Sardines, The Healthiest Food in the World

Alcala' sardines 2.0

Alcala Restaurant Sardines

One of my favorite fish has always been Sardines: easy to cook, rich on taste and, as it happens, the healthiest food in the world – full of omega-3 fatty acids, D and B vitamins, calcium and an array of minerals.

For all those reasons Sardines have always been a favorite food to many around the world ranging from less privileged communities to the elites, a real dish crossover among classes because of their great flavor and availability. And as they enjoy a sort of new renaissance today, they can be found in many New York restaurants as tapas, in Mediterranean salads or simply ‘grilled’ a-la-minute.

Sardines are found abundantly in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Mediterranean where they feed at the aquatic bottom solely of plankton for which they do not concentrate heavy metals such as mercury and other contaminants. Delicious and inexpensive, humans have been consuming them since ancient times. In Galicia, Spain, a land of fishermen and seafood cuisine, the tradition of sardines is as old as the first inhabitants of the region. From the small villages to the fish industry, tales about sardines seem to inhabit our popular culture as much as our culinary imagination. As one of the world leading producers today, —if not the biggest producer, Spain’s sardine canned industry expands through a long history that includes women workers preeminence and even surviving several ‘Sardine Wars.”

I can remember vividly myself as a young man many afternoons in Galicia hanging in the piers waiting for the arrival of the small fishing boats where the locals would buy the freshest sardines for the next day. The bounties of salty smells and silvery colors emanating from the sardine bags remain in my memories. My mother used to buy them in fairly good quantities that she would prepare and conserve for the whole season. Once at home she would clean them thoroughly first thing, — since Sardines tend to deteriorate quickly, and lay them boneless in fillets in a large pan. Then she’d marinate them in “escabeche” with salt, fennel and fresh herbs, vinegar, garlic and spices and fill the pan with olive oil. They will be covered and put away in the kitchen shelves for couple weeks. When the marinating process had ‘cooked’ the sardines the fillets were ready to eat as snacks in small tapas, or as part of other dishes.

Sardines are very easy to cook. Most restaurants offer them ‘grilled’ though they are really broiled which creates the same crispy skin texture (without actually falling apart) and rich smoky flavor. You can make a great dish with canned sardines marinated in salad  and pasta dishes or tapas. Fortunately for us there are plenty of sardine banks in the ocean and they are not becoming endangered species any time soon.

Buen provecho!!

Chef Jesus Martínez

Alcala Restaurant


How to Find Best Tapas in New York

New Yorkers love Tapas and often venture through the city restaurants hunting for new spots and new varieties. Commonly known as small dishes, tapas is a culinary art on itself perfectly prepared, impeccably presented and stunningly delicious.

As part of Spanish cuisine, Tapas can be found in most restaurants and bars in Spain where they have evolved into an entire, often sophisticated cuisine. Tapas may be cold or hot, may work as appetizers or snacks with drinks; they also can be the introduction of a meal or the meal themselves.

With tapas you can try few different foods, they are great for sharing and make for conversation, which is a wonderful way to enjoy a meal in good company.

When I’m in Spain I always go to my favorite tapas places to enjoy the traditional food cooking I love so much. And I also like to check out the eateries where the latest trends of sophisticated modern cuisine are redefining the concept of tapas for the customers every day. In our kitchen at Alcala Restaurant in New York we thrive to bring to our customers the best tapas that can be found in the city.

But what makes a great tapa, what are the things we can recognize in every great tapa? Here are some tips that will help you find outstanding tapas.

1) A good tapa is a good concept.  Like everything in life not all dishes are born to be small, not all ideas in the paper work in the real world of cooking.

Alcala canelones Tapas

Alcala Spinach and Shrimp Cannelloni

2) Simple is good. Best tapas are made of one-two ingredients topped with a great sauce that brings everything together.

3) It’s the size! A good tapa should come in a confortable enough size to be shared but not so much to make you feel full.  As a rule of thumb, a tapa should have at least three good parts for sharing and it also must allow for tasting another two o three different ones.

A great tapa should be prepared a-la-minute to be eaten right away or in some cases, heated in the moment.

4) A tapa is not a snack. Tapas shouldn’t be confused with snacks, nuts or dips.

5) What’s in a bite. In tapa land there’s no room to hide. That’s why tapa ingredients need to be fresh, top quality and prepared to produce great taste and eating experience.

6) Just ready-made. A great tapa should be prepared a-la-minute to be eaten right away or in some cases, heated in the moment.

7) The knockout effect.  A great tapa should have a fresh touch – a contrast in textures, a touch of herbs or a raw ingredient that changes altogether the impact of the food. It should not be too spice or too salty but tasty and delicious.

