Saturday, 27 June 2009

Saumon en papillotte

A long time ago, and possibly in a far-away galaxy, the term "en papillote" was used to describe a chunk of meat that was seasoned and then wrapped in a bit of heavy-duty paper, sealed hermetically (well, as far as possible - you'd be surprised what can be done when folding paper, chefs learn how to do it properly) and then baked in the oven, where it would cook in its own juices and steam.

In these degenerate days most people only have toilet paper around, which is not particularly good for this sort of thing, as it goes soggy. So instead, we use pastry - phyllo, in this case. (Which comes, incidentally, with various spellings: filo, phylo, phyllo - your choice.)

Whatever, today I made salmon in not-toilet-paper, which is better. The unfortunate thing is that while you're getting it ready you absolutely will not have time to drink, sorry. Sophie poured me a glass of rosé and I swear that I didn't touch it for twenty minutes.

On the upside, it requires no exotic ingredients. Just salmon and phyllo, and a few bits and pieces that you're bound to have in the fridge anyway.

Starting with the salmon, you'll need what in France is called a "pavé de saumon" per person. This is just a big chunk of a salmon fillet, should have no bones - about 150-200 gm apiece. But unless your fishmonger is very understanding, you might have to remove the skin yourself. Which is no great deal if you have a sharp knife, separate the skin from the flesh at the thick (backbone) end of the pavé, then pull it off. On the other hand, you'll smell rather fishy by the time this is done: try to remember to wash regularly.

Time now to get the pastry ready: take a sheet of phyllo, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with sea salt, paprika and cayenne pepper (go easy on the last one, please), put another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat the performance. Then do it again. Until you have three or four sheets of phyllo layered and waiting.

Don't know about you, but the phyllo I can get here is a bit bigger than A4 size, so cutting it across the long side means I can use one lot to wrap two pavés. If you see what I mean.

In any case, now would be a good time to mix up some sour cream with a finely-chopped shallot, some parsley, paprika ... whatever takes your fancy, really. Smear some of that onto the middle of the pastry, lay a pavé on top, fold the sides and ends over to cover, then flip it over onto a baking tray (or whatever) so that the foldy bits are underneath. Repeat as required, until you've used up all your bits of salmon. Brush them with a bit more melted butter while you're at it, and sprinkle them with chopped parsley or something: they'll look prettier that way.

You do need to cook them: about 25 minutes at 250° should do the trick. They should look something like this. But hopefully, in focus.

(As an aside, an interesting variant on this is to use a thick bechamel, to which you've added a chopped hard-boiled egg and some cooked rice - in place of the sour cream mixture. This is starting to approach a coulibiac - a classic Russian dish.)

A good thing to know: whilst your little papillottes are cooking (remember, this'll take about 25 mn), you may in fact drink, to make up for lost time during the preparation. I'd go for a nicely-chilled rosé myself, but that's possibly because we're experiencing 25°C temperatures now, and no-one will let me stick red wine in the fridge.

Sophie's of the opinion that watching me cook is a bit like watching a work of art unfold - but then, most Frog-persons have forgotten how to cook, and eat microwaved frozen crap instead. Whatever, enjoy your salmon.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Strudel aux Champignons

Or mushroom strudel, if you prefer.

You will need - apart from the usual vast quantities of wine to help you get through the agony of preparation - some of that home-cured bacon that's lurking in the cellar, some phyllo pastry (which, unless you are a complete maniac, you will buy rather than trying to make the stuff yourself), and some mushrooms. About a kilo should do.

There are no particular rules as to what: when I made this for Sophie about a month ago I took what I could get at the market. Shitake, some pleurottes, some bleu du bois (don't ask me, I'm not a mycologist), bulked out with some good old champignons de Paris, aka white button mushrooms.

First up, fry the bacon. Cut it into thin(nish) strips (which you will crush into small crumbly bits later on) and stick them in a nice hot frying pan. When it's smelling deliciously bacony but before it all goes black and iredeemably burnt, fish the slices out and put them on paper towels to drain, leaving a maximum of the fat (and there should be plenty) in the pan.

