In the bars and streets of Pamplona, the humble bean dish known as pochas has been a staple for bullrunners for generations. Our recipe, adapted from a turn of the century chef in the Basque Country, celebrates the noble flavor and treatment of simple, energizing beans.
The recipe is adapted from Pradera’s 1933 book, La Cocina de Nicolasa.
This bean dish has pedigree. Around the turn of the century, long before the Spanish Civil War, a farm girl named Nicolasa Pradera left Markina, a town in the Basque country, to work in the kitchen of a wealthy family in San Sebastian. Built along the beaches and coast, San Sebastian was a premier resort town for the nobility of Europe, who escaped there for cool summers. Learning the French-style cuisine the wealthy families favored, Pradera infused old world haute with traditional Basque techniques, like her pochas or beans.
After twenty years in the kitchen, Pradera ventured out on her own, opening Casa Nicolasa, in 1912. She also penned a cookbook, where we stumbled on her recipe. Back then, Pradera liked to add quail (when it was hunting season) to her beans, though they are often cooked with chorizo and clams, and served with white asparagus (esparragos blancos) or peppers (guindillas). The beans themselves get their name from their pale coloring, and are picked in Northern Spain immediately after they ripen from green to white.
At the fiestas de San Fermin, a bull runner can easily get addicted to pochas, says Gerry Dawes, who started going to Pamplona in the 1960’s, a time when many Pamplonicas had memories of sharing their botas with Ernest Hemingway (or getting them tossed, according to legendary runner Matt Carney’s account in James Michener’s Iberia.)
“We eat em for a simple reason: they’re fucking delicious,” says Dawes, whose spent most of his adult life discovering the gastronomic delicacies of Spain for his writing and artisanal wine business.
With mountains, valleys, and stark changes in climate, the north of Spain is a landscape all its own. Rioja and Navarre are both autonomous regions, lending a distinctiveness to the local palette as well. In Pradera’s recipe, the pochas are paired with quail because the best time to pick the beans overlaps with the beginning of the bird hunting season in the fall.
The recipe is very simple, similar to the others in La Cocina de Nicolasa, as though Pradera was trying to leave some space for other cooks to add some of their own flair, to make the recipe at least a little bit their own.
“Pochas for Quails, Game Birds, and Other Roasts”
1. Add water to a large pot with lean and fat pork
2. Once the water cools, add the ingredients below
3. Cook slowly
4. Add salt
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