Alcala' chorizo tapa

Alcala Chorizo Tapa

8) Presentation, presentation, presentation. A great tapa must have a great presentation without interfering in the way of eating it. If it has several parts that need to be combined it should come cut in portions to facilitate the mixing of ingredients.

9) Another one please. You know a tapa is a great one when it incites tasting another one.

10) Bring it home. In general, a good tapa should be fairly easy to replicate at home.

So get ready to mix and match tapas dishes with your favorite wines and company. Happy New Year!

Chef Jesus Martínez

Alcala Restaurant

All you Need to Know to Pairing Spanish Wines and Holidays Food

Spanish wines are becoming deservedly better known by American wine lovers. The wide diversity of regional productions, quality, body and aroma make Spanish wines an excellent companion for most kinds of food from tapas to paellas, traditional dishes and avant-garde new cuisine. New York Restaurants offer a great variety of Spanish Wine but what better place than a Spanish cuisine restaurant will offer traditional Spanish wine. Alcala Restaurant  is in the heart of NYC with a fabulous food-wine combination to complement a delightful experience.

So if you are thinking in your Holidays meals, here’s what you need to know to pair your dishes with the best Spanish wines.

Alcala' bottles ribeiro_1 banner web

Alcala’s Wine Selection

1)   Jerez, Sherry, is a unique dry wine from Andalucia, south of Spain. Not well understood, these varieties range from light versions Manzanilla and Fino, to bone-dry Amontillado and Oloroso. Dry Jerez should be served chilled and is an excellent match for tapas, shrimps, oysters, scallops, clams and other shellfish, and a great counterpoint for cheeses, specially aged cheeses.

The sweet variety of Jerez Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel make them great to pair with dry foods, artisan cheeses, nuts, sweets and cakes, coffee and chocolate.

2)   Cavas – Cava is the Spanish equivalent to champaign mostly made in Catalunya with the same standards as in France. Cava is very versatile, can be used as an aperitif and also in bubbly drinks as in mimosas. Cava is an excellent match for Spanish tapas, selfish, appetizers, spicy dishes, Serrano ham, and of course with modern cuisine and why not, deserts and cheeses.

spanish Paella

Alcala’s Spanish Paella

3)   Rosados, Rosé wines, refreshing, delicious and quite versatile Spain’s Rosados range from La Rioja famous Tempranillo in the north; Valencia and Calaluña Rosats in the Mediterranean region; and Castilla and León Cigales.Rosados pair well with seafood, pork, Latin American cuisines and paella.

4)   Spanish Red Wines, Tintos are increasingly been featured in specialized magazines ranking among high in many American wine lists. Because of their balance, this variety offers a great range of options for food pairing from tapas to the most sophisticated modern cuisine. Excellent Tintos range from Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras; to La Rioja well-aged reservas and gran reservas, to Duero Valley Ribera del Duero.

Other big Spanish reds include Toro, Jumilla, Penedés, Priorat which rank among some of the best red wines in the world.  These varieties are excellent companions for steaks, pasta, rice and vegetable dishes.

5)   Spanish white wines, Vinos Blancos are a favorite choice among wine lovers, which is the case of albariños from the Rias Baixas region of northwestern Galicia. Other excellent whites include Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei ranking among the world’s greatest white wines.  And don’t forget stellar chardonnays from Conca de Barberá and Penedés, to mention some in the Cataluña region; Rueda in Valladolid and Basque Txacoli, and finally the superb La Rioja whites.

Whether by-the-glass for a conversation with friends, with tapas or full more formal Holiday meals, Spanish wines offer many possibilities of food pairing.

These wines marry well with a wide range of food from the simplest grilled selfish to traditional seafood stews and black rice paellas, surf and turf dishes, tapas and sophisticated modern cuisine. So go ahead and rediscover your favorite feasts of the season, ­— your friends and family will surely appreciate it.

Happy Holidays to everyone!!

Jesus Martínez

Chef – Alcala Restaurant New York

Let Food be Your Health – NYC Restaurants

salmon Salad - health and food nyc food and health nyc

Welcome to my blog friends and food lovers.

I’m excited about sharing this blog on food, health and wellbeing.  Because I believe food, –good food, and good culinary practices, not only makes you happy but also keeps you healthy.

Ancient Greeks had this figured out early. As Hippocrates put it, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food“. The father of western medicine great Hippocrates correctly established that illness was the result of environmental factors, diet and living habits.

We can say today ‘let food be our medicine, and let also food be our health as well’. In other words, let’s not worry about eating well when we are feeling unwell or ill, but let’s build good, excellent eating habits so we feel good and keep healthy for the most part and when it happens, we’ll be better prepared to fight illness and depression.

