A series to pay homage to the biggest cycling event in Spain: La Vuelta a España. You can join this tour without a bike, but not with an empty stomach. For more Spanish recipes on this series, follow this link.
Today’s recipe is a very Pacific North-West take on the extremely popular “pastel de cabracho” by Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak – the first chef in Spain to win three Michelin stars, and also the first to popularize cabracho, the fishy protagonist of this very recipe. Apparently, nobody before Juan Mari had thought of inviting this freaky-looking fish (Scorpanea scrofa, by its Latin name) to the Spanish table. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given his face:
But probably the lack of consensus in Spain around how to refer to it wasn’t helping it either in order to get popular with the ladies or the Spanish palates. While the English speaking folks seem to agreeably refer to it by the not very edible sounding name of “red scorpionfish”, we Spaniards have chosen to let every region have its pick: the Basque decided on itxaskabra, the Asturians, on tiñosu; the Catalans chose escórpora; the Canarians, cantanero; the Murcians, gallina; the Balearic, cap roig; and finally, any other region I know of seems to be fine calling it cabracho – but then, I wouldn’t go and try and to find out whether this is really the case: those are already far more names than I could ever remember. Now, go and try to have a conversation about fish in Spanish!
Behind that ugly exterior and the confusing terminology, cabracho happens to be hiding the most delicate, shellfish-like white meat. It also hides venomous spines, which doesn’t come with as much of a surprise given the face (an extra point for the English speaking folks: not only were you able to arrive at a consensus for this fish name, but your name of choice is also the most true to the nature of cabracho). In cabracho’s favour, though, let me tell you that the venom is easily deactivated when boiled. And, hell, I would risk the consequences even if it didn’t: cabracho really is that delicious!
So… I went around Vancouver and tried to get a hold of some red scorpionfish…
… and, of course, found none!
Therefore, until Juan Mari decides to come to this side of the Atlantic to get you guys to try all sorts of new, ugly things, we will need to make the best with what we’ve got. And what I had was some hook caught, Pacific Sockeye salmon – which, actually, is far from being a let down! Salmon had the side effect of pumping up the orange factor of this pâté, and orange happens to be exactly the colour of the all Basque, Euskatel-Euskadi pro-tour cycling team. As I was taking the pan out of the oven, I kept thinking that there can hardly be a more fitting recipe to join the Orange Tide of Euskaltel cycling fans: orange Euskatel-Euskadi cap on your head, orange “Euskatel-Euskadi pâté” in your mouth and… go Samu Sanchez, go!! As long as you remember to swallow before actually shouting that out loud, I am sure Juan Mari Arzak, a proud Basque himself, will forgive us both for bastardazing his recipe and for the cycling-themed change of name.
Difficulty: Difficulty is beating Lance Armstrong in a time-trial up Mont Ventoux. This, my friend, is a piece of (salmon) cake.
Time: 70-80 minutes
- 500 or 600 g salmon (or the same quantity of our ugly friend the red scorpionfish, if you have what it takes and are also able to get a hold of it)
- 1/2 onion
- 1 leek
- 1 carrot
- 2 bay leaves
- a splash of white wine
- olive oil
- 10 tsp tomato sauce
- 10 tsp whipping cream
- 4 eggs
- white pepper
- mayonnaise, for garnish
- Boil carrot, leek and onion with water, a pinch of salt, a splash or white wine, another splash of olive oil and some bay leaves, for 5-10 minutes
- Add salmon to the pot, and let boil for 15 more minutes
- Remove salmon from the pot and drain. You can (and should) save the stock: it would go perfect on a risotto recipe, for example.
- Remove skin and bones and shred fish meat using your fingers or a fork
- Beat the 4 eggs and add tomato, whipping cream, a pinch of salt and white pepper
- Add shredded salmon to the egg mix and beat/blend together until you get a consistency similar to that of pâté. For a smoother finish, you can use a hand blender.
- Butter a rectangular loaf pan or a cake pan, and sprinkle with some bread crumbs.
- Place the pan in a water bath and bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 375F.
- Serve cold, spreading over crackers or bread, and with some mayonnaisse for topping.