“A little, often” — Traditional Spanish saying regarding the ideal way to eat. 

Next time you have a party — standing up, sitting down, or a bit of both — consider impressing your guests with a spread of tapas, the small plates of varied, tempting bites featured in bars across Spain. 

They often involve seafood, fresh or conservas, preserved in cans or small glass jars. 

Your guests will enjoy a selection of tastes to sample, but you won’t need to work especially hard. These recipes are easy and can be prepared in advance so you can be eating and drinking with your friends rather than rushing around in the kitchen. 

Tale of the tapas

One classic is Gambas al ajillo, or garlic prawns (you can use shrimp as well). Salt and pepper roughly a pound of prawns. Smash up two or three cloves of fresh garlic and sauté them in olive oil for 10 minutes, on medium heat, pressing down with a heavy spoon to squeeze out the juice, until they’re golden brown. Remove the garlic. Turn up the heat and add prawns to the garlic-infused oil, cooking them until charred. Add fresh minced garlic and sauté another moment. Transfer prawns to a serving dish and sprinkle with parsley and red pepper flakes. 

You can use the same approach to create a separate plate of garlic mushrooms. 

seafood tapas marinated king prawns with cherry tomatoes and basil olive oil
The perfect seafood tapas plates combine two simple ingredients – such as shrimp and marinated sun dried tomatoes – to make a distinctive, delicious “bite.”

Gambas y chorizo, or shrimp with spicy sausage. For this dish, you’ll toss your pound of shelled shrimp with salt, pepper, and paprika and sear them in olive oil for about two minutes a side. Remove the shrimp but cook the sliced chorizo in the same pan for no more than five minutes, until slightly crispy. Add diced onion and minced garlic and cook another two minutes. Then add chicken stock, halved cherry tomatoes, more tomatoes (either canned or fresh), and paprika. When the sauce has thickened, put the shrimp in for a minute to coat them in the sauce. Serve with chopped parsley and lemon wedges. 

Vieiras y chorizo, or scallops with spicy sausage. This dish is entirely different from the tomato-based preparation above. Cook roughly a pound of chorizo until brown. Then add two or three tablespoons of finely chopped scallions and sliced hot peppers (remove the seeds). Now add about a pound of scallops and sauté for no more than three minutes a side. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle honey over everything, stirring to coat the chorizo and scallops evenly. 

Traditional Spanish seafood tapas selection
For visual interest, vary the plates as well as their contents.

Ceviche is surprisingly easy. Marinate shrimp or scallops in an acidic juice of your choice — lemon, lime, grapefruit, or even balsamic vinegar will work. Leave the seafood there for 30 minutes or longer if you prefer, but no more than three hours, otherwise things get mushy. 

Calamares a la Romana or calamares fritos is simply fried squid rings. Cut the squid into rings. Put flour and a bit of salt into a large plastic bag. Drop a few rings at a time into the bag to coat them. Take them out one at a time and place them in a large frying pan with about a half inch of olive oil at the bottom, on high heat (but not so high the oil smokes). Let them drain on a paper towel and serve hot with lemon wedges. You can also try this recipe in an air fryer. 

Pasteles de cangrejo or crab cakes. Use your favorite crab cake recipe. For a Spanish twist, try this New York Times recipe for red pepper crab croquetas with garlic almond sauce. Croquetas can be eaten in two bites or popped in your mouth whole. They may be made of potatoes, cauliflower, ham, or crab, with a béchamel center made of butter and milk. 

Smoked mussels and sardines. In Spain and Portugal, it’s a gourmet treat if you serve high-quality canned seafood called conservas, typically as tapas accompanied by salty potato chips and a glass of wine. You might serve smoked mussels and sardines in two flavors — with tomato sauce and in olive oil and red pepper. 

seafood tapas sardines and tomatoes on toasted bread
Hard to beat smoked sardines on bread as a tapas treat – the small fish are perfect for small plates.

Your classy tapas spread will be complete with a plate of tortilla de patata, or potato omelet, marinated olives with toothpicks, and slices of Manchego cheese and Serrano jamón (ham), with plenty of crusty bread. 

And don’t forget the sangria

seafood tapas with grilling Salmon Banner ad collection link

Temma Ehrenfeld has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her novel "Morgan" is available at bookstores.

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