Archives for posts with tag: Etxebarri

M and I had a day trip yesterday popping back to where she used to live and discovering one of her favourite places, which incidentally used to sell her cheese when she lived locally.

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Severn and Wye Smokery is located just west of Gloucester, sitting nonchalantly in the middle of the A48. It has a very unassuming frontage but clearly those in the know have sussed this place years ago and many, including M, have brought produce here to be smoked for them.The smokery operates in a traditional style using local wood and the product is handled very well to get that fine balance of depth of flavour into all that they do. They are well known for their smoked eel and of course smoked salmon, curing literally thousands each week and benefiting from the quality wild salmon in the local river Severn.

Severn & Wye fish counter featuring local Var salmon

Severn & Wye fish counter featuring local Var salmon

The shop itself is centred around a overly dominant counter that for me has too much going on, but clearly it is the fish counter and smoked fish that is the showcase. Here the displays are traditional and eye catching with fresh fish laid proud with a glint in their eye and a shine in their scales. All proof that it is fresh and wonderful.

A fish counter at San Sebastian's La Bretxa market show how much more can be added to displays with wooden boxes, oranges and bottles of wine to inspire

A fish counter at San Sebastian’s La Bretxa market show how much more can be added to displays with wooden boxes, oranges and bottles of wine to inspire

It made me think back to the fish counters I saw recently in San Sebastian and honestly, I think there are some lessons to be taken from there, but you can’t fault the quality and the freshness on display. It’s just that the Spanish understand how to make a piece of fish a meal, so they include things like lemons, oranges, samphire and even bottles of wine in their fish counters.

Keeping it open and real

Keeping it open and real

Back at Severn and Wye, little windows to the back show the teams working tirelessly to manage the volume of fish in production checking for bones etc. which may be a bit factory-esque but for me it was refreshing to keep everything open to the public and for us to see what it takes to make such a good product.

A showcase platter with signature smoked salmon and eel presented beautifully for lunch

A showcase platter with signature smoked salmon and eel presented beautifully for lunch

Clearly the fashion in smoking is not going anywhere fast. The process has been around for generations as a way of preserving all sorts of things but particularly meat & fish. Many classic dishes have centred around smoked fish ingredients and it was lovely to see these on the cafe menu including a signature kedgeree which is a favourite of mine. Smoked products used to be associated with the cheaper end of the market until clever chefs realised just how wonderful that deep smokey flavour was and how much it enhances dishes. The traditional US BBQ has always understood that smoking adds so much more and of course ingredients like chipotle has been used for generations in Mexico. Smoking is also a technique that the Scandinavians have long developed for all their wonderful fish and we had the most fabulous smoked prawns served simply in a paper bag when we were in Stockholm.

Simply delicious smoked prawns served at Pumpen, the casual eatery at Oaxen

Simply delicious smoked prawns served at Pumpen, the casual eatery at Oaxen

Now there are restaurants dedicated to all things smoked (see Etxebarri that I recently wrote about) including smoked butters, ice creams and smokey mash.

Even at home, there are more and more opportunities to play with both hot and cold smoking with some great domestic machines. Plus lots of different wood chips to meet your flavour preference. And if you are not yet up to it, then these bags are an easy cheats alternative.

However, yesterday, we left it to the experts and bought a few things back with us. Smoked salmon of course. Smoked ham. Smoked garlic. Today, that ham went on top of my favourite chicory recipe which has been previously featured in this blog. Lunch was a yummy dish with memories of a wonderful day out west. Thanks M.

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness

 

I first read about Etxebarri some four years ago when I saw this article by Jay Rayner in the Guardian. Then I saw an Anthony Bourdain show about it and I was hooked. It was the first time I heard about somewhere that compelled me to want to get on a plane and go there.

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BBQ the Etxebarri way…literally everything is cooked on these bespoke grills that are swung higher or lower as required

Over the years that followed, chef Victor Arguinzoniz steered this isolated eaterie along consistent listings in the San Pelligrino top 50 restaurants and led the way in the BBQ trend. This is the man that, true to his Basque roots, understood the meaning of keeping things pure and simple. To him that meant wood fired cooking of the best ingredients and very little else. And definitely no charcoal in sight. Knowing that conventional BBQ’s were not subtle enough to be able to cook the repertoire of his menu he designed his own and got a local ironmonger to build his vision. The result is an impressive wall of griddles that can be steered up and down to adapt the heat source to the ingredient allowing him to cook everything from milk to steak.

So it was with a huge chunk of excitement that I embarked on my recent trip to San Sebastian and onwards for a further hour through winding lanes in our little Fiat 500 to the teeny tiny village of Atxondo to sample the place for myself.

