What Do I Want To Get Out Of The Basque Stage?

Aside

So it’s official….. I have less than a month from when I leave the great Pacific NorthWest to start my culinary adventures in San Sebastian, Spain, as the next Basque Stage Rising Star! It has been a crazy, busy, and overwhelming couple of weeks since I have received the scholarship and I can’t imagine the my last couple weeks being any less crazy, busy, and overwhelming as the ones previous.

I feel that a month seems like a long time, but I know that time will fly by and I will be sitting in a plane, heading too my new home for 3 months. There is so much to do in such little time!

One thing that has been on my mind ever since I found out that I will be the next Basque Stage is what I hope to get out of living in San Sebastian, working with a great company like Sammic and staging under some of the most talented chefs, Xabier Diez and Aizpea Oihaneder, over at Xarma.

So here is a list of some of the things I have came up with that I hope to achieve upon returning to my real home in Seattle after my time in the Basque Country.

1. Develop a greater understanding and knowledge of the Basque Life.

I have the Harvest Vine to thank for opening my eyes to all things Basque. I’ve had an amazing 3 years working for/with some of the greatest people that have taught me so much about the culture and the food that comes from the Basque Country. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working under my chef, Joey Serquinia, is that it takes more than knowing flavors and ingredients to cook good Spanish food. It takes a lot of knowledge about understanding about the culture and history of how these dishes came about.

With living in San Sebastian, I will be able to experience all the things that I can’t from just picking up and read about from a book about the Basque Country. I will be able to see and experience first hand what it is like to live the ‘Basque Way’. From the people, to the food, to the farms, to the wineries, I am so ready to soak up everything. I’m just hoping that my brain and heart will be able to handle all of the greatness that the Basque Country has to offer!

2. Utilize and expand the resources and opportunities presented to me

Everyone working in the restaurant industry  or any industry actually, knows the importance of networking. With staging in Spain, I will be introduced to a whole new circle of chefs, wine makers, farmers, and companies that I just would never be able to meet here in the States. I hope to take advantage of this great opportunity and really utilize all these networks that I could really benefit from in my career as a chef.

Sammic Headquarters

One of the coolest aspects of the Basque Stage is that it is sponsored by a great company called Sammic that develops and manufactures commercialized kitchen equipment for restaurants, hotels, etc., etc. I am really excited to work with this company and get to see and work with the products that they develop and really hope to build a strong relationship because they could be a great asset for whenever/if-ever I plan to start a restaurant of my own. (Can we say Discount!? Just Joking. =P) But on a serious note, I am very appreciative of what they do and for sponsoring such a great scholarship.

3. Help spread the word about the Basque Stage

I have to admit it. I’ve been a total Basque Stage Whore (pardon my language) ever since I had found about them more than a year ago. I have been and avid follower of the blogs of the previous Basque Stage winners and I was addicted to applying. I told myself from day one that I was going to keep on applying until I get it because its honestly such a great opportunity for chefs of all kinds, whether or not you are a home cook or professional cook. Everyone at the Basque Stage and Sammic have both teamed up and created something that I feel so passionate about and proud to be part of and I feel that more people need to know about it.

I was ecstatic to hear that The Art Institute of Seattle, the culinary school I had graduated from, was interested in getting in contact with me to hear more about receiving this scholarship. This is a good step into the right direction to let other students to know about this great opportunity that is honestly so easy to apply for. Yeah, I must admit, that it was pretty crappy the past 2 times I’ve applied and gotten so close to getting it, but persistence really pays off. Keep trying. Keep applying. Keep believing in yourself. Because in the end, there is no harm in trying, especially when the outcome can be as spectacular as cooking in one of the culinary capitals in the world!  And I don’t plan on just spreading the word with just students, I want to help encourage anyone and everyone.

4. Re-open Txori

Oh, beloved Txori. Txori was the sister restaurant of The Harvest Vine that sadly closed down in 2010. It was the first restaurant that I had my first real bite of real Spanish food. This was the restaurant where I started my culinary career as an intern that eventually lead into landing a job at. Quite possibly one of the best jobs I have had in my life.  It was here I knew I wanted to pursue cooking Spanish food.

