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Cesar: Recipes from a Tapas Bar

Book Review by Cheri Sicard
Editor Fabulous Foods & Fabulous Travel

Cesar: Recipes from a Tapas Bar
By Olivier Said and James Mellgren with Maggie Pond
Foreword by Jackson Browne
211 Pages
2003, Ten Speed Press

ISBN: 1-58008-483-4

If you're a fan of Spanish Tapas bars, this book is a must-have for your library. Even if you don't cook, you'll still want this book if you're a fan of Tapas bars or Spanish cuisine, if only for the lively discussions of the cheeses of Spain along with Sherries and other Spanish wines and spirits.

Cesar, the Berkeley, California tapas bar, opened in 1998, at the hands of 3 Alice Water's Chez Pannisse alum. The restaurant menus, and this book, are filled with traditional and nouvelle tapas -- small appetizer sized dishes, snacks and sandwiches.

Bar and cocktail enthusiasts will appreciate the chapters devoted to Cesar's signature cocktail recipes. In addition to a fascinating tutorial on sherry -- the quintessential beverage of choice to sip with tapas -- you'll find a wide assortment of cocktails made the Cesar way. Drink categories include Gin Classics; The Martini; Vodka; Whiskey; Run; Tequila & Mezcal; Brandy; Champagne; and Coffee Drinks. Another chapter discusses Spanish wines, wine and food paring, and beverage insights from Dennis Lapuyade, Cesar's wine buyer.

Tapas recipe chapters include: Soups; Salads & Vegetables; Rice & Fideos; Potatoes; Meats; Fish & Shellfish; Bocadillos; Spanish Cheese; Sweets; and Basics.

All in all, you'll find over 100 recipes for drinks and food. If you love to entertain, there are lots of great potential party food and drink ideas here, along with tasty snacks and dishes for every night dining.

Sample Recipes from Cesar:

  • Fried Potatoes with Herbs and Sea Salt

  • Poached Salmon with Cilantro and Cumin Vinaigrette

Poached Salmon with Cilantro and Cumin Vinaigrette

This is a lovely, full-flavored salad that could easily be a meal by itself. The method for poaching the fish is unusual but highly effective. For convenience, the fish can be poached up to a day in advance. You will probably have leftover vinaigrette, which can be stored in a jar and used for other salads.

Poached Salmon

2 pounds salmon fillets, skinned and pin bones removed

2 cups dry white wine

1½ teaspoons black peppercorns

1 jalapeño chile, cut in half lengthwise

½ white onion, thinly sliced

5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley


1 jalapeño chile, sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted and ground (see page 199)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bunch cilantro, tough stems removed

Mojo Verde (page 197)

Serves 8

Cut the salmon into 1-inch squares and arrange in a single layer, with space between the pieces, in a non-reactive baking pan. If you have thicker and thinner pieces, divide them between 2 pans so you can time the cooking correctly.

To poach the salmon, in a medium saucepan, combine the wine, peppercorns, jalapeño, onion, and parsley, and bring to a boil. Pour the boiling liquid through a sieve directly over the salmon. Cover tightly. After 2 minutes (3 minutes for pieces thicker than 1 inch), drain off the liquid and put the fish in the refrigerator to cool. It should be perfectly cooked, slightly rosy in the middle, after chilling. After it is completely cool, cover the fish. You can prepare the fish up to this point a day in advance.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the jalapeño and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring almost to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let cool completely, allowing the chile to infuse the vinegar. Add the lime juice and whisk in the oil. Add the cumin seed, salt, pepper, and garlic, and whisk it all together.

To assemble the salad, toss the cilantro in a medium bowl with enough of the vinaigrette to coat it lightly. Make a loose bed of the greens on individual plates. Tuck the poached salmon in among the leaves and top each salmon piece with a dollop of Mojo Verde.

Fried Potatoes with Herbs and Sea Salt

These potatoes are perhaps the ultimate cocktail accompaniment and one of the most popular dishes at César. One can usually see plates of them lined up, often amid an array of half-empty glasses, with the thin, crisp potatoes spilling out everywhere on the bar. The savory goodness of this dish owes much to the fresh herbs that are transformed by deep-frying. We've often quipped that we could make a fine bar snack with bowls of fried sage and rosemary enticingly dusted with sea salt. You will want a mandoline for this job - you could grow old trying to slice the potatoes by hand. Notice that because these are so thin, they are fried only once.

5 russet potatoes

1 bunch sage

1 bunch rosemary

8 cups peanut oil

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Aioli (page 195)

Serves 8

Slice the potatoes into thin strips by running them through a mandoline fitted with the ¼-inch-wide cross-cut blade adjusted to cut slices 1/16 inch thick. Place them in cold water to soak for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the herb leaves from their stems and toss them together. Heat the oil to 375 ° in a large, deep pot.

Drain the potatoes and spin dry in a salad spinner. Drop a handful of potatoes at a time into the hot oil and fry for about 30 seconds. Using a pair of long tongs, scoop up the potatoes, give them a turn, and cook for another minute or so. Once they just begin to turn golden, drop in a handful of the herbs and cook until the herbs have crisped up, another 15 seconds. Using a long-handled skimmer, remove the potatoes and herbs, shaking off the excess oil, and put them in a large bowl. Toss with sea salt and pepper to taste. Repeat the process, a handful of potatoes at a time, until they are all fried. Serve immediately with Aioli.

Cheri Sicard is the editor of, a favorite net destination for recipes, cooking tutorials, health and fitness information, holiday and entertaining ideas, celebrity chef interviews, cookbook reviews and more.

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