Now slice the mushrooms and fling them in the fat to cook. I do this in a couple of batches, saving the button mushrooms for last - they will render up enormous quantities of water, which you'll need to boil off. Whatever, while they're cooking add what takes your fancy: minimum garlic or échalotte, some chives, parsley ...

When all the mushrooms are cooked (and relatively dry), put them in a bowl together and stir in the crispy bacon bits and a tablespoon or four of dried breadcrumbs. And maybe some parmesan, if you have some to hand. This is important because
  • you haven't spent your time frying the bacon just to chuck it out
  • the breadcrumbs will soak up any juice that the mushrooms release during cooking
  • the parmesan tastes good
And now, time to drink. Remembering that once this is in the oven, you'll only have ten minutes or so before it's ready to go on the table.

Once that's all done, take a sheet of phyllo and brush it with melted butter. I would also sprinkle it with parmesan or grated cheese, maybe some paprika or fines herbes, and a bit of sea salt. But that's not mandatory, so feel free to ignore me for once. Now stick another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat the procedure: do this twice again so that you have four layered sheets of pastry.

At this point you cannot drink, because phyllo dries out really quickly and it's a right bitch to roll when it's dry. So forget about that, and spread the mushrooms out over the pastry and roll it up along the long side: do not forget to fold over the edges on the short sides so that it's neat and you don't have mushrooms falling out.

You should now have a nice mushroom log: put this onto your nicest oval Apilco porcelain serving dish, brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with a bit more cheese, then stick into a hot oven for about 10 minutes, by which time the mushrooms will have finished cooking and the pastry should have gone all crispy and buttery-delicious. On the other hand, while this is happening you could have a glass or two.

Quite frankly, I can think of nowt better to go with this than a good salad and some bread. As usual. Unless, of course, your cheesemonger (yes, that is the term, I didn't make it up) happens to have batusson available - this being very fresh goat cheese mixed up with chopped chives, garlic and godnose what else. Whatever, a spoonful of that on a slice of strudel is absolutely divine.

"Blessed are the cheesemongers, for they shall inherit the Earth" ("Life of Brian", somewhere around the middle.)

You could, on the other hand, plan a dessert. Could I perhaps interest you in a Bourguignon apple-thingy (not a cake really, nor a pie, but nice ...)

This one comes from Cuisine de la Rose, by Mireille Johnstone (of the wine family, I assume): can't remember how I came by the book but this recipe fairly rapidly became a staple. Mostly because it's idiot-proof.

Using your trusty old mixer, beat three eggs and a cup of sugar until thick and white. Dial the speed down a notch or two, and beat in a cup of flour and 20cl of thick cream. (You might want to do this by batches - a bit of flour, a bit of cream - to avoid meltdown for the mixer.)

Then (still with the mixer) beat in about 9 tbsp of softened butter - doesn't matter if it leaves lumps, 'cos it will and we like it that way anyway - and some grated orange or lemon zest OR orange-flower water, if you prefer and you happen to have a bottle floating around. Which I do.

You'll end up with a nice thick well-aerated batter, to which you add a fistfull of raisins and three or four Granny Smiths (or other tart apple) peeled and chopped. Pour the lot into a buttered and heavily sugared (you do like caramel, I assume) loaf dish large enough to hold the whole mess, then stick it in the oven for about 40 minutes (or, if you prefer, until browned on top and set).

The usual accompaniment to this would be lashings of thick cream, but I quite like an orange sabayon (don't be afraid, it's just a custard, and the name comes from the Italian zabaglione if you're interested: one of Catherine de Medici's imports) which you make by sticking a couple of egg yolks in a small saucepan together with a quarter-cup of sugar, ditto orange juice, and a good dose of orange liqueur. I like the Cinzano Arancio myself, but this may be hard to come by so feel free to stick in a good glug of Grand Marnier.

