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The Cuisine of Basque: Regional Cooking at Its Best

José Pizarro, chef and owner of Jose and Pizarro, his eponymous tapas bar and restaurant respectively, both on Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge, was born in Extremadura and worked in restaurants in the region and Madrid. Credited with popularizing Spanish cuisine in Great Britain. His cookbook, Basque, (Hardie Grant 2021; $22.95) and is a great way to explore the beautiful Basque region of Spain.

Bilboa by Night. Jane Simon Ammeson.

“The Basque Country is feted across Spain, and indeed the world, for its culinary creativity,” says Pizarro.  “It has more three Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else, and I can understand why – there are so many local products that you can be inspired by here.”

Chicken Stewed in Cider & Apples

          “My inspiration for this dish, as with many of my recipes, came from seeing the ingredients together,” says Pizarro. “When I see them, I just have to create a plate of food. When we were in Astarbe in a beautiful cider house, I saw the chickens hopping around the apple trees, and that was it.

Serves 6

olive oil

1 free-range chicken (1.8–2 kg/4 lb–4½ lb)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 apple, peeled, cored and halved

2 onions, finely sliced

2 bay leaves

6 sage leaves

1 cinnamon stick

500 ml (17 fl oz) cider

400 ml (13 fl oz) fresh chicken stock

25 g (1 oz) unsalted butter

3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar

75 g (2½ oz) sultanas

Preheat the oven to 160ºC (320ºF/Gas 3).

Heat a layer of oil in a large casserole dish. Season the chicken inside and out and brown all over in the casserole dish. Set aside and put the halved apple inside the cavity.

Add the onions to the casserole and fry for 10 minutes to soften. Return the chicken to the pan and add the herbs and cinnamon.

Pour in the cider and bubble for a few minutes, then add the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil and the butter and fry the rest of the apples with the sugar until golden and caramelised. Add the sultanas and toss in the buttery juices. Add to the casserole about halfway through the cooking time.

Remove the lid of the casserole and turn up the oven to 220ºC (430ºF/Gas 7). Cook for 10 minutes more to brown the top of the chicken, then serve.

Photo by Laura Edwards.

Sautéed clams with garlic, lemon & parsley

“Clams are popular all over the world as they are so versatile,” says Pizarro about this wonderful dish. “When you are planning to cook for more than a couple of people, this is something that you must consider; ingredients and dishes your friends will love but are also quick prepare, so that you don’t spend the whole time at the stove.

“You can boil some pasta with this for a really easy lunch, and add some chilli for an extra kick.”

Serves 4

olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 lemon, half finely sliced, half juiced

1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) fresh palourde clams, cleaned
few sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped

handful of finely chopped flat-leaf

parsley

Heat a little oil in a deep heavy-based stockpot. Fry the garlic and lemon slices for 30 seconds, then increase the heat to high, tip
in all the clams and cover with a lid. Cook for 2–3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams have all opened (discard any that refuse to open).

Add the lemon juice and herbs and serve with lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Photo by Laura Edwards.

Pan-fried hake with sautéed wild chanterelles & sage

“Hake is one of the most sought-after fish in the Basque Country,” says Pizarro when sharing this recipe. “I really don’t know why it’s not as popular here in the UK, particularly as it’s plentiful – I think most of the catch from the sea here goes to Spain!

“In my family, our favourite way of cooking hake is a la romana, or Roman

style, which means that it’s battered.

“In this recipe, I bring two big flavors together, the sage and the mushrooms, but they complement the fish very well.”

Serves 4

olive oil
2 French shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
few small sage leaves
300 g (10 1⁄2 oz) chanterelles, cleaned

100 ml (31⁄2 fl oz) fresh fish stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 hake fillets (175 g/6 oz each)

Heat a little olive oil in a pan and gently fry the shallots for 5–10 minutes until really soft. Add the garlic and sage and cook for 30 seconds, then increase the heat and add the mushrooms. Fry for 4–5 minutes, then add the stock and bubble for a couple of minutes. Season and set aside.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan with a little bit of oil. Add the hake skin side down and cook for 4–5 minutes until almost cooked through. Flip over and cook for 30 seconds more.

Put the cooked hake, skin side up, into the pan with the mushrooms. Cook for a minute or two more, then serve.

Recipes excerpted with permission from Basque by José Pizarro published by Hardie Grant Books, March 2021.

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