Posts Tagged ‘pimento espelette’

“Gently sloping from the western foothills of the Pyrenees into the deep sapphire-blue Bay of Biscay, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria in the Basque language; Le Pays Basque in French) straddles modern-day France and Spain. Yet this feisty, independent land remains profoundly different from either of the nation states that have adopted it.

The French side (or as it’s diplomatically referred to here, the ‘northern side’; ‘Iparralde’ in Basque) accounts for roughly 20% of the Basque country, and is famed for its glitzy beach resort, Biarritz.”  Lonely Planet

The cuisine of the “Pays Basque” is influenced by it’s proximity to the mountains and the sea and most definitely it’s proximity to Spain.   To generalize, the dishes of the Basque Country take their flavour and color from red and green peppers.  A notable dish I’ve made that is truly Basque is piperade which you will find in the Ad Hoc cookbook.  It is a lovely sweet roasted pepper side dish that elevates simply cooked eggs, chicken and fish.

Other “produits du terrior” besides peppers include fish, chicken, pork and lamb.  Game in the form of poultry is notable and they farm rice, peppers, corn and salt from Bayonne.  Cheese made from ewe’s milk, Ossau Iraty, which is medium soft and light in color with a complex yet delicate flavour.

One of the most interesting seasonings from the Pay Basque is piment d’espelette.  It is a sweet but spicy dried ground pepper that flavours many of the regions dishes.  I really like it and use it in a number of non French dishes as well.  It’s expensive but worth the price.

Traditional dishes, other than piperade, from the region include fish soups, the use of Bayonne cured ham (similar to Serrano ham) and desserts such as cakes filled with black cherry jam.

In our first lesson we conquer Basque Chicken which is served with a garnish of meltingly tender onions and peppers.  I arrived at the demo to find all the front seats taken and was relegated to the back of the classroom which for me is not ideal given my height.   Luckily it was a pleasantly uncomplicated start!

Basque Chicken is a very simple dish, however it seemed to take me over two hours to cook in the practical (I am a falling behind the pace most definitely but I’ll catch up).   The method for portioning the chicken vexed me the most as it was slightly different and included Frenching the drumsticks.

Tip:  By roasting the bones and bits in the oven you will have an even coloring and the thin wing tips and bones will not burn and ruin the caramelization in the pan.  Burnt bones; burnt sauce!


  1. Portion a whole chicken into 8 pieces leaving the breasts on the bone.  Season all the pieces with salt and pepper.
  2. Chop up remaining bits, wing tips and back bone for the sauce.
  3. Heat a generous amount olive oil in a sauté pan over med heat.
  4. Fry the chicken pieces, presentation side down first.  Flip and brown second side, then set aside in the warm place.
  5. Add the “bits” to the hot oil and fry quickly.  Then pop into an oven at 180 C for 15 min or so until golden.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and deglaze with about 50 ml of white wine.  Ensure wine is fully reduced.
  7. Add a tbsp. or so of tomato paste and cook off the raw flavor, then add 500 ml of chicken stock (please homemade or at minimum sodium reduced).
  8. Return the chicken to the pan and pop it all back in the oven for 20 min.  Baste occasionally.
  9. Remove from the oven and decant the chicken.
  10. Strain the bones from the sauce and return the sauce to the pan and reduce.
  11. Discard the bones.
  12. If you can manage, debone the chicken thighs and breasts – tough work as it’s hot – then wrap the pieces in Bayonne ham.  Keep warm.
  13. When the sauce is reduced and seasoned to your liking, place the chicken pieces in a roasting pan and return to the oven for 5 to 7 min maximum.  Watch that the ham does not become crisp!
  14. Remove from the oven, place on a warm plate with the sauce on the side.

Suggested sides, piperade and saffron rice….

Wine pairing:  Last night my fridge contained only a Sancerre and it was in fact nice but a little light.  I think a white Rioja would be nice but this is a French cooking class so I best recommend a Gamay/Beaujolais or a hearty white Burgundy.

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