Friday, 23 December 2011

Gastronomy of the Basques - Leche Frita

"Bar Asador"

One of the advantages of running a summer cooking school is the opportunity it allows to explore other gastronomic cultures and cuisines when the school is closed for the winter. This November we took off in the car heading south towards the Basque country. From Brittany that is only 8 hours drive or 776k. As usual we took the country roads as we were in no hurry and we enjoy exploring the route just as much as arriving at our destination!

This route took us through some exciting areas including the Loire, Bordeaux, Cognac, La Rochelle, Biarritz and Bayonne. There are lots of wonderful places to explore in all these areas and we could easily have spent a week in any one of them but it was November and we cruised south towards the sun along with our coffee flask and Poul's delicious home smoked ham sandwiches which were prepared earlier in the morning as part of our empty the fridge routine before leaving!

We arrived at St. Sebastian, or Donostia as the city is called by the locals, at 7pm and found no trouble checking into our hotel (Hotel Europa, 52 Calle De San Martin where a charming receptionist called Helen was on hand to look after our every need. Our car was quickly parked up in the car park by the hotel staff and once our bags were safely deposited in our rooms, we were advised of the best places to go for a drink and a meal all within 5 minutes walk from our hotel!

We headed direct to the beach and within minutes found ourselves marveling at a beautiful bay with a grand promenade all lit up by exquisite old street lamps.
In northern cities it is rare to see people out simply walking in the evening! Fear of crime, cold, noise or just lack of walking space are all to blame. However in Donostia, it seemed everyone, babies, young couples,singles, groups, older couples , grandparents and great grandparents were all out walking and talking along the seaside and enjoying their evening stroll. The sound of the waves could be heard crashing in on the shore which added to the magical scene. It was hard to believe we were in a city of almost 200,000 people given the sheer splendor and size of the bay. It was not until daybreak however that the extraordinary beauty of the natural cove really became apparent.I was minded of Sydney Harbour.

In fact Donostia far surpasses Sydney with its natural beauty and historical and architectural heritage. Just climb up the old castle fortress which overlooks the city and bay to see without doubt one of the best views in the world! It's no surprise the Basques have always called this place their spiritual home! They were here well before the Spanish and Catalans came to Spain and well before the French came to France!They have no intention of leaving! The place is a bustling economic and cultural success with enormous civic pride. The city is clean and without graffiti which adorns the walls of most European cities. The success is apparent in the streets where ordinary citizens appear well heeled, the shops and restaurants are busy and most of all in the sophistication and confidence of its renowned gastronomic culture. Walk into any bar like "Bar Asador" as we did and see for yourself. Prepare to be very impressed.

The Basque word for tapas is pintxos and it is generally accepted that the Basques have the upper hand when it comes to Spanish culinary matters. The sheer variety of dishes is amazing and we spent most days and evenings trying out various mouth watering samples of delightful combinations ranging from simple open sandwiches of serrano hams, wild mushrooms, numerous pepper dishes, manchego cheeses, hot seafood and fish dishes prepared on request. We tried eels with red peppers, green peppers with anchovies and an unusual dish of fried milk called Leche Frita which is so delicious and unknown generally we just had to photograph it and research the recipe which is given below:

To make Leche Frita you will need for 4-6 people:

6 eggs
60 gr. cornstarch
60 gr. flour
120 gr. sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 / 2 l. milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
100 gr. icing sugar (powdered sugar)
1 knob of butter


Put milk in a saucepan to boil.In another saucepan, put the beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla. Then add the flour and cornstarch in saucepan second and stir until well blended. Then add the milk bring slowly to boil, stirring constantly, cook for five minutes. The cream should be very thick, if not, add more cornstarch, diluted in milk and added gradually until it reaches the proper thickness.

Pass the cream through a strainer to keep large lumps from forming.

Put a frying pan on heat with enough oil.

The portions are passed in flour and egg, are coated well on both sides and fry in the pan.

When browned, served in a source sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

For effect why not add a good liquor and serve as flambé.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Traditional Christmas Pudding

It's not a very well know fact that King George 1 of Great Britain and Ireland was known as "The Pudding King"! At precisely six o'clock on December 25th 1714, his first Christmas in England, he sat down to a pudding made with the following ingredients!

For 3 puddings

680g finely shredded suet
453g eggs weighed in their shells
453g each of dried plums, stoned and halved; mixed peel, cut in long strips; small raisins, sultanas, currants, sifted flour;sugar and brown crumbs
1 tsp mixed spice
Half nutmeg grated
2 tsp salt
0.28 litres new fresh milk
Juice of 1 lemon
Large glass of brandy


Mix all the dry ingredients, moisten with eggs, beaten to a froth; add the milk, lemon juice and brandy Stand for at least 12 hours in a cool place. Turn into buttered moulds. Boil for 8 hours at first then for 2 hours before serving. I understand that King George enjoyed this pudding so much he insisted it was made for every Chriatmas and so became a culinary tradition at Sandringham!