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buber.net > Basque > Food > Recipes > Barbeusko
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by Jose A. Zorrilla

Having problems with my spelling lately? Judge by yourself. What can be more american than a barbecue? And more basque (eusko/ara) than grilled ventreska?(see below) So, here you are, "barb-eusko". See subject: Barbeusko. That's what it is. A basque barbecue.

It is about time we begin to discuss the basics, and the basics are simple and straightforward. The basques eat lots and lots of fish. Sorry, not my fault really, a fact of life. What kind of fish? What, I beg your pardon? Who cares as long as it is fish? You got it.

We eat fish in all the possible manners and even in some unlikely ones as you'll discover in due time. For now we'll restrict ourselves to an accessible introduction-considering your culinary backgrounds. So let's try a barbecue of summer delights.

Back home is still tuna (*bonito*) time and things have not really began to deteriorate on the weather front beyond occassional porrus(aldas). Tuna season is summer time for us, summer time, when life is easy and the fishes jump...not so different from the Deep South lullaby. Fishes jump in the Basque Country (BC)too, only to our pots and pans.

What can we find in a serious fishing biz worth our attention? Many things, of course, but we are looking for tuna today, so it should be simple. Of course the tuna we are used to is not that red, bloody, inmense Leviathan you come across with in self respecting american shops. It is a velvety, silver shining bullet shaped tuny, of whitish complexion and smooth, tender streaks of muscle. Yet...when in Rome...

Allow me some introductory remarks on the shopping of fish. The first sign you must be aware of, is brightness. The animal's outside is to be silvery and shining. All manners of opaquennes are no-no. Look for a mirror- polish almost reflecting surface. It is as if the fish had been recently brought outside the water and with the original gleam of life still on.

The second is firmness. No floppy consistency, let alone bumps of any sort on the skin. Tense as an arrow's string, that's we want and need. The impression has to be that if you decided to knock the fish you would hurt yourself. Third. Odorless gills, red, bright and shining. Fourth. The eyes. Transparent and brilliant. Above all well potruding, almost jumping from their sockets.

Go to the best place in town, ask for the clerk's opinion, rely on him unless the tell-tale signs of stale commodity are evident and,of course, be ready to pay a prize for the best of the lot. No free rides in fishy matters, sorry. No preconceived ideas either. The best tuna is the freshest snapper. OK? So freshness is all that counts.

Now, the first act of the drama is about to begin. You do not need just any part of the animal but the first ten inches only, the chosen ten that begin right at the head's base. So, the fisherman beheades the victim and what you need are the following ten inches. Choosing that part of the tuna's anatomy means that you have to find a suitable sized beast too. Otherwise you may find yourself phoning everybody around and begging for assistance. American tunas can be very, very big.

As to the cut, it's no fancy and it is indispensable that you convince your clerk with determination and wit. You require that part of the fish, and not any other. But you must do it without giving away the secret, the horrible truth. This is the juiciest part of the prey and only the chosen know it. So, now that you share that arcane with another couple of million or so of happy few, beware of your responsabilities. You are no longer a neophite but one of ours and disclosing the word could bring upon you all manner of evil.

Once you have negociated that preliminary obstacle, you have to persuade your beffudled clerk to cut the chunk into two halves along the spine and not on any account in slices, blasphemous misdeed performed only by the heathen. Once the action performed, and your cylinder reduced to two halves, you are the happy owner of two ijadas or ventreskas-or almost, for this is not intended to be a surgeon amphitheater and the path is to be walked slowly. You have enough to begin the journey, anyhow. And more than the majority of the mortals are revealed before their inevitable end. So, now you know.

It could happen too that you found no tuna or that it did not meet your demanding standards. In this case we'll go for mackerel. That most modest of the fishes back home, of the name *txitxarro*, belongs in this time of the year too. Here there is nothing special to report, I'm no messenger of the Gods, get it as it is, thank you.

If you can't find it either, settle for a white species, monkfish being one of my favourites, that is *rape*, a relatively new addendum to our list of edible wonders.

Nothing of the above? Change of provider, c'mon! Well, a last chance. Get some red grouper(=red snapper) or mahi mahi. The firsts are similar to *besugo*. The second, to nothing I have encountered till now.

Now, if you have difficulties to deal with the tuna redness and consider that meat as uncivilized or simply unhealthy-which is not- go for the hake's *cogote*, a whitish variation on the theme "ventreska" and consisting of the head's hake plus the first hake's ten inches. Be warned that for a hake to be a hake it has to be at least seven pounds of hake. If it is less than that, it is *pescadilla*, three times less expensive.(In the BC, of course)

Dont fain't, you are not supposed to eat the head-for now. But it goes with the first ten inches, a sort of custom, I'm sorry, that's the way it is. So, in this haky case you have almost a mission in front of you. To request from the fishop's clerk the first ten inches *and* the head, together. But there is more than that. The guy must not cut the piece into two halves completely as he did with the tuna but stop before the very end and offer you a united rectangle, something similar to a sheet of paper, that is, two halves united by the middle and with the head similarly almost chopped.

