TRADITIONAL BASQUE COOKING: History and Preparation by JosÉ María Busca Isusi


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There might have been better candidates in the field for English translation (especially Ana María Calera's La cocina vasca), but this scrambling, unsystematic book has many treasurable moments. Busca, of whom the blurb dimly says that he ""was a noted Basque chef,"" is or was one of those rambling, untrained culinary essayists who pour forth hazy historical generalizations, sharp practical insights, romantic garblings, and absolutely invaluable nuggets of all-but-extinct knowledge, all tied up in Gordian knots. In the crannies of his digressions, omissions, and idÉes fixes lurks the kind of information that eludes food historians in recipe-books: how the elvers (baby eels) so popular among the Basques are put in a tobacco solution after being caught, how some shepherds still make a curdled sheeps'-milk preparation by putting superheated stones in primitive kettles, how the salt cod for ajo arriero (a garlicky stew) is, improbably enough, grilled over hot coals before desalting. With any sort of serious editorial attention, this text could have been of great interest to a thoughtful American reader. Instead, we get a complete vacuum of annotation or scholarly placement, and are at the mercy of an uncredited translator who cannot write a clear English sentence or recognize enough of international cooking parlance to know that by ""Duck a la Ruanesa"" the author means the famous French canard á la rouennaise. The 44 recipes that follow the text, semi-adapted (by a Reno restaurateur) for the US kitchen, still retain enough untranslated terms to puzzle any Yankee who isn't a clairvoyant or a veteran Spanish traveler. (They seem an interesting selection, but include many Spanish classics whose specific Basque character is never explained.) Kudos to an industrious university press--near neighbor to the largest Basque population this side of the Bay of Biscay--for giving us this curious document. Brickbats for managing to render the work nearly inaccessible.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Nevada Press