Ansots is a small Basque restaurant around the corner from Boise’s famous Basque Block, the historic heart of Idaho’s thriving Basque community, where locals gather to celebrate Basque music, dance, and food.
The restaurant specializes in Basque-inspired small plates; Basque and Spanish wines; and various incarnations of house-made chorizos, which are prominently displayed in the natural wood dining room. “Almost everything in the restaurant is based on these chorizos,” says chef, owner, and head charcutier Dan Ansotegui.
For Ansotegui, the best chorizo was made by his late Grandma Epi, who cured the sausage in a large vat in her basement in Hailey, Idaho. “We’re trying to get as close to Grandma Epi’s flavor as possible without going through that process. We’re on recipe 19 now,” Ansotegui says. “We had to adapt [Grandma Epi’s recipe] because she never had anything written down. Everything was by the handful, by the ‘ahh, that should be enough.’”
Grandma Epi would grind the pork, add the choricero pepper paste and salt, and then wrap the garlic in cheesecloth to tame its flavor—she didn’t like strong garlic. Every few days she would make a chorizo patty to taste if the sausage had cured for long enough or if it was time to remove the garlic or add more salt. Then she would stuff it into casings and store it in buckets of lard for the year.
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
Choricero peppers are the foundation of Ansotegui’s chorizos. The dried, brick-red peppers are softened in water and then pureed and passed through a food mill to create a tomato sauce–like consistency. When choriceros are hard to come by, he uses a combination of guajillo and pasilla peppers instead, which lend more spiciness to the sausage. “That pepper paste is the basis of everything curing in that case.”
The curing case holds slabs of pork belly that will eventually become bacon; traditional chorizos, expertly balanced with the fruitiness of choriceros and garlic; chistorras, lightly smoked chorizos that register about five out of 10 for heat; marinated solomo that Ansotegui’s daughter and the restaurant’s pastry chef, Ellie, refers to as “meat candy;” and motzak, a shorter, chubbier chorizo flavored with roasted garlic and rosemary that Ansotegui says “goes with everything.”
Ansotegui, a teacher by trade, started his restaurant career as a bartender and server in Boise in the early ’80s after spending time in the Basque Country of Spain, where he studied the language and “fell in love with the food again,” the kind of food his Grandma Epi used to make. He says, “I also fell in love with the idea of a bar where the whole family went. That idea, I just thought, we could do that in Boise.”
He explains that as far back as the late 1800s Basque people began immigrating to the western United States to work in the sheep industry. “This part of the West had a number of [Basque] boarding houses. The boarders, who were shepherds, would be in the hills for nine, 10 months of the year and would come down to the boarding house to spend a couple months. They kept these [now shuttered] boarding houses going.”
In 1991, after several trips back and forth to the Basque Country, Ansotegui opened his first restaurant, Gernika Basque Pub and Eatery, named after the Basque Country town near where some of his relatives are from. “I started with a really small kitchen and a really small menu. We had four items. Because that’s all I knew how to cook.” He says he learned to cook “by screwing up. By tasting really good food and asking ‘how’d you do that?’”
Clams with ChorizoOne man’s search for the perfect cure.
In 1999, Ansotegui opened The Basque Market to sell imported goods from Spain. He eventually started serving tapas and paella there too. “That’s right when the Basque Block was coming into being. And so I got really lucky,” he says. “Then in the mid-2000s, I sold both restaurants, went back to teaching grade school, and raised the kids.”
He wouldn’t revisit restaurant work again until 2018, when he began working at a newly opened Basque restaurant making chorizos and running catering operations. In the beginning, making chorizo was more of a hobby. “I was just screwing around,” he says. When that restaurant closed a few years later, the owner suggested he open his own place and take over all the yet-unfulfilled catering orders and continue making the chorizos he had developed a passion for. In 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, he opened Ansots.
As we make our way into the close quarters of the kitchen, Ansotegui dons an apron. He grabs a skillet from the shelf above the stove and pours in a heavy glug of extra-virgin olive oil. He freckles the bottom of the pan with a good amount of sliced garlic and a handful of sliced motzak. The garlic sizzles and the pepper paste in the motzak stains the oil red.
When the garlic is sufficiently toasted, he adds a dozen or so small clams and a shot each of clam juice and white wine. The clams are covered and allowed to steam for several minutes until they pop open and give up their juice. Ansotegui thickens the now‑copious broth in the skillet ever so slightly with a cornstarch slurry.
Finally, he tosses in chopped pimentos and fresh parsley and transfers the clams to a shallow bowl, which he surrounds with slices of baguette.
He stands back and admires his work. “It’s really a simple little dish and pretty typical,” he says, as we stand there dunking baguette into the deeply flavorful clam broth.