And as I mention depression, I want to point another aspect of my culinary practice. As an spiritual person, I believe that everything is connected, matter and energy, biology and emotions, body, mind and spirit. That’s why eating well is fundamentally critical for your health and wellbeing, for your body and soul.

That’s why in this blog I will follow a holistic approach to food and cuisine encompassing all those related aspects from life style and exercise, health and nutrition to culinary styles, ingredients, tips, recipes, anecdotes, food experiences, wines, creativity and so much more.

And we invite you all to follow us in this food blog and to share your love for food and your experiences with us.

I look forward to hear from you soon.

All the best in good health,

Chef Jesus Martínez

Alcala Restaurant


Octopus Galician Style – Mediterranean Diet

Tapas Alcala octopus Galician Style

Alcala’s Octopus Galician Style Tapa

Octopus Galician-Style –  Mediterranean Diet in New York City

Preparing a good dish of octopus is not difficult but it certainly takes some skills. Being born in Galicia, the Northwestern region of Spain, ­—one of the most beautiful places in the world with one of the best seafood of the world, I can say Gallegos are a bit ‘obsessed’ about cooking our octopus. This fascinating, mysterious and highly intelligent creature of the deep is found in the warm and more temperate waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Octopus is been known since ancient times for its remarkable appearance and its amazing defense mechanisms, like shooting a jet of ink to cover its retreat and changing the color of skin as if a flashing neon sign.

Growing up in Galicia I got my first culinary memories and flavors from the popular seafood houses called “Pulperías” specialized in serving Galician ‘Pulpo a Feria’. Today every tapas bar in Galicia features this dish of boiled, paprika-scented octopus with potatoes, a signature of Galician culinary specialties.

Octopus Galician Style - Mediterranean Dish

Alcala’s Octopus Galician Style Dish

As a chef, I find octopus a delicacy of flavor and texture when cooked correctly and prepared appropriately. Traditionally Galician-style octopus is cooked inside a copper cauldron and before actually boiling it the octopus is repeatedly dipped in and out of the boiling water, held by its head. The purpose of this operation is to curl the tips of the tentacles.

The secret is to cook the octopus very slowly in a pot of lively boiling water abundantly salted. Once in the boiling water, you want to simmer it for an hour, hour and a half for the octopus to become tender.  While the octopus is cooking, you can also bring along the sliced potatoes to boil for some fifteen-twenty minutes.  Potatoes can be prepared in big chunks as they do in the traditional pulperías of Galicia or in thing slices to nest the octopus medallions over if you prefer a more refined presentation. Also small beds of mash potato make for a great presentation and add another layer of texture.

When the octopus is cooked, remove from heat and keep covered for another good twenty minutes. The optimal cooking point is the one in which the octopus is not rubbery but not overcooked either, somewhere a middle perfect point similar to “al dente’. At that point, the octopus shrinks and its texture has become tender and magenta colored.

Now it’s ready for serving. Slice the octopus in medallions and place them over the potato slices. Then drizzle abundantly with a good olive oil, — for me, extra virgin Spanish olive oil is the best. Then sprinkle with Spanish paprika “pimentón” and place it in a big plate. Traditionally the dish is served on wooden plates, along with sliced boiled potatoes “cachelos” and bread.

It can be served as tapa or as a meal, either way a delicious dish full of nutrients. The dish is usually accompanied by young Galician Albariño white wine but any other good white wine will be fine.

At Alcala Restaurant you can find this delicious meal of the Mediterranean diet right in New York City.

Enjoy your octopus!!  Que aproveche!!

Spain is the largest Olive Oil producer in the world

Olive-spanishSpain produces 250,000 tones of olive oil a year – The best Olive Oil from Spain- Smooth, Vibrant, Bold. Just like a fine wine, the varietal, climate and region determine an olive oil’s taste.

From the southern olive groves of Andalucía to the northern region of Catalonia, Spain in not only the number one olive oil producer in the world but also the most diverse, with the largest variety of unique oils that are as distinctive as nature itself. Olive oil enhances the flavor of your meals and reveals the creativity in you. And definitively, keeps you healthy!

Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack

food-pyramidAbout 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

Olive Oil Keeps the Heart Young

oil-decanterIn a recent study, Spanish researchers discovered that a diet rich in olive oil or other monounsaturated fats could improve the arterial function of elderly individuals.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, on the effect of a Mediterranean style diet rich in olive oil reveals that olive oil may be able to slow down the aging of the heart. Olive oil is sooo good for you – Among other things, it helps prevent cancer, cholesterol, strokes and heart disease, oxidative stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis!!