A Savory Walk in the Basque Country
Between the Adour River in Southwestern France and the Bidassoa River in Northern Spain, Basque country is characterized by a rugged landscape of mountains and plains, lapped by the tumultuous Atlantic. Basque cuisine, which is steeped in the culinary traditions of the local shepherds, peasants and sailors, is indeed representative of this dramatic region. An ancient, very difficult language and a rough topography may have shut this region away from the rest of the world, but it is still host to many travelers and tourists due to its location and cuisine. Basque cuisine is known for its use of a garnish made of tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and spices—also known as "à la basquaise"—as well as its mastery in the use of cold cuts, notably pork. Ham, bacon and boudin (blood sausage) are essentials in Basque cuisine, and it seems that the fava beans, cabbages, garlic and peppers often used in it are only grown to complement the meats. Here are some of the best tables of this area:
32, avenue Beau-Soleil, 64200 Biarritz
Tel: 05 59 23 13 68
Award-winning female chef Andrée Rosier started up Les Rosiers in a Basque mansion near the Hippodrome des Fleurs at Biarritz with her husband, Stéphane. The restaurant is fronted with classic red shutters, with a comfortable yet sophisticated dining room inside. The daughter of a farming family in lower Navarra, Andrée dreamt of being a chef since childhood. During her time in the countryside, she studied herbs, berries and honey in order to get back to her Basque roots from which her passion for cooking originates. It was, however, with Jean-Marie Gauthier from Biarritz's legendary Hôtel du Palais, that Andrée's passion took flight. The menu is mouthwatering: the subtle flavors of langoustine with a shellfish gelée and creamed zucchini with peppered mint contrast well with the distinct, yet simple pigeon breast, cuisses confites, toast d'abattis and rosemary-encrusted potatoes. A modest, yet promising beginning for the young chef—with prices to match.
13, avenue Verdun, 64200 Biarritz
Tel: 05 59 22 09 26
Opened in the center of Biarritz by three sisters, Ahizpak (Basque for "the sisters") is never empty. One of the sisters, Yenopha, worked at super-chef Michel Guérard's, where she mastered the art of preparing filet of pork accompanied by julienne of ham. Basque cuisine is one that allows all sorts of variations, even though it's steeped in centuries of tradition.
4310 Helbarron, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle
Tel: 05 59 51 70 00
At Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle in the Atlantic Pyrenees, Cédric Béchade, whose work with Jean Michel Gauthier brought out his love for the Basque country more than a decade ago, presides over a very sophisticated and contemporary eatery called L'Auberge Basque. Elegant, refined, and generous, his style of cooking is inspired by the region—his pork, eggs piperade (a kind of omelette with tomatoes and peppers) and cod are favorites of the local Basque population all the way to Bilbao.
Getaria, Herrerieta 2 (Spain)
Tel: (+34) 943 14 06 14
A trip to Basque country isn't complete without visiting the Pedro Arregui's El Kano in Getaria, a small fishing port on the other side of the Pyrenees a little ways from San Sebastian. The hake (joues de colin) there are first served poached, and then roasted, so as to bring out their silky and gelatinous texture. The grilled chipirones (squid) are accompanied by an onion jelly and served with a line of their ink. Also to be found on the menu are stuffed spider-crab (txangurro relleno) and the large flatfish of the day, cooked on the bone.
Anne Rozès (Cannery)
Chemin de Pedegain, 64990 Lahonce
Tel: 05 59 31 56 09
Christian Parra's famous Basque boudin, which used to be served at the Auberge de la Galupe, has made a grand return thanks to Anne Rozès' cannery in Lahonce in the Atlantic Pyrenees. The recipe belonged to chef Parra's grandmother, and it calls for the pork innards to cook together with sliced leeks, onions, fresh thyme and finely chopped parsley. Pork rinds are added, after which the pudding is cut up and seasoned with four types of spices and Espelette peppers. Frank Rozès directs this boutique cannery, where six workers specialize in the making of this Basque masterpiece, as well as that of a pâté of pork rinds—also made by Parra.
Ferme Saint-Hubert (Henry Voy)
36, rue Rochechouart, 75009 Paris
Tel: 01 45 53 15 77
Traditional Basque products can already be found in many bistros in Paris, such as La Marlotte and L'Evasion, and now, at Henry Voy's La Ferme Saint-Hubert as well—located on rue Rochechouart in Paris' 9th arrondissement. Basque cheeses are available here among a selection of a hundred French (and English) cheeses, as well as a famous type of Camembert made from fresh milk. The milk happens to be brought directly from farm every Friday ensuring its freshness – something which can only happen in Paris.
18, boulevard Saint Michel, 75006 Paris
Tel: 01 43 25 59 01
The French capital is also privileged to have a Pierre Oteiza delicatessen in the 6th arrondissement. Oteiza hails from the valley of the Aldudes in Basque country, and his meats, sausages, andouilles and pâté de palombes – a palombe being a breed of pigeon that migrates from Northern Europe to Spain–are unrivalled in quality and taste.
(Updated: 09/13/10 NW)