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Pintxos (Pinchos) — Recipes and Tips on How to Make These Tasty Snacks at Home

Written By: Byron | November 24, 2023

Pintxos, or pinchos, are small one-person dishes typically served on a piece of bread pierced with a toothpick or skewer. They are a staple of Basque Country food culture and are particularly synonymous with San Sebastián. As the epicenter of pintxos culture, you can visit hundreds of bars and restaurants in this city and sample these delicious snacks

Let’s go on a ‘txikiteo’ (pintxos crawl) and look at the most common types of pintxos, what ingredients you can use to make your own at home, and learn a little about the pintxos culture.

A plate of pintxos with a mushroom and shrimp stacked on a piece of bread.

What Are Pintxos?

Pintxos are similar to tapas and are usually enjoyed as appetizers with drinks before dinner. They can be warm or cold, salty or sweet, and traditionally include a variety of ingredients such as seafood, goat’s cheese, eggs, or tortilla. 

The word “pintxo” comes from the Basque language and means “spike,” paying homage to the fact that pintxos are often served on a skewer or with a toothpick holding them together.

How to Make Pintxos

Since there are so many different types of pintxos on offer, we’re going to give you some options of what to include. The great thing about making these at home is you can create pintxos to suit your taste. Don’t like an ingredient we list in the ones we made? Use something else instead. Pintxos are fun, tasty, and best enjoyed with friends and family.

While most pintxos will come with a toothpick or skewer holding the ingredients together, some can even come in small bowls with a spoon or fork — although this is a modern twist on pintxos and you certainly won’t find this in all pintxos bars in Spain. 

We made some typical pintxos to get you started or give you an idea at least, then we’ll share common ingredients. In the photo below, you’ll see the following options:

  • Olive tapenade, pickled red pepper, green olive, and Serrano ham
  • Garlic mushroom and shrimp
  • Tortilla (egg, potato, and onion) and pickled red pepper
  • Manchego cheese, boiled egg, Guindilla pepper

Pintxos at Home

To make these, you cut your ingredients to the size you want, then place them on a small piece of baguette or other firm bread and place a toothpick or skewer through them. These are good options to make when entertaining as they’re simple and small. Some pintxos when you go to bars in Spain are huge and very elaborate! Definitely not bite-sized or easy to make but always delicious. 

But, some of the tastiest pintxos around are often the ones that rely on just a few simple ingredients. For example, the Gilda is one of the most famous pintxos to come out of San Sebastián — it features just an anchovy fillet, green olive, and pickled green Guindilla pepper (see photo below). A flavor explosion…

A shrimp and mushroom pintxos sits on a plate.

Ingredient Suggestions for Pintxos

We’ll list some ingredient suggestions for you in the following categories: vegan, vegetarian, seafood, and meat. If you eat everything, mix and match across all of them. 

Vegan

  • Pickled red peppers – Pickled red peppers from a jar or tin work with many other ingredients and add a splash of color as well as flavor. 
  • Pickled Guindilla peppers – A type of chili pepper from The Basque Country that is much milder than most chilis.
  • Olives – Green or black olives can be used, depending on which other ingredients they’re to be paired with. 
  • Caramelized onion – While this is a vegan ingredient, it is often used on pintxos with cheese. 
  • Mushrooms – Usually fried and a smaller variety like a button mushroom. 
  • Padron pepper – These are little green peppers that come from Padrón in the northwest of Spain. They are cooked before serving (how to make Padron peppers).

 

Vegetarian

Everything in the vegan list works here too, plus you can use:

  • Aioli – The tangy sauce made from garlic and olive oil. 
  • Cheese – A tasty hard cheese like Manchego (a type of Spanish cheese), which is a hard sheep cheese. Goat’s cheese is also a common feature on pintxos. 
  • Egg – Hard-boiled or fried eggs are often used but if you’re having people over (especially a standup event), hard-boiled egg could be a less messy option. 
  • Tortilla – Spanish omelet of egg and potato (try this fast, easy 25-minute tortilla recipe). 

 

Seafood

  • Anchovies – Use anchovy fillets from a tin or jar and these will add a whole lot of flavor and a salty element.
  • Boquerones – Boquerones in vinegar will give the same salty goodness to a pintxo and they’re also super flavorful.
  • Spider crab – Txangurro in Basque, it’s a popular ingredient used in San Sebastián especially and a typical pintxo of the same name has crab, onion, tomato, leek, and brandy.
  • Shrimp – Cooked shrimps or prawns are a sweeter seafood option and you can use any size you like depending on whether you’re using toothpicks or larger skewers. 
  • Smoked salmon – This is a good option as it’s easy to cut into small pieces and add on top of bread with a toothpick or roll it up and skewer it.
  • Glass eels (elvers) – Angulas in Basque are tiny eels about 2 inches (5 cm) long
  • Surimi – Imitation crab meat that’s usually flaked and mixed with aioli, then placed on bread. 

 

Meat

  • Spanish ham – Try including different types of Spanish ham like Jamón Ibérico, Jamón Serrano. Since you don’t need much, splurging on a quality cured ham can make all the difference. 
  • Chorizo – Cured Spanish chorizo is already incredible on its own and can be a great addition to pickled condiments like peppers. 
  • Bacon – You can pair this with many ingredients like eggs, tortilla, or dates.
  • Morcilla – Spanish blood pudding or sausage that’s spiced and very rich.
A ham and olive pintxos stacked on a slice of bread.

Pintxos Culture in Spain and Where to Go

The pintxos culture is a way of life and not just about the ingredients that go into a pintxo. Enjoying pintxos should be a social affair as you hop from bar to bar, sampling what’s on offer. Typically, you would only have one or two in each bar before moving on. 

Pintxos in San Sebastian

If you’re visiting Spain and want to experience the ultimate pintxos culture you’ll want to head to the Basque region. As we’ve mentioned, San Sebastián is the undisputed epicenter of pintxos so you really shouldn’t miss it. The old town is full of streets lined with pintxos bars. Plus, it’s exceptionally beautiful and there are plenty of great day trips you can do from there. 

Pintxos in Bilbao

Bilbao is another large city with a vibrant pintxos culture. Again, head to the old town here and you will not be disappointed. Bilbao is a great city to explore if you love art and are looking for an immersive cultural experience. 

Pintxos in Logrono

Logroño is much smaller than the cities above but you’ll find some incredible pintxos (pinchos there) on the famous Calle Laurel (Laurel Street) and immediately around. Logroño is in the La Rioja region of Spain which if you love Spanish wine you won’t want to miss. Since it’s in an area with so many vineyards, it’s naturally stunning and a lovely place to visit.

A street scene of the tapas area along the famous Calle de Laurel