buber.net > Basque > Food > Recipes > Green Sauce
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by Jose A. Zorrilla
The BC main colours are green and red. Green of our fields, blood of our gallant warriors? Com'm you should know better by now. Green sauce and red sauce is all that counts. I'm an irreverent fella and i don't care much for warriors.Too old to be a one, by the way. And too wise. My wife wouldn't let me anyhow, so what's the point?
Family from Ataun, in case you wonder, my wife I mean. I'd rather figth a tigress. Borroka? You mean wine and women for free?-she would say. I want you here at eight sharp. Dinner time, dear. You better not skip the appointment if you know what is good for'ye. I'm a happy man, of course. I know what is good for me. So,here I am, chained to the Net, trying to give the best of myself to the cause. The cause of togetherness and warmth thru food. Basque food for the basque americans. Keep the spirits high, not everything is lost!
You'll know the battle is won when you get your first, real, serious withdrawal symptoms. It is insidious at first and your partner will be the first to notice something strange. It is like in the old movies of the Werewolf or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The victim feels something unusual going on, a sort of silent scream running through his body and then it explodes, it is an impossible urgency, a cry of the senses, a twist of all your nerves...and then the vision shows up in all its glory, in all its tantalizing appeal...hake koskera...pork sirloin and red roasted peppers...cod pil pil...ah...your mouth salivates out of control...you loose vision...suddenly all ceases to exist. Only the desire is real, only the food you are contemplating is worth living.
In this very moment, follow my advice, my friend, rush to the telephone and join the nearest Basque Anonymous group for you are hooked. Hooked beyond hope and recovery, hopeless hostage of the most demanding of the lovers, exilee for ever of your most cherished and intimate homeland, a homeland of tastes.
Imagine for a moment that you are in Portugalete (Biscay) and facing West. At your back the Nervion mouthriver. At your right el Abra, the port just built, and at the other side of the river, some two miles away, on a flat higland, ten or twelve mansions. Beneath then some scattered houses and the banner of a very small yacht club. At your left and front, the mines of San Salvador del Valle and Somorrostro. Not very far away though not visible. And between these two opposite worlds, the world of the mines and the working classes and the world of the wealthy Bilbao little masters who play the yatchsman, the green sauce is to come and go, as a secret stream of love and labour, as the humble link between persons and convictions, as a go between of relief.
Josefina is a miner's wife. She does not have much to make both ends meet. After paying the Union's fee just in case an accident or an illness may occur, they barely survive. She sews sometimes for an acquaintance of hers but the real jobs come from the rich ladies' needlewomen. And there is no hope she can chip any little monkeybusiness ,for the rich ladies are catholics and the priests tell them whom to trust and she is the wife of a socialist miner who never goes to church and votes for the revolution's party, the PSOE.
So this morning she goes to the market soon. She goes on foot. Every now and then a chart drawn by horses drops by to sell fish to the miners. It stops near the schools, by the edge of the miners' houses, but she prefers to take care of everything by herself. At least today. Antonio left at four a.m. and since today she has nothing to sew or overlook, and she is still only five months pregnant, she can go to Portu and try to find something for him before lunch.
So she waves goodbye to Dolores, the neighbour's daughter, a bright kid indeed, the teacher says it is pity being so clever she is a girl...and goes to the market.
The market is near the lonja. And Ramona, the fisherwoman, is there,first on the left, an arrantzale's widower that got her place at the market thanks to a cousin who had a PNV friend at the City Hall. Ramona has a couple of superb hakes on display. Very expensive stuff, at least five pesetas each, a fortune. But one of them has its head cut, ready to become fillets. Ramona frowns at Josefina's sight, these rag-n-tan maketos, this scum of the earth who have come to Euskadi to bring revolution and unrest and bad habits...yet when she sees that Josefina is pregnant she pauses a bit. Might not be a good customer, sure she's looking for the cheapest and after much questioning, but she is pregnant after all, the poor thing, she has to eat for her and for the babe. It is not her fault.
