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.

Enjoy it!


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