Chef's Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Spanish chef Omar Allibhoy
What is it about some foods that puts most of us off before we taste so much as a mouthful?
Take cod throats, for example – they may be delicious but, let’s be honest, they just don’t sound very appetising.
There must be something going for them though because, cooked with garlic, they’re the favourite food of Spanish celebrity chef Omar Allibhoy (who calls the dish kokotxas al pil-pil and saves it for special occasions).
Omar was born near Madrid and began cooking at the age of five.
“My earliest memory is of watching my mum in the kitchen... She was a great baker but a terrible cook so I took over the helm as soon as I was old enough,” he says.
“Much of my training was making dinner at home for my family. I never went to culinary or hospitality school, but I started working very young. When I was just a kid I sold cakes in my parents’ back garden.”
His enthusiasm and flair led to early success and he gained a position at the ‘world’s best restaurant’ El Bulli, on the Costa Brava.
After two years with celebrated chef Ferran Adrià, he decided learning English was a must if he was going to explore other cuisines, and headed for London.
There he joined the team at Maze, under head chef Jason Atherton, and was dubbed “the Antonio Banderas of cooking” by founder Gordon Ramsay.
Despite his classical experience, Omar’s biggest love has always been cooking tapas and five years ago he launched the Tapas Revolution group.
The beauty of tapas is that diners can try just a taste of a dozen different things they wouldn’t normally pick – such as cod throats – and maybe discover a new favourite.
Omar went on to be named London’s Professional Barbecue Champion, ahead of Maze, The Savoy and Jamie Oliver; to appear on a number of TV shows and to publish his first cookbook, Tapas Revolution (Ebury Press £20).
It features a whole range of tapas dishes including pinchos Morunos (Moorish skewers) which he shares here: “It’s perfect for a barbecue, the marinade is so tasty. And you can substitute the pork for other meat, so it’s very versatile.”
His latest achievement is the launch of a new Tapas Revolution branch at Meadowhall, which is already proving a hit with shoppers.
Next on the agenda is the publication of his second cookbook – Spanish Made Simple, a journey of discovery through 100 of the best Spanish dishes.
The book is due out in September.
Recipe by: Omar Allibhoy
Pinchos Morunos with mojo picón
500 g pork fillet (or use chicken thigh, beef skirt/flank or lamb leg)
1 tsp hot or sweet pimentón
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
drizzle of olive oil
salt & ground black pepper
1 slice white bread
4–5 tblsp Spanish olive oil
extra oil for frying
2 garlic cloves
5 dried cayenne chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sweet pimentón
2 tsp sherry vinegar
Trim pork fillet of any excess fat and cut into 2cm cubes.
Place meat in a large mixing bowl and add pimentón, cumin, black pepper, oregano, thyme and garlic.
Mix well, drizzle over the olive oil and leave to marinate for at least an hour, but anything up to two days is fine.
Meanwhile, make the mojo picón...
Start by frying the bread in a little olive oil, drain on kitchen paper and tear into pieces.
Using a pestle and mortar, mash together the garlic, cayenne chillies, cumin seeds, pimentón, fried bread, vinegar and salt until you have a smooth paste. You could also use a food processor for this bit.
Start adding the olive oil in a thin drizzle while you are still mixing.
When you are ready to cook the pinchos, thread the meat on to skewers (if you are using wooden skewers it’s a good idea to soak them in water for 30 minutes to stop them burning).
Pinchos Morunos can be cooked over charcoal (the best way, in my opinion), under a hot grill or in a griddle pan over a very high heat.
Cook for about two minutes on each side – you want them to be cooked through but still juicy on the inside.
Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with the mojo picón.