The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche

Mussels Escabeche from The Basque Book

The Basque Book by NYC’s Txikito restaurant chefs Alexandra Raij and Elder Montero (with Rebecca Flint Marx) is a breathtakingly beautiful and perfectly inspiring cookbook. The Basque country is a part of Europe that spans the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It maintains a special ambiance all its own. The Basque are proud of their particular identity, despite their unspecified geography. They tend to converse in Euskera, the Basque language – “agur” (goodbye) and “kaixo” (hello) – with an occasional interjection of Spanish “buenas” or French “salut”.

If you’re willing to pick up and read The Basque Book from front to back you’ll certainly be bowled over by the depth, nuance, and tenacity the authors bring in introducing Basque culture. However, if you simply start by flipping through the recipes you may find that this book reads like a slightly intimidating master course in Basque cooking. It’s a book whose recipes are dedicated to the culinary concept that ‘simple’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘easy’ and ingredients matter – a lot. While this book is fascinating on a cultural level and is a mouthwatering page-turner, I still had trouble choosing a recipe to try for myself. That’s because I’m new to the concept of Basque cuisine. I was a little concerned about how I could translate so much exciting new information to my own plate.

To truly appreciate this book you probably need to already love Basque cooking. It’s best if you’ve actually traveled to the region, or dined at the authors’ restaurant, and are comfortable with consonants (especially “K” and “X”). That’s because the recipes in The Basque Book are the Txikito chefs’ personal interpretations on traditional Basque cooking. They’re presented with engaging stories that effortlessly meld the authors’ love of Basque cuisine with Raij’s Midwest background. Yes. Really.

However, if Basque flavors are new to you don’t use that as an excuse to ignore this book. Instead, skip straight to page 41 and start your education by reading the section on “The Art of Pintxos” (pronounced PEEN-chos).

The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche

Pintxos are essentially bar-food, eaten all day and all night: chorizo, cheese, meat, seafood, or simple vegetables. Many of these little treats start with jarred or pickled items. Quite simply, pintxos are the Basque version of tapas and they’re traditionally served on toast. It’s easy to fall in love with new tastes when they’re presented as toasty slabs of culinary art. These pretty little open-face sandwiches are often enticingly displayed on the counter of each bar tempting the patrons to order as many as they like.

This is why (after much flipping through The Basque Book) I decided that pintxos would be the place to start for me. I chose Mussels Escabeche served Basque-style on toast with mayonnaise. Escabeche is a traditional sweet and sour taste that I love, and already know something about. So it seems a great gateway to the unique style and flavors of the sometimes confusing Basque region.GREG

PS The recipe is beautifully written by the authors and was a smashing success. The recipe below has been rewritten in my own words.

The Basque BookFresh Mussels The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche Steamed Mussels

I received a review copy of The Basque Book. All opinions are my own.

Mussels Escabeche (Mussels Poached in Vinaigrette)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield Source Adapted from The Basque BookPublished
Mussels Escabeche (Mussels Poached in Vinaigrette)


  • 3 ½ pound fresh mussels (in the shell)
  • dry white wine (as needed)
  • 1 cup extra-vrgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts finely diced)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 1 red onion (finely diced)
  • 1 carrot (peeled and finely diced))
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 sprigs lemon thyme
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 jalapeño (halved and seeded)
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup Champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • lightly toasted baguette slices
  • mayonnaise (optional)
  • sweet Spanish paprika (as needed)
  • dill fronds (as needed)


Steam the mussels: Rinse the mussels thoroughly under running water. Gently remove their beards by pulling in the fibers that protrude from the shells. Add about ½‑inch dry white wine to a large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring the wine to a simmer and let it gently bubble a few seconds to burn off some of the alcohol. Add ⅓ of the mussels to the pan, cover and steam the mussels about 30 seconds. Uncover the pan and use tongs or a slotted spoon to move any of the mussels that have already opened to a large bowl. Cover the pan again, checking and removing the opened mussels every 30 seconds. Discard any mussels that have not opened after 3–4 minutes of following this process. 

Add more wine to the pan to return the level to about ½‑inch. Repeat the steaming process with the remaining mussels in 2 more batches. 

Once the mussels are cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the shells. Place the meat into a clean, heatproof bowl as you work. Discard the shells.

Make the escabeche: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add leeks and a pinch or two salt, sweat until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the onion and carrot, and continue to cook until tender, another 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, use a double thickness of cheesecloth to create a sachet by combining the coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and lemon thyme sprigs secured with kitchen string.

Add the sachet, sugar, water, jalapeño, and all three vinegars to the pan of vegetables. Simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. The vegetables should be tender but not mushy.

Remove the sachet and jalapeño halves from the mixture and discard. Pour the escabeche mixture through a fine-mesh sieve held over the bowl of mussels. Allow to cool about 10 minutes, then cover and chill well. Transfer the vegetables from the sieve to a separate bowl, cover and chill until ready to serve.

To serve: Bring the mussels and vegetables to room temperature. 

Spread toasted baguette slices with a thin swipe of mayonnaise (if using). Top with mussels and vegetables. Garnish with a drizzle of the escabeche liquid, paprika and dill fronds.