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How A Basque Chef Smokes Out Food’s Subtle Natural Flavors

Chef Bittor Arginzoniz slicing beef. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Etxebarri

Chef Bittor Arginzoniz slicing beef. Credit: Copyright 2016 courtesy of Etxebarri

‘Everything can be grilled’

Coquinas. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sofia Perez

Coquinas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Sofia Perez

My latest meal at Etxebarri held its own against the first: grilled anchovy fillets atop toasted flatbread, the hint of smoke mellowing the fish’s bold personality; coquinas — Lilliputian clams — in their briny broth, kissed by the hearth’s vapors; and that same smoked-milk ice cream I’d tasted years ago, this time over grilled berries. Scribbling my impressions in a notebook, I wished English had more synonyms for “delicate.”

Although Arginizoniz can sear a rib eye with the best of them, he works wonders with ingredients that aren’t commonly grilled, like caviar and percebes (gooseneck barnacles). His best-known dish, angulas (baby eels), was also his white whale for a time. After a food critic told him he couldn’t possibly grill them — each angula is shaped like cooked linguine and twice as slippery — Arginzoniz was determined to prove him wrong. Working with a stainless-steel manufacturer, he designed a mesh sauté pan to cradle the eels as they cook. “Everything can be grilled, if you have the right tools.”



Zester Daily contributor Sofia Perez is an independent multimedia journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Gourmet, and Saveur, and she began her career in broadcast news at NBC. She's taught food-writing classes at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education, serves as a judge for the James Beard Foundation Book & Journalism Awards, and is the North American interpreter for chef Ferran Adrià. Most recently, she completed her first book, "So This Is How It Ends," a historical novel about the Spanish Civil War. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Perez is the proud child of two remarkable Spaniards who instilled in her their passion for food and their homeland.

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