We’re back this week for Gourmet online’s “50 Women Game Changers.” Elena Arzak is a 4th generation family restaurant chef/owner. Her great-grand-father began restaurant Arzak in 1897, as a family business in the beautiful coastal town of San Sebastian, Spain. It later passed to her grandmother, who as a young widow ran it alone. Then Elena’s father, Juan Mari, who as an inquisitive young man, went beyond his mother’s cooking style. He based his new approach on the roots of traditional Basque foods; and, he was at the forefront of the New Basque Cuisine which began in 1976.
Even though her parents tried to dissuade her, Elena Arzak knew from the age of 11 that she wanted to be a Chef and a part of her parent’s restaurant. Every day after school she helped out with the prepping for dinner service. She knew what a Chef’s life demanded when at 18, she went the Schweizerische Hotelfachschulein Lucerne, Switzerland, to study cooking and management. Then for five years she worked at various top European restaurants, returning in 1996 to work alongside her father, where they now run the restaurant as equals and have a Michelin three star rating. She has won numerous awards, among them: the 2010 Best Chef National Gastronomy Award, from the Spanish Gastronomy Academy, and the 2010 Eckart Witzigmann Award, Eckart Witzigmann Foundation.
Elena has a small kitchen/laboratory where she houses a library of flavors to experiment with textures and gustatory delights. She likes to describe their food as “singular, Basque, evolving, research-based and avant-garde”. The ingredients she must always have on hand are olive oil, garlic, vegetables and eggs. (You may want to watch this video to see their restaurant and food.)
*Note about the recipe – from time to time as we’ve been following the women game changers we come across a chef who has few if any recipes on the internet, and no books to be found at the local library; this is the case with Elena. The recipe, hake with green sauce, is a traditional Basque recipe their food is inspired by —and it’s healthy. It is a José Andrés recipe, adapted by Amy and Jonny at We Are Never Full, and I in turn, have slightly adapted it to use shrimp instead of clams. The spirit is there.
Cooking Time: 8 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
4 hake filets (cod, or halibut will also do)
8 large shrimp, peeled and deviened
4 tablespoons best extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons, finely minced garlic
¼ teaspoon flour
3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 tbsp dry white wine
salt and black pepper
1. Gently heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic. Do not allow garlic to color, and after a minute or two, stir in the flour.
2. Season fish with salt and pepper, and place the fish skin side down in pan (if it has skin), and add the parsley. Gently shake the pan, or use a wooden spoon, so that fish moves around the pan in a circular motion. After 3 or 4 minutes gently turn the fish over.
3. Add the shrimp and the wine and continue to cook the fish, moving it around in a circular fashion. Your sauce should look green, slightly shiny and emulsified after about three more minutes. Check that the shrimp is cooked on both sides
Serve immediately. I served this with boiled red potatoes, but a nicer touch would have been to parboil them, and then slice them in half and place them cut side down, on a baking pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Then bake them until you could easily pierce them with a knife, and they were crispy on the bottom.
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