Arzak + Arzak by Gabriella Ranelli, Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain

Arzak

Few chefs have had such an influence on modern cuisine as San Sebastian-based Juan Mari Arzak. As Anthony Bourdin noted, ‘Ferran and Albert Adrià, Martin Berasetgui, Andoni Aduriz: these are just a few of the chefs who looked to Arzak as an example of the new possibilities’. Those ‘new possibilities’ crystallised into molecular gastronomy, but they had their roots in the 1970’s movement of ‘New Basque Cuisine’ the Spanish response to French nouvelle cuisine that was headed up by Arzak. So, no Arzak, no el Bulli, Fat Duck or Alinea.

Arzak + Arzak, originally published in Spanish in 2018 and now reissued in an English language edition, tells Juan Mari’s story, including his ongoing, decade-long creative collaboration with his daughter Elena, the fourth generation of the family to work in Arzak restaurant since it first opened as a tavern in 1897. With extensive narrative text and some stunning black and white portraiture, the introductory chapters provide background on the day to day running of the restaurant and kitchen, as well as the ongoing creative processes of Arzak’s ‘laboratory’ where chefs Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain collaborate with the Arzaks to create 50 new dishes a year.

However, the lack of introductions to the often avant garde recipes is frustrating. Dishes such as Symbolic Squab (pigeon decorated with variously shaped red cabbage and purple potato tuiles); Flaming Chickpea Stew (a frozen dessert of coffee-flavoured bavarois set in a chickpea-shaped mould and served with cardamom, cocoa and gellan gum ‘rusty nails’), and the frankly bizarre Another Brick in the Chocolate and Mustard Wall are baffling when presented without context or explanation.

There are some more mainstream dishes in the book such as sea bream with nasturtium leaves and crispy crepe lobster, but make no mistake, this is a Spanish modernist cookbook. The majority of the recipes would only be attempted by a professional chef or a very serious hobbyist home cook but would make a nice souvenier for those that have eaten at the restaurant. Elena Arzak is quoted in the book saying that, ‘My biggest challenge is foreseeing the unpredictable taste of people and staying ahead of them’.  Despite such forward looking ambition, Arzak + Arzak feels trapped in molecular gastronomy’s past.

A version of this review was first published in The Caterer

Cuisine: Spanish/Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars

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Arzak + Arzak
£30, Grub Street

Casa Cacao by Jordi Roca and Ignacio Medina

Casa Cacoa

Although it seems to have been around forever, ‘bean to bar’ is a relatively new concept with the first single estate chocolate produced by Cluizel in 1996. That’s just one of many fascinating facts in Jordi Roca’s deep dive into the world of chocolate, written with food journalist Ignacio Medina and inspired by the launch of the three Michelin starred pastry chef’s own brand, Casa Cacao that takes the bean to bar ethos one step further.

Roca argues that ‘chocolate has its beginnings in the tree’, placing increased importance on the variety of cacao, the farmer and the environmental conditions. The book tells the story of Roca trips to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, visiting cocoa farmers where he discovered that a bean grown in Piura in the northwest of Peru which has ‘fruity and aromatic notes’ is very different from the ‘restraint, elegance and presence’ of beans from Vinces in Ecuador.

With the help of British chocolatier Damien Allsop (‘head of chocolate and bon bon production’ at Roca’s Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca), Roca is pushing the conventions of chocolate manufacturing, creating vegetable-based chocolate made, for example, by combining a paste of peas, sugar, isomalt, puffed rice and ascorbic acid with melted cocoa butter. Allsop has also created ‘chocolate²’ made with just cacao and sugar to intensify the purity of flavour. Recipes for both are included, along with a detailed description of the chocolate making process, but you’d need access to a chocolate factory if you wanted to attempt them.

More achievable are ‘chocolate classics’ such as chocolate brownies or sophisticated desserts including milk chocolate, lemon and hazelnut cake, although only the most ambitious pastry chef would consider trying to replicate Mexican Chocolate Anarkia, the recipe for which takes up eight pages of the book.  Also included are some wildly creative savoury recipes such as cacao pulp and spiced chocolate sauce with langoustines by Roca’s brother Joan.

Casa Cacao is a detailed look at a complex and niche subject area and as such will mainly be of interest to chocolatiers and pastry chefs working in a fine dining environment, but it’s a beautifully produced book that will inform and inspire its intended audience.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

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Casa Cacao
Grub Street, £35

This review was originally published by The Caterer 

Akelare: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subljana

Akelare

What’s the USP? Recipes from one of the great innovators of modern Spanish cuisine.

Give me some background. Global restaurant fashions come and go, but San Sebastian in Northern Spain, with its thrilling mix of casual pinxcho bars and cutting edge high-end restaurants, remains a place of true gastronomic pilgrimage. It’s home to a constellation of Michelin stars including Arzak, Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui and Akelare, run by legendary chef Pedro Subljana for nearly forty years.

Occupying a commanding position west of the city centre on the slopes of Mount Igueldo with stunning views over the Bay of Biscay, Akelare has maintained three Michelin star status since 2007 for its imaginative and playful ‘New Basque Cuisine’ (the Spanish equivalent of Nouvelle Cuisine).