But before she can engage in the customary tug of war of bargaining with the prospective customer, Benita pushes her way in. Benita is the Aretxederra's cook, these Neguri's tycoons with a palace on the promontory and she is always after the best. The best for the masters, of course. The servants are a different thing. For all she cares... Not a welcome presence as far as Ramona is concerned, not a desirable one, no sir, sure if she is there is because she has found nothing in Algorta. Perhaps her archrival, Petra, has pinched her the pick of the crop this morning at the idle's rich port. We'll see. So Ramona and Benita engage in a furious argument over the prize and even if both want to keep the intercourse in Spanish they relapse into euskera all the time. No way. Benita wants everything for less than its half value. To hell with that smartasshole, licking always her masters feet and starving the maids. If the Aretxederra's want the hakes they will have to pay for it. And if they want the superb clams her cousin picked at Sopelana, Benita shall have to pay even more.
Josefina follows in silence the fireworks and does not understand what is going on. Ramona seems to be more and more furious. And all comes from this stupid infatuation of Benita with the Spanish language. She seems to want to put her down talking in a language she does not master. Nor does Ramona but at least she does not pretend. From the moment Benita was engaged at the Aretxederra's she started to behave as if she were the Queen of the Universe. As if Ramona did not know where Benita came from. Baserritarra, from Aitzgorri. In winter chestnuts is all they have to eat, like everybody else for that matter. These peasants of the mountain...
Arantza has joined the group and she understands very well whats going on. She is Gonzalo's wife, an Altos Hornos accountant, from Larrauri. She speaks excellent Spanish because she had a lovely teacher from Bilbao, Donya Matilde, but of course she is euskaldun. And she does not like what she sees. It is so antagonistic... so country like...they have no manners, these fisherwomen.
Finally the deal is concluded. Benita will take the two hakes and the clams. But when the payment is about to take place Benita wants to round up to twelve pts instead of the twelve fifty agreed on and Ramona withdraws half of the clams and the second hake's head. She is enraged. "To make a koskera for your masters one head is enough" she says with foam in her lips "and if they want a better fish broth, you know what? Wash your stinky feet, not a bad idea, and use it at the place of the hake's head. And for the money you paid you already took too many clams. And if you dont come back, you're welcome, Big Lady of Scum!
That was the chance Arantza was eagerly expecting. She jumps on it as fast as a lightning. "How much are the clams?" "Take them for fifty cents"-says Ramona wihtout really caring after the brawl. Fifty cents is an excellent deal and Arantxa does not want to go further. Yet, she says shyly."Thirty five?"-in euskera. And Ramona smiles, that's a lady, she speaks excellent Spanish yet she is not ashamed to admit she knows euskera. "OK, be it so". And with that Arantxa leaves in heaven. She has a wonderful dish, a rich's dish to begin the lunch. Clams in green sauce.
And there is Josefina, humble, looking at everything without really understanding the reason of such a brawl and thinking that perhaps it has to do with her, with her humble purse, her ignorance of the language, her dress of a miner's wife... then Ramona, moved after all by such vision of poverty and destitution, and future motherhood has an impulse, a thrust, and without saying a word wraps up the hake's head in a piece of newspaper and gives it to the unknown.
"Pa ti, pa patatas. Hacer ya sabes, no?" ("For ye, fer potatoes, ye'now aut'duit?")
And Josefina does not say anything, only a very, very low voiced thank you, and leaves, in shame but at the same time relieved that she got something for nothing. Of course she knows what to do whith a hake's head, her neighbour has told her, and Dolores, the neighbour's daughter has helped her more than once. She is beginning to be proficient in these strange dishes. So much fish, so different tastes... But Antonio seems to like them very much and she wants to please him, he works so hard, he is such a good husband...
So as she hits home she starts preparing Antonio's lunch.
POTATOES IN GREEN SAUCE
Four potatoes as wrinkled and old as possible A head of hake or the tail, a non noble part A pinch of flat parsley Two heads of garlic Some olive oil.
Throw the potatoes cut in slices in a pot and cover with water. Add the flat parsley, the hake's head cut into four or five parts, the more the better, the garlic cut in little pieces and a shot of olive oil. If you are a miner's wife, oil is the most expensive part of it. Spare. If you are not, be neither tight nor prodigal.
Simmer and stir. As you stir, the hake's head will begin oozing jelly and the broth will thicken. Josephine will know that things go well when the bubbles make a different noise and show to have difficulties to surface. The moment has come to take the head from the pot and look for each piece of meat with a fork. The meat then comes back to the pot again. The head to the garbage.
