The Basque Book by Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero is far more than a cookbook. It’s a primer on a new approach to cookery, an exploration of Basque cuisine and culture and a love story. There is more personal narrative and explanatory text than the average cookbook. The latter is important because Basque cuisine does have a few significant differences that set it apart.
For example, I have never considered brining onions in cold salt water prior to cooking in order to season them more effectively. The onion sauce that is the base of many recipes is new to me, as is the heavy use of salt and olive oil. For example, using a couple tablespoons of salt on a steak? Who would do that? Well, these chefs would before cooking and then brush most of it off so the steak is not salty, but beautifully seasoned.
There is a chapter on some foundational ingredients and sauces in Basque cooking, on the whole Basque approach. I think it’s something worth reading twice over because it has the potential of shifting how you cook, not just in these recipes but in your daily cooking. This cuisine has a very different foundation than what I am used to, so in that aspect, the book was a revelation.
This is definitely a book for seafood lovers. There’s lots of recipes with anchovies, though mostly anchovies in oil. My Swedish cooking background makes me shudder a bit because I want my anchovies in water or in salt. However, they recipes call for salting the anchovies to firm up the flesh so there’s that. But there’s a lot more than anchovies. There’s cod, mussels, crab and every other fishy thing you can think of, it seems.
There are a few, not many, recipes with other meats. She details a way of cooking steak that I am eager to try. I mean, if the pages of this book could be flavored, that page looked like the best steak on the planet. I have never cooked a steak that way, never heard of cooking a steak that way, but I can almost taste it. Unfortunately, my budget is not stretching to big rib steaks, so I will just imagine it for now.
Normally I test the most tempting instead of the most questionable recipes before I write my reviews. For lunch today, I made the Potato and Romano Bean Stew. I chose that recipe to test for this review because it sounded so unlikely. Can the broth really be rich in that cooking time with just some salt? Reading it, I was not able to picture it being particularly delicious. It’s so simple and unadorned. Could it really work? My thinking is that if this recipe as delicious as the introduction promises, then Raij and Montego are miracle workers.
As an aside, slicing the garlic paper thin made me think of Pauly in Goodfellas. True confessions, I did not use a razor.
Well, they were right. I just ate a bowl and am going to have a second. It is delicious and so simple, easy and affordable, some potatoes, beans, salt, garlic and olive oil. Of course, that is the theme of this cookbook, there are many layers of flavor in simple ingredients if they are prepared with intention.
If you love to cook, this is one of the cookbooks you simply must have because it will change the way you cook in subtle ways. I am eager to try incorporating the Basque way of preparing onions into other foods, not just these recipes, but into other cuisines to see how elevating that basic ingredient will add depth and richness to those recipes. I have depended so much on mirepoix in creating new recipes and making standard dishes, but perhaps I might try sofrito instead and see where that takes me. I am excited, not just by these recipes, but to see how my own cookery evolves with these new basics.
I received a copy of The Basque Book from the publisher via Blogging For Books.