Cod, symbol of the Sea, and Lamb, symbol of the Earth, are two pillars of traditional Basque cuisine.
Owners of small plots of land in the damp, verdant hills of Euskadi, the Basque people traditionally reared sheep (easier to manage than bigger animals like cows) and used the abundant iron ore and wood in their mountains to build potent ships. First they became seafarers in the Bay of Biscay and then they ventured into the New World, building the whaling stations of Newfoundland. Not only they caught whales for their meat and blubber for oil, but they also fished the then abundant Cod.
Note. This image of a typical village of the Basque Country was taken from Wikimedia Commons.
In closely knight communities, they celebrated their blessings with colorful dances and hearty meals.
Note. This image of the Basque dancers was taken from Wikimedia Commons.
On Sunday we prepared for dinner a dish of Basque-style Cod stew, what we casually refer as Bacalao a la Vízcaina in the Spanish Language. It has been a staple of our fabulous ethnic cooking since our ancestors, sporting their unique slanted eyes and using their enigmatic Esquerra language, emigrated from the Central Asian steppes to the Western foothills of the Pyrénés mountains. Kaizo!!!
We assembled the necessary elements: two pounds of fresh Cod bought at our local Whole Foods, potatoes and sweet potatoes, onions, red peppers, chick peas, sweet peas, canellini beans, and some seasoning: salt, black pepper, garlic, basil and paprika . What is ostensibly missing? The white wine.
When we were growing up in Montevideo, Uruguay, our grandmother Marta Salguero (mother of our father Mario and keeper of the French and Basque traditions of our family) was in charge of preparing this stew for Easter dinner; she bought the salted Norwegian Cod in the quaint grocery of an Orthodox Jewish merchant called Mr. Singer. He had a family business in a cavernous quaint facility in front of the Central Market (Mercado Central) of the city’s port in the Old Section (Ciudad Vieja) We often accompanied her in that errand because as soon as you crossed its threshold, you were literally assaulted by the sweet and sour aromas of a worldly carnival. There were big wooden barrels full of beans, spices, coffees, dates, figs, pastas, cous-cous, kosher food, salted fish, etc.
Those olfactory impressions were so strongly seared in the mucosa of our nostrils that they inspired us to use Mr. Singer’s grocery as the backdrop of the puppy love between Raquel and Didier, two central characters in our novel Madame D.C. – Three Voyages, temporarily in Kindle Store limbo.
Our grandmother never, ever added any wine to her version of this stew. Why? Because she knew that we, children under 12 years old, could not enzymatically process alcohol in our young livers. If we were to have a family feast in safe conditions, the consumption of any alcohol was forbidden. And of course, not a single man seated at that table ever dared to question her culinary choices.
Merci beaucoup chère Mémé!
As you can see in the picture above, you must first put a little olive oil on a big casserole or cooking pan in order to add the tomato sauce, beans and seasoning, before stirring with a wooden scoop.
The potatoes and sweet potatoes must be cut in cubes and boiled separately until they are tender.
In a frying pan, sautée the chopped onions and red peppers with a dash of olive oil and honey.
Once they are ready, put the boiled potatoes and sautée onions and peppers into the large mix.
In a separate utensil, put one cube of vegetable broth to cook the cod pieces, at low temperature.
After 10 minutes of cooking, gently put the cod pieces on top of the mix in your larger preparation.
This is how it should finally look like. You should cover it with a lid and let it stand for at least 1 hour.
You can re-heat it gently for a few minutes and then serve it on a deep plate. The beer is optional.
On egin. Agur!!!
Note. This image of the Ikurrina, the Basque people’s flag, was taken from Wikimedia Commons.
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