Josephine wraps up the pot in a big kitchen cloth so that it remains hot as long as possible and goes to meet Antonio. On his way to the mine she comes across with Dolores and the kid goes with her for a while. She's been out of school by noon and has only to be back at three, so she has time to walk her neighbour. Josephine is glad to have somebody by her side. She is still strange to the land and finds comfort in the company of that lovely kid.
As they both reach the mine they hear the foreman's horn. It is lunch time. And as the miners come up from the pits to meet their wifes, the broken red landscape seems to awake to the human presence; voices and noises fill the air, and Dolores goes to a little pit poney and caresses its mane. They are mules and horses too but she feels pity for that tiny creature, bound forever to the darkness of the earth.
It is time for Dolores to go. Her big eyes, the eyes of an exceedingly bright little girl shall forever keep the memory of these lines of workers, miners and their wifes, pausing for lunch or figthting for the right to have their share of society. As we now treasure them too, old sepia photographies populated with the lowly of the earth, the queues of husbands and wifes united in the bond of having lunch against a blood red earth ravaged by the dynamite. The red of the banner that was to be Dolores banner for the rest of her life, Dolores Ibarruri, the best know woman agitator of the XX Century along with Rosa Luxembourg. Memories that she kept in her forty years of exile, for she never ceased to cook like the Basque mother she was.
Gonzalo is more fortunate and leaves his work for lunch. What will it be? Wonderful Arantxa surprises him always with unexpected frills. They even had barnacles couple of weeks ago. She is a exceedingly good cook, she sure has something very special for the table. The train stops for a moment and Gonzalo hears the screams of a woman. Oh, there she is that poor wretch, the Capitana. How come she is not in an asylum? Barely in her thirties she is worn out already, everybody would say she is at least fifty. She was a lovely child when she came from a little farm in Urduliz,then met one of these miners and...oh dear, she had a son out of wedlock, the father died in an accident, a stupid one, the pit, always the pit improperly built out of the urgency to make money...and she lost the child and then the reason and there she is, for everybody to enjoy, an insane worn out woman a sad flotsam, a symbol of what is happening to Biscay with all these maketos invading the land.
Gonzalo is thinking of giving a chance to the PNV. He has always voted Carlist but Carlism is out of touch with the twentieth century. It is not modern enough to give answers to what is going on. Who can seriously think that Dn Carlos has any chance to come back and reign like in the good ole days of Fuero? Com'n.
Meanwhile Arantxa is preparing the clams (the striped black and white variety medium size. Pacific white clams are no-no) She knows Gonzalo is about to knock at the door any moment. So, she starts the proceedings.
CLAMS IN GREEN SAUCE
The very first thing to do with clams is to clean them. And the technique is very precise and demanding. If all these steps are not taken the clams will contain sand and sand is not a favoured gastronomic ingredient.
First they are washed four or five times in running water. Preferably they go to a pot and there the wise hand of the cook moves and moves them under the tap.
Second, the clams stay in water to which salt is added. Then they are left in silence.
Third. Every hour or so they are carefully picked one by one, taken out of the pot and cleaned under the running water.
Four. The pot is again filled with water, salt is added and the operation is repeated four or five times.
Sometimes it is not necessary to do it more than three of four times. We'll assume this is the case
Clams Olive oil Flat parsley One head of garlic
Put the flat parsley and the garlic in a clay pan with some olive oil. The garlic must be cut in very small portions. Fry at low heat until beginning of brown and add the clams. Cover. Once the clams have opened (short time) stir and raise heat to maximum to shorten broth.
A true delight.
Gonzalo's tiny apartment is painted in immaculate white. So, the green sauce almost explodes in its luxuriant bright, glazed as it is by the oil. These will be the happy days of Arantxa and Gonzalo. When the rebel generals jump to the mainland from Africa in Junkers lent by Hitler, Gonzalo will be appointed officer of the Beldarrain Battalion that shall defend the Intxortas against the Navarran Carlists. To his right will be another Battalion of Socialist Youth in which Antonio will man a 1898 rifle. Antonio and Gonzalo will both fight to the end like what they are: citizens of the same land in danger.
But these days have not come yet. And Benita, still incensed with Ramona, is about to initiate one of the most hailed, venerable, original and practiced of the Basque traditional cooking, namely, hake in green sauce or hake koskera, rich people version.
