Food & Drink

A Southerner in Spanish Basque Country

With her new cookbook, author Marti Buckley shares recipes that connect her native South to her adopted home

photo: Simon Bajada

Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise; author Marti Buckley.

Birmingham native Marti Buckley left her job at the legendary Alabama chef Frank Stitt’s Bottega restaurant to travel to San Sebastián, Spain, in 2010, intending only to stay for a year. “Now that’s stretched into eight,” she says. “My immediate reaction as a writer and cook was—how are there not more books about the culture here?”

Buckley’s new cookbook, Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise, aims to remedy that omission. It’s part cultural history and part recipe revelation; readers might think of it as kin to Ronni Lundy’s beloved 2016 cookbook Victuals, which helped bring the often-overlooked cuisine of Appalachia to light. Basque Country straddles the Atlantic coasts of Spain and France, but remains culturally distinct from both. “You have the coast, but a lot of Basque Country is these steep, craggy mountains,” Buckley says. “The people have been very secluded and protective of their culture. But once you crack that closed-off vibe, you find out they’re so friendly and proud of their food.”

Basque cuisine focuses more on reducing ingredients to their essence than complicating them with multiple layers of flavor. Over nearly a decade living in San Sebastián, Buckley gathered tales and recipes from all seven Basque provinces—cooking alongside grandfathers and learning how to season with a light hand. “This is good, simple food. The Basque don’t dress up their dishes with much spice,” she says. “Instead, the locals focus on getting the flavor of the chicken, fish, or produce to shine through because they have some of the best ingredients on the planet.” Any Southerner will relate: the best meals are unfussy and seasoned with tradition.

Here, Buckley shares three recipes that connect her native South to her adopted Basque home.


Navarre-Style Trout

Make like Hemingway and fry fresh-caught fish stuffed with salty ham

Serves 4

Ingredients

    • 4 small trout (about 8 oz. each), cleaned and butterflied

    • Kosher salt

    • 6 slices Serrano ham

    • 2 tbsp. milk

    • All-purpose flour, for coating

    • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil or lard


Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Rinse the trout with cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle the interior generously with salt and place 1 slice of ham in each fish.

  3. Using a kitchen brush, paint each fish with a bit of milk. Mix the flour and a pinch of salt on a plate and dredge each trout in the flour to evenly coat, shaking off any excess.

     

  4. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil or lard over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 slices ham and cook until its fat begins to render and its edges begin to approach crispiness. Remove and set aside. Add one or two trout to the pan and cook for a few minutes on each side, until the fish gains a bit of color. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat to cook the remaining fish.

  5. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes. Turn the fish and bake for 5 minutes more.

  6. Transfer the fish to a platter. Serve garnished with the reserved ham.

Excerpted from Basque Country by Marti Buckley (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018.


Red Wine-Cola Cocktail

“Kalimotxo” is a modern Basque country creation combining two Southern favorites: booze and Coca-Cola

Serves 4

Ingredients

    • Large ice cubes

    • 16 oz. red wine

    • 16 oz. Coca-Cola, preferably made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup

    • 4 lemon wedges


Preparation

  1. Place a handful of ice in each of four tall glasses.

  2. Pour 4 oz. wine into each glass. Slowly pour 4 oz. cola into each glass. Gently give a half stir with a spoon, then add a lemon wedge to each glass, squeezing the lemon slightly before dropping it in.

Excerpted from Basque Country by Marti Buckley (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018.


Ham Croquettes 

Golden-fried ham cakes—a Basque dish any Southerner is sure to love

Makes about 30 croquettes

Ingredients

    • 3¼ cups whole milk

    • 1 cup heavy cream

    • 1 ham bone (optional), or 3 slices Ibérico or Serrano ham

    • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • ½ onion, diced fine

    • 3 cups all-purpose flour

    • Kosher salt

    • 5 oz. Ibérico or Serrano ham, finely chopped

    • 3 large eggs

    • 2 cups dry bread crumbs

    • Olive oil, for frying


Preparation

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, cream, and ham bone and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for at least 15 minutes before straining out the solids.

  2. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and very tender, about 15 minutes. Increase the heat to high. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir with a whisk for about 1 minute. While whisking vigorously, add the milk-cream mixture, little by little at first, then working up to ½-cup increments, until all has been incorporated. Add a generous pinch of salt. Taste the béchamel and add a bit more salt, if desired.

  3. Mix the chopped ham into the béchamel. Chilling the mixture in a roasting pan for at least 1 hour, or in a pastry bag overnight, will make it easier to form a perfectly shaped croquette.

  4. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Spread the bread crumbs over a rimmed baking sheet or large plate. Spread the remaining 2 cups flour on a separate plate.

  5. If your croquette base is in a roasting pan, scoop about 2 tbsp. of the mixture and form it into a small ball. Dredge the ball in the flour, shaking off the excess, then dip it in the egg, allowing the excess to drip off, and finally roll it in the bread crumbs to coat. Set the coated ball on a clean, dry plate or baking sheet until ready to fry.

  6. If your croquette base is in a pastry bag, snip the tip from the bag to leave a hole about 1 inch in diameter. Pipe roughly 3-inch logs of croquette base onto the plate with the flour, cutting them with a butter knife or other straight object. Sprinkle with more flour to coat, then, working one at a time, dip the pieces in the egg, allowing the excess to drip off, and finally roll them in the bread crumbs to coat. Set the coated pieces on a clean, dry plate or baking sheet until ready to fry.

  7. If you aren’t frying them immediately, the breaded croquettes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. They can also be frozen for up to 3 months, and can go straight from freezer to fryer when desired. (To freeze, put the croquettes on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, then transfer to a freezer bag.)

  8. In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 to 2 inches of olive oil over high heat until it reaches about 350°F. To test the oil, throw in a few bread crumbs; when they sizzle on contact, the oil is ready. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pot, fry the croquettes until golden brown, turning them occasionally to cook evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle immediately with salt.

  9. Transfer to a platter and serve warm.

  10. Notes: The finer the bread crumb, the more classic the croquette. Using panko bread crumbs will result in more modern croquettes.

    You can also double up on bread crumbs instead of using flour, coating the croquettes in bread crumbs, then egg, then again in bread crumbs. This results in extra-crunchy croquettes. Experiment to find your favorite texture.

Excerpted from Basque Country by Marti Buckley (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018.


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