Ready, Steady, Cook!

Canarian wrinkled potatoes with mojo sauce and sizzling garlic prawns are, without doubt, two of the most popular tapas dishes on Lanzarote. So when I was offered the chance to learn how to make them myself, I leapt at it.

I’m not a bad cook – I’ve prepared meals all my life – but I’ve never taken a lesson. My main teachers were my mum, Delia Smith, the internet and good old trial and error. But after moving to Spain I soon became interested in the different cooking techniques over here.

Going out to tapas bars and enjoying various delicious dishes is a perennial pleasure here, but sometimes I’d like to try those recipes at home. And to do that, it’s always worth going to the experts.

Antonio Chicón has been running cookery classes at his kitchens in Uga for a while now, and we’d heard so many good reports that I decided to take a basic tapas class with him – three dishes and a cocktail that exemplify the tapas experience on Lanzarote.

Alongside Ian and Laura Hook – two holiday makers from England who’d been given the classes as a gift from their children – and Rens Königs from the Netherlands, I lined up at my workstation in my smart red apron, ready to cook.

The Supremes
Every decent meal begins with an aperitif, so first on the menu is a glass of sangria. “Easy enough – it’s just orange juice and wine,” I thought. I was wrong. Antonio starts by handing everyone an orange and showing how to supreme it. He explains that, when you see the word “supreme” on a menu, you’re getting the choicest cut of fish, meat, fruit or chicken.

A bit of nifty knifework later and I’m standing in front of a bowl of perfect crescents of succulent skinless, orange segments. I’m already proud of my handiwork, but once I’ve placed ice in a tall glass, added freshly-squeezed lemon and orange juice, a light tempranillo red wine, sparkling water and the syrup prepared from marinating seasonal orange, mango and papaya slices with sugar and brandy, I’m prouder still. And the sangria tastes fantastic.

Next, small gobstopper-sized potatoes are placed in a pan with salty water and boiled while we prepare red and green mojo sauces, using a heavy stone pestle and mortar to grind garlic, cumin, red or green peppers and chillies or coriander with oil. Out of the window, we can see a bush dotted with the chilli peppers we’re using. A dash of sherry vinegar, and I’ve got my mojo working.

The potatoes are now cooked perfectly, but to ensure they get that wrinkly, salt-coated appearance that everyone loves, we rattle them around in the pan with more dry salt for a few minutes. Then we dish them up and, pretty soon, all those tasty spuds have been eaten up.

Then we prepare a small Spanish omelette, deep-frying potato slices and chopped onions in olive oil before beating eggs and frying the whole mixture in a small pan. A plate is placed on top of the frying pan and the whole thing flipped over to allow you to cook both sides, but I suffer a bit of an accident with this manouevre, burning my finger. Luckily, it’s the only thing that’s burned – the tortilla is perfect.

Finally, we place small terracotta dishes directly over the flame, heating olive oil to 160 degrees before adding garlic, chilli and fresh, peeled prawns. Once they’ve turned a delicious orange colour after just a couple of minutes, they’re ready.

All four of us take our tortillas and sizzling prawns to the dining area, where Antonio serves a glass of crisp, dry white wine bottled just down the road in Yaiza, and we enjoy the fruits of our labours. I head home afterwards full of ideas for meals to come, with plans to buy a decent knife for the first time in my life and take a closer look at those shelves of olive oil in the supermarket.

I wasn’t a bad cook before, but I’m a far better one now.

We learned plenty of tips and techniques from Antonio in just over two hours of cooking. Here are just a few of them.

Use a mild, golden olive oil for frying (look for 0.4 acidity on the label). Save extra virgin oil for dressing salads and drizzling over meats and fish.

Press a sliced potato onto a burn rather than running it under the tap.

The blade of your main chopping knife should be the same as the distance from your elbow to your wrist.

Temper the semi-glazed terracotta dishes used for garlic prawns and other dishes by soaking them in water for 24 hours. You only need to do this once, but they’ll be much less likely to break afterwards.

Fish and shellfish should be cooked through, but any further cooking will make it dry and tough.

If your garlic prawns aren’t sizzling when they come to the table, they may not be fresh.