When in Spain, take a car, bus, or train; buckle up and start heading North to the Basque Country or País Vasco. Once you enter Navarra, you will know that you are far away from the place you thought Spain was. You leave behind the hot, warm weather, tapas, sangría and flamenco and enter the cold, rainy weather of pintxos, sidras and white houses that the Basque Country is.
One of the most beautiful thing Spain has to offer is its diversity. Every region or Autonomous Community or Comunidad Autónoma is not only different in its unique landscapes but also in the language, culture, people but mostly, THE FOOD. Each region in Spain is home for a variety of special, traditional dishes.
The Basques are very proud of their culture, language (Euskara) and people, but mostly, of their gastronomy. Basques take their food seriously, they love taking time on gathering good organic products and cooking it to its perfection.
Let put it this way, if you want to eat some Paella and drink some Sangría, the Basque Country is not your place to go. Certainly, these are some of Spains special dishes but their home is all the way in Valencia.
Here are some Basque traditional dishes that you should try when travelling to the north of Spain.
BAKALAO PIL PIL
Bakalao or Cod is the king of Basque gastronomy. It is said that many years ago, the Basques learned the technique of salting and drying fish from the Vikings. Ever since, it has been a technique highly implemented in Basque cuisine.
Basques love their cod, salted or fresh. If you ever travel to the north of Spain you will see that every restaurant or bar will have a at least two dishes with cod.
There are various Basque national dishes that include Cod, Bakalao Pil Pil being one of them. For this recipe the Cod is slow cooked in oil (confitar), it is not fried but slowly and in low heat cooked in the grease. The fish looses its natural gelatine into the oil, which is then mixed and whisked together until it is dense and forms a mayo looking sauce.
This famous recipe has its home in Vizcaya, also home to the city of Bilbao. This recipe could also be elaborated with fresh or salted cod. Being salted cod usually the most used in this area of Spain. The cod is served with a tomato and choricero pepper sauce.
Choricero pepper is a variety of red pepper that is air dried for conservation. It is usually hydrated with warm water before cooking, where only the meaty pulp is used.
MERLUZA A LA VASCA O EN SALSA VERDE
If Cod is the king of Basque gastronomy, hake or merluza is its queen. Hake is, next to cod and bonito, one of the fishes most consumed in Spain. You can find this fish cooked in various different forms all throughout the peninsula. Merluza en salsa verde (hake on green sauce) is a typical hake dish to eat in the Basque Country.
This dish is simple yet delicious and full of flavour. With some fish stock, white wine, flower, garlic and parsley you got yourself a salsa verde. Add some green peas and clams to take it to the next level.
If we keep putting fishes in a cast system, Bonito will be the knight in a shining armour. Bonito is basically the cousin of Tuna fish. Quite similar in the outside but definitely different in meat colour (Bonito is more pink while Tuna is usually bright read), texture and flavour.
This dish popular amongst fishermen, is a fish stew, usually using Bonito or Tuna, vegetables, potatoes and tomato sauce. It originated on the Bonito fishing boats and it used to be the dish of substance for fishermen. Today, is a well known, flavourful and aromatic fish stew made all over the Basque Country.
TXIPIRONES EN SU TINTA
Txipirón, in the Basque Country, is a smaller and much younger squid. It is very typical to cook it in various different ways, deep fried, grilled, stuffed and even on a stew.
Squid cooked on their own ink may sound a bit weird and look a little bit too black to be appealing, but the taste of fresh squid slowly cooked on a stew made out if its own ink and delicious vegetables is just delight-full. Definitively one you do not want to miss!
CARRILLERAS AL VINO TINTO
For all those meat eaters out there, this one is the catch for you. Carrilleras or veal cheeks (can also be pork cheeks) are slowly cooked on a red wine and meat stock until it becomes so tender that it melts in your mouth. This is definitely not the most traditional dish but for sure one of the most loved ones by the foodies out there and one that has become popular in the last few years.
ALUBIAS DE TOLOSA
Legumes are a very important food and source of nutrients in Spanish cuisine. All throughout Spain you will find different types of dishes, usually soups or stews, made with legumes. There are dishes made with all different kinds of beans, lentils, garbanzo etc…
Alubias de Tolosa is the most typical legume or bean dish found in the Basque Country. What makes this dish special is the type of been D.O. de Tolosa, which are only grown in this area of the country. The dish is a creamy, flavourful bean soup that it could be eaten on its own for a vegetarian version or it can be accompanied by some meat called sacramentos: usually pork, morcilla (blood sausage) , costilla (ribs), chorizo, rabo de toro (oxtail).
Simple, delicious and perfect for a cold rainy day. For all those vegetarians out there this is a perfect dish for you. This leek – potato soup is nothing far from bland or boring.
If you have been to Spain or even read a little bit about it you would know that Spaniards love their wine. Txakolí is a type of fizzy white wine elaborated in the Basque Country.
Txakolí is a dry, slightly sparkling white wine. Usually created in coastal towns, with the salty ocean breeze dancing with the crops, making the wine high in acidity. Its natural semi fizzy texture makes this drink a Basque favourite to enjoy with a nice meal.
We could not finish this article without a dessert. Pantxineta is a typical dessert of the Basque Country. It is a sandwich like cake made out of puff pastry stuffed with pastry cream and almonds.