Mero a la Bilbai'na
In Basque cuisine, the term bilbaina refers to a green sauce (salsa verde) that contains asparagus, green peas, and hard-cooked eggs. A Basque woman named Placida de Larrea developed this sauce in 1723, so it is as much a classic as well known French sauces, such as hollandaise and bearnaise. Because of the outstanding reputation of Bilbao's food, however, some cooks and chefs call other sauces bilbaina simply for prestige.
I love grouper with this sauce, but you could also use hake, monkfish, or any other white fish. The sauce does not work well with oilier, darker-fleshed fishes such as tuna or salmon.
2 pounds grouper fillets, cut into 16 pieces
About 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
12 Manila, littleneck, or cherrystone clams,
well scrubbed (see Note)
2 cups water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can (8 pieces) white asparagus,
preferably from Navarra, drained, or 8 spears
cooked fresh white asparagus
1/2 cup cooked green peas
2 hard-cooked eggs, each cut into 4 wedges
1. Sprinkle the grouper with salt. Spread the flour on a plate, and coat the fish with it on all sides. Shake off the excess flour, and set the fish aside.
2. In a large saucepan, combine the clams and water, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and boil for about 5 minutes, until the clams open. Drain them, using a fine-mesh sieve, and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Discard any clams that have not opened.
3. In a large flame-proof earthenware casserole or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté it for about 1 minute, until it is light golden. Arrange the grouper pieces in a single layer in the casserole or skillet, and cook them over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side. Add the parsley, the wine, and the reserved clam cooking liquid, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, gently shaking the pan to prevent sticking. Add the clams, asparagus, and peas, and simmer for about 3 minutes longer, until the clams and vegetables are heated through. Remove the casserole or skillet from the heat, add the egg wedges, and serve immediately.
You should be able to get Manila clams from a reputable fishmonger, although you may have to special-order them. If they are not available, use littleneck or slightly larger cherrystone clams. Cockles are a good substitute, too, although they may be hard to find.
The Basque Table
Passionate Home Cooking from one
of Europe's Great Regional Cuisines
By Teresa Barrenechea with Mary Goodbody
Harvard Common Press
Hardback, Price: $22.95
Recipe Reprinted by permission.
This page created March 1999
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