For the broth A hake's head or sole's spines or white's fishes tails or spines (turbot, snapper, grouper etc) Butter Oil Parsley Chives
Cut the chives and the parsley and fry in a mixture of oil and butter. Add the hake's head or whatever and saute medium heat. Add cold water and simmer gently about one hour filtering the broth at least twice.
This is the broth we shall add to the hake instead of the humble water.
For the dish as such
One superb round of the central part of the animal (remember, a hake must be at least seven pounds) no less than one inch thick. Two inches definitely better. There is not such a thing as a thin hake koskera. If you find the dish to expensive do something else.
Flat parsley A bunch of chives Two cloves of garlic A bunch of green peas, preferably fresh and straight from the sheath. Some clams of the best quality.
For the decoration
Hard boiled egg The thickest asparagus that money can buy Fresh parsley
Benita shall start by sauting in butter and oil the saute of the broth because she is afraid Dn Manuel's guests (from Madrid) may find the taste of just oil too strong for their taste. They are counts after all. And of course they are after Bego, daddy's girl and heiress in full. Aitxi Aren!
She'll begin by putting oil in a clay pan and adding the chives, cut in almost microscopic pieces and the garlic at low to medium heat. Once they are transparent she adds the hake and fries it with a fastidious care not to break it-both sides. But she does not overdo it because after all the broth will finish the work. Then go the green peas, butter like, they'll melt in minutes, and the clams. Everything is covered for a moment till the clams open. Then the fire goes up and some *boiling* broth is added, though not on top of the hake.
Stir is decisive so that the broth thickens with no other ingredients than the ones i mentioned. After no more than ten minutes of serious boiling the dish is ready.(Turn delicately a couple of times)
Donya Maria, the housekeeper, shows up to keep an eye on everything and give the final OK to the decoration.
The decoration consists of putting some crumbled yolk on top of the fish and the asparagus around like beams of sun. Them some crumbled parsley everywhere puts the final touch. One footman and two maids shall serve the table under the watchful eye of a butler.
The dessert has to be something typical from Bilbao. And it shall be.
CANUTILLOS (Rolls of pate feueillete stuffed with custard)
Pate feuillete Custard A cylinder of say, steel or any other material fire resistant (dont faint! Its easy) Butter Cinammon Confectionery sugar (very fine sugar, the one that looks like stardust) Strawberry pure (depending on convictions)
Let's assume you have pate feuillete bought frozen at the nearest drugstore. And custard too. We'll discuss the real thing one day, the one basques make at home. For the moment get the one on the supermarket freezer or frig.
Once the pate is soft, get a cylinder, butter it so that it does not stick to the pate and roll the pate around it. It is better if you have more than one cylinder-you'll need more than one if you want to bake many- for the pate does not have to roll over and and over but just enough to make a hollow cylinder where the custard will wait its inevitable end. That is, once the roll is complete and you think it will hold stop turning. There is of course some overlapping but only a bit. The minimum.
Then bake the cylinder following the maker instructions. When it is ready take from the oven and extract the cylinder. Wait. It is very hot *and* very frail. When it is just warm cut it in pieces if the cylinder was very long, get a confectionery cone made of cloth, fill it with the custard and stuff the cylinders with the cream. Now, this is a very, very Bilbao sweet. Put some stardust and cinammon on top and serve.
Since times are very troubled Benita has added her personal touch. Some pure of strawberry and custard as decoration, the colours of the Spanish flag. Just in case. They are good patriots in Aretxederra's house not like in other houses. God forbids! His grandfather was carlist and he never dreamed of any other thing but Spain. Just in case the counts from Madrid may wonder.
The old Aretxederra will die in Bilbao, while in prison as a notorious pro francoist. His son will join the rebels from the very first day and will enter Bilbao as ensign of the rebel forces.
All of them basques, now all dead, memories and legend, part forever of a common heritage.
Under three banners. Red, ikurrina, and Spanish. Now the three of them legal, constitutional, perfectly acceptable in any official place inside and outside the Basque Country.
Much blood and suffering was necessary for it to happen.
And many years too.
And of course, a lot of salsa verde, what the heck, i'm an irreverent fella after all!
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Jose A. Zorrilla