Saturday, February 20, 2016


Fifty years ago this month I arrived in the village of Mijas. A rickety-old taxi deposited us in the plaza where we unloaded bags and a steamer trunk packed with typewriter and books. We (my then-husband and I) had come to southern Spain to spend a year, exploring, writing, reading. Fifty years later I am still here.

We stayed in a small pension while we searched for a place to live. At midday we usually ate at a local bar, where I became acquainted with the glories of Mediterranean fish. We soon met a Canadian couple, also house-hunting. They were staying at a family-run hostal on the central plaza that also had a restaurant. We joined them there for lunch one day.

Restaurant Mirlo Blanco in the 1960s.
Over the years, that restaurant, the Mirlo Blanco—“white blackbird"—became our favorite place for any special occasion—birthdays, anniversaries, visitors from abroad. The menu featured traditional Basque cuisine, as the family that ran the restaurant was from the Basque Country.

The service was impeccable—my ex and the Canadian writer, channeling  Hemingway, called the maître d’ “el gran maestro.” On one of my first meals there, the maître brought to the table for inspection a whole, glistening-fresh hake, about 1 ½ feet long, before returning it to the kitchen to be cooked a la vasca, Basque style, with white wine, asparagus, clams and parsley.

I hadn’t been back to the Mirlo Blanco in quite a few years—I rarely eat out except when I am travelling. But this week, what with that 50th anniversary and some friends visiting, it seemed like a good occasion.

Mirlo Blanco today. The restaurant is located in the central plaza of the village.
The Mirlo Blanco has changed very little in all those years. The matriarch, Doña Pía (from whom I cajoled recipes many years ago) is gone, as is el gran maestro. The second and third generations of the Auzmendi family run the establishment. The current maître, who, besides serving our lunch, kept a cozy fire burning nicely in the hearth, has been with the family for 38 years.

With some seasonal additions, the menu, too, was basically the same! The wonderful Basque fish soup (perfect on a chilly February day), merluza a la vasca, squid in black ink sauce, braised ox-tail, soufflé Gran Marnier, and, one of my favorite dishes, txangurro, a crab gratin served in the crab shell.

Crab meat with brandy-inflected sauce is baked in the crab shell.

Crab Gratin, Basque Style
Txangurro a la Vasca

Txangurro is the Basque name for spider crab (centolla in Spanish). It’s a good-sized crab whose shell is covered with knobby protuberances. One crab doesn’t really provide a lot of meat. So I use frozen or canned crab to extend the quantities. The recipe is my adaptation of the one I got from Doña Pía of the Mirlo Blanco. It’s baked in the crab shells (you can recycle shells). If you have not got shells, bake in individual ramekins.

Serves 4

¼ cup olive oil
2 ½ cups chopped onions (2 medium onions)
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups diced tomatoes
¼ cup brandy
½ cup dry Sherry
¼ cup crab broth
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of cayenne
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
2 cups drained, flaked crab meat
1 ½ cups day-old bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oil in a deep skillet and sauté the onion, carrot and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook at a high heat 5 minutes more.

 Add 3 tablespoons of the brandy, Sherry, liquid drained from the crabs, pimentón, salt, parsley and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer the sauce for 40 minutes.

Discard the bay leaf. Purée the sauce in a blender, then sieve it. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the crab meat. Add remaining brandy. Cook 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Spoon the mixture into the crab shells or oiled ramekins. Sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 20 minutes.

Chef Lars Kronmark samples Orange and Cod Salad, an Andalusian entree on the menu.

Mirlo Blanco web page here.

Other recipes:
Basque-style hake:
Basque fish soup:
Squid in its own ink:
Orange-cod salad:


  1. Happy Anniversary, Janet! Lovely celebratory meal at the restaurant. Thank you for the recipe links. Off I go now to take notes. Love all your recipes. Cheers!

    1. Gio: Thanks for the good wishes. Glad you enjoy the recipes. Saludos!

  2. Oh my goodness! It has been 35 yrs since we first met in Mijas! I can't believe it! I loved this blog and MUST go here this coming Sept. when I and a friend will be in Mijas. Would love to have you join us.

    Having lived most of my life in Pacific NW, I have not yet tried seafood here in New Mexico, as it is all pre-frozen.
    I would like to try the Crab Gratin, but would need to use all canned crab. ?Worth a try?

    1. Patty: Definitely can use canned or frozen crab in the gratin recipe. See you in Mijas!

  3. Wow, what continuity from all sides! Enhorabuena, you must have been about 5 when you came over!!

    1. Glynis: Thanks. I was just over twenty. Still, 50 years a lot of years. I marvel at how much has changed--and how little has changed.