A Guide to Pintxos from The Basque Book

© 2016 Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

By Tina Ujlaki Posted April 01, 2016

Everything you need to know about Basque cuisine, as found in The Basque Book.

The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito (out April 19 via Ten Speed Press) is a gorgeous deep dive into the cooking of this very special region, brought to you by Alex Raij and her Basque husband, Eder Montero, with Rebecca Marx. To Raij and Montero, the super talented chef duo behind New York’s beloved El Quinto Pino, Txikito and La Vara restaurants, Basque food “celebrates single ingredients and tastes and constantly reminds the cook that 'simple' doesn’t necessarily mean 'easy.' It teaches you to respect ingredients, embracing and amplifying their natural flavors.”

The book is jam-packed with lovely family stories, rich descriptions of the dishes—some familiar and some that will be very new to you—and excellent tips about what to look for when selecting ingredients, no matter how simple or complex a recipe may be. For newcomers to Basque flavors and for those who haven’t had the chance to visit one of their restaurants, the best gateway to the cuisine is through pintxos, the Basque version of tapas that speaks to the importance of enjoying food with others. The dizzying array of pintxos features so many of the hallmarks of the Basque kitchen: amazing sausages and cheeses, simply cooked vegetables, jarred and pickled items from fish to olives and peppers, eggs and salt cod, beans, mushrooms, and pork in all its fresh and cured glory.

Here are the five types you need to try:

PINTXOS (PEEN-chose) is the "world of vibrant, festive food that’s eaten all day and all night—bar food that stretches the boundaries of what bar food should be.” They’re dishes designed to tempt the eye and the palate, mostly meant to be eaten with one hand (the other should be holding a drink). Raij features five categories of pintxos in the book:

Banderillas: One-bite salty, savory snacks, often skewered on a toothpick, like anchovies twirled around olives with a pickled pepper, or marinated mushrooms with garlic and vermouth.

Montaditos: Little open-faced or pressed sandwiches, like one topped with tomato, roasted green pepper, a slice of jamon (cured ham) and an anchovy.

Hojadres: Pastries with a savory filling, like blood sausage and leeks or caper-studded beef tartare.

Cocina en Miniatura: Literally “miniature cuisine,” these are fancier offerings meant to show off the talent of the cook or bar owner, like seared foie gras with caramelized fruit and a drizzle of sherry-maple vinegar.

Raciones: Plates meant for sharing, like slices of jamon and chorizo, or croquetas, the family of breaded and fried croquettes all based on a thick white sauce (béchamel) with delicious bits of ham or chicken or salt cod folded in.

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