In this tour besides enjoying the beauty of the French Basque coast we will also enjoy its gastronomy. We will focus on the gastronomy offered by the traditional French markets. In these markets you can find from the typical cheeses of the region to fresh oysters brought from the neighboring bay of Arcachon. Truffles, fish and wine are also very appreciated. White wines from the French Basque area and red wines from the Bourdeaux region.

We will visit the traditional markets of Saint Jean de Luz and Biarritz. These markets are located in the historical center of the city and are a meeting place for its inhabitants. They are small typical markets where each stand has its specialty. In some of this stands you can choose the products and eat them right there. If you like seafood there is nothing better than some fresh oysters accompained with white wine. For those who are not fans of the raw oysters  they can choose a different seafood or simply taste some of the local products that are not raw.

 

In addition to the markets, there is a wide range of typical French restaurants and if you know where to sit and eat you can enjoy excellent quality French food at a very good price.

Besides all this gastronomic offer in this tour you will have the opportunity to enjoy the landscapes and the environment of the French Basque Country. It is without a doubt a complete experience.

This is a recipe that first appeared in the recipe book of “La Nicolasa” in the 1920s. La Nicolasa was a cheff who had a restaurant in San Sebastian named after her. At home this book edited in the 1920’s is like a bible. It is a bit broken and out of its time but the content is very valuable. We can think of it as one of the pillars of Basque haute cuisine as some of the recipes are still valid today. Above all you can find recipes for traditional fish such as cod, sea bass, seafood and game meats such as quail, partridge, pheasant and deer. It is a very illustrative book about the origins of Basque cuisine.

Quails in Spanish sauce

The Spanish sauce is an onion-based sauce so we will need 1 onion for every 2 quails. 2 tablespoons of olive oil for each quail. 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar for each quail. 1 glass of white and red wine (50/50) per each quail. We will also add spices such as a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, black pepper, a sprig of parsley, a bay leaf (it is important to remove the bay leaf before crushing the sauce) and 1 clove per quail.

Cut the onion into more or less thick rings and place in a deep pot with the rest of the ingredients.

Season the outside and inside of the quails with salt and pepper and place on top of the casserole dish. Then cover the top of the casserole. Start to cook over low heat and the quails will cook with the aromatic vapors of the sauce. Let it cook over low heat. Always in the upper part of the casserole without submerging or mixing with the onions. After 1 hour they are usually ready to be removed to a plate. You can check by pulling one of the thighs. If it is tender and can be released, they are ready.

When we remove the quails to a plate we continue cooking the sauce over low heat. It can be another 3 hours until the sauce is reduced and takes a brown tone.

When the sauce is ready we remove the bay leaf and grind it. After passing the sauce we add the quails and let them rest in the sauce. It is best to leave them like this all night to eat them the next day.

 

Pheasant with grapes is a simple recipe to cook this bird that can sometimes be a little dry. With this recipe it is very juicy. The key is to marinate it for 3 days in an airtight bag used to preserve food.

The first thing to do is to clean the pheasant, remove the guts and feathers. To remove the feathers you pour boiling water over the bird to make it easier to pluck.

What ingredients does the pheasant marinade have?

The ingredients are wine, cognac(80grames) white grapes(150 grames), aromatic herbs such as laurel(1 leave), and thyme. Also about 20 balls of black pepper. Once all the ingredients are mixed, they are crushed with a blender to release all the aromas. Then pour it over the bag and introduce the already cleaned pheasant. Close the bag and leave it in the fridge for 3 days.

Cooked in the oven

Before putting the bird in the oven, clean it well with cold water. Very important, salt and pepper is added and the skin is browned in a casserole with a little oil to seal the meat. In this way we guarantee that the meat does not lose its juices. Put it in the oven at 160 degrees celsius for 45 minutes. When the pheasant is cooked it is cut in 4 pieces. The two breasts and the two thighs. They are left ready to be plated with the sauce.

The pheasant sauce

In the casserole where we have gilded the skin of the pheasant, we add the chopped vegetables. 2 leek, 2 carrot, 1 onion, 2 tomatoes and 200 grams of grapes… add 1 spoonfuls of oil and cook slowly. When the vegetables are very poached, flambé 80 ml of cognac and then pour it over the vegetables. When the mixture is well cooked it is filtered to obtain a liquid sauce.

