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A Spanish New Year's Fiesta

Tasty tapas and affordable Spanish sparkling wines to ring in the New Year
Thrill your guests with these crunchy and creamy salt cod croquettes and a refreshing rosé cava.

Christine Dalton
Posted: December 18, 2015

A successful New Year's Eve party requires a few essential elements. Sparkling wine is a must, but delicious, unfussy food and a convivial theme add to the celebratory appeal. Why not consider Spain for inspiration?

"The Spanish culture looks for an excuse to have a party," says Stephen Gelber, wine director and owner of Smoke.Oil.Salt. in Los Angeles. "They eat great food, they drink amazing yet inexpensive wine, they listen to great music and they stay up late. Ringing in the New Year is a great excuse to take a cue from the Spanish and have another party."

Gelber, a former music, television and film producer, took his own cue from the Spanish during a family visit to Barcelona. For years he had been an ardent wine aficionado, dreaming of leaving the entertainment world to work in the wine industry. His time spent in Spain, soaking in the culture, galvanized his intent to open a Barcelona-inspired restaurant upon returning to the United States. Less than three years later, Gelber's Smoke.Oil.Salt. is a bustling Los Angeles hotspot, bathed in dark, Old World–evoking wood, with a centerpiece wood-fired grill and a Spain-centric Award of Excellence–winning wine list.

The restaurant turns out a range of Spanish dishes, but Gelber and his chef Brian Gregg point to their selection of tapas and pinxtos for a New Year's fiesta. "Tapas are fun. They're structurally engineered for parties," Gelber says. "They're easy to transport from the plate to your mouth." They've shared a few of these recipes to enjoy as the clock counts down to midnight. Croquetas de bacalao, pan con tomate and grilled scallops with pea puree are three little dishes exploding with substantial Mediterranean flavors.

Much of the preparation for these recipes can be done in advance, and for certain components of the dishes—specifically the tomato spread for the pan con tomate and the bacalao (salt cod) and potato balls for the croquettes—the flavors actually intensify as they rest in the refrigerator or freezer, Gregg explains. A simple setup means the host can spend the majority of the party out of the kitchen. "You can put out a tray of these dishes and just refill as needed," he adds.

For the bacalao croquettes especially, Gregg suggests preparing a few days in advance, soaking the dried and salted cod to lessen the salty flavor and soften the fish. Then, the cod is ready to poach, combine with potatoes and form into individual servings that can be frozen. Before serving, they are fried to a golden crisp, with an "inside that will be like butter, very soft and creamy, with little chunks of the salted cod."

The pan con tomate, or tomato toast, is a "quintessential Spanish dish, very similar to what bruschetta is to Italians," Gregg continues. The Catalan dish is simply toasted bread topped with a mix of shredded tomatoes, garlic, oil and a touch of Spanish paprika. Smoke.Oil.Salt. tops its version with house-made sausages, but Gregg encourages home entertainers to garnish with any chorizo or even vegetables or scrambled eggs. And to round out the menu, quickly seared scallops served with a fresh pea puree and topped with crushed hazelnuts serve as a "main" little dish.

For the evening's requisite bubbly, Gelber urges hosts to stay in Spain, rather than jumping over to France, as cava has a strong quality-to-price ratio. He says, "The sparkling winemaking techniques today [in Spain] are excellent, and the wines work remarkably well with the food of the region, not just of the sub-region, but with all of Spain." He likes Raventós i Blanc Cava Rosé de Nit, but also ventures to the Canary Islands for Bodega Los Bermejos Lanzarote Espumoso Brut Nature, a dry, Malvasia-based bubbly, and to the Basque region for Txakolina, a slightly sparking, refreshingly dry white or rosé wine, like Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina. Below, Wine Spectator suggests 15 alternate sparkling wines from Spain.