What does it look like? Stunning. It’s more like an artist’s portfolio than a cookbook with visually arresting images of dishes such as ‘zebra squid’; roast loin of hare a la royale with chestnuts and razor clam with veal shank.

Is it good bedtime reading? Move along please, there’s nothing to see here.

Killer recipes? An amuse bouche based around bathroom toiletries that includes tomato flavoured liquid soap, onion sponge, Idiazábal cheese moisturiser and bath salts made from potato starch, prawn and rice ‘sand’.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Zopako bread, Beasain onion morcilla and ‘cortrezas de trigo’ (wheat snacks similar to pork scratching) may well be difficult for British cooks and chefs to lay their hands on.

What’s the faff factor? On the inside cover, it says, ‘This book was printed using the font ‘faff’. Look up the word ‘faff’ in the dictionary and you will see a picture of the cover of this book. I took the book to my doctor and he told me it had a terminal case of faff. I showed the book to Darth Vader and he said, ‘The faff is strong with this one’. It is number one on the faff parade. It was pulled over by the police for being three times over the faff limit. An Irishman, a Scotsman and an Englishman went into a bar specifically to agree that Akelare: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subljana had the highest faff factor of any cookbook ever published. So, um, yeah, there’s a lot of faff.

How often will I cook from the book? Don’t take this the wrong way, but unless you are a professional chef interested in modernist, progressive cooking, you are highly unlikely to have the skills, resources or time to tackle these recipes. I certainly don’t.

What will I love? A short introductory section, including a page from Subljana himself, prefaces the main body of the book. Articles on the restaurant’s cookery school and associated Basque Culinary Centre, service at the restaurant and suggested wine pairing for the featured recipes round out the book.

What won’t I like? Just 23 out of the book’s 240 pages are taken up with recipes in English meaning methods tend to be on the sketchy side, not ideal with such technical food. Spanish and Basque translations of the text occupy a significant amount of space; fine if you’re reading a free in-flight magazine but a tad galling if you’ve splashed out thirty quid on a relatively slim glossy cookbook. Although beautiful to look at and a real pleasure to browse, the book suffers from a case of style over substance, something that New Basque Cuisine itself could be accused of.

Should I buy it? There are two reasons to buy this book: as a memento of a meal enjoyed or an invitation to make a reservation at the restaurant if this sort of Spanish sleight of hand still floats your culinary boat in 2018.

Cuisine: Progressive Spanish
Suitable for: Chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

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Akelare
£30, Grub Street

Doughnuts and hot chocolate sauce by Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Doughnuts and hot chocolate sauce from Sabor

This is like an easier version of churros with chocolate sauce. If you don’t have a mixer to make the dough, you can knead it by hand.

Ingredients

rapeseed or sunflower oil, enough to fill your pan to about 3cm

For the doughnuts
60g cold but malleable butter
450g plain flour
60g caster sugar
4 eggs
12g fresh yeast or 4g quick yeast
60ml whole milk

For the hot chocolate sauce
300ml water
150g caster sugar
160ml single cream
50g cocoa powder
300g dark chocolate (70%)

For the cinnamon sugar
150g caster sugar
50–60g ground cinnamon

Take the butter out of the fridge 15 minutes before starting and chop into small cubes. Put the flour and sugar into a large bowl and mix together with your hands. Heat the milk until almost steaming, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Mix into the yeast, stirring with a whisk to dissolve.

Put the flour and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and slowly add the butter – it will look like crumble. Add the eggs one by one, then dribble in the milk/yeast mixture until everything comes together into a sticky dough.

Slightly flour a large container or bowl, turn the dough out into it, and lightly flour the top. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, turn out the dough on to a floured surface – it will have almost doubled. Take a piece (approx. 30g) and roll it in your hands, then squeeze down until it’s about 2½cm thick. Use the top of a miniature bottle to press out the dough in the middle, leaving a hole. The doughnuts should be around 25g each. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough.

Stick two fingers through the middle of each doughnut and roll them round to push out the dough a bit more and double the size of the hole – otherwise it will close up when the doughnut is fried and expands.

To make the hot chocolate sauce, put the water, sugar and cream into a pan on a low heat and dissolve the sugar. Put the cocoa powder and chocolate into a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water to melt the chocolate (this keeps it smooth). When the chocolate has all melted, add it to the cream with a spatula. Continue mixing until it becomes dense and thick and perfect for dipping. Keep warm.

Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Put the oil into a shallow pan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, fry the doughnuts until golden brown, then remove and drain on kitchen paper. Dust with the cinnamon sugar while still warm and serve with the warm chocolate sauce for dipping.

This recipe appears in
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

Cook more from this book
Persimmon, goat’s cheese and land cress salad
Pork belly and mojo verde

Read the review

Pork belly and mojo verde by Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Pork belly and mojo verde from Sabor

This recipe uses a pestle and mortar to make a lumpier mojo verde that’s good for serving alongside meat, but you could make a smoother, creamier sauce for marinating. Just put all the ingredients, except the coriander, into a blender. Whiz together, adding the coriander halfway through, then blend again until green and creamy with some small flecks of herb. Instead of pork belly, you could grill lamb cutlets and serve them with the mojo verde dotted around, or marinate chicken in the smoother version of the sauce.