Whatever, stick the pan on a low heat and whisk the hell out of it until it starts to thicken. (It will froth madly as you do this. This may or may not be a good thing, I've never worried about it.) When it starts to coat the wires of the whisk, it's about time to turn the heat off and let it cool down, stirring a bit from time to time to make it feel wanted (and to avoid a skin forming). If it doesn't thicken enough, I have myself been known to beat up a teaspoon of cornflour with some orange liqueur and whisk that in while it's still on the heat - usually works, and I've not yet been found out.

Serve warm with the apple-thingy, and just to cover your bets, serve the cream as well.

WHAT TO DO WITH LEFTOVERS-Pasta sauce, sausages & beans, sauteed shrimp

Another glorious weekend, another group of friends & their (8) children. A usual, we hosted a potluck & as usual there was too much food. Some of the leftovers got eaten up in their original form, but there was still too much.

Tomato & mozzarella sauce
Tomato & mozzarella salad is inedible the next day. Loathe to throw anything away, I tranformed it into a cooked pasta sauce. The ingredients in my friend's version of the salad include fresh basil leaves & anchovies.
Remove the chunks of mozzarella & cook down the rest in a little olive oil. When the tomato is ready, turn off heat and let cool a bit. Purée & set aside covered until ready to use. While pasta is cooking, add the mozzarella, but careful not to melt it into the sauce: should be chunky, it will melt with the hot pasta.

Beans & sausages
Slice a carrot & onion. Sautée in oil. Divide left over sausage into quarters, add to onions & carrots. Add beans of choice (I use white beans), with some fresh sage. A little of the fresh tomato sauce is optional.

Sauteed shrimp
Slice garlic, sautée in olive oil with a chili pepper. Add whole shrimp (do not remove shells) & a glass of white wine.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Saturdays with Sophie ... Episode 6

Yet another quickie from Sophie's kitchen, and not only did I do it today but I actually thought to bring the camera with me! So I have actual documentary proof that it happened. (Although I've had to jump through hoops to get Firefox to allow me to upload it.)

Whatever, simple as hell - côtes de veau, asparagus (probably the last of the season, I'm afraid) and pommes de terre nouvelles. For this you will need - at least - some veal chops, not too thick. They'll probably wind up as côtes de veau milanais, but I can't be arsed to go off and check in my Larousse Gastronomique so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The veal chops are easy. Flour the little suckers and set them aside for a few minutes so that the flour coating goes a bit tacky (this means that everything else will adhere well); while that's happening beat up an egg with a bit of milk in a large plate. Now mix up some dried breadcrumbs with grated parmesan. (Or if, like Sophie, you don't happen to have any right now, just bog-standard grated cheese. It'll turn out fine either way.) Add some thyme or rosemary if you like.

Dip both sides of the floured chops in the egg, then on top of the pile of cheesy breadcrumbs and press so that they get a good coating on each side. During this step you can't drink as your fingertips are - if you're doing this correctly - covered with sticky eggy breadcrumbs. Even if you use a fork. But it shouldn't take more than five minutes, you should be able to hold out for that long. Stick 'em on a plate, they're not going anywhere.

Now it's time for les asperges - the asparagus. Little tender green ones, please, the great fat white mutant monsters have no place here. Snap them into one or two-inch lengths and put them in a frying pan - when they're all in, add some shallots or chives or whatever else takes your fancy, a bit of salt, a tsp of sugar and half an inch of water. They are not going to take long to cook, so put them aside too and enjoy another glass.

Incidentally, green asparagus were unknown in France until the last ten years or so. I remember being sent off to San Francisco about twenty-five years back and having lunch with Anne Rousseau, the sexy, blonde (and very Parisienne) secretary of my (soon-to-be) French boss, and ordering asparagus. When these green spears turned up on our plates she was absolutely aghast - "But Trévor, what are these? I ordered asperges!". I also remember arriving in France and trying to cook the albino abominations as though they were tender green shoots ie without peeling them (never having come across them before): one of my major culinary disasters. Tough and bitter as all hell.

