Tag: basque cuisine

Piment d’Ville- Espelette Peppers in Boonville, CA

The other day, while looking for information on Basques in Northern California, I came across Piment d’Ville “a sweet, spicy Basque red chile.” Apparently, a group of Mendocino locals has begun growing and harvesting espelette peppers, and as they put it:

The spice has gradually replaced black pepper in everyday Basque cooking. We find ourselves using piment d’ville on everything from popcorn to simple roast chicken or in a red chile cream sauce. It also works well with chocolate or on a cocktail glass.

The company sells the peppers ground into different spices, from a sea salt mix to smoky or spicy jars of the chile. Their website even includes delicious sounding recipes, can’t wait to try them out for myself!

For those of you who have been to the Basque Country, I’m sure you’ve seen espelette peppers everywhere, in markets but also hung outside homes to dry. They are fundamental to Basque cuisine and it’s great to see it spread to another corner of the globe. Try the spice out in your next recipe, it won’t disappoint!

Four takes on Basque identity from a food perspective

Check out a lovely article on Basque food and tradition in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country from the gourmet food, wine, and travel magazine Saveur, in its continual quest to “savor a world of authentic cuisine.” Now we could get all highfalutin and scholarly about the nature of authenticity in culture as a whole, but seeing as though this is meant to be a fun blog and a downright celebration of all things Basque… we won’t! Yay!! In the article, author Jane Sigal visits a charcutier, a pepper grower, a baker, and a cheese maker in Iparralde to see how the food they make represents the place in which they live. In  a beautiful philosophical turn, cheese maker Raphaël Eliceche comments that, “My cheese is for sale … Not the Pays Basque.”

Check out the full article here.

*Image: Official seal of Bayonne Ham. Photo  by Émile Pujolle, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Anthony Bourdain visits the Basque Country

Anthony Bourdain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The well-known travel and food show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which aired on CNN on Sunday, May 7, explored the Basque culinary tradition. Bourdain is a long-time champion of Basque cuisine. As he himself notes:

San Sebastián and the surrounding region has more outrageously good restaurants per square mile than just about anywhere in Europe. Even the bad restaurants are good … The Basque can’t seem to help but make good food from great ingredients … My love for the Basque, for Basque culture, for my Basque friends, is absolute. I hope I will be forgiven for this. But if not, I can live with it.

Check out Bourdain’s field notes here.  These offer up a rich introduction to the main aspects of Basque gastronomy and are well worth a read for anyone interested in this fascinating aspect of Basque culture.

 

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 1

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Zuriñe Garcia, head chef at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia.

I’m sure everyone out there is aware of the reputation of Basque cuisine at the world level. The food and drink of the Basque Country now serve as major attractions for visitors to this singular and spirited little corner of Europe, where world-renowned chefs like Juan Mari Arzak, Martin Berasategi, Pedro Subijana, Hilario Arbelaitz, Andoni Aduriz, Eneko Atxa, and Victor Arguinzoniz, among many others, ply their trade. While all these chefs publicly acknowledge, whenever they can, the influence of their mothers on their own love of cooking, what about Basque women chefs? How come women’s names appear to be missing from such lists?

The first and most obvious answer is that women’s names could of course be added to any checklist of contemporary Basque chefs. The first name that immediately springs to mind is Elena Arzak, joint owner with her father, Juan Mari, of the Arzak restaurant. Indeed, after its beginnings as a bar in 1897, Arzak was converted into a restaurant and later run, on the death of her husband Juan Ramon Arzak, by her grandmother, Francisca “Paquita” Arratibel. Juan Mari was nine-years-old at the time, and in the words of Elena, in an interview with The Guardian (see below): “He was an only child surrounded by women, in a matriarchy … I think that is why he idolises women now.” Indeed, today, Arzak is 80 percent female, with six women chefs in the kitchen.

Besides Elena Arzak, both Zuriñe Garcia at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia, and Pilar Idoate, who heads up the Europa hotel-restaurant in Pamplona-Iruñea, have Michelin stars.

Alongside such prominent women chefs, Basque-language TV viewers may well be familiar with Aizpea Oihaneder, who, as well as presenting her own cooking show on ETB1, Oihaneder bere satsan, jointly runs the Xarma Jatetxea in Donostia-San Sebastián with Xabi Diez. Likewise, Eva Arguiñano, from Beasain, Gipuzkoa, is a well-known TV chef, while also working at the restaurant of her brother, the famous Karlos Arguiñano. We could also list other contemporary women chefs like Txaro Zapiain at the Roxario restaurant and cider house in Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Estibaliz Mekoalde at the Castillo de Arteaga restaurant in Gautegiz-Arteaga, Bizkaia, and Aitziber Lekerika at the Errekaondo restaurant in Zamudio, Bizkaia (to name just a few).

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Nieves Barragán Mohacho, from Santurtzi. Picture from the Barrafina website.

