Gastronomy and fish

Gastronomy and fish

The ocean is a huge larder for Basque cuisine. The Basques, together with the Japanese, are two of the most important fish-consuming lands on earth, even today. The Basque coast has always abounded in high-quality shellfish:king prawns from Armintza in Bizkaia or Igeldo in Donostia-San Sebastián are an example of excellence, as well as the fine clams from Urdaibai and the gooseneck barnacles from its rocky shores. Its may varieties of squid, are consumed in season, and their peculiar black ink has made them world famous.

The fishing ports

The very nature of the Basque Country, enamoured of its traditions and customs, still maintains an activity that has evolved considerably over the past few years. Its fishing ports still have their colourful, exotic fishing boats that are dedicated to the daily task of going out to sea to catch one of the main pillars of our gastronomy. From Zierbana or Algorta, continuing on through the ports of Plentzia, Bermeo, Mundaka, Elantxobe, Lekeitio, Armintza, Mutriku, Zumaia, Getaria, Orio, Donostia, Hondarribia... the whole Basque coast is dotted with tiny towns that, together with the picturesque coastal villas, thrive on a gastronomy that is based on fish.

Near the docks are many family-owned restaurants that share out the work among them, as in olden days.In the kitchen, it is customary for the women to prepare fish soups and homemade dishes. In the rotisseries, the men usually take over the charcoal grilling to ensure the fish are grilled to a turn, enhancing the delicious taste of the turbot, blackspot seabream, hake, horse mackerel and anglerfish.

Dishes in which the fresh, exquisite raw material is subjected to a skilled hand, ensuring a balance between fire and water with just a light dressing of olive oil,lightly fried with garlic and the traditional secret of each restaurant.

Our fishs

A wild, raging sea produces high-quality fish. It is easy to find sea bass, blackspot seabream, scorpion fish, red mullet, among others, in the fish market of the ports, that can usually be bought from the sales establishments and enjoyed in nearby rotisseries. The most important fish were permanently associated with the saint’s day calendar that marked the fishing seasons, the "costeras". A period in which the arrantzaleak (fishermen) devoted themselves to catching the different species.

The anchovy fishing season, in spring, provides work for the fleet until the white tuna season, starting with the festivities of San Pedro. Blackspot seabream in the winter, as the proverb goes ("por San Antón, besugos en montón"); and hake, not far from the coast in a specialised fishing art, known as “pincho", which is still practised in some ports.

No whale recipes are left, despite the fact that these giants often appear on the coats-of-arms of the towns along the Basque coast.

It is possible that, while following these beautiful mammals, the Basque fishermen reached the shores of Terranova, in the American continent, where they were able to return with a huge supply of cod, the fish most often used in modern cooking in the Basque Country today. Just how a product from the interior came to be used in coastal cooking remains a mystery. Perhaps it had to do with the industrial revolution that the Basque Country experienced, due to its ancestral mining and iron and steel tradition, giving rise to the subsequent need to feed a large number of persons.

That Bilbao and Biscay have until recently been champions of their cuisine and stews indicates this. The hand of the “etxekoandreak” (housewives) has converted a product that is vulgar and oily in other lands into a sublime delicacy.

The classic sauces are adapted to this product, for which recipes have been passed down under jealous guard from generation to generation.
Green “pil-pil” sauce, that oily, smooth sauce that is now known as “pil pil”, Biscay sauce with its sweet peppers, and the "ranero" cod are habitual accompaniments to this fish.

Cod is sold today in many different forms. In addition to the strongly-salted "bacaladas", we can also buy it desalted and ready to cook and even fresh and proposed in a thousand different, new recipes: salads, risottos, ragouts... this is without a doubt one of the great gastronomic privileges offered by the Basque Country.

Udalarrantz - Red de municipios pesqueros del País Vasco