Whatever, Sophie had laid her hands upon some freshly-killed new potatoes, which she'd sliced into smallish slices (think around half an inch), stuck into a frying-pan to brown in olive oil and butter (yes, salted!), then turned the heat down low, added some garlic and a sprig of thyme, covered, and let cook slowly for half an hour or so. While that was going on ... yes, I know, we must be borderline alcoholics.

OK, we are now good to go - assuming, of course, that the next bottle of wine is open, the bread's on the table, salad's ready ... honestly, do I have to think of everything?

Around here it gets a bit complicated, because you're going to have to do two things at once. Women have, apparently, been doing this for years, so it can't be too difficult.

First up, the asparagus. Put them on full-tit: what we're trying to do here is reduce the water and sugar to a syrup, which we'll later transform into an emulsion by adding a large knob of butter and boiling hell out of it.

I just hope you have another frying pan - sorry I didn't mention it before - because you'll need it. Heat it up good and hot, add some butter and olive oil, and when it's bubbling nice and energetically, slap the chops in. Depending on how many you're cooking and the size of your pan you may, evidently, have to do this in a couple of batches.

The veal will take about five minutes a side to cook, with the cheese melting into the breadcrumbs and the breadcrumbs crisping. When it's time to flip it over, it's probably time to add the cholesterol to the asparagus. (To my dismay, Sophie actually has some sort of "butter substitute" in her fridge, do NOT use that. It's really, really gross. But she also had some real butter, thank god.)

A few minutes later the asparagus will be done: you'll have a nice water/butter emulsion coating them (with caramel flavours from the sugar). The veal too should be crispy on both sides and nicely pink in the middle, and the potatoes (which I bet you forgot about) will be tender and aromatic.

I'm sorry to say that a bottle of rosé (Costière de Nîmes, if you're worried) died to bring you this meal. But it died happy and fulfilled.

Incidentally, I've never had any problems with using a slice of baguette to mop up the juices from a roast bit of lamb directly from the big Copco cast-iron skillet I usually cook it in. More traditionally, given that New Zealanders don't (or at least didn't, when I was growing up) have bread on the table at dinner, you'd take one of the roast potatoes that got cooked with the lamb, split it and stuff the slit with butter, then mash the potato into the juice with your fork and eat it from the dish. We don't have much left-over lamb jus around this house. I can't see the problem.

Whatever, I'd better go make chili con carne for brat n° 2.


In a recent facebook chat I had with Karen she told me that there are now quite a few New Zealanders reading her blog. Neither of us have ever been there, so most of our brief discussion on the issue was about what your typical Kiwi is like, and decided that it must be something a bit like an Aussie, only not so tan. Trevor is allegedly a Kiwi, but I'll believe that when he teaches us how to make a proper meat pie.

So anyways, this post is kind of a shout out to New Zealanders, who have the world's highest per capita consumption of lamb (57 lb. per year, compared to 8 lb. per year in France and 0.8 lb. per year in the U.S.) and may encounter this culinary challenge more frequently than anyone else: after making leg of lamb, I'm left with pan drippings that are just too easily converted into a dark jus (or broth, if you prefer) deep with roast lamb flavor. What can I do with it? Gravy? I suppose, but who uses gravy with lamb? It's a bit too flavorful to use as a liquid for risotto or minestrone—anything made with this stuff will taste like roast lamb. After making a pot this singularly lamb-y liquid the other day I had the idea of "lamb soba"—which is kind of weird, considering that the Japanese are not generally big fans of lamb and make Americans look like lamb-oholics.

But why not? Soba are noodles made from buckwheat flour. They are dark and tasty and chewy—just the thing to stand up to the lamb broth. I made a run to a Japanese supermarket and picked up a packet of fresh soba, some enoki mushrooms, green onions, and a packet of mentaiko (spicy cod roe). I also added slices from the rarest part of the leftover lamb leg—close to the bone. The result, shown below, was a successful experiment.

Ramen noodles might have been an even better choice, or maybe I think this because I just like ramen over soba as a personal preference. But given that I was building a noodle dish around the robust lamb jus, I figured that if there were a "right time" for soba this was it.