New Year's Eve Menu

Recipes courtesy of Brian Gregg, Smoke.Oil.Salt., Los Angeles

Croquetas de Bacalao

For the cod poaching liquid:

  • 5 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 bunch thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3 cups cream
  • Salt, to taste

1. Sweat shallots and garlic in a pot with oil. Add bay leaf and thyme. Then add white wine and reduce by half.

2. Add cream and reduce on low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer to catch bigger particles. Cool and reserve. Liquid is now ready to poach the cod.

For the the cod croquettes:

  • 2 1/2 pounds Yukon potatoes, peeled
  • 1 1/2 pounds salt cod (soaked in water changed daily for at least three days)
  • Poaching liquid (see above)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 pound butter, softened
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Parsley, finely chopped
  • Flour, milk, eggs and panko breadcrumbs for breading (amount varies based upon size of the bowls used for breading station)
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Anchovy-stuffed olives, for garnish
  • Guindilla peppers, for garnish
  • Citrus (lemon or lime) aioli, for garnish

1. Simmer (do not boil) the potatoes until very soft, as if you were making mashed potatoes.

2. While potatoes are cooking, heat the poaching liquid over low heat, remove cod from water and add to liquid. Poach cod for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it falls apart. Pull cod out of liquid and break up cod into very small pieces.

3. When potatoes are soft, drain and push through a fine mesh strainer, or mash them, to get a very smooth consistency. Allow potatoes to cool for 10 minutes.

4. Fold butter, egg yolk and parsley into the potatoes. Add the cod. Mix well. Season the cod and potato mix with the poaching liquid to taste. (Be mindful not to add too much liquid and make the mix too watery.) Season with salt and pepper.

5. Put cod and potato mixture in refrigerator until solid. Remove and scoop 1-ounce balls. Place in freezer until ready to fry.

6. Remove cod and potato balls from the freezer and allow them to thaw slightly, so that they are not frozen solid. Prepare a 3-bowl breading station: flour in the first bowl, whisked eggs and milk in the second and panko breadcrumbs in the third. Dip croquettes into each bowl in order, coating entirely each time.

7. Add enough frying oil to a pot or deep pan to cover croquette balls and heat to 350° F. Fry croquettes approximately 30 seconds or until golden brown. Allow croquettes to cool, and drain on paper towels.

8. To serve, top croquettes with a dollop of aioli. Garnish with anchovy-stuffed olives and sliced guindilla peppers, and serve with toothpicks.Serves 6–10.

Pan Con Tomate With Sausage

  • 10 medium tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato water
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to toast bread
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pimentón (Spanish paprika)
  • 1 loaf French baguette or sourdough loaf
  • 2 links chorizo or Spanish sausage
  • Chives, for garnish

1. Use a cheese grater to grate tomatoes into a bowl. Drain off all excess tomato water and reserve. Put grated tomato back into bowl, add back 1/4 cup of the tomato water, garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil and pimentón. Season with salt to taste and reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. Slice bread and drizzle with olive oil. Toast on the grill or under the oven broiler to desired color. Spread tomato mixture over the bread, covering the entire piece. Slice sausage and place on top. Garnish with chives. Serves 6–10.

Seared Scallop With Pea Puree and Crushed Hazelnuts

  • 6 to 10 fresh sea scallops
  • 4 cups peas, cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup room-temperature butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • Pepper
  • Crushed hazelnuts, for garnish
  • Lemon wedges, for garnish

1. Blanch peas for 1 minute. Put in blender with fish sauce. Add butter and blend until smooth. Season with salt, chill and reserve.

2. Season scallops with salt and pepper, and sear on each side for 90 seconds, or until golden brown and just opaque throughout. Garnish with crushed hazelnuts and a spritz of lemon juice. Serve with warm pea puree. Serves 6–10.

Recommended Cavas

Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

CODORNÍU Brut Nature Chardonnay Cava Gran Codorníu Reserva NV Score: 88 | $20
Bright and citrusy, with hints of ground ginger and nutmeg accenting the poached pear, biscuit and yellow plum flavors. Snappy, chalk-tinged finish. Drink now through 2018. 100 cases imported.—A.N.

