Basque Chicken & Cake
Chicken Basquaise is a typical Basque dish, cooked in ‘piperade‘ sauce. It comes from the Basque word ‘biperra’ meaning chili. The piperade sauce is composed of onions, garlic, chilis, Bayonne ham, tomatoes and olive oil. Since fresh chilis (piments doux) aren’t always in season, they can be replaced by peppers and piment d’Espelette instead.
I have an admiration for Basque cuisine, so full of flavors, rich in colors, highly influenced by the taste of Gascony, Bearn and Spain. The vibrant dishes have such body and character, no wonder so many of my favourite chefs are of Basque origins. The cuisine is all about generosity and happiness, respecting the natural flavors of the ingredients, themes that match my culinary mind.
Chicken Basquaise is one of those meals I often cook for my family. We all love it and the kids appreciate the spicy touch, that’s why I always add that extra dose of piment d’Espelette. Accompanied with red Camargue rice (you can also use Thai red rice), the explosion of colors make this dish exciting and delicious. Just like ‘blanquette de veau’, poulet Basquaise is a basic staple dish in my household. Simple, easy and so healthy. Embellished with the piment d’Espellete, this is a dish that will awaken your senses!
To keep the Basque theme going, I decided to make the emblematic ‘Basque cake’ (gâteau Basque). This is a dessert I always look forward to order in a good bistrot. There are so many versions, but I like the traditional one best, with a discreet rum and vanilla cream filling. I have to say, it is so good you will want to make it again. My daughter Louise said it reminded her of a canelé, but creamier. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s a great way to end any meal, so perfect with the last sip of wine or the first sip of coffee.
Poulet Basquaise recipe: (serves 4-6)
1 good-quality chicken (cut in pieces), or 3-4 chicken legs and 4 small drumsticks (perfect for kids)
2 medium-sized red pepper
1 medium-sized green pepper
2 onions (sliced)
4 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
230 g/ 1/2 pound Bayonne ham (you can use pancetta), diced
6 tomatoes, (in France, I recommend ‘coeur de boeuf’ tomatoes, peeled and chopped
120 ml/1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 tbsp tomato paste concentrate
Salt & black pepper
1-2 tsp piment d’Espelette (if you can’t find this, try hot paprika instead)
Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add the tomatoes for 15-20 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water. Peel tomatoes and chop coarsely. Set aside.
Deseed peppers, cut into halves. Place skin-side up on a baking sheet and grill in oven on high, until it blisters. Place the hot peppers in a ziplock bag and leave to cool. Peel the skin and set aside.
In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry garlic for 2 minutes, followed by the Bayonne ham for 2 minutes, then the onions for 5 minutes. Add the peeled peppers, fry for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, piment d’espellette and 1 tbsp of tomato paste. Add 2 bay leaves and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, rinse and pat chicken dry with kitchen towel. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper and fry until golden brown on each side. Set aside.
Add the chicken and wine to the sauce, cover and cook for a further 30 minutes on a very low heat.
Cook for a further 10 minutes on a medium to high heat uncovered so the sauce reduces and thickens. You can adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and piment d’Espelette.
Serve with red rice, (other suggestions are rice pilaf, couscous/ semoule or steamed potatoes).
Gâteau Basque recipe
For the cake batter
400 g/ 3 & 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
200 g/ 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 egg yolks and 2 eggs
200 g/ 1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp fine salt
1 tsp baking powder (levure chimique)
For the cream filling
500 ml/ 1 pint full cream milk
1 egg and two egg yolk
2 tbsp dark rum
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
100 g/ 1/2 cup granulated sugar
50 g/ 8 tbsp plain flour, sifted
1 egg yolk
1 pinch of salt
Mix ingredients together in a small bowl.
For the cake batter
In a large bowl, mix the sugar and butter (cut into small chunks). Gradually add the egg yolks and eggs until the batter becomes smooth. Add the sifted flour, salt and baking powder, mix well until dough is soft. Divide dough in two balls, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Prepare the cream filling. In a saucepan, bring the milk to soft boil with the vanilla seeds. Add the sugar, whisk for 30 seconds. Add the sifted flour gently, whisking away to avoid any lumps for 2 minutes. You can take the saucepan on and off the heat a few times. Add the egg and yolks, one at a time, whisking away until the cream has thickened, about 2-3 minutes (low heat). Take off the heat. Finally, add the rum and mix well. Set aside to cool completely.
When ready, roll two discs (1.5 cm/ 0.5 inch thick approx) to fit your cake pan – one base, slightly larger and one cover, slightly smaller on a floured surface (I always roll pastry on floured parchment paper).
Butter and dust the cake pan with flour, line the base with the larger disc leaving a 2 cm/ 0.7 inch overhang. Pour the cream filling in the cake, cover with the second smaller disc. Brush edges with eggwash, press and seal both discs. Brush cover with egg wash, then use a fork to draw lines on the cake (see photos). Make 3-4 tiny incisions with the tip of a sharp knife on the cover (so the cake won’t puff up). Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 30 minutes.