Txori, which means “bird” in Basque, was a bar that served the traditional Basque tapas known as “pintxos”. Pintxos are basically small bites of food that are usually served on a sliced piece of toasted bread or pricked with a skewer that have became popular in San Sebastian. I feel that these are the type of bars that America need to adopt more of. There is so much to love about the concept of eating small bites while sipping on a nice glass of cava or albarinio and conversing with fellow patrons.I am most looking forward to pintxo bar hopping and really get to see what a real pintxo bar feels/looks/smells/tastes like. I want to take these things back because I feel that people need to know the greatest of Pintxos!

Re-opening Txori has been something I’ve always wanted ever since the day their doors have closed. But I’m hoping that with this Stage that it will maybe cause a spark, an idea, even a small thought of maybe re-opening those doors to something that not only I, but so many others, have grown to love. And whenever the time comes, I will drop and stop everything I am doing because this is something I really want, no, need to part of. (*hint hint* Carolin ;] ).

5. Be able to share my experiences

So of course it’s going to be great to share my experiences with friends, family, all you following my blogs, and so on. But honestly, one person I’m really hoping to share this experience with is my daughter, Tegan. She is my world, my mini-me, my pride and joy. Its going to be the hardest thing I will ever had to do being apart from her but everything that I do, I do for her. I have always known that with working in this industry, I had to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s quite a big sacrifice I’ve had to make, but in the end, it’ll all be worth it. I’m going to gain so much out of it, but what I will be gaining the most is a story for her of how her dad has fulfilled one of his dreams and that if you work hard and keep trying, you will be capable of doing anything. I want her to know that someday, I hope she will be able to do something like this and be able to share her stories with me. No matter what, I will always be there for her and will support her in anything she wants to do.

Sorry for the lengthy post! I am just getting so excited and anxious and have so much on the mind right now that my brain kind of threw up all of my thoughts in form of this blog post. Haha

-Justin

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My First Post As A Basque Stage!

Hi everyone!

This is my official first post as a Sammic and Basque Stage Rising Star!

For those who are unaware, the Basque Stage Rising Star Scholarship gives the opportunity to a lucky aspiring chef to the Basque Region of Spain to work with under some of the most prestiges chefs in Spain for 3 months.

It was merely a week ago when I had received an e-mail with the subject titled “*Important*”. Usually I overlook these e-mails and proceed to send them to the trash but this one was from Marti (check out her blog, Blank Palate, its super dope!), one of the coordinators of the Basque Stage, so I knew that the e-mail must have been pretty important. So I sat up and prepared myself to read what could be one of the most important e-mails in my life.

“I just wanted to let you know that the judges have selected you as the winner of the II Rising Stars scholarship!!!!! Which means, should you accept, you will be headed to San Sebastián on April 1 through June 30 to stage at Xarma.”

My heart dropped in disbelief. Still to this moment I have a hard time believing that I am the next Basque Stage Rising Star. The feeling is unreal. This must be what it feels like to be on the top of the world.

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 1.11.34 AM

Hey! That’s me!!!!

I am so excited to get to work under Chef Xabier Díez and Chef Aizpea Oihaneder at their little gem, Xarma, in San Sebastian. I know that I will have a lot to learn from these two chefs who have worked inunder some of the best chefs that include Martín Berasategui, Michel Bras, and of course, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, where they both met. It is of highest honors to be chosen to work and learn under your team! I hope you guys are ready for me! =]

I have to thank my work family at The Harvest Vine. Working there the past 3 years have been so great and has filled me with so much love for all things Basque. I can’t wait to come back to show all you guys all that I have learned in the Basque Country!

A very special thank you to my girlfriend, Staci. I know it’s been really hard to watch me reach for something that involves me to be away from our beautiful family, but it means the world to me that you support everything that I do regardless of how selfish things may seem. It’s been a very stressful week figuring out what’s going to happen, but I can’t thank you enough for taking this crazy ride with me. You and Tegan mean the world to me and everything I do, I do for you two. I love you both so much.

Well it’s been a very overwhelming week and the next coming weeks are going to get crazier and crazier, but in the end,  it will all be worth it the moment I lay my first step in San Sebastian. Again, I would like to thank everybody at Sammic, the Basque Stage, and Xarma for this opportunity. I can’t wait to fully embrace the life in the Basque Region and be able to share my experience with the world!

