February 3, 2013

Learning about Basque Cuisine in San Sebastián

One of the seafood stalls in the Mercado de la Bretxa (San Sebastián's market).

So, what’s better than eating in San Sebastián? Learning to cook a few of the local dishes! On our second day in San Sebastián, we met up with Gabriella, the owner of Tenedor Tours (a local tour company that arranges cooking classes for travelers and visitors). She brought us to the market where we tasted and gathered ingredients - seafood, bread, cheese, jamon (Spanish ham), and more. Then we went back to the kitchen where our instructor chef, Josetxo, was already busy preparing to help us learn about Basque cuisine.

Wheels of Idiazibal (local Basque sheep's milk cheese) at a shop.

An artisan jamón (ham) shop in San Sebastián.

The first thing we prepared was basic - anchovies with a fresh relish made of peppers, onions, and olive oil on toast. A little snack to eat before we started to cook. These anchovies had a delicate briny flavor, not the salty, overpowering reputation this type of fish has acquired in the USA. After this snack we started making more substantial appetizers.

First, pan fried fresh sardines. Again, this dish had no resemblance to the more familiar canned sardines that I still don’t understand why Jonathan enjoys eating for breakfast at home. Next we made what Josetxo referred to as hedgehog shrimp. To make these we dredged the raw shrimp in flour, egg, and then fideo (short vermicelli noodles) to give the little hedgehogs their spines before being deep fried. Under Josetxo’s tutelage, Jonathan made aioli to accompany these spiky shrimp.

Hedgehog shrimp we made.

We enjoyed our appetizer dishes with some local Basque cider and txakoli (white Basque wine pronounced "choc-o-lee"). I loved the hedgehog shrimp and homemade aioli! The spikes on the shrimp seemed designed to pick up the perfect amount of aioli. And they were crunchy and fun to eat.

Josetxo teaching me to prepare hedgehog shrimp.

Next we began cooking the main course dishes. We made two dishes - chipirones su tinta and bonito en piperade. The first, chipirones su tinta is squid with a sauce created from its own ink. To begin we had to clean the squid and chop some onions and peppers. After watching both me chop vegetables earlier in the day, Josetxo assigned me to squid cleaning. This was a slimy job that required removing the ink sack, bones, and other inedible parts of the squid. The next task was to saute the onions, peppers, and smaller pieces of squid and then stuff that mixture into the larger pieces of squid. These stuffed squid then simmered in a sauce of more onions, peppers, tomato, and the squid ink. In another pan we sautéed more peppers, onions, and tomato for the second, dish bonito en piperade or tuna with pepper sauce.

Bonito en piperade (tuna with pepper sauce)

While the main courses were cooking we began baking the dessert. For this course we made an apple tart with apricot glaze. This time Josetxo had me help slice the apples, a task I accomplished without incident. We then layered the slices on the pastry crust and put it in the oven.

Soon we were sitting at the table with Gabriella and Josetxo enjoying the the food we made. The squid dish was very good - with it's inky flavor it was a perfect dish for a rainy evening. It had a strong earthy flavor, perfect with a glass of Rioja. And the tuna was one of my favorite savory things we made all day. The tuna pepper sauce was simple, but rich and delicious.

Me at the table before the cheese course.

As if we had not had enough food already, next came the cheese course. We tried a variety of Basque cheeses, my favorite of which was Idiazabal (a local cheese made from sheep's milk). To end the meal we had a piece of the lovely tart we made. A perfect end to a fun day! And I look forward to cooking some of these things again when we're back home in Washington, DC...

Our apple tart with apricot glaze fresh out of the oven.

1 comment:

Rambling Tart said...

What a fantastic experience! :-) Those hedgehogs are absolutely adorable. :-)