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What Can You Tell Me of Basque Cuisine?

I'm interested in Basque food, in large part, because I'm totally ignorant of it. So what do these people like to eat and drink?

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  1. I am very interested in any info as well

    1. Sixty years ago when we lived in Argentina we used to go in the summers to a coastal town, Necochea, which had a large Basque population, and stay in a small hotel, the Zure-Echea, that was run by a multi-generation Basque family. For what it's worth, here's what I remember of the cuisine: 1) Very often served, mussels steamed with something sour (vinegar? lemon juice?) and bits of green stuff (parsley? herbs?) with the shells open and bread to sop up the lots of very good juice. 2) Also often, crepes filled with creamed stuff like spinach and rolled up. 3) Fried fish with breading on it so that a crusty crust formed. 4) Fruit salad with wine in it. I have no idea whether this was typical Basque food but, on request, the family used to assemble and dance the Jota for guests after dinner so they were still in the culture.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Querencia

        I've read the Wikipedia article on Basque cuisine, and it's somewhat enlightening. It mentions Basques in Buenos Aires, and, of all places, Boise, Idaho!

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          Boise, because Idaho sheep ranchers hired -- and arranged for travel for -- Basque herders to manage their flocks. [Most westerners wanted nothing to do with sheep.] Several Idaho state officials were/are descendants of the herders. The food is most interesting!

          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            There used to be a number of decent Basque restaurants in Bakersfield, CA (run by descendants of the Basque shepherds who were brought to the area in the early 1900s). What I remember most about them was that they all had sweetbreads as part of the meal. Unfortunately, urban renewal hit the area and on our last visit I wasn't able to find any of the old places I remembered.

        2. ongi etorri!

          Txakoli is the local wine of choice, tending to be low in alcohol lightly frizzy goes great with Pincho's (bar food). Rioja is close by as well (Haro is a short ride away) and are considered local wines. Also famous locally is the Cider. The Cider houses often have restaurants that specialize in fixed price meals with rare grilled rib eye, cod tortilla, ect.. and all the cider you can drink!

          Basque cuisine comes mostly from the hills or the ocean, so you see a lot of sheep milk and meatcheeses as well as the dessert Leche cuajada served with local honey or sugar. Cod is popular, Merluza is everywhere, fish cheeks served pil pil style, berberechos (cockles I think?) Tuna served in traditional stews like Marmitako.

          The basque cornmeal 'tortilla-esqe' wrap called Talo typically served around the feast of santo Tomas and served with the basque sausage txistorra.

          1. This link has a number of recipes for Basque specialties.


            You might want to try some of them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Yank

              I've not eaten Basque, but Catalan, which from what I understand has similarities. Of course the Catalan restaurant I ate at was in Washington DC - and in the National Art Gallery, at that. However, the food was delicious, and definitely exotic to me.

              There were lots of white bean dishes - cold salads with cilantro, lemon, and other cooling ingredients. Salted cod soaked to reconstitution was a main ingredient. Lots of fresh green herbs with very woody/earthy tasting beans. Tomatoes were a big part of the flavoring, as well.

              We had the Empedrat de mongetes amb bacallà (White bean salad with vegetables and Catalan salt cod) and the Canelons de Sant Esteve (Pork and chicken “canelons” with béchamel sauce).

              It was all very tasty. It reminded me not at all of traditional Spanish, Cuban, or Mexican cuisine. I grew up in south Florida, so ate lots of all three.

              Here is the menu: http://www.nga.gov/pdf/miro-menu.pdf

            2. I heartily recommend Mark Kurlansky's book _A Basque History of the World_. Kurlansky is a writer who's focused on food histories -- Salt, The Big Oyster, Cod... and the worldwide impact of Basques is remarkable and weaves together themes from his other books.

              The wonderful cheese Ossau-Iraty is a Basque food.

              1. Lots of organ meats and innards, I understand.

                1 Reply
                1. re: arktos

                  Pretty typical fare for poor country folk.

                2. "Catalan Cuisine" by Colman Andrews, published in 1988, may be of some interest to you....

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: KSlink

                    Traditional Basque cooking is not like Traditional Catalan cooking. Catalan food tends to be lighter and more heavily influenced by the mediterranean sea also more cosmopolitan with old moorish and new world influences from early on. The Basque country is much colder and on the Atlantic ocean, resisted internationalism for much longer. There is much less use of garlic you won't find the Catalan nora chile only the 'chorisero' (guajillo like). Yes you find a lot of pan-spanish cooking in both places but that's about it. For Basque food history and recipes look for Teresa Barrenechea's excellent Basque Table NOT Colman Andrews!