The broth in its natural state tasted adequately salty, but paired with the soba its salt content would seem insufficient. Soba noodles require more intense flavoring, which is why they're usually slurped after dipping into a soy sauce-type of liquid. I added some soy sauce to this broth before plating, but even this would not be enough. Simply eaten from any broth these noodles would taste underseasoned, and this is why I incorporated the mentaiko, which is quite salty. What I didn't anticipate was that it's kind of difficult to separate the eggs from the skein of the salted ovaries so that they could be distributed throughout the bowl. It required a bit of conscious effort to have some cod roe in with every bite of soba, but doing this was the key to having adequate salt in each mouthful of noodles. Had I used ramen, the addition of mentaiko would not have been as necessary, though I think salted fish eggs are a worthy addition to any food!

If anyone has suggestions of other uses of the lamb jus (besides French dip sandwiches--hey do you even have them in France? what do you call it, "le dip sandwich"?), please let me know.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Luxurious lobster

I mentioned homard Palestine in passing in my last post, as being one of those recipes that have got incorporated into my DNA or burnt into a small zone of my cortex, along with things like clafouti and burgundy apple cake. Which is quite good when we go on holiday up to Pesselière, a teeny village in Burgundy south-west of Auxerre where my brother-in-law and his family have their holiday home, as it means that we don't have to take a small trailer to carry the cookbooks.

The other nice thing about Pesselière, apart from its being very small and miles from anywhere (literally), is that it's decently equipped: as it's a second home everyone who goes there tends to take the stuff they don't want anymore but is too good to actually chuck, so the place is a bit like a brocante. There's the big stove I used to have before I got the stainless-steel monster I have now (same as Karen's, actually, but I got mine first) and just about every kitchen utensil known to mankind, so long as it doesn't involve electricity. (Electricity? In a place like that? Hell, there are parts of the village where they haven't even installed gravity yet.)

Whatever, this means that it's about the only place where I actually cook on the (rare) occasions that we do go away on holiday. When we stay with friends I'm only too happy to slouch around and let them do the work for a change, and there's no point even thinking about it in a hotel. And rented studios or appartments are usually dismally equipped. But even there - especially in summer - it's usually just pizza, quiche, barbecues and salads. And rosé, of course - the more the better.

Anyway, getting back to homard Palestine ... I don't know how that came to get in my genes because I don't actually do it very often, but what I did make for Sophie a while back was its cousin, homard Thermidor. I must have been trying to impress her. Have to admit, it does look quite flash when it's all put together and served.

To start with, you will need a lobster - or crayfish, or whatever you call them. You could pay enormous sums for a large fresh lobster, but I've always had good results using Canadian popsicles. These are smallish lobster, about 25cm long, which are sold frozen in a long plastic bag full of sea-water - hence the name. Get two: one for you, one for your lunch date. And I'd recommend taking them out of the freezer the night before, or you'll look a bit of a prat. (Although in need, you can defrost them quickly enough by putting them in a sink-full of tepid water.)

Then arm yourself with your chef's knife. Not the couteau d'office, the little one that gets used for almost everything, but the big heavy one with a blade that's about 25cm long and 6 cm deep at the tang. If you're like me, this gets used solely for chopping herbs or vegetables - or, at a pinch, when you've mislaid the cleaver (or left it buried in someone's back) - for chopping chicken legs into bite-sized bits for making honey chili chicken. Or, like now, for cutting a lobster in half and extracting the flesh. (Yes, I take my knives if I'm going to cook for Sophie. I refuse to cut things with what most people have in the kitchen drawers - which is not where good knives should be living anyway.)

Here's the fun part. Take a lobster and put it, belly down and with its tail curled under it, on a chopping board. Gloat (or cackle insanely, if you so desire) as you stick the point of the knife (which you are holding vertically, by its handle) into its head, a bit behind those beady little eyes. Then push until the point comes out the other side - through what I suppose would be its chin. Push the handle of the knife firmly down towards the chopping board as though it were a lever and when the heel of the knife hits the board through the lobster's tail, you will have a butterflied lobster, held together by what we'll call its nose. Cut through that too. Repeat the operation with its friend.

