It's a summer Saturday. Heat ripples the air, there's barely a breeze, and you're still slightly smarting from the revelry of the night before. You'd crawl into your hammock, if you had one, and spend the rest of the day sipping cool, life-giving water through a bendy straw under the shade of the lone tree in your back yard. If only you could. As it happens, you're expecting your in-laws for lunch.
This is a scenario that clearly calls for Tapas Menu Number 1:
Navajas a la plancha (grilled razor clams)
Langostinos a la plancha (grilled prawns)
Surtido de quesos y embutidos (selection of cheeses and cured meats)
Pan y aceitunas (bread and olives)
Assuming you have access to a good market, you're set. If you spend more than twenty minutes in the kitchen, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
To assemble this mini-feast, you should start by soaking the razor clams (you'll want at least 3 or 4 of these per person)...they're sandy and need to sit in warm water for about 10 minutes before you put them on the grill. You can also give the prawns (about 3/4 kilo or more, depending on how hungry you expect your in-laws to be) a rinse and shake them off in a colander.
For best results, you should get everything ready and on the table before you cook the seafood so that you can bring out the steaming platters of shrimp and clams as the crowning pièce de résistance. You should put out the olives and sliced bread along with a good extra virgin olive oil and salt. The cheese can go out sliced or whole, in the latter case with its own knife.
There's an enormous selection of Spanish cheese. One of the most popular varieties is manchego (pictured), a hard sheep's milk cheese from central Spain, which comes in fresco, semi-curado, curado y viejo varieties, a scale from youngest (softest and mildest) to oldest (hardest and sharpest). Another favourite is idiazabal, a yellow sheep's milk cheese from the Basque country. Other delicious goat, cow and sheep's milk cheeses abound in Spain and each region usually has a specialty or two. You should ask at your cheese shop about the different varieties and don't feel the need to limit yourself to just one.
The cured meats should go out sliced. Jamón iberico (pictured) or the much less expensive jamón serrano should be sliced paper thin at the shop. Embutidos (sausages) such as chorizo, fuet, longaniza or morcón (pictured) can be hand sliced at home. Chorizo and morcón (a larger, more coarsely cut version of chorizo) are flavoured with paprika and may be purchased in mild to spicy versions. They provide a nice counterpoint to the slightly sweet jamón iberico. Fuet and longaniza are also good choices--they have a subtle, slightly peppery flavour.
Now that the cured meats and cheeses have been taken care of, you can turn your mind to the seafood. Remove the clams from the warm water in which they've been soaking and give them another rinse under cold water. Set aside to wait with the shrimp.
Heat about a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large frying pan, preferably one with a lid. Once the oil is hot, add a few slivers of garlic for flavour, stir for a moment and add the prawns. Sautee on medium high heat for a 3-4 minutes until the prawns have just turned a bright pink on all sides and not a second longer. (For more about cooking prawns, see The Tapas Episode.) Remove to a warm plate, clean out any obvious shell residue with a paper towel, add a little more oil to the pan and the razor clams. Cover with the lid. The clams only need about two to three minutes on the grill at medium-high heat, but you should turn them once (with tongs is easiest). Be careful of the sputtering oil and water combination. I might also have garnished the razor clams pictured above with a teaspoon of finely chopped thyme and about the same quantity of chopped, sauteed garlic, but this is absolutely not necessary--if you want to, though, you can throw these ingredients into the frying pan for a few seconds before you put in the razor clams. The clams should be completely open when you serve them. Feel free to serve with a little lemon on the side, but, again, absolutely not necessary when you have good, fresh seafood.
Bring the mouthwatering plates of seafood out with the appropriate pomp and ceremony and pour some cava (Catalan sparkling wine) all around. Your work is done.