Mention should also be made of the growing reputation of Nieves Barragán Mohacho from Santurtzi, Bizkaia, the Executive Head Chef of the Michelin-starred Barrafina in London, where, as in the case of Arzak, other women chefs are front and center in the kitchen. Barrafina was named UK restaurant of the year in 2015 (and runner-up in 2016) as well as being named the OFM Awards Best Restaurant 2016. In the words of Four Magazine:

Nieves Barragán Mohacho grew up in the Basque region of Spain, in the capital city of Bilbao. From a young age she was aware of food and cooking. Her mother spent most of her time looking after Nieves’s grandmother in the house and so to keep Nieves entertained she involved her in the kitchen’s daily activity. She began with simple things, peeling potatoes and stirring the contents of pans but progressed quickly and by the age of seven Nieves was roasting her own chicken. Nieves quickly understood there was an abundance of excellent local ingredients that surrounded her and a strong tradition of local cooking.

Nor should we forget the huge contribution of one of the main ambassadors of Basque cuisine abroad, Teresa Barrenechea from Bilbao, whose Marichu restaurant was such a feature of the New York restaurant scene for many years.

So things are changing, it would seem. But it’s also interesting to note an arguably forgotten dimension to this story: the historical impact of women chefs on Basque gastronomy. In fact, Paquita Arratibel, who established Arzak as a restaurant, was only one of many women pioneers in the Basque restaurant world, and there were others before her … a story we continue in Part 2 of this post tomorrow.

Further Reading

Allan Jenkins, “Elena Arzak: The best female chef on the planet,The Guardian, August 19, 2012.

Rachael Pells, “Barrafina: No reservations about Britain’s best restaurant, which puts female chefs centre stage,” The Independent, July 5, 2015.

Sudi Pigott, “Why a Basque woman’s place is in the kitchen,” The Independent, April 27, 2012.

 

2017: The Year of Basque Cuisine?

More than just a sausage! The great (and blanket-free) txistorra or chistorra. Image by Flickr user jlastras, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Is 2017 the year of Basque cuisine? Perhaps (although for all of us here at the Center, every year is the year of Basque cuisine!). We recently came across a charming post by epicurean adventurer and culinary sleuth Christina Mueller for the  online restaurant-reservation service Open Table that, if you’re at all interested in Basque food, is well worth checking out. Titled “Basque to the Future: 2017 Will be the Year of Basque Cuisine,” she takes us on a quick culinary ride through the contemporary Basque cuisine on offer in the United States today. In her own words:

Basque cuisine has a long history in the western United States, but many chefs across the country have recently discovered the unique ingredients and storied history of the region that straddles northeastern Spain and southwestern France. Traditionalists will revel in the regional flavors that mark Basque cuisine while modernists will exult in new interpretations that are emerging from forward-thinking chefs around the country.

So if you want to find out where you can ask for Chistorra in a Blanket or a Veal Tongue Bocadillo … mmmm, my mouth’s watering already …  check out the full post here.

And if you haven’t done so already, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

What do Basques eat during the Holiday Season?

“Make sure to buy good fish and wine because Christmas only happens once a year. And Christmas is for people to enjoy. At least for those who can … Have a good Christmas. I’m planning on spending it with the sheep.”

Part of a letter from a Basque sheepherder back home to the Old Country, quoted in John Bieter and Mark Bieter, An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho, p. 43.

This poignant letter is, I think, a reminder to all of us about the connection between special times of the year or celebrations and certain food rituals: A Fourth of July barbecue or a Thanksgiving meal including turkey and pumpkin pie, for example. So how do Basques celebrate the holiday season when it comes to food? What’s on the menu in Basque homes? I don’t think there’s any straightforward answer to this question, and I’m even more certain that I’ll miss something somewhere along the line in my attempt to answer it (so apologies beforehand!). First of all, the main meal at which families sit down together to celebrate is dinner on Christmas Eve, rather than a Christmas-day lunch. But from there, the food ritual can go in a number of directions (including even pizza nowadays I guess).

In former times, and maybe still even today, prior to sitting down to the meal, a loaf of bread would be blessed by making the sign of the cross over it with a knife prior to cutting it and sharing slices out among those gathered at the table. Sometimes the first piece, the kurrusko, of this ogi salutadorea (health-giving bread) would be offered to those who had departed, especially any recently deceased family members. Any leftover bread would be kept for a whole year and burned right before the same celebration the following year. In the meantime, this bread was highly regarded for its curative powers and should anyone in the household fall sick, they would be given a piece. “Christmas (Eve) bread” could even be used to ward off the harsh effects of extreme weather conditions.

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Basque baked sea bream. Image at Javier de la Hoz’s website Basco.

A traditional Basque song includes what was probably once a typical menu for this dinner:  Aza-olioak pil-pil / Bisigua zirt-zart / Gaztaiña erriak pin-pan! / Aia goxo-goxo, epel-epel (in other words, sauteed cabbage (with garlic), sea bream, roasted chestnuts, and a porridge-like desert made from wheat flour). And there would of course have been variations on this: cauliflower instead of cabbage, perhaps, to start; followed by cod, for example, instead of sea bream or, especially in coastal areas, txitxarro (horse-mackerel); and perhaps for dessert intxaursaltsa (a milky walnut-based pudding) or konpota (stewed fruits, especially apples and/or pears) or just roasted apples.

