In Basque language, ‘marmitako’ means ‘what it is inside the pot’. So when the Basque fishermen were cooking aboard their boats… What did they have inside their cooking pots? They had potatoes and tuna. They had marmitako.
Now that chefs insist on how important is to recall the memories of taste when cooking, it is time to rescue one of the neatest food memories from my childhood… the bonito marmitako.
My mum used to cook marmitako quite frequently when I was a child. I still keep a perfectly clear record of how it tasted. It was deep, clean and beautiful. Perhaps one of her best recipes.
The ‘marmitako’ is a traditional pot dish original from the Basque Country. It was the Basque fishermen — also known as the ‘arrantzaleak’— who first came up with this recipe, although it got quickly spread around other regions from the northern coast of Spain such as Cantabria and Asturias.
Although many would classify this recipe as a fish stew, this is not the case. Only the potato, onion, pepper and tomato get stewed in the marmitako. The fish is only added to the rest of the ingredients at the very end of the cooking process, once the pot is off the heat to avoid overcooking it. So rather than a fish stew, the marmitako is a potato stew which was originally cooked by the fishermen aboard the fishing boats, using seawater and adding whatever fish catch they had available on the day.
Our choice of fish for today’s marmitako is ‘bonito’; a smaller, lighter-in-colour and more delicate variety of tuna which comes from the northern Cantabrico sea. And although the bonito marmitako is the most traditional one in the Basque country, there are many other types of fish that go perfectly well with this recipe. Try salmon, mackerel and even octopus for an incredibly awesome marmitako!
Marmitako (Basque tuna stew)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 70 minutes
Passive time: -
- First of all we need to hydrate the ‘choricero’ peppers. To do this, just put them in a bowl and cover them with warm water. Leave them for at least 30 minutes (even better if you leave them for a couple of hours). Once they are ready, scratch the pulp and discard the skin.
Making the fish stock:
- Before you start, make sure the fish bones are clean. If they are not, you should blanch them in order to remove any potential dirt.
- To do the stock put all the ingredients in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring to boil and then turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 25 minutes, making sure you keep defoaming the broth. Sieve the stock and reserve aside.
Making the marmitako:
- Heat some olive oil in a casserole and gently fry the peppers, the garlic and the onion until the latter becomes transparent but not brown. Just before the onion becomes transparent, add the bread crust in order to toast it slightly.
- Peel the potatoes and break them into large pieces inside the casserole. It is very important to break them rather than cut them so that the potatoes starch gets released and the sauce thickens. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the tomato sauce, the ‘choricero’ peppers pulp, the cayenne flakes, the sweet pimenton and the white wine. Stir in everything and then pour enough fish stock to just cover the ingredients. Season to taste and cook for 35 to 40 minutes over a medium heat.
- 10 minutes before it’s done, dice the bonito into 4 cm cubes and seal it in a frypan or a skillet with some olive oil until the fish cubes get golden on the outside. Then take the casserole off the heat and add the bonito so that it cooks with the residual heat.
- Taste it, adjust the seasoning if necessary and add some finely chopped fresh parsley on top. Serve immediately.
Getting the size of the bonito cubes right is key to achieve a successful marmitako. The bigger they are, the juicier the fish will be, so make sure you calculate pieces that can be eaten in a couple of bites rather than just one.