Made using home-grown peppers exclusive to two Spanish regions (the most famous being de la Vera in Caceres-Extremadura), paprika is the star spice used to impart warmth and smokiness in everything from paella to chorizo and salsa brava. Guillermo Rabago, the owner of Sydney's Mate in Spain, says that colour is important; the brighter, the better. And, unknown to many, it’s also a great source of vitamin C.
The best place in the world for anchovies is a deli called Santoña in Cantabria, Rabago says. Known as 'bocarte' in Cantabria, 'seito' in Catalonia, 'aladroc' on the east coast and 'anchovy' in the Basque country, these small, tender fish fillets are eaten everywhere. Spaniards enjoy them fried, marinated in vinegar, battered, baked, or prepared Moorish style with garlic, parsley and paprika. They’re a pantry staple, but still very artisanal and labour intensive to make.
Dating back to the 19th century, Spain's Valor chocolate is a key ingredient in many a Spanish sweet treat, not to mention their famous, thick, rich hot chocolate. Sip/spoon it on its own or dunk your churros in it - your call.
Grape or sherry vinegar
The fine wine of the vinegar world, sherry vinegar’s production is limited to the southern Spanish Sherry-making region of Jerez. It also must be aged for a minimum of six months in American oak barrels in order to carry the name. There’s the sweet, syrupy Pedro Ximénez and the lighter, more acidic Reservas, used in everything from mains to desserts. Rabago suggests topping oysters with them for a bit of bite. Grape vinegar is also widely used.
As one of the world’s largest olive oil producers, Spaniards live by the stuff. “You eat it every day of your life, from breakfast through to dinner,” Rabago says. Good luck finding a dish that doesn’t use this tangy, fruity unsung hero.
“This product is very Spanish and difficult to find outside Spain,” Rabago says. It’s used widely in the north to intensify paellas, stews, Romesco sauce, and a famous Basque dish called Bacalao a la Vizcaina.
Spain’s most sought-after short grain rice is well suited to Valencia’s paella because it absorbs roughly three times its basic volume in liquid. But paella is far from where it ends: it’s used in a bunch of dry and wet regional rice dishes, too.
Spanish olives are vast and varied, but Rabago prefers the Gordal Reina variety, and Seville's plump, meaty manzanilla, which is a great martini garnish.
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The classic Spanish omelette, or tortilla Espanola, made from potato and eggs, is usually served for tapas but is great for breakfast, too.
Calamari tends to get a bad rap for being tough and chewy. This owes more to poor handling than anything else. When bought fresh (never buy pre-sliced rings), and properly cooked, the flesh is meltingly soft with a delicate sweetness. Try to buy whole hoods and clean them yourself as the quality is almost always better. And don’t throw away the tentacles, they’ll go great in the stuffing. Finely slice and cook in a little olive for 1–2 minutes before mixing with the prepared couscous.
Taking everyday rice to Spanish heights - no skimping of flavour right here.
There are as many versions of the original Valencian paella as there are cooks, and the defining element of modern-day interpretations is the pan. If you don’t have a paella pan, use a wide heavy-based frying pan. Unlike risotto, stirring is forbidden because the socarrat – the caramelised crust that forms on the bottom of the pan – helps give paella its authenticity. This dish is perfect for enjoying communally.