Whether you’re throwing a tapas party or just making a simple sherry viniagrette, authentic Spanish ingredients make all the difference. The region’s most renowned delicacies include:
1. Chorizo: Consisting primarily of pork, pimentón, and garlic, this dry-cured sausage adds a meaty note to stews, pastas, and eggs. Some dry-cured chorizos are hard and ready to eat. Others are softer (though not raw) and benefit from a little cooking; that’s what you want for Sautéed Chorizo.
2. Sherry vinegar: Sharply acidic with sweet sherry undertones, this vinegar has become my everyday vinegar at home. Use it instead of red-wine vinegar and you’ll never go back.
3. Manchego: Spain’s most well-known cheese is made from sheep’s milk and always features a basket weave pattern on its rind. Look for aged manchegos (1 year or older), which have a firmer texture and nutty flavor.
4. Piquillo peppers: These pointy-tipped little peppers (piquillo means “little beak”) are slow-roasted over a wood fire, peeled by hand, and canned or jarred in nothing but their juices. They have a wonderfully sweet flavor with a kick. Traditionally they’re stuffed with salt cod, but I use them in pastas, sandwiches, omelets, sauces, or anywhere else I might use a roasted bell pepper.
5. Pimentón: This is Spanish smoked paprika, and it can be sweet (dulce), spicy (picante), or sweet-spicy (agridulce). Use it as you would paprika, and you’ll find its smoky flavor adds an intriguing background note to whatever you’re cooking.
6. Jamón Serrano: This cured ham looks just like Italian prosciutto, but its unique curing and aging process translates into more complex and intense flavors. Salty, sweet, rich, and mellow, jamón (pronounced ha-MOHN) serrano surely makes the best ham sandwich you’ll ever have. It’s just starting to appear in regular supermarkets in the United States and is usually available in specialty food shops. Sliced paper thin and set on a plate alone or with manchego cheese, jamón serrano is the simplest tapa of all.
Where to buy it
Many of the Spanish ingredients are available at specialty food shops, and some, such as manchego cheese and sherry vinegar, can be found in supermarkets. If you have trouble finding piquillo peppers, jamón serrano, chorizo, pimentón, or anything else from Spain, you’ll find it at Tienda.com. Despaña Brand Foods in Jackson Heights, New York (718-779-4971), also has a full selection of products, as does Zingermans.com.