-Justin

P.S. Please check out the current Stage’s, Susy Santos and Clifton Su, blogs. They are both very exciting reads and just get me even more excited for my turn in the Basque Region!

All About Eggs!: Huevos a la Flamenca

For my next All About Eggs! post I decided to do it on Hevos a la Flamenca. This is a very traditional Spanish dish that varies from region to region, but it usually consists of eggs that are baked in a rich tomato sauce along with cured meats, vegetables, and paprika.

This is a dish that has been on our brunch menu at The Harvest Vine since we started over two years ago. If we were to take this dish off the menu, I swear that our customers would cause riots and chaos in the Madison Valley. It is definitely one of the most popular dishes in our repertoire and it is the one dish I always recommend to our first time brunch customers. I feel that it is basically everything that our restaurant stands for all wrapped up and baked in a cazuela. Our Huevos a la Flamenca consists of a base of tomato frito (a fried-tomato sauce), a scoop of béchamel, slices of cured chorizo, thinly sliced jamon serrano, some sort of vegetable depending on whats in season, and two farm-fresh organic eggs. It is Spain in a dish! It has the perfect balance of flavor from the smokiness of the paprika in the chorizo, the saltiness from the cured ham, the brightness from the fried tomato sauce, the added richness from the béchamel, and the fresh flavors of whatever vegetables are in season. All of this combined with a perfectly baked egg with its still-runny yolk and then being soaked up by a slice of a freshly baked baguette, its easy to see why it has all the rave for our customers.

This is another prepartion of eggs I was new too. This dish is actually quite easy to put together as all you do is assemble everything and then put it in the oven, but it is very easy to mess up. Within a minute, this dish can go from being perfectly cooked to horribly overcooked. There is a very small window of time that you must take out the baked eggs when the egg whites are still a little jiggly, but with carry over cooking, the eggs will be finish cooking through as you let it sit.

Huevos a la Flamenca

To assemble, put 3 oz of tomato frito sauce on the bottom of the cazuela. In the center, add a tablespoon of béchamel. In the 12 o clock position of the cazuela, add the broad beans. At the 9 o clock position add your slices of chorizo. In the rest of the open space, lay down your thinly sliced pieces of jamon serrano. I carefully position all of these ingredients because it creates a hole in the center that will help keep the egg yolks to stay in the center of the cazuela. If the egg yolks are both directly in the center, it will help cook the eggs more evenly.

When you have your Flamenca assembled, place on high heat until the tomato sauce starts to bubble. Crack two eggs into a bowl to make it easier to place eggs into the cazuela (plus it makes ensures that you don’t accidentally break the egg yolk if you were to crack the egg directly in). Using a spoon, create a little hole in the center of all the ingredients and then slide your eggs into the cazuela.

Place into a pan and then place in a hot oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are pretty much cooked through but still jiggly. It may look a little undercooked as you pull it out, but all the residual heat from the tomato sauce will carry over cook the eggs to perfection.

Sprinkle with salt and chopped parsley then serve with couple slices of bread and then enjoy! There are two type of people who eat Huevos a la Flamenca in a certain way. Those who like to break the yolk and mix everything together and then those who like to individually fish out every ingredient. I prefer to pick out all of my ingredients because it’s like a eating a new dish with every bite!

Basque Stage Candidate Post: Scallop and Pork Belly Bocadillo w/ Popcorn Revuelto

So this dish I decided to do was conceived last minute as I was actually planning on doing a completely different dish for the past week or so for my Basque Stage Candidate Post. It wasn’t unti Tuesday morning that l I picked up my copy of the latest Lucky Peach, David Chang’s, the face behind Momofuku, quarterly journal of food writing. He had this little section where there was a recipe for a little concoction called “popcorn grits”. This had caught my attention and just had my mind racing instantly. For some reason, one of the first thoughts that came into my mind was revuelto. Revuelto is a probably one of my favorite preparation of eggs that I had discovered at The Harvest Vine (expect an All About Eggs! post about revuelto in the near future!). Revuelto is essentially softly scrambled eggs. I thought that popcorn grits would make for a perfect combination to the rich and creamy eggs, texturally and flavor wise. Then it dawned on me that I softly scrambled eggs weren’t going to be enough. I needed something more. Did it need a seafood? Or a meat? Or maybe both!? Then I thought about a special dish that my chef does every once in a while for special guests. He does a little play off of ‘bocadillos’ (Spanish for sandwiches) where he sandwiches a seared piece of seared foie gras between a sliced seared scallop. I thought that the scallop would go perfect with my popcorn revuelto but the foie gras to be a little over the top… Enter the pork belly…. the pork belly would give the dish the meatiness that it needs so I decided to replace it instead of the foie (I know, crazy right?). And just for fun, I thought I’d reincorporate popcorn as a crunch garnish, so I flavored it with Spanish smoked paprika and Piment d’ espelette. Piment d’ espelette is probably once of my favorite spices as it adds a real nice kick to anything you add it too. So to get back on track, here is my Basque Stage Candidate Post!

