Basque-style tapas, known as pintxos, appeal to millennials for their shareability and global flavors. They also score points with operators for their high margins. At Atlanta’s trendy Cooks & Soldiers, Executive Chef Landon Thompson differentiates these classic snacks, such as Caña y Frutas, with cutting-edge techniques and presentation. Diners are encouraged to try a variety to share; priced at $6 to $18 each, orders (with drinks) typically add up to an average check of $55.
Lighter fruit-and-cheese pintxos are popular in the warmer months, especially with female guests, says Thompson. For fall, he’s planning heartier selections, including duck with blue cheese, and figs with Bayonne ham and Caña de Cabra cheese.
1. A piercing action
This popular fruit-and-cheese pintxo was inspired by Thompson’s sous chef, who staged at Michelin-starred restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, known for its modernist approach. Thompson wanted to emulate Arzak’s foie gras marbled with veins of color, using a more accessible and less expensive apple. With a medical needle, Thompson pierces apples with shallow, angled holes to ready the fruit for its infusion of color.
2. Coloring under pressure
Next, Thompson combines the apples with beet juice in vacuum-sealed bags. This technique compresses the apples so the beet juice immediately disperses into the holes, creating “lightning rods of color” that resemble tie-dyeing, says Thompson. He tried blackberry juice first, but it bled and didn’t produce the desired effect. Besides, he says, “the earthy flavor and color of beets works better in contrast to the apple’s green skin and white flesh. It creates a carnival of colors.”
3. Building the pintxo
Thompson slices the apple paper-thin and layers it on toasted bread. One apple goes far, covering 30 to 40 orders, he says. Caña de Cabra, a Spanish goat cheese, sits on top. “I’m usually very nontraditional, but here I played by Basque rules, using this traditional cheese to be authentic,” he says.
4. Fruity pearls and glue
Another modernist technique goes into creating the garnish. With an eyedropper, Thompson squeezes blackberry gelee into very cold olive oil, causing the droplets to freeze into semisolid pearls. To make sure the blackberry pearls don’t slide off the pintxo, he uses mango puree, which acts as glue, he says.