If your knife is heavy and sharp that's all there is to it, there'll be no splinters, just four neat lobster halves. The next thing to do is to remove the legs (about 17 a side) and the claws. Just wrench them off.

Personally I find that in this size of insect there's not enough meat in the actual spidery legs to make it worth your while trying to extract it, but if you feel like giving it a go, be my guest. I'll wait. The claws and the - uh, arms, I suppose - definitely need opening. To do so, put these bits onto the chopping board and go outside - preferably somewhere you can hose down - and whack them with the back of the knife to crack the shell. There will be splatter. Then, using the point of the knife if necessary, pull the shell open (you might need to give it another whack or two) and pull out the flesh.

As for the halves, you probably want to remove the intestinal track, which is the thin black line running the length of its body down to the tail. Just stick the tip of your knife under and pull it up. At the head end there's a sort of sachet containing stomach and what could loosely be called brain - chuck that as well. Then extract the flesh - the easiest way to do this is to stick the point of your knife down between the shell and flesh at the tail end lever the flesh out: once you've got a bit out just use your fingers to lever the rest out, it should come out more or less in one bit.

While you've got your hands covered in lobster juice you might as well chop the flesh into smallish dice and stick it all in a bowl. Then put that in the fridge (especially if you have a cat), clean up and go get a drink. Do NOT throw out the shells - unless of course you made a complete dog's breakfast of cutting them, in which case they're useless for our purposes.

All this doesn't actually take much more time to do than it does to read about, so your partner should be looking quite admirative. Unless you didn't take my advice about cracking the claws open outside, in which case she's probably looking at the state of the kitchen floor and walls and wondering whether to kill you right now or wait until you've finished cooking. By the way, put the legs and bits of claw from the shell into a plastic bag and close it before putting them in the rubbish. You'll thank me for it later.

If you're planning anything more substantial than a salad to go with this, now would be a good time to get it organised because the actual cooking bit doesn't last that long. Another drink might be a good idea too: white wine would be good as you'll need some for the sauce.

First of all, sear the lobster flesh in butter and then flambé it with whatever you've got - whisky or cognac. I like whisky, myself. Out of the frying pan and back into the bowl. Then chop a couple of shallots (or spring onions if you haven't got any), sweat them in butter and add a glass of white: boil hell out of it until it reduces to about a quarter. Set that aside. Make up a thick bechamel with a half-tbsp of butter, then add the reduced wine and shallots and a good dose of thick cream (sour cream is fine by me).

Simmer all that until nice and thick, then mix in a pinch of cayenne (not too much, you do want to be able to taste the lobster) and a 1/4 tsp of mustard powder (idem). Add the lobster flesh and any juices, stir in and let simmer for a couple of minutes. With luck, you'll have lots of lobster just bound with the sauce, rather than a small ocean of sauce with a few bits of crustacean bobbing about feebly. If it does turn out to be the latter, defrost a packet of frozen shrimp in the microwave, drain well and chuck them in too.

Finally, spoon the mixture back into the two nicest of the half-shells (or ramequins, if you've totally mutilated the shells), sprinkle with grated cheese and some dried bread-crumbs, and stick into a hot oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and gone crusty (not black, please). This leaves you the time to finish the white, get the salad ready, and slice the bread.

Lunch is now ready. So enjoy it, you've earned it.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

ANCHOVIES, the other tasty baitfish

Since I started the theme of "low on the food chain" I might as well throw in a plug for anchovies, the other species at the foundation of the fishy part of the temperate-latitude marine food pyramid. Anchovies (as well as sardines, the subject of my previous post) are eaten by the hundreds by mackerel, small jacks, sauries and halfbeaks, who are in turn eaten by larger predators like tuna, large jacks, billfish, sharks, dolphins and seals. But it doesn't stop there. Seabirds of all types, middle-sized fish, squids, and even the big predators will eat anchovies, too. Seems like anything big enough to successfully consume anchovies will eat them happily, often in preference to any other kind of forage, and it's hard to avoid attributing this to the anchovy's wonderful flavor.

