It only took a day of watching Aatxe chef Ryan Pollnow pull together an over-the-top spread for us to understand what goes into eating, entertaining and drinking like the Spanish. Here are a few takeaways that we learned from our day of hard work.
It’s all about offering a variety of textures and flavors with small plates of equal weight.
Don’t course dishes into starters, entrees and sides; instead, put aside the concept that any one dish ought to be the star and treat finger foods, charcuterie, open-faced sandwiches and meat dishes with equal importance. Everything—from the one-bite olive-and-anchovy skewer to steamed mussels with chorizo and beans—has a place at the table.
Maximize your bite.
In Spain’s Basque Country, pintxos, the Basque equivalent of tapas, prevail. They’re appropriate for any time of day or night, and are designed to be eaten with one hand while standing up (and with a drink in the other hand, of course). To truly channel the Basque, aim for maximum flavor, and don’t let fancy techniques upstage top-notch ingredients. “Let the product shine, and present as many flavors and textures in a small bite as you can,” Ryan says. Creamy, crispy, umami-packed vegetable croquetas are a perfect example of this.
Have a drink while you cook.
Good food is a huge part of the Basque tradition, but drinking is arguably even more so. Whether it’s a glass of wine, sherry, cider or gintonic, don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy una bebida while getting ready for the party. As he prepared steamed mussels, a splash of fino sherry went into chef Ryan Pollnow’s glass first before hitting the stockpot.
Make food together.
While hopping between bars and grabbing bites along the way is a huge part of life in the Basque Country, so is cooking. In fact, txokos—convivial gastronomic societies made up of men who gather to snack and cook before sitting down to eat together—are a big part of Basque tradition. Employ your friends and family to help you with the meal prep—the aforementioned drink should help with this.
Don’t forget the cider!
Cider is a huge part of the drinking culture along the Northern Spanish coast, and they’re nothing like the hard ciders we know in the United States. Instead, they’re bone-dry, high in acidity, funky in flavor, and unfiltered with only a hint of effervescence (don’t expect too much carbonation). To accentuate the natural effervescence, the Basques serve sidra with a high pour, raising the bottle several feet above the glass to accentuate its crispness. “It’s a fun way to start a party off, with booze in the air,” Aatxe bartender Sophie Fleming says. “And it tastes better!”
Check out more of our day spent with the Aatxe crew, and see more about Aatxe and Ryan’s Spanish feast at williams-sonoma.com/aatxe.