Samatan is nicknamed the "mecca" of foie gras and the capital of "pink gold". It is one of France's most ancient delicacies, and the Romans are known to have force-fed their geese with figs to fatten their livers. Today, the method of production, which many people consider very cruel, makes foie gras a 'forbidden' food in many ways.

The French Basque region's proximity to Spain is clear in its cuisine: dishes using vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, and spices like saffron and chilli. One of many local specialities is Bayonne Ham. Another is salt cod ("morue" or "bacalao"), a Basque favourite dating back to a time when cod fishing was an important regional industry. Salting was a method of preserving the fish, and its punguent flavour is ideally suited to a "basquaise" garnish of onions, garlic, tomatoes, and red and green peppers.

A good fishmonger should stock salt cod (Sandy's, in Twickenham, keeps it). It must be prepared before it is used in cooking, to wash the salt, in which it is preserved, away and to rehydrate it. Soak the salt cod for 1-2 days in water, changing the water 5 or 6 times.

Here is a recipe for Salt Cod Saint Jean, said to originate from the seaside town of St Jean Pied de Port, which has a traditional "basquaise" sauce, and contains another regional speciality, Espelette pepper, a variety of chilli pepper from the Basque country:

Serves 6

1.5 kgs salt cod
3 sweet green peppers.
2 red peppers
3 large onions.
3 cloves of garlic.
50gm flat parsley.
100gm Bayonne ham thinly sliced.
15gm breadcrumbs.
30ml tomato puree.
15gr Butter.
20cl olive oil.
1 tsp Piment d'Espelette powder.
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the salt cod in advance.
  • Grill the red peppers in the oven or over a flame on the hob, and once the skin is blackened cover and set aside to cool. Once cool remove the skin and the seeds.
  • Remove the seed from the green peppers then slice red and green pepper into strips. 
  • Peel and chop the onions.
  • Peel the garlic cloves and chop finely.
  • Cut the Bayonne ham slices into thin strips.
  • Cook the onions in a frying pan with 2/3 of the olive oil. When soft add the Bayonne ham, half the chopped garlic and the parsley. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the sliced peppers and leave to cook for a further 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomato puree, stir and leave the mixture uncovered to cook slowly for about 1 hour.
  • Pre heat the oven to 190c.
  • Remove the ham from the sauce and set to one side. Remove and discard the parsley. Put the pepper, onion, garlic mixture into a food processor with the piment d'espelette and puree.
  • Return the ham to the sauce check for seasoning and salt if necessary.
  • Dry the salt cod, and cut into 40mm wide strips. Heat the remainder of the olive oil and the butter in a frying pan. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped garlic on the fish, then brown the fish in the pan before transferring it to a baking dish and finishing the cooking process in the oven.
    Serve the cooked fish on a bed of the sauce.


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