walk away with new acquaintances at best this is not a romantic meal for two.

First, get rid of the furniture

This is also not a sit-down dinner. Bar tables are the order of the day and if you don’t have those, make use of any counters or bench tops, which will house all your lovely, overcrowded raciones (plates to share). Put the dining chairs away, too your home will never look so spacious.

There are no set rules

The only limit is your imagination! Go with piquant flavour pairings, plenty of seafood, and food on sticks. A gilda (a skewered, oily, olive, anchovy and pickled chilli combo) is one such Bilbao hit, as is the bacon and sausage fry-up, the cazuelitas. Slider-like buns also appear on many pintxos menus, so don’t be afraid to give yours a Spanish flavour injection with help from pimiento and paprika. We love Mate in Spain and Encasa Deli in Sydney for stocking up our Spanish spice and smallgoods rack.

A Banderillas is a must

Spain’s answer to the grazing board is crammed with marinated artichoke hearts, Piquillo peppers, white tuna and anchovies, pickled herring, jamón, food skewered onto toothpicks and bread with garlicky, tomatoey smears. Banderillas encourage mingling faster than any icebreaker - what’s more communal than dropping squid juice on someone you barely know?

Finally, the menu!

As we mentioned above, there are no hard and fasts, but should you need a little pintxos inspo, look no further:

Spiced pork skewers (pintxos morunos)

This speedy, skewered barbecue pork is the ultimate no-fuss party food. The zingy roast capsicum mayo (salsa de pimiento) on top will have guests lifting their elbowing game. Recipe here.