There's a fine line between hors d'oeuvre and tapas. Why not cross it? The former's a dainty prelude to the main course, the latter a delectable entity in its own right, just the thing to satisfy the serial cravings of guests engaged in a spirited evening of talking and tasting. Tapas are typically Spanish, but as small-minded chefs around town are demonstrating with increasing frequency, they don't have to be. They can be as Asian as Patricia Yeo's crab pot stickers or as French as Diane Forley's skewered croque monsieur. At Alfredo of Rome, zucchini escapes the clichéd fate of an antipasto plate to become the wrapper for a sheep's-milk-ricotta roll. Sake adds an Asian flavor to Sushi Samba's steamed Manila clams with sofrito. And what's more American than a salmon croquette, shrunk down to manageable size at Mark Strausman's new Chinghalle? Still, there's something to be said for tradition, and no one says it better than chef Luis Bollo of Meigas, downtown's bastion of nouvelle Spanish cuisine. If you want to see what sparked the craze to graze, sample his classic recipes for tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, toast with marinated anchovies, and chicken-and-chorizo brochettes, and find out for yourself why tapas is always used in the plural.
Crab Pot Stickers With Spicy Sesame Dipping Sauce
Makes about 30 to 36 pot stickers.
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup garlic chives (optional)
4 ounces whitefish, diced (preferably cod)
3 small egg whites
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces lump crabmeat
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup bias-cut scallions, white part only
1 package Shanghai-style wrappers or gyoza wrappers (preferably round white-flour wrappers)
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Heat the canola oil in a nonstick pan, add the garlic chives, and sauté until wilted. Remove the chives from the pan and set aside to cool.
Place the fish, 2 egg whites, and cream in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add fish sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a chilled mixing bowl and fold in the crab, garlic chives, cilantro, and scallions.
Lightly beat the remaining egg white in a bowl. Keep the wrappers covered with a damp paper towel or plastic wrap. Place a walnut-size spoonful of filling in the center of each wrapper, fold in half over the filling to form a half-moon, and moisten the edges with egg white. Beginning at the right, pleat the top fold of the wrapper. After each pleat, pinch the dough to join it with the bottom fold. Proceed until the dumpling is fully sealed. Repeat with remaining wrappers, keeping the finished dumplings covered to prevent drying out.
Blanch the dumplings in a large pot of unsalted boiling water for 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. (The dumplings can be made about 5 hours ahead, but must be tossed in a little canola oil before refrigerating to keep them from sticking together.) Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a large nonstick pan, add some of the dumplings, and sauté, pressing down on the top of each dumpling to flatten and cook the underside until it is golden brown. Do not turn. Remove from the pan and repeat with remaining dumplings.
Fill the pan with a layer of dumplings, golden-brown side down, and deglaze the pan with half the chicken stock and wine. Cover, and let the pot stickers steam and warm through. Remove to a platter with a slotted spoon and repeat with remaining dumplings, adding stock and wine as necessary. Place warm pot stickers on a plate and serve with the spicy sesame dipping sauce on the side.
Spicy Sesame Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons sambal (available in Indonesian and some Chinese markets)
2 shallots, diced
2 tablespoons bias-cut scallions, green part only
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
Makes about 10 to 12.
1 teaspoon butter
8 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
4 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
4 ounces (6 or more slices) thinly sliced smoked Black Forest ham
1 cup cream or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan and line with oiled parchment paper. Begin layering the croque monsieur by lining the bottom of the loaf pan with bread (use 2 slices for each layer). Dot the first layer with 1 generous tablespoon mascarpone cheese and spread as evenly as possible. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the chives over the cheese. Cover with 1/4 cup Fontina cheese and layer the ham over cheese. This is one complete layer. Build two more layers, ending with a row of bread.
Whisk together the cream or milk and eggs in a bowl to make a custard. Strain the custard through a sieve and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the custard over the croque monsieur, cover with parchment paper, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before baking. The croque can be placed overnight in the refrigerator at this point if desired.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the loaf pan in a deep casserole and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the loaf pan to create a bain-marie. Cover with a piece of buttered parchment paper. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the custard has set. Test with a toothpick -- if it comes out clean, remove from the oven and the bain-marie and allow the croque monsieur to cool in the loaf pan. When cool, place in the refrigerator to chill. Turn the croque out of the pan and cut into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice in half across the layers and skewer the two halves together. (The slices can be left whole for a sturdier presentation.)
To serve: Heat an 8-inch sauté pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and gently place the croque monsieur skewers into the pan; sauté until golden brown on both sides. Serve with a green salad.