Lennox Hastie didn’t invent the gilda but he has helped rocket the humble pintxo to superstar status in Australia. Here, he asks fellow chefs to reinterpret the mighty snack on a stick.
Apr 03, 2023 6:00am
In the pintxos bars of San Sebastián, in the Basque Country, the humble toothpick is more than a serving item, it’s culture defining. Where pintxo means “to spike”, the skewers in reference not only construct the self-service mouthfuls that keep drinkers drinking but are used to tally the bill before revellers move on to the next bar.
Of all these delicious, speared mouthfuls, it was the gilda that started it all. Named after the Rita Hayworth character in the 1946 film Gilda – for being spicy and salty – it combines a plump aromatic olive, a bright pickled pepper and anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea. Individually, each of these ingredients were typically served as a garnish at San Sebastiàn’s Casa Valles until, according to local legend, a hungry regular decided to spear all three together to create the delightful snack.
Here in Australia, there’s no question gildas are having a moment. The scene reached peak pintxo last year when Lennox Hastie named his Surry Hills bar after the piquant original.
“The salt, the umami kick, the heat, the acid all together, it awakens all the senses,” explains Hastie. While the original will always rule, Hastie’s riff, the Matilda – with kangaroo, desert lime and pepperberry – skews tradition. “Basques embrace delicious things on sticks. They might add onion, or a little bit of tuna. Some people put a quail egg on there too.”
In that spirit, we asked Hastie to nominate a handful of chefs to put forward their own reimagined gilda. “They’re all chefs that I’m intrigued by,” he says. “If they have to find just a few ingredients for one small bite, I’m interested to know what they will choose…”
Basturma, medjool date and pickled Armenian cucumber with salted egg yolk
Beef basturma is traditionally eaten with eggs and this is a fun and interesting way to play with a classic flavour combination. I am also a huge fan of salty sweet flavours together, and that’s where the medjool date comes into it. The basturma is salty, spicy cured beef, Armenian cucumbers are a lot smaller and have more of a crunch to them than the pickles we have here in Australia, then salted egg yolk made into a sauce also gives a creamy mouthfeel.
Paul Carmichael, consulting chef
Smoked octopus, salted plum and pineapple chow
This is a play on ham and pineapple but also combines two things I love: octopus and pineapple chow. Pineapple chow has been a favourite of mine since I first tried it in Trinidad when I was 14. Spicy, salty, sour, herbaceous and sweet. Many versions contain salted plums so that had to definitely make an appearance on the skewer too.
Blacklip abalone, fermented black truffle and abalone livers with katsuo and kombu dashi
I’d cook blacklip abalones over binchotan, while spritzing with dashi. Once seared, I’d pair them with a rich sauce made from abalone liver, cream, mirin, soy and tsuyu and then follow with black truffle. This skewer is packed full of flavour with a huge minerality coming from the abalone and an umami bomb coming from the truffle. Spritzing the skewer during cooking provides acid to cut through while the liver sauce rounds of richness as well as coating the palate similar to wagyu beef.
King George whiting, vegan fish sauce and pickled muntries with honey
I’d take a thin slice of sustainably caught King George whiting from Victoria’s Corner Inlet, and salt it briefly in vegan fish sauce. Then I’d macerate it in sunrise lime oil for 24 hours and skewer it with lightly pickled muntries. I’d finish the whole thing with a light brush of sugarbag honey from native Australian stingless bees.
Ortiz anchovy, whole cornichon and pig’s head fritter with tarragon mustard
Our take on a gilda gets a bit dirty and rightly so! Salt and fat should lead the charge and it should ideally be washed down with an ice-cold Reschs Silver Bullet. We get a whole pig’s head in each week and always braise it in the week’s stock. It is usually picked, seasoned and pressed then crumbed into small fitters for extra courses. We have a house-made tarragon mustard that is always on hand and cornichons seem the perfect foil for the rich head meat. Anchovies are essential so we double down. We’d use a long sharp skewer with a brass wild boar on the end for plenty of room and a good grip.
Palisa Anderson, Chat Thai
Grilled chicken livers skewered on lemongrass, with nahm jim and kalamansi lime
I love grilled offal and there’s something especially nostalgic for me about grilled chicken livers just off coals. I love the way the gorgeous smoky crunchy skin layer gives way to the soft, rich and sweet inside. Thais have a nahm jim (sauce) or nahm prik (relish or salsa) that’s eaten with everything. It’s a simple concoction of fish sauce, citrus, palm sugar and freshly ground dried chilli and for me livers go so well with it. Follow with a squeeze of kalamansi lime.
Pearl meat and okra
I love Western Australian pearl meat and it pairs really well with okra. I’d skewer the pearl meat and okra alternately, gently grill over low coals and serve with a sauce of soy, sweet sake and dashi.