"The idea was to cook the lentils like we always do, and then heat them as needed during service, adding a dressing to give smokiness and creaminess at the end, rather than through extensive cooking," the chef at New York City's Boqueria explains.
He settled upon his incredibly simple yet versatile secret weapon: smoked paprika vinaigrette. To dried pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika), Vidal adds sherry vinegar for acid, mustard for spice, shallots for sweetness and raw garlic for a bit of pungency. Blended together in a mild and fruity olive oil, the thin vinaigrette is balanced with a "little of each of the ingredients' own flavor profiles represented in the sauce," he says.
But its ease doesn't stop there. Boqueria is primarily focused on Spanish ingredients, so Vidal uses Spanish Arbequina olive oil and smoked Spanish paprika, specifically. "To make it a Spanish recipe, you obviously have to use Spanish products," he says. "But if you don't have them, just mix them with other things."
Because the smoky paprika really is the grounding flavor, any good Dijon mustard will do, he claims. Any sherry vinegar made with Palomino grapes—the most common kind you can find—works well. If you can't get a fruity Arbequina oil, use any buttery one you like. None of these make too much of an impact on the overall flavor.
Because of the simplicity of the ingredients, Vidal then uses the vinaigrette all over his kitchen. Here are a few of his favorite ways to bring some smoke into yours.
Folded into Cooked Lentils or Beans: With beans, the vinaigrette adds depth, smoke and braised-for-hours (even though they weren't) flavors. Once your lentils or beans are completely cooked, remove them from the heat and fold in a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette to gently coat. Make sure to take them off the heat first, Vidal warns, since the oil in the sauce will break if presented with a flame.
On Spicy Egg Dishes: Fold a few tablespoons in with your scrambled eggs or drizzle over a finished dish of fried eggs, spicy chorizo and crisp potatoes with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro for a balanced breakfast of creamy-smoky-spicy-fatty-fresh.
Saucing Grilled Steak, Vegetables or Squid: The vinaigrette is far too strong for a green salad, Vidal warns. Instead, drizzle it on hearty grilled veg like Brussels sprouts or mushrooms, or on marbled grilled steaks. And since grilled squid tentacles get nicely charred and blackened rather easily, finish them off with a toss in the sauce to add some smoke to the sweet meat.
Marinating Pork Shoulder: Because the vinaigrette is already pretty thin, it makes a stellar marinade as is for large cuts of meat like pork shoulder, or pork or lamb leg. Marinate the meat for several hours, then roast or grill it to really bring out the smoky flavors.