Stage 15- Espelette d’ Hincapie

by Jeanne


Lézat-sur-LèzeSaint-Lary Soulan

Distance: 205.5km/127mi

Well done George! Since 1999 no team member of Lance’s has one a stage (besides the man himself). If anyone has earned that honor it’s George Hincapie. And he has done it on the most grueling of days.  Now the fact that I was near tears in this victory says something.  Perhaps I’m always rooting for the unsung hero. Absolutely brilliant ride today boys!

The Basque region covers three regions of France and four of Spain. Emphasis is not on sauces put on fresh, local ingredients paritcularly fish, beans and pasture animals. Traditionally Hautes-Pyrénées produces such specialties as black pig, fatty ducks, Pyrenees lambs, ewe, goat or mixed cheese, but also superior fario and rainbow trouts. Local tarbais beans pair well with lamb, sheep, preserves and garbure (a sort of chowder). With the Barousse cheese, Etorki and goat cheese often served with cherry jam. These people don’t mess around–food is taken very seriously. Historically the food is simple country dishes.

The 1970s saw the rise of La Nueva Cocina Vasca (New Basque Cuisine) and its founding father, Juan Mari Arzak. According to Susan Herrmann Loomis, "New Basque cuisine retains the focus on simplicity and seasonality, but is lighter, with a French influence and exotic additions such as truffles or pineapple. Many chefs infuse their recipes with humor, playing with textures (vodka in gelatin form), sensations (fizzy dried fruit), and traditions (smoked sea salt)." 

A defining ingredient is the region’s chile pepper which arrived in French Basque country as far back as the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the area became famous for these beautiful red peppers. It’s not an aggressive heat so it’s a great replacement for black pepper.

As recently as 1999, AOC was granted to Espelette peppers and products, giving it the same protection as more famous names, such as Champagne sparkling wine.  There are only 10 villages that can use this seal. Dave DeWitt, of Fiery Foods provides a history:

"In the 17th century, chocolate became very popular in Europe both in candies and in drinks. Chocolatiers in Bayonne, perhaps influenced by tales of Montezuma’s favorite drink, combined Espelette powder and chocolate. A century later, hams from the Basque area were covered with Espelette pepper to redden the ham before curing. The powder was also used in the making of Bayonne hams and some pates, sausages, blood sausages, rolls, and pies. From this point on, Basque cooks began using the Espelette pepper in place of black pepper in seafood dishes.

About the same heat scale as hot paprika, the Espelette pepper is regarded by the French as a four on the scale of one to ten. In fact, hot paprika powder can be substituted, as can New Mexico red chile powder."

I picked up Espelette in ground form at the farmer’s market from Tierra Vegetables just north of San Francisco. But the AOC variety can be purchased online

One use is in the making of piperade.  As a breakfast dish it is more like a scrambled Spanish omelet.  Piperades also come in the form of the following recipe sans the eggs and avec chicken. There’s also a Basque piperade sauce that is typically served with grilled meats.

Read more about Basque food via Departures magazine.


(4 servings)

1 tsp olive oil

3/4 c red bell pepper strips

3/4 c green bell pepper strips

1 minced garlic clove

3/4 – 1 c. Black Forest ham, chopped (or precooked bacon)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp piment d’Espelette (use less if desired)

14 and 1/2 oz diced tomatoes — with juice

4 lg eggs, lightly beaten

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add salt, piment d’Espelette, and tomatoes; cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 7 minutes or until bell peppers are tender.

Whisk together eggs, with salt and pepper.  Add tomatoes and ham. Pour into skillet with peppers. Reduce heat to medium low. As the eggs begin to set gently move spatula through skillet so that large, soft curds form. Cook until eggs thicken and there is no liquid from the egg remaining.