Scallop and Pork Belly Bocadillo w/ Popcorn Revuelto

Ingredient

  • Olive Oil
  • Popcorn Kernals
  • Heavy Cream
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Scallops
  • Braised Pork Belly

             Garnish

  • Reserved Popped Popcorn
  • Piment  d’ espelette
  • Pimenton Dulce

Procedure

Combine the oil and popcorn kernals in a large pot and set over high heat. Once the oil starts sizzling, cover the pot and lower the heat to medium.

Once the kernals start popping, make sure to shake the pot vigorously to make sure none of the popcorn burns. Once the popping starts to slow down drastically, take off heat and leave cover on until the pops stop.

Reserve atleast a cup of popcorn for the garnish. For the Garnish, toss together melted butter, popcorn, Piment d’ espelette, and Pimenton Dulce until covered evenly.

Heat up the milk, cream, and butter in a pan over medium heat. Once the mixture comes up to a simmer, add 1/3 of the popcorn and cook for about a minute. strain the liquid through a medium-meshed strainer (it’s important not to use a fine mesh strainer because you want to be able to push through the popcorn)

Once the liquid is strained, scrap the popcorn against the strainer, pushing through a popcorn-like puree (the popcorn ‘grits’). Scrap off all popcorn from the bottom of the strainer and set it aside. Repeat these steps with the remaining 2/3 of  popcorn. After the last batch, save the popcorn-infused cream.

In a saute pan, reduce the popcorn-infused cream until the consistency is really tight and not to runny. Timing for this dish is crucial as you don’t want to under-reduce or over-reduce your cream because it is the biggest factor for keeping your eggs the right consistency. Add the egg and then remove the pan from the heat. The residual heat from the cream should be hot enough to cook the egg all the way through. With a spatula, mix the eggs and the cream until the eggs start to set. Mid-way, add your popcorn ‘grits’ and salt then continue to stir. The eggs will be done when they there is no longer any uncooked eggwhite and have gained some body to them. They should be creamy and hold some form, but you will definitely know if they are overcooked if any chunks of egg have formed.

In a separate pan, heat up oil on high until barely smoking. Add scallops and let sear until golden brown. Feel free to check the caramelization and move it to a hotter part of the pan if it needs more caramelizing. Right before you flip the scallops, add the sliced pork belly. Flip the scallop and then turn off the heat. Flip the pork belly and then finish with chopped parsley.

Place the popcorn revuelto on the plate. Slice scallops in half and place a slice of pork belly between each side of the scallop making a sandwhich. Place on top of popcorn revuelto and then garnish with the Espelette and Pimenton popcorn. Make pretty with parsley oil and some micro-greens then enjoy!

I am really happy with how this dish turned out. The flavor combinations all worked really work together and there were so many different textures that made this dish really fun to eat! Thanks for reading and hopefully you enjoy this post as much as I enjoyed making it!

-Justin

Anchovies, Sardines, and Canned Tuna, Oh My!

There are many foods out there that are notorious for being the arch nemesis to any kid. There are the usual suspects being broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas and spinach; basically anything green.But for me, there were three things that I just could not stand as a young child. Those three things were anchovies, sardines, and canned tuna. These foods were the bane of my existence.

I was never really a picky eater. I’d eat all my vegetables like my mother would tell me, but for some reason, anchovies, sardines, and canned tuna had always scared the bejeezus out of me. I think anchovies got a bad rep for me because of all the poor advertisement I was exposed to by fellow kids and TV shows that would express the wrongness of ruining a perfectly good pizza by adding anchovies. As a kid, all you can think about is, “how can you ruin a pizza?! Pizza is the greatest!”

