Feeling the pintxo with seafood salad
This recipe comes from the experience of standing in pintxos bars in the Basque country and eating cold seafood marinated in vinegar. There is something very hospitable about a bar top loaded with morsels of seasonal food. It’s up there with my favourite things about travelling to Spain: little bars overfilled with people and hospitableness.
Australia has never really managed to introduce pintxos bars such as this, and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Not everything that is good somewhere else needs to be re-created here, or forced. We have a different bar culture. That’s okay.
But there are happy lessons in flavour to be drawn from those laden bar tops. The full impact or effect of this dish really hits when eaten on a very hot day. There is delicacy and relief in the flavours and in the way the potato holds a pleasant coolness.
I resisted all kinds of temptations to fiddle with this recipe, such as adding saffron or mayonnaise or stronger-flavoured herbs. Its appeal is in its simple, rustic charm. Even the potato – in this instance, chat – has been chosen for the plainness of its flavour and the fact it can cheerfully support the taste of the vinegar.
Various types of fish and crustacean could be added or substituted with various degrees of success. I would keep the fish a white fish, though, and steer away from oily fish – such as salmon.
The recipe calls for a white wine vinegar, but a sherry vinegar could also be used. Sherry vinegar is aged in oak and has a slightly richer flavour. I would rule out any rice vinegars or sweet vinegar.
I have some rules about cold potatoes. If I am ever going to eat a potato cold, I will let it drop to room temperature but I will never refrigerate it before it is served. The fridge does terrible things to a potato, and any time in there will reduce even an heirloom varietal to something from KFC. For some reason, every potato tastes the same after it has been in a fridge.
Alongside this dish, I think one of my favourite uses for cold potatoes would be in a salad with mayonnaise and plenty of minced anchovies and nothing else. You can add garlic and lemon and spring onions and parsley but you should resist the temptation. Don’t hide the taste of the potato.
Seafood salad with potatoes and fennel
– 9 chat potatoes
– 1 small fennel bulb, cut into 8 wedges
– handful parsley leaves
– 4 large green prawns, in their shells
– 150g piece rock flathead
– 1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
– 4 tbsp olive oil
– 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
– 4 tbsp reserved mussel cooking liquid
Simmer the potatoes in a pot of boiling water until cooked through. When they are cooked, remove and drop the fennel wedges into the same simmering water. Cook these for two minutes or until tender, then remove from the water and drain. Put the parsley into the same boiling water for three seconds to turn it bright green. Lift out the parsley with a small mesh strainer or slotted spoon and rinse it under cold water to cool it. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. Peel the potatoes and cut them in half.
Bring a medium-sized saucepan of salted water to the boil. Separately half fill a large bowl with cold water and add two handfuls of ice cubes.
Place the prawns in the boiling water and cook for four minutes. Remove the prawns with tongs and plunge them into the iced water to cool. Remove the prawns from the water and pat dry. Peel off their shells but keep their heads and the tips of their tails on. De-vein the prawns and set aside.
Heat half a cup of lightly salted water in a small frying pan or saucepan and place the fish into the water, turn the heat very low and put a lid on the pan. Let the fish cook like this for two to three minutes, or until just cooked. Remove the fish to a plate to cool. Alternatively, you could steam the fish in a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket.
Heat a saucepan over high heat, add the mussels and quarter of a cup of water and cover with a tight-fitting lid. After a minute, check the mussels. Take out any that have opened, give the pot a stir, replace the lid and leave for 30 seconds. Check the mussels again, removing them from the pot as they open.
When the mussels are cooked, strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve it to use in the salad dressing.
Take the mussels out of their shells and pinch out any wiry “beards” that might remain.
Whisk together the oil, vinegar and four tablespoons of the mussel cooking liquid to make a dressing.
Place the seafood, potatoes, parsley and fennel in a deep tray or shallow bowl and gently mix through the dressing. Leave this to marinate for 30 minutes.
To serve, arrange the seafood in a shallow serving bowl and pour a generous amount of the marinade over each plate.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 13, 2016 as "Feeling the pintxo". Subscribe here.