One of the best parts of my solo adventure to the Basque country was getting an insider’s view into the cooking culture. I can’t say enough good things about San Sebastian Food, the luxury gastronomy company that took me under their wing and provided me with a wealth of food experiences. This is only the beginning of my effusive writing about them – you’ll get more when I finally put together my Hungry Girl Guide to the area. But for now, I want to focus on the cooking class I took my second day.
I arrived in San Sebastian at 3pm in the afternoon, after a sleepless overnight flight and a 5-hour layover in the Madrid airport. Needless to say, I was in rough shape. But apparently nothing that a few dozen glasses of txakoli (the young white wine of the region) couldn’t fix. A few hours after arrival, I went on a pintxos tour of the old quarter (the Basque equivalent of tapas). And the next morning, bright and early and jetlagged and hungover, I got to take a cooking class to learn how to make some of the specialties I had eaten the night before.
The class was set in a little white-washed restaurant in San Juan, a small fishing village just around the bay from San Sebastian. Apparently, there’s a wonderful 2 hour hike from the surfing beach to San Juan. But clearly I was too busy eating to do anything sporty during my vacation.
In the restaurant kitchen, we prepared 8 different types of pintxos. I mainly focused on breaking down a whole Merluza (hake), one of the specialties of the region. Once I finally looked up from my OCD butchering intensity, most of the other dishes were finished. Luckily, one of the tenets of Basque cooking is simplicity. Most of the pintxos recipes focus around one key ingredient – usually seafood – and rely on a few flavor additions – usually mayonnaise or garlic – to compose a sauce or topping.
One of my favorite dishes from the day was a simple tuna salad made from amazingly mild bonito in olive oil. To it, the chef added a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a little minced onion, and a diced green apple. Since they were extraordinarily conscientious of my gluten-free-dom (another benefit of having someone tailor-make your food visit), the chef served the salad in little spoons instead of on the usual sliver of baguette.
Tuna fish salad is one of those controversial foods that I always enjoy while eating, but would never order in public for fear of offending my lunch date and every stranger at the neighboring tables.
After I got home last Monday, I was in too big of a travel haze to sit at a desk and be productive. So naturally, I spent most of my time in the kitchen, working my way through all the San Sebastian taste memories, like this tuna salad. On the surface, this recipe seems more French than Spanish. But like every Basque dish, the identity is in the ingredients. When you start with good Spanish or Italian tuna stored in olive oil, your ordinary white bread filler becomes something a whole lot classier – something you might even brazenly serve to other people.
I’ll have more dishes and deets from the trip later in the week.
For now though, eat up!
You can use any type of bread you like. Since I'm gluten-free, I tried out a frozen baguette from Against the Grain. It was delicious and got nice and crusty in the oven.
- 8 ounces bonito tuna in olive oil (preferably from Spain or Italy), drained
- 1 small green apple, cored and finely diced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 4 large slices French bread (I used bottom half of a gluten-free baguette)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
- Place the tuna in a medium mixing bowl. Flake into chunks with a fork. Stir in the apple, shallot, mayo, mustard, and lemon juice until the tuna is full coated in the mixture. Taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary.
- Toast the bread in a 400 degree oven until lightly browned, or simply use a toaster.
- Scoop the tuna on the bread slices and smooth into a thin even layer. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.