To the liquid sauce, add 50 grames of white grapes split in half without the seeds and leave them cooking in the sauce for 10 minutes over a low heat. Depending on the quantity of liquid that we obtain, we can add some more cognac and, or white wine.

Tiling

Place thigh and breast,  crown with 3 grapes and pour the sauce. Finally add a sprig of thyme.

 

 

 

“Percebe” in Spanish and “lamperna” in basque

Goose barnacles in the Basque Country is one of those strange things that are eaten in northern Spain. It is a seafood that grows on the most exposed rocks of the North Atlantic Ocean from Portugal and northern Spain to the coasts of France and the United Kingdom. It needs very rich and wild seas. This type of barnacle grows in the heart of the cliffs in its most inaccessible cracks, where the waves beat without stopping. This type of molluscs are found clinging to the rock and remain immobile, that is to say that they do not move. They grow in colonies of numerous individuals and hey have a head protected by a shell where resides what may look like a crab. With this part it filters the water and obtains its food. They feed on the plankton of the sea. The part more appreciated by the gastronomy is the muscular part that unites the mollusk to the rock. . It is a very fleshy and juicy part of the mollusk.

How they collect it from the rocks?

It is a risky profession since the “percebeiros” must go down to the rocks tied up with a safety harness and take advantage of the moments when the waves are not coming. At that moment they descend into the crevice and begin to collect the mollusks. Their companion who is in the highest part warns him of when the waves come. At that moment the “percebeiro” goes up again to the high part of the rock and waits for the sea to go down again. It is very risky but the price may be worth it because the market price per kilo is between 60€ and 120€. Depending on the origin and size of the specimens. The bigger the better!

How to cook them?

It’s very simple, you put water with salt(70 grames per liter) in a pot and heat it up until it is boiling. If you want you can add a bay leaf to give a special aroma. When the water boils, add the barnacles, at that moment it will stop boiling. Immediately when it starts boiling again wait for 1 minute and the “barnacles” are removed to a plate. We recommend opening a bottle of white wine such as a bottle of Txakoli from Guetaria.

What can be said about its taste? It is as if you eat a bit of sea. It tastes like the sea!

 

Video of the percebes fishing in Galicia, the gaelic part of Spain.

 

YouTube video

Iberian ham introduction

In Spain when we buy a ham we don’t mess around. We buy a whole leg and put it in the kitchen. There’s nothing better than this and it’s usually done in Christmas.

The ham has to be Iberian race and fed with acorns. This is the best ham in the world. There may be some variations in quality depending on the diet but the breed must always be the same.Within the world of Iberian hams there are some differences and these are according to the type of food and the lifestyle of the animals.

The lowest range of the Iberian pork ham is the one in which the animal has been fed with all kinds of food, normally feed, and also has not enjoyed a breeding in freedom. These hams have affordable prices that can be around 200 euros.

Medium quality Iberian hams are those animals that have received a combination of food. Natural foods such as acorns and also some feed. They are animals that spend a part of their life free in the countryside and another part stabled in farms. They are very good quality hams and their prices can be around 300 or 400 euros.

The best Iberian ham comes from animals raised in freedom feed with natural foods and mainly acorns. These animals have a very active life and this makes the quality of their meat exceptional. The prices of these hams are between 500 and 700 euros.

Iberian ham is bred in a specific area of Spain where the natural environment and climate conditions are key. The “Spanish Dehesa” is located throughout the western part of Spain on its border with Portugal. It is a very specific ecosystem in which oaks and holm oaks abound.

When you buy the ham leg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The characteristics of a Spanish iberian ham are clear to see. The hoof must be totally black and the cut of the piece with a drawing like in V. These are the most obvious signs that we are dealing with an Iberian ham.

When you buy a whole leg you need a support to put it on. Once you have the ham in place, you start cutting the thickest part, i.e. with the hoof facing upwards. To cut the ham you need a knife with a large, sharp blade. The ham should be cut in thin slices and each slice should be approximately the size of our tongue so that it is deposited on it and we can extract all the flavor.

