Less is more: The winning formula of Basque cuisine

|     Katja Wallrafen     |

AGER Uriguen Uribe sets down a plate of baby spinach with thinly sliced steak and cranberries in a passion fruit dressing.

The dish is a touch of avant garde combined with the traditional Basque cuisine Uribe grew up, adding up to something new and exciting.

But the Bilbao-born chef is not alone in mixing old and new – in fact, part of the reason why the region’s cuisine has been such a success is because his fellow Basques are doing the same thing.

Uribe takes a step back to first describe the fantastic starting point that is his homeland, a border region between Spain and France.

He swears that Basque produce is the best: “Basque country is on the Bay of Biscay. The fertile soil, as well as the fresh fish – not only from the sea, but also lakes and rivers – means only the very best.”

Meat also plays a role in the Basque kitchen despite its heavy fish focus
Basque cuisine focuses on a few excellent and fresh ingredients – and not much more. These filled onions, for example, don’t need much else to be good. – PHOTOS: DPA

Jose Pizarro also sings the praises of the region’s exceptional products: “Basque country is an excellent place for livestock because there’s a lot of grass and the winters are rainy.

As a rule, animals are allowed to graze on the green hills, which makes their meat wonderfully delicious.”

Pizarro is at the forefront of the movement that brought a new wave of Spanish cuisine to London.

”Meat plays a big role, but so does fish. To this day, the fishermen still go out to sea. I owe some of my recipes to them,” says Pizarro.

Marmitako, a classic fish stew, was originally prepared by Basque fishermen on their boats. Onions and garlic are sauteed in oil, followed by red and green peppers, a bay leaf and potatoes, before being simmered with fish stock. Fried mackerel is added at the end.

”Vegetables also play an important role, as the Basque country is basically a huge vegetable garden,” says Miquel Villacrosa, head chef at Das Stue, a top hotel in Berlin.
For the past two years, the native Catalan has been working in the hotel’s Cinco restaurant.

For new creations, he follows the Basque tradition of focusing on one or two main
ingredients.

Thanks to the excellent quality of the products, the dishes don’t need much: A tomato salad with fresh fruits, made with high-quality olive oil and sea salt, is a poem.

There is also a tradition of cooking together in Basque cuisine.

Txokoa is the name of Uribe’s Berlin-based restaurant that he has been running for four years with business partner Giovanni Miranda from Chile. “The name can mean a cosy spot, as well as a gastronomic society,” explains Uribe.

During their elaborate, sometimes hours-long preparations, they watch football or try out new recipes together.

If you want to get to know the diversity of Basque cuisine, it’s best to start with the Basque version of tapas, which are called pintxo.

Classics include angulas, which are glass eels in olive oil, sauteed garlic and dried chilli flakes, or bacalao al pil-pil, which is made with salt cod, garlic, chilli and olive oil. – DPA