CODORNÍU Brut Rosé Pinot Noir Cava Gran Codorníu 2012 Score: 88 | $20
This mouthwatering, balanced rosé offers a lightly spiced palate of ripe plum, wild cherry, smoke and biscuit. Creamy, with a lingering finish. Drink now through 2018. 100 cases imported.—A.N.

JUVÉ Y CAMPS Brut Cava Milesimé Reserva 2011 Score: 88 | $22
There's a hint of salinity accenting the ripe raspberry, lemon meringue and biscuit flavors in this well-knit and creamy Cava. Drink now through 2018. 7,000 cases made.—A.N.

ALBET I NOYA Brut Natural Penedès Reserva 2011 Score: 87 | $23
Aromatic accents of oak spice and vanilla complement flavors of Honeycrisp apple, biscuit and petrol in this firm, linear sparkler, with a lip-smacking, minerally finish. Drink now through 2017. 4,000 cases made.—A.N.

FERMÍ BOHIGAS Brut Nature Cava Gran Reserva NV Score: 87 | $22
Well-balanced, with ripe and juicy apple and pear fruit, accented by pastry, oyster shell and toasted hazelnut notes. Sleek and minerally, showing a lively bead. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—A.N.

FERMÍ BOHIGAS Brut Cava Reserva NV Score: 86 | $18
Lightly spiced and floral, with Asian pear, pickled ginger and lychee notes riding the creamy bead. Firm and focused. Modest finish. Drink now. 8,000 cases made.—A.N.

CAVAS HILL Seco Rosado Cava NV Score: 86 | $13
Graphite and oak spice notes accent the creamy palate of ripe, crushed black cherry, candied strawberry, pastry cream and slivered almond. Well-balanced and expressive. Drink now. 500 cases imported.—A.N.

CODORNÍU Brut Cava Anna de Codorníu NV Score: 86 | $15
Bright and lithe, with a lively bead carrying the subtle notes of blackberry, peach skin and sliced almond. Hints of smoke and saline linger on the mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2017. 25,000 cases imported.—A.N.

NAVERAN Brut Nature Cava 2012 Score: 86 | $16
Tightly knit and creamy, with a firm backbone of acidity structuring the candied plum, apple blossom, smoke and spice notes. Drink now through 2017. 10,000 cases made.—A.N.

SABARTÉS Brut Rosado Cava NV Score: 86 | $15
A subtle rosé whose firm backbone of acidity is softened by the creamy bead and well-knit flavors of fresh strawberry and crushed black cherry, with a hint of gingerbread. Drink now. 10,000 cases made.—A.N.

Recommended Txakolinas

ETXANIZ TXAKOLINA Getariako Txakolina Txomin Etxaniz 2014 Score: 87 | $25
Delivering lemony and briny flavors, fueled by tart acidity and a light spritz, this light, crisp white is clean and bracing, with a firm backbone of chalky minerality. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—T.M.

ETXANIZ TXAKOLINA Getariako Txakolina Txomin Etxaniz 2013 Score: 87 | $25
This lively white offers tangerine, quince and briny flavors. Fresh, generous and fruity, with vibrant acidity and a light spritz driving the elements across the palate. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.—T.M.

NICOLAS ULACIA E HIJOS Getariako Txakolina 2013 Score: 87 | $20
Lean and crisp, this lively white shows grapefruit, brine and quinine flavors, with vibrant acidity and a light spritz. Pure and racy. Drink now. 7,500 cases made.—T.M.

5 MAHATSONDO Hondarrabi Zuri Getariako Txakolina K5 Argiñano 2012 Score: 86 | $30
This savory white shows leesy and yeasty flavors, with lemony acidity and notes of seashell and pine, all driven by electric acidity and a touch of spritz. Needs food for balance. Drink now. 5,000 cases made.—T.M.

NICOLAS ULACIA E HIJOS Getariako Txakolina 2014 Score: 86 | $19
This crisp white is rather lean and tart, but very refreshing, and should match well with oysters or clams. Offers lemony and briny notes, mouthwatering acidity and a touch of spritz. Drink now. 7,500 cases made.—T.M.

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