An Iberian ham is anatomically wrapped in its own fat but the fat must also be infiltrated into the muscle. That’s why in the cut we must observe the streaks of fat along the meat.

I invite you to try this ham because it is one of the most delicious things you can eat in this world. I  remember the first time a client from Australia told me that he did not know what Iberian ham was. He almost gave me something, it was very sad. Soon we solved it with a good plate of ham cut with a knife. I think that customer will remember it for a lifetime.

Pintxo tasting tour

 

 

 

This recipe of roasted pigeon is from one of the best cheffs in San Sebastian, Juan Mari Arzak. If you like this kind of food don´t forget to taste it next time you come back.

Ingredients for 4 people

4 pigeons, 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil, salt, and white pepper.

For the Porto and liquorice sauce
The carcasses of the pigeon and the legs, 1 onion, 2 leeks, 1 spoonful of chopped thyme, 1 spoonful of chopped parsley, 1 dl of red port, 1 dl of red wine, 1 stick of liquorice, half a liter of water, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper

In addition

2 william pears and some sprigs of fresh thyme.

Elaboration

For the roasted pigeon

Salt and pepper the pigeons inside and out. Remove the carcasses of the pigeons by removing the breasts. Sauté the breasts and legs with sunflower oil in a casserole and then bake them at 220 degrees for 5 or 6 minutes. Then, take them out and let them rest for a few minutes.

For the Porto and liquorice sauce

Brown the carcasses in the oil. Once browned, add the chopped vegetables and herbs. Sauté and add port and red wine as well as the liquorice stick. Then add water and let it reduce to half its volume. Strain it and put it on the fire again until it reduces by half again. Finally, add salt and pepper and strain without crushing.

Presentation

Heat the pigeon breasts for a few moments (au gratin in the oven). Chop the pears and brown them in a pan with butter. Place the breasts alternating with the previously browned pears.Pour the sauce over them and decorate with thyme sprigs.

 

This is the way i do it at home with the wings and the legs.

roasted pigeon

 

 

Wood pigeon or wild dove introduction.

In these latitudes autumn is a special season for diffrent rasons. At this time the trees lose their leaves and the days become shorter. It is the time to enjoy nature, and hunting is a very popular activity in the Basque Country.

The wild pigeon hunting (“paloma torcáz” or “paloma bravía” in spanish) is already like a tradition and since ancient times the pigeons completes its migration in autumn. From the north of Europe to the south where they have a better climate. When they arrive in the Basque Country they have to cross the Pyrenees and their passage is concentrated in some specific points. Through the coast, Fuenterrabia and Irún. Through the mountains, from Urrugne to Sara, Etxalar and Roncesvalles. Where they pass depends on meteorological factors such as wind. With very strong southern winds they are concentrated on the coast. On the contrary with the north winds they cross the mountain areas.

Basque hunter with pigeons

The pigeon in the Basque cuisine

The wild pigeon is very appreciated in the Basque gastronomy because it is a very wild animal which feeds mainly on acorns and corn. This makes its meat have a very special texture and taste. It reminds me a lot of the Spanish Iberian ham. It may be because they share the diet of acorns.

They can be cooked in many ways. The most traditional are in their sauce or grilled capucin style. The one I personally like the most is the French Basque style. La Palombe au capucin. It is split into two parts, baked or put on the grill to seal the skin. Once sealed, we proceed to the special part. It is spilled over burning iberian pork fat that finishes cooking the meat. The result is a meat that is well done on the outside but raw and bleeding on the inside. I have to confess that this is one of my best gastronomic discoveries. Every year I have to eat the pigeon like this, even if it is only once a year.

I will share with you this video where you can see the way they cook them at the French Basque. It is very spectacuar.

YouTube video

Mushrooms time

Autumn in the Basque Country is a time of many colors and flavors. It is the time to pick grapes in the vineyards, it is the time for hunting migratory birds such as pigeons and it is also the time to pick up mushrooms in the woods. A gastronomic combination that cannot be resisted.

