The term "pig out" may not be the first one many people associate with tappas - smaller, ala carte dishes meant to be shared in a social setting. But to Anthony Scuderi, the chef de cuisine at Jose Garces Amada, it's a match made in heaven.
Scuderi sees Sunday's all-you-can-eat "Pig Out Dinner" at Amada inside Revel in Atlantic City as an opportunity to introduce local crowds to Spanish dining style and cuisine.
"Tappas is more the idea of small plates, but everybody sharing. So I see a whole suckling pig as just a big plate with everybody sharing," says the Ocean City native who's spent the past five years preparing Latin cuisine under the tutelage of Iron Chef Jose Garces. "I find we're still teaching diners about Spanish food and elevating cuisine in Atlantic City."
Garces, whose Garces Group of restaurants has exploded since 2005 to include 14 locations across the U.S., is just fine with that. Amada's menu is based on the southern, Andalusian cuisine. Tinto Wine Bar in Philadelphia, where Scuderi started as an intern fresh out of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, offers food from Basque country, in the north of Spain. Then there's Village Whiskey, also inside Revel, which offers American pub fare with a Spanish twist.
Scuderi "really gets it," Garces says. And he's happy to share what he's learned from Garces.
"A lot of Spanish cuisine is inspired by the Arabs, who ruled there for 800 years," Scuderi points out. "That's where a lot of the dried fruits and dried spices, like paprika, come from. We use a lot of Middle-Eastern ingredients people don't always associate with Spanish food, but they're there."
Garbanzos, or chickpeas, are a common ingredient as are almonds and rosemary. But that doesn't mean Spaniards are "afraid to use and serve" rustic items such as pork and ham.
"The whole charcuterie aspect is huge over there," Scuderi says. "Here, a simple ham and cheese sandwich is almost looked down on as a kid's meal. But in Spain you have the cured Serrano ham with smokey sheep's-milk cheese on a gourmet baguette."
For example, the key to preparing a whole suckling pig is simple: patience. The pig is soaked in brine for two days to season it from the inside out and keep the meat moist while it's slow roasted at 300 degrees for four to five hours. Then the heat is raised to 500 degrees until the skin is crispy, et voila: the meat comes out fork-tender and savory.
There are several ways to prepare those popular garbanzos, and sometimes more than one is used at a time. Garbanzos con espinacas calls for pureeing cooked garbanzos with tomatoes and smoked paprika as a base sauce, then adding more - these over-cooked and then flash-fried for texture - with spinach, more tomatoes and sherry wine vinegar. Roasted fingerling potatoes are seasoned with rosemary to match.
Among Scuderi's favorite offerings at Amada are the charred scallions with a salbitxada dip - pureed almonds, fresh tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt - and Serrano ham croquets served with a red-pepper beschamel sauce. He says the rustic simplicity of both dishes might not impress some diners, but they're really good examples of the cuisine.
"We're able to take simple ingredients and make them taste just very delicious," he brags.
For example, piquillos rellenos - stuffed peppers - are a menu staple throughout Spain, Scuderi says, but what goes inside - crab in Atlantic City, pork, lamb or bacalao in other places - depends more on the region. Another favorite ingredient is bacalao, (a recipe for which is included in Garces' second cookbook, "Latin Road Home," on sale at Amada) and Scuderi says he is working to incorporate it into his menu at Amada, all in due season.
For now, he's promoting more familiar cuisine such as cochinillo asado (suckling pig), with garbanzos con espinacas and white beans with applewood bacon and rosemary fingerling potatoes on the side. An Arabic-inspired salad with figs and almonds and Spanish chorizo also will be served Sunday, along with those scallions and seasoned olives.
Amada uses a Spanish preparation for the pig, but Garces' cookbook offers a Cuban-style recipe in honor of his wife, who is from there.
"Swine is kind of a national treasure in many Latin countries. (At Amada) we have a simpler, Spanish style. The Cuban style is marinated and served with a sour mojo at Christmas," says Garces, whose own heritage is Ecuadorian, by way of Chicago. He says his book is part travel memoir, part auto-biography, sprinkled in with observations of the nuances of regional Latin cuisine and recipes from throughout Spanish-speaking countries.
Adds Scuderi, all the recipes in "Latin Road Home" are "more rustic, approachable dishes you could cook every day at your house," while those found in Garces' first book, "Latin Revolution," are more high-brow and may require a special shopping list.
Contact Felicia Compian:
•15- to 20-pound suckling pig
•22 quarts water
•3 pounds sea salt
Combine water and salt until all salt is dissolved. Submerge pig for 48 hours. Remove from brine.
With a serrated knife remove the head and spilt the pig down the spine. Place cut-side down in 6-inch hotel pans (deep pans), place the head in with one of the sides. Cover with plastic wrap, then cover twice with aluminum foil. (If your pan is not deep enough, use stilts to hold the aluminum foil off the pig so it does not touch.
Cook at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Remove from oven and remove foil and plastic wrap, place back in oven to dry out the skin, 30 to 45 minutes.
Take pig out, let oven heat up to 500 degrees, then return to oven until skin is crispy, approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Be patient, let the skin color reach a dark brown, not golden brown.
Servings: 10 to 14
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary
•6 quarts fingerling potatoes, halved
•3/4 ounce chopped fresh rosemary
•3/4 ounce chopped fresh thyme
•Sea salt, to taste
•1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat a sheet tray in the oven at 350 degrees. Separately, in a large bowl toss all ingredients together, then lay the fingerlings cut-side down on the tray and roast for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Garbanzos con Espinacas
•4 cups cooked chickpeas (canned), divided
•1 tablespoon smoked paprika, plus more for garnish
•2 cups stewed tomatoes (canned)
•1 teaspoon chopped garlic
•2 cups baby spinach (washed and dried)
•1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh)
•1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Combine 2 cups chickpeas in a sauce pot and heat for 1 minute in olive oil. Add the paprika and cook over medium heat for another 2 minutes while stirring. Be careful not to burn the paprika. After the 2 minutes, add canned tomatoes.
Bring to a simmer over medium heat and transfer to a blender. Puree until smooth, adding water as needed. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, gently heat the garlic in olive oil over medium/high heat. Add remaining chickpeas and cook for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and saute for 1 minute or until spinach begins to wilt.
Add about 2 1/2 cups of sauce, fresh tomatoes and vinegar. Bring to a simmer and season with salt to taste. Transfer directly to a serving bowl and finish with a pinch of paprika over the top.