Basking in Basque

01 Dec 2017
3 min read
Eneko Atxa from restaurant Azurmendi tells us about his favourite ingredients…

At Azurmendi, my cuisine is inspired by the Basque region and its produce. Being between the sea and the mountains, we are privileged to have a rich culinary heritage and high quality local produce.

At the restaurant we use the violet onion for a range of different dish elements, including broths and sauces and we use different techniques to cook it. I like to cook it on a very low heat and use the juice as an infusion. At the moment, you can find the violet onion in our foie gras dish with spring onions and cherries. I particularly like its sweet and almost spicy flavour, which reminds me of summers at my mother’s house, when she would prepare a tomato and onion salad.

Traditionally, the violet onion was in high demand, especially to make the very famous blood pudding in the Enkanterri district, and it became very rare. However, a group of women from the same Basque area started cultivating it again, adding value to this product and promoting it. We get our violet onions from Ana Mari LLaguno from the town of Zalla, with whom we have a great relationship. We love products because they are cultivated without herbicides and with natural fertilizer from their cows.

We also get our barranca pepper from Ana Mari. Traditionally produced in Biscay, it the basis for one of the most important sauces in Basque cuisine: the vizcaína sauce, made with violet onion, white onion, ham fat and barranca pepper.

At the beginning the barranca pepper is green, but with time it becomes red and finally dries out and turns maroon-brown in time for the plant is cultivated in summer. We preserve the peppers throughout the year and when they are needed we rehydrate them. They are very versatile and can be fried, baked, filled and used to prepare sauces, salads and for seasoning. I love the flavour of the barranca pepper; it reminds me of my grandmother’s farm where she used to have the peppers hanging on the wall to dry.

The hake cococha is the flesh part of the jaw on the fish and is considered a delicacy in Basque gastronomy. This small piece of fish, which we get from a local fishmonger called Egoitz-Aurtenetxe, has a high level of jelly that we cook at a very low temperature in olive oil to extract the maximum amount of the jelly. By stirring steadily and slowly, the traditional Basque sauce called pil-pil is made. However, there are many other ways of cooking this produce: it can be fried, in green sauce, grilled or coated in butter. Popular with guests, a dish made of hake cococha in pil-pil sauce on our tasting menu.

The Hondarrabi zuri and Hondarrabi zerratia are indigenous varieties of white grape, which is the basis for a wine called Txakoli. At Azurmendi, we produce our own Txakoli at our winery, Gorka Izagirre. The goal of winery is to reclaim and promote the indigenous grape varieties. To produce a quality txakoli, the best grapes are selected and treated in the winery with the same care given at the vineyards.

Harvested at its optimum ripeness, the Hondarrabi zuri grape gives a fresh pale yellow wine that gives off aromas of citrus, ripe fruit, herb, and flowers. With less vigour than its sister grape, Hondarrabi zerratia reaches its optimum ripeness between the second and third week of October, providing the Txakoli more balsamic, fennel and white-flower aromas. The different Txakoli wines that these grapes produce range in tasting notes and can therefore be paired with a variety of dishes. From the G22 Txakoli’s bread shop, fennel and ripe fruit aromas working well with the crab, emulsion and infusions; to the 42 Txakoli’s intense and woody fermentation being a great accompaniment to grilled ventresca, fried eggs or marmitako.

Araiz squab is a young pigeon breed from Navarra and is a part of the heritage passed down from the Baserri Basque farmhouses. We get our squab from Pichon de Araiz, located in Valtierra as their birds are of the best quality and free-range. They are feed with cereal grains, in a very artisanal manner. They are killed when they are 28 to 35 days old and weigh approximately 450 grams.

We cook the squab in a vacuum bag at 62C for 4 minutes and then let it settle for 20 minutes and clarified with mild butter, and then grilled. We accompany the squab with a duxelles mushrooms and a cauliflower emulsion.