Serves 6-8

1 x 4–5kg piece of pork belly, rib bones intact
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the mojo verde

1 bunch of spring onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 big bunches of fresh coriander (equal to around 6–8 of the 40g supermarket packets)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
200ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml Moscatel vinegar
2 dried chillies
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Line a roasting tray with greaseproof paper. Score the skin of the pork belly quite deeply (around 1cm), then place it skin side down on the paper-lined tray. Season the top of the pork belly with salt, pepper and cumin seeds and cook for 1½–2hrs. The skin should be very crispy and the meat must be tender – if it’s not quite there yet, turn it over and cook it for another 10 minutes.

Make the mojo verde while the pork belly is cooking: roughly chop the ingredients and add them slowly to a pestle and mortar, dribbling in the olive oil bit by bit and mashing together.

Spoon some mojo verde on to each plate, then top with 1cm–2cm thick pork belly slices and drizzle over a little olive oil to finish.

This recipe appears in
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

Cook more from this book
Persimmon, goat’s cheese and land cress salad
Doughnuts and hot chocolate sauce

Read the review

Persimmon, goat’s cheese and land cress salad by Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Persimmon, goats cheese and landcress salad from Sabor

When persimmons are in season and ripe, this salad is so good and only takes five minutes. The best persimmons I’ve tried are from Sicily. Don’t try to make this with hard persimmons – it’s pointless. The goat’s cheese should be creamy and very soft – you should almost be able to spread it.

I always keep a large piece of bread in the freezer: if you take it out and leave it for 20 minutes to thaw slightly, you will be able to slice it very thinly (this works best with bread that’s not very wide).

This makes a great starter or light lunch or dinner.

Serves 4

8 sage leaves
60ml extra virgin olive oil
around ¼ of a loaf (15cm) of frozen baguette or thin white bread, left for 20 minutes to defrost slightly
100g land cress (or something peppery like watercress or rocket)
4 very ripe persimmons
200g soft creamy goat’s cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160–170°C. Put the sage leaves into a saucepan and just cover with olive oil, then put on a very low heat. As soon as the oil is warm, turn the heat off and leave to infuse, stirring gently. Discard the leaves.

Cut the partially defrosted bread into 8 very thin slices. Place on a lined baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil, then bake until the bread is crispy on both sides. Place the salad leaves on a plate and put the toasts on top.

Cut the persimmons in half – they should be deep orange and really juicy – then cut into wedges as well as you can. Cut the goat’s cheese to a similar size.

Lift the persimmon halves carefully on to the toast slices and top with a slice of goat’s cheese. Drizzle the sage-infused oil over the top and season with black pepper.

Extracted from
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

Cook more from this book
Pork belly and mojo verde
Doughnuts and hot chocolate sauce

Read the review

Casa Marcial: The Cuisine of Nacho Manzano by Benjamin Lana

Casa Marcial

Nacho Manzano is best known in the UK as the executive head chef of Ibérica, the chain of stylish Spanish restaurants he helped launch in 2009 in London and which now has branches in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.  But this book focuses on the food at his two Michelin-starred restaurant Casa Marcial in the tiny hamlet of La Salgar and the surrounding region of Asturias in northwest Spain where Manzano was born and continues to live and work.

The rugged, mountainous landscape is beautifully captured in Lobo Altuna’s images, which are almost worth the price of the book alone, and illustrate the first half of the book that tells Manzano and his family’s story. What is now one of the leading modernist restaurants in Spain began life after the Spanish Civil War as a cider mill and shop selling traditional wooden clogs run by Manzano’s great grandmother. In the 60’s, Manzano’s father Marcial ran it as a bar with food until finally Manzano and his sister Esther opened Casa Marcial in 1993.

The second half of the book contains recipes for the restaurant’s ’60 best dishes’ organised into vegetables and rice, fish and seafood, poultry and meat and desserts and fruit. Signature dishes include ‘house scrambled eggs over torto’, a deep fried maize flour flat bread typical to the Asturias region that Manzano put his spin on at the tender age of 15 when he topped them with eggs flavoured with caramelised onions and local Cabrales blue cheese; and ‘rice with pitu de caleya’, a take on a traditional Asturian feasting dish made with the local free range pitu de caleya or village chicken, a formerly neglected ingredient that Manzano has championed to become the Spanish equivalent of poulet de Bresse.

Given that the Manzano family have their own fishing grounds (although La Salgar is in the Sierre del Sueve mountains, it’s just 6 kilometres from the Bay of Biscay) it’s no surprise that just under half the recipes in the book are dedicated to seafood. Manzano takes a fin to tail approach with refined and stunningly presented dishes such as cod tripe with red pepper consommé and pil, the classic gelatinous sauce made with the cod’s skin and bones.

Manzano is a truly individual culinary mind and Asturias is a fascinating and under reported gastronomic region; Casa Marcial makes a fine introduction to both.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: Spanish
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Casa Marcial
Benjamin Lana
Photography by Lobo Altuna
€38, Planeta Gastro