Axoa d’Espelette is a simple chopped meat stew that is full of flavour! This dish is a festive recipe from the Basque country in France, often served at country fairs, but equally enjoyed at family dinners. It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire, especially because it tastes even better when made ahead. (Skip to recipe.)
We’re headed to France this month for our Eat the World recipe challenge. Come join me for a little armchair traveling to the beautiful Basque Country in the southwest corner of France – a rich agricultural area with a unique culture, history, and language.
On our trip to Spain and Portugal in June, we spent four nights in the Basque Country, in the little French seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. What a picturesque area of France! Storybook villages of red-timbered white houses nestle amidst rolling hills dotted with farmyards, sheep, and cows. Driving through the winding roads of this lush agricultural countryside provided a continuous slide-show of beautiful rural scenes revealed around each bend.
We happened upon the Fête de Saint Jean in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where all the villagers dress in red and black, the colours of their patron saint, to celebrate and dance the night away.
We visited (twice) the little town of Espelette, famous for its piment d’Espelette – the fragrant ground red pepper made of peppers which are grown locally and dried in the sun to a deep brick-red hue. Strings of the pepper are on sale in shops and are hung everywhere on the sides of buildings to dry. The town is charming with its red and white buildings, friendly people, and the Espelette peppers everywhere.
The Espelette pepper has a unique rich fruity flavour with a mild to medium kick of heat. It is the base of much of the Basque cooking from this region, and lends its delicious flavour to a local specialty, Axoa d’Espelette.
The word axoa (pronounced achoa) means ‘chopped’ or ‘minced’ in the Basque dialect; this simple stew is usually made from minced veal, but can also be made with pork. I found that using ground turkey thigh meat was a very good substitute. In addition to being served in homes, this traditional dish is often served at fairs and markets in the Basque Country.
Basque cuisine is considered some of the best in the world, and its beauty is in the simplicity of its dishes and the freshness and stunning quality of its ingredients. Very few spices and herbs are used in Basque dishes, yet the flavour is rich and complex. I took a couple cooking courses in San Sebastian (in the Spanish part of the Basque), and was awestruck by how fantastic the food tasted with little more than garlic, olive oil, parsley, and salt being used to flavour it.
In the town of Espelette, the Axoa is usually made of ground veal. However in other Basque towns the veal is diced. I’ve made Axoa d’Espelette twice; once with only ground turkey thigh meat and once with half ground turkey and half chicken thigh meat that I diced. Both versions tasted fantastic and resembled the veal Axoa d’Espelette we ate in in a little streetside restaurant in Espelette. This recipe is from a postcard we bought in the town; I’ve added the wine and increased the garlic so it tastes just like the one we had in France.
I spent last week at Lake Okanagan in the south of British Columbia with my mom and four sisters. It was a glorious week of reconnecting and relaxing. Most of our meals were spent on the deck of our rented house overlooking the lake. Food tasted so much better with that stunning view in front of us, and we all enjoyed this meal of Axoa d’Espelette, sipping wine and watching the lake.
It was easy to pretend we were in France.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Axoa d’Espelette is a simple dish, and if you choose to use just ground meat, you won’t have much chopping to do. Since this Basque meal tastes even better on the second day, you can easily make it up ahead to serve to guests, or to speed up week night meals (especially with school starting again soon), or even to take along camping.
If you have trouble finding Piment d’Espelette, you can make a reasonable substitute by using sweet paprika and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper to add a bit of heat. If you do have Piment d’Espelette, make sure to add some of it at the end so its fresh flavour isn’t lost in cooking.
Enjoy it with boiled or steamed potatoes, or crusty bread for dipping into the flavourful juices.
(A Fantastic Chopped Meat Stew from the Basque Country of France)
- 1 kilogram (2.2lbs) veal shoulder (or substitute pork; or use ground turkey thigh meat; or a combination of ground turkey thigh meat plus diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 large green bell pepper or 8 mild, long, green pimento peppers
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (240ml) veal or chicken stock, or water
- ½ cup (120ml) dry white wine (or additional stock or water)
- 1½ teaspoons ground Piment d’Espelette, divided (or substitute 2 teaspoons sweet paprika + ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
Chop or dice the meat finely if using veal or pork shoulder, or if using chicken thighs.
Dice the onion, mince the garlic, and dice the red and green peppers.
Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) of the olive oil in a dutch oven or large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, garlic, and peppers, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add the diced or ground meat and cook, stirring often, until it is no longer pink. Use a wooden spoon to break up any large chunks if you are using ground meat. Add the bay leaf, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, thyme, salt, and 1 teaspoon of the Piment d’Espelette (or all of the paprika and cayenne, if using). The unique fresh flavour of Piment d’Espelette can get lost in cooking; that’s why you save a half teaspoon of it to add at the end, just before serving.
Pour in the stock and wine, and bring the Axoa d’Espelette to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer the stew for about 45 minutes. Remove the lid and turn the heat to medium. Boil the stew, uncovered, to reduce the liquid until there is just a thin layer of it left in the bottom of the pan.
Taste and add more salt if the Axoa d’Espelette needs it. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon of Piment d’Espelette, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Serve with additional Piment d’Espelette for people to sprinkle on their individual portions to taste.
Axoa d’Espelette is traditionally served with boiled potatoes or French bread to soak up the delicious juices.
Check out all the wonderful French dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
Camilla: Poulet à la Moutarde + Salade de Courgettes
Nicoletta and Loreto: Classic French Chocolate Profiteroles
Claudia: Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise
Margaret: Axoa d’Espelette: a simple and tasty Basque stew
Wendy: Charlotte de Chou et de Pommes de Terre
Amy: Fougasse (Provençal Flat Bread)
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Check out some of my other ‘Eat the World’ Recipe Challenge posts:
(in alphabetical order)
- Argentina: Red Chimichurri Sauce
- Australia: Anzac Biscuits (Crispy Oatmeal Cookies)
- Bangladesh: Chingri Masala (Shrimp Curry)
- Bulgaria: Patatnik (Savoury Potato and Cheese Pie)
- Cambodia: Noum Kong (Cambodian Rice Flour Doughnuts)
- China: Kung Pao Chicken
- Colombia: Pan de Yuca (Warm Cheese Buns)
- Egypt: Fava Beans and Feta
- England: Gluten Free Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas
- Ethiopia: Four Ethiopian Recipes for a Fantastic Feast
- Fiji: Spiced Sweet Potato and Banana Salad
- Finland: Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon, Potato, and Dill Soup)
- France: Axoa d’Espelette (A Simple Stew from the Basque Country)
- Georgia: Charkhlis Chogi (Beets with Sour Cherry Sauce)
- Greece: Moussaka
- Guyana: Fried Tilapia in Oil & Vinegar Sauce (fish dish)
- Hungary: Túrós Csusza (Pasta Scraps with Cottage Cheese)
- India: Kerala Upma (Fluffy, Kerala Style Breakfast Upma Recipe)
- Iraq: Tepsi Baytinijan (Eggplant & Meatball Casserole)
- Ireland: Dublin Coddle (A tasty Sausage and Potato Stew)
- Israel: Cucumber, Feta, and Watermelon Salad
- Jamaica: Rice and Peas (Coconut Rice and Red Beans)
- Japan: Chawanmushi (Steamed Savoury Egg Custard)
- Kenya: Maharagwe with Ugali (Red Beans with Cornmeal Slice)
- Laos: Ping Gai (Lao Grilled Chicken Wings)
- Lesotho: Chakalaka & Pap (Veggie & Bean Stew with Cornmeal Polenta)
- Luxembourg: Stäerzelen (Buckwheat Dumplings)
- Mexico: Cochinita Pibil Tacos (Pit Barbecued Pig to Make in Your Oven)
- Netherlands: Boerenkool Stamppot (Kale-Potato Mash with Sausages & Pears)
- New Zealand: Classic Pavlova
- Poland: Polish Honey Cake
- Portugal: Tuna and Sardine Pâtés
- Puerto Rico: Piña Colada Cocktail
- Scotland: Cranachan (Raspberry, Whisky & Oat Cream Parfaits)
- Senegal: Mafé (Beef and Peanut Stew)
- Sudan: Peanut Butter Creamed Spinach & Peanut Meringue Cookies
- Sweden: Swedish Meatballs with Cream Gravy
- Switzerland (Christmas): Basler Leckerli Cookies
- Thailand: Shrimp Laksa (Khung)
- Trinidad & Tobago: Peanut Butter Prunes
- Ukraine: Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
- United States (Soul Food): Smothered Pork Chops
- Uruguay: Torta de Fiambre (Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches)
- Vietnam: Caramelized Pork Rice Bowls