With sardines and tuna, i had my parents to blame. My mom has always been the best cook I know and always made the tastiest dinners. But occasionally, I would know when to skip out on dinner by the smell that would fill up my house whenever she prepared canned sardines and tuna casserole. YUCK. Sorry Mom, hate to put you on blast on the internet, but your sardines and tuna you made for dinner was terrible. I still love you though!

As I grew into the stunning young adult that I am now today, (yeah, right… who am I kidding? =] ) my taste bud has changed as well as my outlook on food. I became more open to new and unfamiliar things. But for some reason, trying to let anchovies, sardines, and canned tuna back in my life was a pretty difficult thing for me! This all changed when I started at the Harvest Vine.

A beautiful package of Boquerones (vinegar-cured anchovies)

The moment that I saw the anchovies that we were serving at our restaurant, I knew that they were something special. My mouth actually started watering to the look and smell of these spanish anchovies called boquerones. As i used them more and more, I had a new found love and appreciation for these anchovies. Every time  I would open a package I can just imagine little old Spanish ladies carefully filleting each anchovie and then vinegar-curing them to perfection, then meticulously weaved together to make anchovies look like a piece of art.

Plato de Boquerones: A platter of anchovies, anchovy-stuffed olives, pipparas, and olive oil. A very traditional combination.

I remember my first experience eating a fresh sardine. It was just simply grilled to perfection and served with Alioli (garlic mayonnaise) and lemon wedges. I’ve never had anything like it. It wasn’t reminicent of the terrible canned sardines with tomato my mother use to try to feed me. It was a fresh, meaty, super flavorful sardine  that makes me want to go back in time and slap my past self in the face because it was that damn good. We also house-cure our own sardines in the same way that the boquerones are cured in vinegar.

House-cured Sardines with Cherry Tomatoes in a Piquillo-Mint Vinaigrette.

There isn’t any canned tuna like Ortiz Bonito del Norte Tuna from Spain. This is the tuna we use at work for Ensalada Rusa (Russian Salad), which is essentially a Tuna salad with alioli, potatoes, carrots, and hard boiled egg. I’ve had many, many tuna salads made with the “chicken of the sea” in my day and they don’t live up to the standards of the almighty Ensalada Rusa. This tuna comes packed in a can covered with olive oil and it has such a mild flavor with an amazing buttery texture yet is very firm and dense. It’s so amazing!

Ensalada Rusa – bonito tuna salad with potatoes, piquillo peppers, carrots & alioli

Ortiz Bonito Del Norte!

Basque Stage Candidate Video!

Well this seems a little familiar…..

Here is my (second and hopefully last ;] ) Basque Stage Candidate Video!

I am no means, a film maker or video editor or screen writer or actor, so please bare with me people. I know the tacky transitions between clips is pretty unbearable, but hey…. I tried my best to make it a little bit more enjoyable for you guys! I always find it pretty hard to talk about myself, letalone, record myself, so this is me trying my hardest to get my point out. Point being…… I have never wanted or worked so hard for something in my life. Getting to stage in Spain under some of the greatest chefs would be a dream come true for me. Spanish food is something real dear to me and it has become a huge part of who I am as a chef. I have so much more to learn and all I want in the end is to open peoples’ eyes (and mouths!) to the greatness of Basque Cuisine!

So here it is…..

 

Thanks for your time and wish me luck!

-Justin

P.S. If my video were a drinking game, ya’ll would get super drunk off of how many times I say “Basque” and “Spain”

P.P.S. Peep the ‘NorthWest‘ Shirt I’m wearing at 0:18 secs. I love my city! Have to show the 206 some love.

P.P.P.S. Special Shoutouts to Irbille Donia for being a great camera man! And Minus the Bear (more 206 love) for making such a dope song that I needed to use it in my video.

All About Eggs!: Tortilla Española

Egg cookery has always been something that interested me. One of the many lessons I have learned in my early culinary school days is that cooking eggs will be one of the toughest jobs someone will have in a kitchen…..

