This year, a staggering three Spanish restaurants made it into the top 10 of the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, compiled by Restaurant magazine.
With staples like huge pans of paella and succulent skewers of meat at the heart of Spanish cuisine, it’s easy to see why we’ve fallen in love with it.
But you don’t need to book a flight to Spain to enjoy a taste of the country. Rising chef Omar Allibhoy is convinced that we can make Spanish food as good in the UK as the meals being rustled up in his homeland.
“I would argue that there’s no such thing as ‘authentic’ Spanish cooking,” says Allibhoy, whose first cookery book, Tapas Revolution, is released this month.
“Spanish food is constantly evolving and every region, restaurant, chef and home cook has its own different interpretation of the same dish. For me, taste and ease is sometimes more important than ‘authenticity’.”
Refreshingly, Allibhoy, who hails from near Madrid and for a time worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant (Ramsay dubbed him the ‘Antonio Banderas of cooking’), is open-minded about making life easy for home cooks.
“You don’t need to travel the country looking for obscure and expensive ingredients,” says the chef, who has cooked on ITV’s This Morning. “I’m a firm believer in short cuts. If you want to use a stock cube, rather than a fresh stock, go ahead.”
And if you’re going to take advice about Spanish cooking from anybody, Allibhoy’s your man - at just 29, he already owns the hit Tapas Revolution restaurants, which feature in shopping centres in London and Kent.
“I have always loved cooking. One of my earliest memories was watching my mother cook. I was only three, but I remember being in awe of her command of the kitchen,” he recalls.
“When I was five I started cooking with her. It’s amazing to think that at such a young age I was able to make flans, creme caramel and omelettes. I was always whisking something in a bowl.”
Today, this self-styled ‘home cook’ is never happier than when he’s whipping up signature tapas dishes, like marinated olives, deep-fried squid and patatas bravas (delicious roasted potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and alioli).
“The beauty of tapas is that you can share them so easily with friends,” adds Allibhoy. “Eating from the same plate enhances conversations, encourages adventurous eating and brings us all closer.”
If you fancy getting into Spanish spirit, here are three classic recipes from Allibhoy’s book, Tapas Revolution.
Moorish Skewers (Pinchos Morunos Con Mojo Picon)
500g pork fillet (you can also use chicken thigh, beef skirt or flank, or leg of lamb)
1tsp hot or sweet pimenton (paprika)
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp dried oregano
1tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Mojo Picon:
1 slice white bread
4-5tbsp Spanish olive oil, plus extra for frying
2 garlic cloves
5 dried cayenne chillies
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp sweet pimenton (paprika)
2tsp sherry vinegar
Trim the pork fillet of any excess fat and then cut into 2cm cubes. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl and add the pimenton (paprika), cumin, some black pepper, oregano, thyme and garlic. Mix well, drizzle over the olive oil and leave to marinate for at least an hour, but anything up to two days is fine.
Meanwhile, make the Mojo Picon. Start by frying the bread in a little olive oil, drain on kitchen paper and tear into pieces. Using a pestle and mortar, mash together the garlic, cayenne chillies, cumin seeds, pimenton, fried bread, vinegar and salt until you have a smooth paste. You could also use a food processor for this bit. Start adding the olive oil in a thin drizzle while you are still mixing.
When you are ready to cook, thread the meat onto skewers (if you are using wooden skewers, it’s a good idea to soak them in water for 30 minutes to stop them burning).
Pinchos Morunos (Moorish skewers) can be cooked over charcoal, under a hot grill or in a griddle pan over a very high heat. Cook for about two minutes on each side - you want them to be cooked through but still juicy on the inside. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the Mojo Picon.