Etxebarri room

A simple room overlooking the wonderful countryside

I guess it’s a lot to ask of that same place that after 4 years of yearning, it would live up to all the expectations I put on it. And the truth is that it wasn’t the life changing experience I wanted it to be. How could it be? It is difficult to articulate why it didn’t deliver as there was so much right about it. The setting is quaint and beautiful. The room was equally rustic and unassuming. The staff were professional and charming. There were dishes that really did engage and delight us. But all together I think the thing that was lacking that would have tied it all up together was the story that romances the simple ingredients into something so much more.

I was lucky enough to visit El Bulli 4 years ago and the first thing they did when you came through the front door was take you into the kitchen to see where it all happens and to meet chef Ferran Adria. Before your bum even hits a seat you were engaged. There was a sense of wonder and brilliance as this ever so silent kitchen operated with chefs moving as if in a wonderfully choreographed dance across the sections to deliver plate after plate of delicacies.

Oak logs - the cooking fuel piled up outside

Oak logs – the cooking fuel piled up outside

At Etxebarri, we had to ask at the very end of our meal if it was possible to see the kitchen and only then were we shown by a kitchen hand the source of the menu in its post service state. The oak logs lay stacked at the back, the embers of the ovens had started to die down and the impressive wall of steel lay silent after the service. Had we been ushered in first, or had more explanation at the time of service then our engagement would have been fulfilled.

The smoked goats milk butter

The smoked goats milk butter

Grandma's chorizo

Grandma’s chorizo

That said, there were many dishes on the 13 course tasting menu that really did impress. All the talk of smoked butter was justified as we had our antipasti of smoked goats butter, home-made mozzarella and grandmas recipe of home made chorizo which was softer and more subtle than anything I have previously tasted. For me, it was the simple pure elements that pleased me most: smoked prawns, perfectly cooked red sea bream and the sensational ice cream that topped the board. I found other dishes like the throat of hake and the oyster with spinach a bit so-what. It was almost as if they were trying too hard. I had hoped for some leeks cooked as I had seen them in the Bourdain programme and we probably offended the whole team when we sent the steak back as it was genuinely so blue that we struggled to eat it (and I was with hardy friends including a meat loving South African!). But overall there was a lot more to enjoy than not.

Steak

But what of Etxebarri? Well, I am glad that I went there and impressed to see how it has shaped the way chefs coming through here have taken on board the simplicity of cooking and the sourcing of great ingredients. But at 125 euros plus VAT I would say this meal is a difficult one to justify to anyone other than crazy people like me.

We returned to San Sebastian that night for simple 2 euros pintxos and enjoyed those just as much. What does that say?

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A smokin’ hot smoker

You gotta love Jamie Oliver. He really is in touch with the food and cultural zeitgeist and reading about his latest idea just underpins my view on this. This week he posted a picture on Instagram of his newly adapted red phone box which is now a working smoker. So triple ticks for him them, tapping into the latest social media route, reflecting the fashion of all things iconically British and promoting a trendy way of preparing food.

Some of my favourite meals lately have included something smoked. Possibly the most surprising was the cigar smoked caramel ice cream which the guys at Chin Chin Laboratorists reckon is the next iteration of the whole salted caramel phenomenon. It was fascinating to taste the new flavour dimension that comes from that smokiness.Other memorable items include most things at Pitt Cue and a truly wonderful kedgeree with home smoked fish from Nikau Cafe in Wellington, New Zealand.

This chef brings new meaning to the whole BBQ method

Top of my list for the ultimate smoked experience is Asador Etxebarri. How could cooking over something as simple as a bespoke wood grill be listed as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants? I need to find out.  Please don’t go there as I want to be able to get a table!

Pop-a-cob: brilliant snack idea

The other thing I discovered this week is ZaraMama’s pop-a-cob. Now, I have always thought that popcorn was a great snack and believed it to be an opportunity for many retailers. In Cape Town, there was a stand-alone popcorn machine in the wonderful Food Lover’s Market but this product takes the whole popcorn thing to a new convenience. You simply put the whole cob in the bag provided and microwave for 2 minutes. As the kernel bursts open it pops off the cob and fills the bag. Genius!!

The bag is in the pack and microwaves perfectly

…and you are left with this!

Not only is this easy to use and a healthy snack but the corn variety is buttery and crisp making it just the best fresh popcorn. I urge you to go buy it and if my word is not good enough, take it from the Jamie Oliver magazine which calls it “one of the best snack ideas of the 21st Century” …. and you know what I think about him!