Nibble nirvana: Mark Hix's bite-sized brilliance and tapas treats
Saturday 07 November 2009
In the bar below my new restaurant in Soho, we are developing lots of delicious small plates of nibbles and snacks. We tend to just call them "snax", but the influence has pretty much come from the Spanish tapas which most people know and love. Tapas began life as free nibbles at bars in Spain – they would usually consist of the fishermen's by-catch of small fish, which would be put on the bar-top to encourage more drinking. In small villages, men would go out on a tapeo to different bars, drinking and nibbling on tasty free morsels.
Although you rarely get free nibbles these days, in London there are some great tapas spots, such as Brindisa in Borough Market and Barrafina in Soho, which belongs to my friends Sam and Eddie Hart, and which serves authentic tapas made from well-sourced ingredients.
Little snacks based on Spanish tapas can be made from virtually anything – and it can be great fun creating small dishes for friends coming round for dinner, instead of struggling over a full-blown three- or four-course meal.
Queen scallops with bacon and hedgerow garlic
Little queen scallops are the perfect food to snack on or hand around at parties – you can just slip them in your mouth like an oyster or hand them out in spoons. You can vary what you serve with your queenies, from plain and simple green herbs and breadcrumbs to chopped-up cooking chorizo, simply fried and spooned over the top. We buy our queenies direct from the Isle of Wight and since taking part in the Queenie Festival on the Isle of Man last year with Mitch Tonks, we have both enjoyed the luxury of freshly delivered queenies on our menus ever since. They are so fresh when they turn up that I put them on the menu raw for the first day, served with a tangy dressing or relish.
20 or so fresh queen scallops cleaned and in the half shell
A couple of good knobs of butter
4 rashers of smoked, rindless streaky bacon, finely chopped
A handful of hedgerow garlic, chopped (or use garlic chives)
Preheat a grill to maximum temperature, place the scallops on a tray, and cook for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small frying pan and cook the bacon for a minute or so; then stir in the hedgerow garlic. Spoon the mixture over the queenies and serve.
Cured pork cheek on toasted sourdough
One of the best discoveries this year, Trealy Farm cured meats, based in Monmouthshire (trealyfarm.com), are producing top-notch cured meats of the finest quality. They are certainly the best I have come across and we have been serving a selection on a meat board in the restaurants and have had great feedback. One of my favourite cuts is the cured cheek – almost like a dry-cured Bath chap – and it is delicious just served on its own or on hot, lightly buttered toast like this.
6-8 slices of sourdough
A little softened butter for spreading
Enough thinly sliced Trealy Farm pork cheek to lay on the toast
Freshly ground black pepper to serve
Toast or grill the sourdough on a ribbed grill or barbecue. Lightly spread with butter, then lay the cured pork cheek on and grind a little black pepper on top. Serve immediately.
Croquettes are one of those Seventies snacks that if made well can be delightful. Apart from croquetas in tapas bars, however, they are pretty extinct these days. Spider crab is a bit of a rarity on menus, as it is a shellfish that generally gets exported and not eaten here, but it's one of my favourites.
1 spider crab, weighing 500-800g, cooked
About 200g dry mashed potato
3tbsp chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3-4tbsp plain flour
2 medium eggs, separated
50-60g fresh white breadcrumbs
3-4tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
Remove all of the white and brown meat from the body and legs of the spider crab and keep it separate. Mix enough of the mashed potato with the white crab just to bind it, then season to taste and add the egg yolks and the chives. You can mould the mixture into traditional croquette shapes or mould them with a spoon on to a tray lined with greaseproof paper; then leave to set in the fridge for about an hour.
Meanwhile, simmer the brown meat in a pan until it gets really thick, then leave to cool and mix with the mayonnaise.
Have 3 containers ready, one with the flour, one with the egg whites, beaten a little, and the third with the breadcrumbs. Carefully pass the croquettes through the flour then the egg and finally the crumbs.
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
Cook the croquettes in manageable batches for 2-3 minutes or until golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper. Serve with the mayonnaise in a suitable dipping pot.
Quail egg shots
I discovered this dish in one of my favourite New York haunts, the Fatty Crab in Hudson Street. It's a scruffy joint that serves great Malaysian-style food. I've nicked the concept for Mark's Bar and used finely chopped crispy bacon; or you could go veggie and use some chopped-up Chinese black beans. Eat them like shots by just squeezing them into your mouth.
12-16 quails' eggs
2-4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon with the rind removed
2tsp finely-chopped chives
Coarse sea salt to serve
Grill or fry the bacon until crisp then leave to cool and chop as finely as you can and mix with the chives. Bring a pan of water to the boil and carefully lower the quails' eggs in with a slotted spoon. Simmer for 20 seconds, then drain and run under the cold tap briefly.
Spoon the sea salt on to a serving dish, cut the tops off the quails' eggs, stand them in the salt and spoon the bacon mixture on top of each one; serve immediately.
Woodland mushrooms with chestnuts
Seasonal wild mushrooms are a great snacking food either on their own or as a selection. You can use a specific seasonal mushroom or use a selection and serve them as a sharing dish or plated up on individual small plates. For a more substantial snack, serve them on some small slices of sourdough just grilled with a little olive oil mixed with crushed garlic.
4 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
250-300g wild mushrooms, trimmed and cut into even sizes if large
12-14 chestnuts, lightly roasted and peeled and halved
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy-based or non-stick frying pan and gently fry the shallots and garlic for a minute or so, add the mushrooms, season and continue cooking on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, turning them every so often until soft, turning them in the pan every so often. Stir in the chestnuts and parsley and continue cooking for another minute. Serve immediately.
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