The Great Basque Tradition of Txuletón
Two years ago, on a trip that Victor Calvente and I made to San Sebastián, we visited a typical Basque Sidrería, or cider house. It was one of the moments that inspired us with the idea of finding a way to bring this amazing meat to the U.K. As it turned out, Monika Linton had had a very similar idea to us as she had got to know the man with the beef Imanol Jaca over the last 4 years at food events, late night dinners, and had even arranged language exchanges for their children. Monika has now visited imanol and his businesses a number of times and longs for our chefs to go too. Imanol and Monika had an obvious shared interest in extraordinary foods and have remained firm friends ever since. Together and with great support and encouragement from Imanol himself Brindisa has braved the logistics challenge and fresh txuletones are now with us in the kitchens on a weekly basis.
At the Sidrería (or Sagardotegi in Basque) that we visited, we enjoyed our Txuletón rib-eye steak and tasted the cider. At the call of the Txotx, the cider was spectacularly poured in the traditional way at a great height from the immense barrels. Basque cider is usually still not sparkling, so this method does the job of aerating it.
We ate lots of Pinchos to start with – far too many in fact – followed by Tortilla de Bacalao, which is the traditional starter at a cider house. Txuletón is the Basque name for the beef, it is Chuletón in Spanish, which gives you a clue of how to pronounce it. The piece of meat was really incredible – the size of it, the high quality which everybody insists on eating, and the fact that every single person in the cider house was eating the same thing. This is the Basque culture of the Txuletón.
I met Imanol Jaca who selects our meat for us in Barcelona some years ago. I was already working with his meat in a Masía (rural stone manor house) in Barcelona and I was really amazed by the huge pieces which we serve intact with their bone and the yellow, buttery fat.
Imanol has worked in the field selecting beef – both live animal and carcasses, for over 2 decades. He hangs the meat at his San Sebastián warehouse and sells it to haute cuisine Basque restaurants and chefs such as Etxebarri and Juan Mari Arzak as well as to steak and cider houses. The meat comes from animals which have lived a lifetime fed on a natural and varied diet, with fresh air and plenty of exercise. The result is comparable to an Ibérico ham, as the age and lifestyle of the animals gives meat marbled with fat. After being hung for 25 days the meat develops a deep red colour, great texture and flavour.
We now have this beef on the menu at Tapas Soho and Casa South Ken. Soho is serving the top Txuletón rib-eye steak, coming from 12 year old traditional working animals selected from the Galician hills for elegant flavour. At nearly 1kg weight, this is a plate for sharing and the tender lean meat with buttery fat really are equal protagonists on the bone! We have cider house Txuleta on the menu at South Ken, which is a rib-eye steak from 6 year old animals, quickly seared on the Plancha.