                    1. re: AAQjr

                      Espelette peppers in the French Basque region, too, I believe.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        Bayonne ham, and Gateaux basque ect also french Basque. Gernika peppers, Idiazable cheese on the Spanish Basque side (in addition to anything mentioned above)

                  2. I've not eaten Basque food in its native region but I have eaten it in Basque restaurants in other parts of Spain. I don't detect too much difference between the style of cooking from there and the style from other regions - particularly those other regions in the north of Spain.

                    Unsurprisingly, all of the northern coastal regions, from Catalonia to Galicia, draw on the same produce. It's heavily into seafood; lamb and goat is perhaps more popular than in the far south. Obviously the produce influences the cooking but, unlike Andalucia for example where seafood is pretty much only fried in traditional recipes, there's a greater variety of cooking methods.

                    1. Hey, PK: my experience comes from dining frequently at the numerous Basque boardinghouses in San Fransisco. The dinners, no matter which hotel we were at, were served in a proscribed order: Bread, Soup (usually a seafood/shellfish chowder, or a bean soup of some type.) On to the salad course, which was....salad, generally with a pepper-heavy vinaigrette. Next came a bean course - marinated lentil salad, garbanzos,etc. Sometimes the beans were combined with and served as a salad course. Following this came seafood and vegetables, frequently something like mussels w/ fennel in a tomato broth that tasted almost Provencal, or steamed clams with saffron butter and sauteed bell peppers.. Right about now, I'd be ready for coffee and the check, but dinner was far from over because the entree came next. This was the only course one could actually choose, from a limited list: steak, braised lamb stew, tripe, roast chicken to name a few. Bread was served throughout the meal; a hearty sheepherder's style bread with dense crust and crumb, or a hearty wheat loaf. Post- entree (which was always served with French-fried or panfried potatoes) came dessert, which more often than not was ice cream, served with coffee and perhaps grappa or brandy. A lot of folks drank Pisco punches, and wine was served and left at table.

                      The main components of the cuisine seemed to be shellfish, organ meats, lamb and poultry. They seemed expert at layering flavors, especially since their palette is a little limited: garlic, salt, saffron, pepper, bell pepper, paprika....I can say I never had a bad dish and that includes the tripe, which I adore: tomatoey, peppery tender goodness. They rely on many legumes and I ate a preponderance of white beans, garbanzos and lentils. Vegetables were not predominant,( peppers, potatoes, tomtoes were the stars) and as I said entrees came with a starch. It's a meat-centric cuisine, which I love, and I wish the hotels were still there. What a fun thread, PK!!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: mamachef

                        When I was a teen we rented a house in St Jean de Luz and we had a Basque houskeeper who also made lunvh and dinner. She did do a tripe in tomatot dish that I liked a lot, and a chicken with paprika and saffron. Her main iem for the warm weather was a great rice salad with a sharp oil/vinegar dressing, hard cooked egg, tomato and anchovy. I still make it over forty years later.

                        1. re: hazelhurst

                          That salad sounds wondeful, hazelhurst. And when you mention it, I recall something similar, a salady rice dish that contained, in addition to what you mentioned, little shrimps. Yum.

                        2. re: mamachef

                          My tum-tum dunn swole up just readin' that post! Gosh.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            Everything's right up your culinary alley, m'Man. I recommend that if you can, you should check out the Dec. '05 issue of Saveur, # 89 - it has a wonderful article on the Basque community in Idaho, and has teriffic recipes. If you'd like some of them, I'd be glad to get them to you.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Thanks, mama! I may just hit you up for those.

                        3. Spanish regional cookbooks (e.g. Culinaria Spain) will have a Basque chapter. Same goes for culinary travel series, such as Batali's roadtrip, or the more recent one on Cooking Channel. And every food writer with connections has to visit Arzak in San Sebastian. I've also seen several segments about the all-male Basque gastromical societies.

                          I've also seen a few Basque recipes in French regional cookbooks.

                          some of my favorites are:
                          marmitako - a tuna and potato stew
                          Piperada - eggs with a pepper 'relish'

                          pilpil is beyond my skill

                          1. Inspired by mamachef's and hazelhurst's recollections, I went to Eat Your Books to look up Basque cookbooks, of which they have 15. Only three are indexed, but their recipes give a good window into the cuisine:

                            The Basque Table [Passionate Home Cooking from One of Europe's Great Regional Cuisines] by Mary Goodbody and Teresa Barrenechea

                            Two from Gerald Hirigoyen, a Basque chef in San Francisco: The Basque Kitchen [Tempting Food from the Pyrenees] and Pintxos [Small Plates in the Basque Tradition]. The Basque Table has quite a few pintxos recipes, too.

                            Salt cod, piperade, sheep cheeses, seafood in sizzling garlic, egg-seafood, egg-potato, and egg-pepper dishes; stews involving white beans, peppers, potatoes, chorizo, seafood.