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Intxaursaltsa, a typical Basque dessert of nuts, milk, cinnamon and sugar. Photo by Valdavia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Navarre, meanwhile, instead of cabbage families could have opted for braised cardoon stalks, still a great Navarrese delicacy today; while in areas farther away from the coast, fish may well have been replaced by a meat dish such as roast mutton, goat, lamb, chicken, or capon; and for dessert kapoi-salda (capon soup … yes, capon soup … the cooking juices from the capon sweetened with sugar and almonds).

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Elvers or baby eels with garlic, parsley, and a little chili pepper. A classic dish that is beyond the budget of most normal homes nowadays. Photo by demi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Greater urbanization in the 19th century led to increased production of additional sweet favorites such as chocolates and cakes, as well as the omnipresent turrón, which was soon added to the prolonged dessert courses that would invariably extend into post-prandial family conversation.  With time, too (and greater affluence) more appetizer courses were added that included braised snails, elvers or baby eels (a delicacy that only the very well-off can afford nowadays), and more seafood in general, such as shrimp, crab, oysters, lobster, and so on.

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Piquillo peppers stuffed with bonito. Photo by Tamorian, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So what do Basque families sit down to today? As I said at the beginning, I don’t think there’s any one answer. In my experience, appetizers nowadays typically include cold meats plus a selection of Navarrese produce such as asparagus, red piquillo peppers, artichokes, and so on, followed by seafood like jumbo shrimp, and then the big choice–fish or meat, meaning sea bream or txitxarro on the one hand, for example, or lamb or capon on the other–and all this followed by a combination of multiple desserts from the options mentioned above.

Whatever the actual menu, though, the really important thing is sitting down together and talking … mostly about the food itself.

For some further reading, see “Historia de la gastronomía navideña en el País Vasco,” Euskonews no. 514 (Dec. 25, 2009-Jan. 8, 2010) and Ander Manterola, “Christmas bread. ‘Ogi salutadorea’,” at the excellent Basque Ethnography at a Glance website.

For a recipe for baked sea bream Basque-style, take a look at Javier de la Hormaza’s webpage here.

And if you like food, be sure to check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

 

Prominent Basque presence among latest list of world’s top restaurants

Restaurant Magazine has just published its influential annual listing of the world’s best restaurants, among which the Basque presence is as strong as ever.

Two Basque restaurants feature in the Top 10 list:

At #7 is Mugaritz, in Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, run by Andoni Aduriz, “the natural heir,” in the opinion of Restaurant Magazine, “to the title of Spain’s most pioneering chef after Ferran Adrià.” See the magazine’s full description here.

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Entrance to Mugaritz. Photo by Krista, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And coming in at #10 is Asador Etxebarri, in Atxondo, Bizkaia, run by Victor Arguinzoniz, who “taught himself to cook and built his own kitchen full of manual grilling contraptions using multiple types of wood. Known for his devotion to the barbecue, he is rarely seen out of the kitchen.” See the magazine’s full description here.

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Steak at Etxebarri. Photo by Krista, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

At #16 is Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, Bizkaia, run by Eneko Atxa, followed by Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak’s emblematic Arzak in Donostia at #21, Nerua, in Bilbao, run by Josean Alija, at #59, and Martin Berasategui’s eponymous restaurant in Lasarte-Oria, Gipuzkoa., at #59. 

If that were not enough to demonstrate just how much Basques punch above their weight when it comes to world-class cuisine, two other Basque-run restaurants outside the Basque Country also made the top 100 list: Biko, in Mexico City, run by Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza, at #43; and  Le Chateubriand, in Paris, run by Iñaki Azpitarte, at #74.

Check out the full list here.

For a general introduction to Basque food, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, available free to download, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute, here.

Rockin’ the foodie charts-Basque represent!

Out of the top  10 restaurants in the world, only two are from the same “country,” one of them being from the Basque Country more specifically. And, even more impressive than that, out of the top 20 restaurants in the world, a whopping FOUR (that is 1/5th everyone!) of the restaurants are from the Basque Country!

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Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, who jointly run the Arzak Restaurant in Donostia-San Sebastián. Photo by Javier Lastras, via Wikimedia Commons

Within the Top 20 are:

#6 Mugaritz

#13 Asador Etxebarri

#17 Arzak

#19 Azurmendi

What does this mean for the Basque people?  Well, many things I assume, but I’m guessing it has and will continue to bring in more awareness of Basque culture and its talents and adaptability in the modern world.  This combination of nostalgia and invention go hand-in-hand to continue giving recognition to and set these people apart in the globalized society.  And this may in part be exactly what the culture needs to stay alive.

Click below for the full list of restaurants:

http://www.theworlds50best.com/