The oaks, beech and pines forest have spectacular colors at this time of the year. Red, yellow, green and brown drawing a typical autumn landscape over the mountains. This is the moment when the mushrooms emerge from the forest bed. The queen of all mushrooms is the “Boletus Edulis”. It is a very appreciated mushroom in the Basque gastronomy for its rich aroma and for its very compact meat. The most recommendable thing is to gather it in its initial phase, this is the optimal moment to harvest this mushroom.

Boletus Edulis

The Boletus Edulis like other mushrooms needs a temperature between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius and a lot of humidity. That is why the end of summer and the beginning of autumn is the time of greatest abundance of this species. In the Basque Country, going in search of these mushrooms is like a tradition and many people go into the woods to look for them.

If you are lucky enough to find them, the next step is to take them into the kitchen to eat with family and friends.

Cooking mushrooms

Personally, my favorite way to cook is to grill them with a little bit of oil and salt. Especially when they are in that initial phase and the meat is very compact. They are cut in more or less thick slices. They should brown on both sides over medium heat and they are ready to eat. Then you can add the yolk of an egg and some parsley. You now have a top-quality dish from the best restaurants in San Sebastian.

When the state of the “Boletus Edulis” mushroom is not the best. We can say that it is in a second phase the meat is no longer so compact, the best thing to do is to make an omelette. The ingredients are onion, garlic and mushrooms. They are cooked slowly, once they have lost most of the water, the eggs are added. The egg is left to curdle and is removed to a plate. As always you can add a little bit of parsley.

If you want to enjoy mushrooms in the Basque Country now is the time. And if you want to collect the best ones you will have to come to the forest with us. I’ll be waiting for you in San Sebastian!

 

 

 

Simple way to cook fresh fish in the Basque Country.

It is possible to cook the fish in a charcoal barbacue or in the oven. Both ways is necessary a strong heat.

Drizzle sun flower oil all over the fish. Do the same with the sea salt and if you want add a little bit of white pepper inside the fish.

This recepie can be used with different fish such as; monkfish, turbot, sea bream, long-finned tuna and pargos.

At the Cantabric sea we have a big variety of fish and is hard to choose one as a favourite. Some of them are seasonal so that is the best time to eat it. The summer is the time for the sardins, anchovies and tunas. The fall and the winter is the time for turbot, seabass, monkfish and seafood in general.

Depending on how big is the fish you will calculate the timing. It is about 10 minutes per kg and 200º celsius.  If the fish is in the charcoal fire should be 10 minutes per kilo and per each side. At the end of the process the skin should be toasted.

Once the fish is well cooked you have to remove the bones and the head. Put all the fish loins in a plate.

The seasoning. Put some garlic and cayenne in a pan with sun flower oil. Don´t burn the garlics! When the garlic turns into a yellow colour they are ready.  It is time to pour all over the loins. In the same pan put some white vinegar and when is boilig poor al over the fish. At the end add some fresh parsley.

It is a simple repie to cook fish. The most important is to use fresh fish and strong heat.

You have to try it at home!

 

Rioja wine heritage and history

Best spots in Rioja

Outside the traditional route

This year we have had the opportunity to show our customers unique places in La Rioja. Places located outside of the most visited routes and it makes a wine tour become something much more special. From my point of view, some places in La Rioja cannot be missed. Medieval fortresses, 10th century churches and prehistoric monuments such as dolmens or burials. We must remember that this whole area is part of the Way of Saint James. All this combined with wine and local gastronomy guarantees a full experience for our clients. 

In our private tours we try to visit and taste the wines in about 4 wineries. These wineries are located between Haro and Laguardia. This area of Rioja has a very beautiful landscape. It is located at the foot of the Sierra de Cantabria and from here you can see the entire Ebro valley with the Sierra de La Demanda as a backdrop. It is an area of great winemaking tradition in which we can find some wineries dating from the fifteenth century. In the fields there are traces of the cultivation and processing of grapes dating from the tenth century. Modern wineries began to develop in the nineteenth century and the main difference is that wine begins to age in oak barrels. In other words, the wine is made in the French style. Nowadays, some wineries have built very avant-garde buildings that contrast with the architectural tradition but that will not leave you indifferent. Architects like Frank Gehry or Calatrava have left their mark. 

I hope you will be encouraged to enjoy everything that La Rioja has to offer. If you would like to do so with the help of expert guides, we would be delighted to assist you.