Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marmitako (Basque Potato Tuna Soup)

The words "summer soup" conjure up different pictures in different parts of the world. In some places, it's a chilled and dilled borscht. In others, a cooling, smoothie-like mix of fruit and dairy. And in the Basque Country, it is a simmering stew of potatoes and tuna.

Okay, I know this sounds like the last thing you'd want on a hot day. But the timing makes some bit of sense: summer brings the new potato harvest, as well as the annual tuna run. Even so, it's not quite what I look for on a sunny afternoon. But on chilly winter nights, like the ones we've been having recently, it's perfect.

Every coastal region seems to have its own version of fish stew, from a rustic chowder to a layered boulliabaisse. Marmitako is on the surface a simple soup, but has a surprisingly satisfying depth. The aromatics and potatoes are cooked together for well over an hour to develop the flavors, and the tuna is stirred in at the end to add a briny note without becoming overcooked.

Marmitako was traditionally made right on the tuna boats themselves, simmering the day's catch with potatoes that had been brought on board. It can take many forms, some using dried peppers, others with onions or tomatoes. This particular version was adapted by my friend Iñaki, who's been schooling me in Basque cuisine for the past few months. He's sadly heading back home next week, and shared this recipe during our final cooking session. It's a hell of a parting gift.


as adapted by Iñaki Guridi

yields one large pot

As with the Basque soup porrusalda, the potatoes aren't cut with a knife, but broken into rough-edged pieces that release more starch to thicken the soup. To do this, slide a paring knife halfway through a peeled potato, about 1.5" down. Press the potato between your thumb and the knife, and twist to free a chunk roughly 1.5" square. Repeat until the whole potato is reduced to rough chunks.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 medium (or 4 large) waxy red or yellow potatoes, peeled and broken into chunks (see above)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb fresh tuna (albacore, if possible), cut into 1" cubes
salt and pepper

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the pepper, garlic and potatoes, and saute for several minutes, until the pepper and garlic have softened. Add the tomato paste, and enough water to cover everything by about 2". Season with salt, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for at least an hour and a half, until quite tender and flavorful.

When the soup is about 20 minutes from being done, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tuna, season liberally with salt, and saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but not fully cooked. Add the cubes to the soup pot, and simmer gently for another 15 minutes to meld the flavors.


  1. I love Basque dishes and this sure does sound good!

  2. so great to find marmitako made in portland! i am a basque ex-pat living in the US for the last 11 years and i still cook like a true basque even in fl. marmitako is one of my all time favorites. eskerrik asko!

  3. Ongi etorri! I was a stranger to Basque cuisine before I started cooking with my Basque friend -- I initially thought it would have the same North African inflection as Spanish food, full of saffron and almonds and orange zest and such. I was surprised to see the simplicity of the ingredients, and more surprised to taste the amazingly deep flavors that are coaxed out of them. My Basque friend headed back home a few weeks ago, but I've already picked up another package of salt cod...

    And I was glad to have your comment re-direct me to your blog -- I'd stumbled upon it a few months ago, but hadn't bookmarked it. Corrected that. So beautiful - your photos and recipes capture so much of what cooking and eating is all about.

  4. 'Cracking' the potatoes really thickens the broth! We got the same tip from the Spanish book Menu del Dia by Rohan Daft. More Basque recipes please! Mike