Really?!? How could something as simple as cooking an egg be that difficult? Well….. Since I’ve started working brunch, I now understand what they say about eggs.

So this portion of my blog is dedicated too all things eggs! Something that is so easy to make, yet so hard to get right that it could be seen as an art form.

Working brunch at the Harvest Vine has taught me many new preparations of eggs and more importantly, how to properly cook eggs. My first All About Eggs! post is on one of the most traditional dishes of Spain, the Tortilla Española. I have chosen the Tortilla because it holds a large amount of importance to how I work in the kitchen. I have made it a goal of mine to perfect the art of cooking the omelet ever since I’ve had my first taste of one at Txori. It was perfect. A small wedge cut out of the disc shaped omelet served on toasted bread rubbed with garlic oil and then dabbed with 3 perfectly round dots of alioli. It doesn’t get any simpler than that, but simple has never tasted so delicious. It took me about 2 years in the making and over hundreds of tortilla but I have finally figured out the ways of the Tortilla Española. There are so many variables that can make or break your tortilla from the batter you make with your potatoes and eggs to the heat control under your pan.

(Photo taken from The Kiwi Project)

Tortilla Española is essentially a potato and onion omelet but the fillings of ingredients can be countless from diced chorizo or ham to various vegetables like peas, artichokes, or roasted peppers. Basically, you can make a tortilla with any ingredient you want. Get creative  and have some fun (check out one of my favorite renditions by Ferran Adrià, the egg and potato chip tortilla)!

To make Tortilla Española, it is preferred to use a potato that is not as starchy. At my work, we use regular russet potatoes and find that it works perfectly fine. Traditionally, Tortillas start with thinly sliced potatoes and onions being cooked down in a pan with oil to cover until the potatoes are tender. At our work, we use reheated panadera potatoes that we add to our eggs so it cuts the time in the kitchen.

We start with 2 quarts of panadera potatoes and slowly reheat them until they are hot to the touch. We then add them to 14 scrambled eggs whisked with a good amount of salt; this makes about 2 full sized Tortillas or around 9 mini Tortillas. The next part is one of the most critical parts of the Tortilla making process, which is to let the batter sit for 30 minutes to an hour. This lets the heated potatoes gently heat up the eggs (but not cook the eggs) to make a very thick batter. I find that the thicker the batter, the faster that center of the tortilla cooks all the way through. If the batter is too thin and water, then it’ll take you longer to cook the tortilla all the way through and also, I find that it makes it easier to brown the outsides of the tortilla. Which is what we don’t want!

Next comes the frying. The key to the frying is to make sure you have the right pan. I prefer deep, heavy skillets that keep an even heat throughout the pan. Now for the oil, you got to make sure that you use enough oil so that the Tortilla doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and also, you need to make sure that the oil is heated up pretty hot. I usually heat it up until right it starts smoking before I add the potato and egg mixture so it instantly sets the bottom of the omelet. After adding the eggs, I return the pan to the stove and set the heat on medium low and carefully watch the omelet by running a spatula around the outside of the rim and scraping the bottom of the pan, making sure it doesn’t stick. When the outer edge of the omelet is thick and the center of the uncooked side looks like its no longer liquid its ready to be flipped!

Known as “la vuelta”, which means the flip, is probably the hardest part of the Tortilla making process. First, run a spatula around the rim again to make sure there is no sticking, then place a flat plate over the pan holding it firmly with your free hand thats not holding the pan handle. Then using both hands, carefully flip over the pan and carefully lift it from the plate, releasing the omelet from the pan. The cooked side of the tortilla should be a golden color with very little browning.

Next, reheat the pan with oil until barely smoking and then carefully push the omelet back into the pan, making sure to tuck in all around the tortilla to form the disc shape. From here on out, it is all about making sure that you watch the heat under the pan isn’t too hot that it browns the omelet. After every 4-5 minutes, I flip the tortilla until the center of the tortilla feels cooked all the way through. A toothpick can be inserted and should come out dry too show you whether or not the tortilla is done.


Even after making a couple hundred of these, I find myself finding new ways to perfect my Tortilla Española. It is always a great feeling when you flip out your Tortilla for the last time and let it sit before you cut into them and indulge in the light and fluffy texture of Tortilla!

Tortilla Española Wrapped in Jamon Serrano then seared until crispy!