Born in the Basque town of Guetaria, Captain Elkano was the first in circumnavigation of Earth in 1522 aboard the Victoria Carrack.
Five hundred years later in the same town Elkano is honoured by “fish perfect” Aitor Arregi and his restaurant Elkano. Founded it in 1964, by his father Pedro the whole family dedicated themselves to the business of grilling fish on their outdoor Asadores. His mother, Mari Jose, still looks after the restaurant’s room while his father (who since passed) was in charge of the grill, but it was his grandmother Joxepa who held the real reins as cook.
At 18 years old Aitor began studying engineering in San Sebastián, when a Spanish football club based in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Álava, wanted to sign him. His father told him no, because he had to continue with his studies, but Alavés suggested that he continue his career in Vitoria. He was playing soccer professionally for 11 years before hanging up his boots in 2002 at which time he returned to his roots.
Thirty minutes from San Sebastián Elkano is located above a fisherman’s village on the road between a fork of two passages. Just near the shores of the Atlantic coast in the small village of Getaria their motto is to “buy well and not ruin it” – and I couldn’t agree more. El Kano begins with some of the most extraordinary amuse bouche; three small “tastes” of simple, pure and delicate fish delights. Nothing here is overwhelming except the quality and the skilful hands of the chefs.
El Kano’s food speaks for itself — old fashioned is not the right description when you enter the main dinning room.
In our corner, once seated you realise this is a classic styled Basque fish restaurant dedicated to respecting fisherman, their work and “the catch”, the connection between man and sea – grilled or raw it must represent purity and terroir.
Monkfish liver is known as the foie gras of the sea. It has a very rich taste and a smooth texture. It contains Vitamin A,D,E and a lot of minerals and is thought to reduce the cholesterol level in our blood while raising our immunity to disease.
I am never bored by El Kano’s vibrance, today we enjoyed Boletus and raw egg yolk whipped during mushroom season. Now think of Carbonara – is it the beginnings of fresh yolks mixture of eggs with cheese, which is documented as long ago as 1839. Or was it during the middle ages and through the 17th century in England, when raw eggs were popular additions to beer and wine. But it doesn’t really matter does it when you sit at the table of El Kano because it’s pure pleasure.
Albacore tuna is predominantly used for sashimi, a smaller fish with a high fat percentage from the North Atlantic it has a nice pink hue and tasted clean and balanced.
The Rock Lobsters are abundant this season as Aitor explains, but beware they are not as sweet as during the summer time. These rock lobsters are known as spiny and are easily distinguished from true lobsters by their very long, thick, spiny antennae by the lack of claws on the first four pairs of walking legs, although the females of most species have a small claw on the fifth pair. I wouldn’t recommend eating rock lobster unless it is a small female, and even still the blue lobster in infinitely better.
And last but not least is El Kano’s signature basket grilled Turbot, the magic of El Kano it is said his father Pedro was the first to basket grill this way on an open fire. The turbot is one of the most difficult to grill and the basket helps as the fish is flipped, the heat transfers as energy to the core preventing the topside from cooling too fast. The king of Elkano is the grilled turbot, Rodaballo.
However, cooking turbot you almost always find some part (near the bone) seemingly raw – this is the point of no return when cooking turbot. The sauce in Basque is a vinegar and oil, it is fantastic and is similar to the Greek clan and oil, but perhaps more lean and the acidity helps the palate.