Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! was Chicago’s first tapas bar when it opened back in 1985, but 35 years later, Executive Chef Eric Jorgensen is definitely not resting on his laurels. He’s recently added a new pressed “bikini” sandwich to the menu that toys significantly with the Barcelona staple.
A bit like a grown-up grilled cheese, the bikini sandwich is a pressed jamon y queso — it’s known as a “mixto” throughout Spain, save in Barcelona where dance club Sala Bikini popularized them in the ’60s as a simple yet filling snack for late-night revelers.
“They typically make them with sliced white bread, ham and cheese,” Jorgensen says of the dish he discovered on a trip to the Catalan capital. “But I wanted to elevate it a little bit.”
Jorgensen’s iteration begins with house-made cristal bread — aka “glass bread,” a traditional high-hydration Catalan loaf with an ultra-crispy crust and a beautifully open crumb. When toasted, he says, the bread becomes even crispier, all the while retaining its beautiful airiness. If you can’t find it near you, he says, ciabatta makes a great stand-in.
The classic deli ham of the original is here replaced with COVAP Iberico chorizo made with Bellota ham and lots of lovely spice.
“The Iberico chorizo has a nice amount of fat and sweet pimenton in it,” says Jorgensen, “so as the sandwich heats up and the fat melts, releasing all of that smoky pimenton flavor, the fat soaks into the bread.”
Standing in for Spanish melting cheese is stracciatella, an Italian imposter that Jorgensen chooses for its luscious creaminess — and thanks to local producers, who make sourcing the fresh pasta filata a breeze.
While the typical bikini features just these two ingredients, Jorgensen adds roasted piquillo peppers, a Spanish staple with a lovely meatiness, as well as a generous drizzle of honey for the perfect sweet-and-savory finale.
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Ba-Ba-Reeba! Bikini Sandwich
- 1 loaf cristal or ciabatta bread, 8 inches in length
- 12 slices Iberico chorizo
- 3 piquillos, opened, seeds removed
- 4 tablespoons stracciatella
- 1 tablespoon honey
Split a loaf of cristal or ciabatta in half lengthwise. Place the Iberico chorizo on one half and the piquillo peppers on the other. Spread the stracciatella over the Iberio chorizo and close the sandwich.
Toast the sandwich on a flat griddle or panini press with olive oil for 5 minutes on each side. The sandwich should be melty and crunchy.
Cut the sandwich into four triangles and arrange on the wood board lined with brown paper. Drizzle liberally with honey just before serving.
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