Cookbook: The Basque Kitchen by Gerald and Cameron Hirigoyen Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

The Basque Kitchen by Gerald and Cameron Hirigoyen

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

We have always enjoyed the food at Fringale and Pastis (now Piperade) in San Francisco. These restaurants were introducing locals to the delights of Basque cuisine long before its flavours achieved the current cult status.
The Basque region straddles both France and Spain on the Atlantic side of each country. The area runs from Bayonne in France along the coast to Bilbao in Spain and inland to Pamplona and beyond.
Hirigoyen starts the book with a lovely Basque saying:
To know how to eat is to know enough
He then goes on to describe his joy at returning to his homeland and being assaulted by the smells and tastes of the food of the region.
"I will stroll San Sebastian's old town with its hundreds of small bars and restaurants where the savoury smells of pintxos (tapas) spill into the narrow, crowded streets .. We wander from bar ro bar, scuff the fresh sawdust that covers the floors, and order glasses of txakoli - a crisp, lightly petillant white wine - and small ramekins of tiny stuffed squid cooked in their own ink. Then I will follow my nose to another bar, order another glass of wine, and perhaps have a wedge of Idiazabal, a smoked mountain sheep's cheese."
After an extensive introduction which describes the social underpinnings of the cuisine and the main elements of it, the book is then divided along traditional lines with recipes for soups, appetizers, fish and so on.
Start your culinary explorations with Garbure, a vegetable soup popular in south-western France then move on to a gazpacho which is enriched with beetroot. Appetizers to try include a wonderful Basque omelet with Bayonne ham and an unusual terrine made from ham and sheep's milk cheese. The traditional piperade is also explained.
In the seafood section we love the Fish Cake Juan Mari which is based on a recipe of Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak which is a cross between a cake and a custard given intense flavour with Basquaise Sauce.
We are fascinated by recipes for roast chicken. Every chef seems to have a different idea about the best way to do it. We have tried this dish in most parts of the world and are constantly surprised by the different textures and favours that chefs can coax out of the humble chicken. We therefore enjoyed reading the recipe for Roasted Chicken "Irouleguy" based on the Irouleguy red wine. He also eschews the idea of resting chicken and instead urges cooks to carve immediately thus making the most of the crispness of the skin.
The last major section is devoted to the fabulous desserts of the region including the famous koka (crème caramel).
An excellent book that will provide a wonderful springboard for exploring this fascinating cuisine.
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