If there is any problem, inform the clerk that you belong to a peculiar ethnic minority and that you need the fish for a ceremony or something similar. A cult, for instance, a ritual sacrifice...well, negotiate the deal as best as you can. I think a ritual cut is the right word. It can convince even the most reluctant of the clerks. Or scare him to death. Anyway, the important thing is that you have it your way. The customer's always right.

Before you go back home with your loot, take time to get some fresh FLAT parsley, decent vinegar (our vinegar has nothing in common with the transparent nitroglicerine with which some US citizens sprinkle their snacks) and sweet paprika. Here the trouble begins. I'll explain some other time what paprika means and why its use is so widespread among the iberians, but for now simply get it. Places to find paprika are: under the name *pimenton* in a Spanish grocer -that is nowhere, because a Spanish grocer in the US is akin to a kosher butcher in Gurrutzaldiamendikoapalastegigoitia (imaginary village, pop.20), follow me? Other more likely places include a Hispanic shop of some kind (Mex,Arg etc) under the name *pimenton* or sweet paprika or sweet red chile powder etc. You get the idea. Powder of sweet red chile. Of course, under the name paprika any decent hungarian will rush to your help. Hungarians are notorious paprika-addicts. And wolfdowners. So, any Imre around will help you.

Exit with brown bag.

Once at home all you have to do is place the grill on the backyard and indulge in that most american of all the american mores, namely the barb...barbeusko. Good. How about the barbeusko sauces? Coming.

Since we have given different alternatives will give you different sauces. I wouldn't fail you on this, believe me. A barbeusko without a sauce is like a heaven without stars.

For the tuna. Chop finely an onion and a green bell pepper, 50%/50. Fry in olive oil medium heat. Pour over the ijada when ready. That's all. For the mackerel. Fry a clove of garlic in olive oil. At medium heat add a pinch of paprika and a shot of vinegar (balsamic from Modena's best). Open the fish as it is grilled and pour the mixture on top. For the monkfish or any other white, delicate fish, hake included. Chop very finely a clove of garlic, very finely, I said, and mix with some fresh parsely equally chopped to perfection. Make a dough then with a piece of butter and spread over the fish when it is *almost* done. This will allow the butter to melt and the garlic to cook for sometime. All the others. Fry a clove of garlic at medium heat, put aside and add a shot of vinegar (vinegar over very hot oil produces undesirable results, beware). A kind of warm salad tossing, that is. Pepper at will.

More likely than not, if you come from a basque background,the piece(s) of fish you have just gulped had merely increased your appetite and as you just hang around wondering if your TV is worth a second chance your eyes find a piece of dry, italian bread on an unlikely corner. A leftover of your introductory walk in heaven, the roasted reddies, do you remember? Oh, most memorable of the evenings, when for the first time you shared the intimate pleasure of the carnal red!. And that relic shall have to end in the garbage as a piece of crap? What un undignified end for the noble cereal! Better find a good use for it.

Garlic soup?

Garlic soup, venerable garlic soup!

Get a deep pan *made of clay*(the canon is the canon) and fry some garlic into it. I know it is difficult to find clay pans in the US but keep trying. Out of the fire at medium heat add a pinch of pimenton. Now go for the bread. Sit down calmly and cut the bread into thin slices, very thin, very thin slices indeed. But do not cut the full circle, only half of it. Once you have advanced four or five cuts turn the bread around and cut the other 180 degrees.

When the bread is reduced to thin slices that look like half moons, throw them into the pan and add water and a cube of broth. Of course you can indulge in fancies such as pieces of prosciutto (ham) or even salsiccia napolitana (a substitute for chorizo). If you are very hungry (?) beat some eggs inside. Make it hot with chile if you wish. But the real thing is just bread and water or broth with a touch of paprika. A true Ole Grannie's recipe. Swear it? You bet. My own!

Now, a word of caution. The grilling of the above mentioned fishes anatomy is likely to produce fumes of pestiferous consistence not really appreciated in leafy or patrician surroundings- or in any other surrounding, for that matter. Though I have spared you the real thing, *fresh sardines*, out of elementary concern for your survival, many of your neighbours may equate your barbeusko with a chemical attack and proceed accordingly. So, if you are aware of the ethnic content of the recipe and deem prudent to be discreet in your display of basquehood, use the oven. I know it is not the same, but it may be an acceptable second best. You have my word that the gastronomic result shall not be much different.

Enjoy and good luck with the fire department!


Use of this text's free unless commercial transaction involved. Please kindly inform the author of your intentions. Thank you.

Jose A. Zorrilla
Fax 416-925-4949

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