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What Makes it Basque?What Makes it Basque?

May 1, 1996

3 Min Read
What Makes it Basque?

Food Product Design

What Makes it Basque?
May 1996 -- Flavor Prints  What sets one country's foods apart from those of its neighbors? To a great degree, the difference is in the spicing - the ones most frequently used and the combinations utilized with different foods. We call these habits characterizing a nation's cuisine its "flavor prints." In their way, they provide identification much like fingerprints do for humans. In this series, developed in cooperation with the American Spice Trade Association, Food Product Design explores nations' flavor prints as a guide and inspiration for food product designers.  Basque country is in the upper northwest corner of Spain, inhabited by a race of still mysterious origin whose native language, Basque, bears no relation to Spanish. Although the Basque area spills over into southwestern France, aside from a common language and origin, Spanish Basques and French Basques resemble each other little.  One of the main social activities of the Spanish Basque is cooking and eating. Basque food often is boiled or broiled, then made tasty with a simple sauce. The juice of the meat or fish forms the base of the sauce, and flavoring is added only to heighten its natural qualities. Flavoring may be a matter of eight or nine crushed almonds, a sprig of thyme or parsley, or the tip of a bay leaf. Garlic may be the one exception, and it is added to many dishes with a generous hand. Tomatoes and onions are the foundation of countless sauces, and, as in almost all Mediterranean countries, olive oil replaces butter in most recipes. Peppers and paprika are constantly used; parsley is employed in quantities that make it a distinct condiment, not just a green decoration, and the delicious cured ham available everywhere in Spain flavors dishes from soup and eggs to shellfish and chicken.  The Basques are extremely particular about eating with the seasons. In April and May they eat tiny, dark, tasty mushrooms available only then, gently spiced with parsley, thyme and garlic. In early spring, they make menestra de legumbres, braised spring vegetables using only the tiniest baby vegetables, seasoned with onion, smoky ham and a pinch of hot red pepper. Every Basque knows the season each fish is best and from what part of the coast it should come from to be most succulent.  A characteristic of Basque sauces is judicious seasoning. The most common sauces are either red or green; red with peppers and tomatoes; green with parsley and, perhaps, peas and asparagus tips. Because the lush, grassy hills of the Basque country allow the grazing of cattle, in Basque kitchens you find cream - so heavily used just the other side of the Pyrenees and so seldom mentioned in Spanish recipes, except for desserts.  So what makes it Basque? Eating with the seasons for the freshest vegetables and seafood; minimal beef, but suckling kid, suckling lamb and suckling pigs are favorite delicacies. A simple, pure cuisine elevated with peppers, hot and sweet, ground red pepper; thyme and parsley, sometimes cinnamon; often garlic and onion and finishing dishes with wine and cognac.
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