Not many people have the same appreciation for anchovies. The two complaints that I can somewhat understand—though I do not agree—are that they are too "fishy," and that they are too small and therefore too much work to prepare. When someone describes a fish's flavor as "fishy," it means usually one of two things. First, it could mean that the fish is less than fresh and thus the "extra aromatics" are from the decay of the flesh as in, "This halibut was kind of fishy." Used in this sense, "fishy" is just a euphemism for "rotten." Halibut is about the blandest (oops, did I say that? I meant "most delicate") fish in the ocean, and if it smells funky it's probably well past its prime.

The other kind of "fishy" could apply to even the freshest fish if it just happens to be a strong-flavored beast by nature, and despite their miniscule size anchovies are in this category. A person with a strong preference for cod over bluefish is probably someone for whom anchovies won't be of much appeal.

A couple of exceptions to this anchovy-aversion are the Italians and the Japanese, and glory be—this sounds exactly like our household! Here's the menu for our light mid-week dinner: marinated anchovies, anchovies with lemon, pizza-focaccia, avocado and tomatoes. A big-ass, oak-flavored California Chardonnay is a great match for this meal. Here's a pic—note the italo-japanese presentation.

Anchovies are small and some work to prepare, but whether this is "too much" work is a matter of opinion. There are different methods for cleaning and deboning. I like to head/gut/scale and salt immediately after getting the little guys home, and then butterflying the next day. A few quick, strategic cuts with a sharp knife and then the rest of the work is done with my fingers. With a little practice, cleaning and boning a bagful of fresh anchovies goes at about the same pace as other labor-intensive food tasks, such as peeling small potatoes, roasting and cleaning green chiles, or removing the skins from fresh favas.

Once I have a big pile of anchovies neatly butterflied (no head, guts, scales or central bones), the rest is easy. Anchovies with lemon (acciughe al limone) means layering the fishies skin side down with lemon peel and then covering it all with lemon juice. Marinated anchovies (alici marinate) means doing the same layering without the lemon peel and pouring over a mixture of white wine, white wine vinegar, and olive oil (in approximately equal parts) to cover. Then this sits in the fridge for a day and the fishies are ready to eat. Good stuff!!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Two (French) Tarts

If Sophie has a defect - apart from being French, which she was kind of born with and it's not really her fault so stop laughing at her - it's that she doesn't really appreciate dessert. Apart from pavlova, for some strange reason. I mean, you can make a 12" pav, set it down in front of her and by the time you've turned back around with the cake-slice to serve her, half of it's gone. Let's be honest, it's not just her - although she is an extreme case - most frog-persons we know would die for the stuff. Or at least commit unspeakable acts. What is it about soggy meringue, whipped cream and fruit that will lead people to sell their children on the wharves at Marseilles?

I don't know, because I don't actually like the stuff that much, which is doubtless one reason why our kids are still running around free rather than having one leg chained to a wall and serving tea in a low-life souk somewhere in Morocco.

Whatever, following are two recipes which I've never ever made for Sophie and probably never will. Now were I to offer her chicken in cream sauce with morilles and vin jaune ... we'd be selling her kids in Marseilles. (To get the cash to buy the morilles and vin jaune, obviously.)

For both the recipes which follow, you will need some sweet short pastry. You can either make it, or buy it. I've a confession to make: if it's flaky pastry I tend to buy it, unless it's for the galette des rois, when I will suffer and make it myself. I buy it partly because I'm not actually a chef patissier and consequently don't feel obliged to make it, but mostly because it's a pain in the arse to make. Properly, anyway.

But anything else is a doddle. You may well have your favourite recipe, in which case feel free to use it: I use (for one tart) about a cup of flour, 50 gm or so of butter, a few tablespoons of sugar, ditto powdered almonds, milk to mix and, on occasion, a tablespoon of orange-flower water. If you're planning on making both, you'll obviously need double the quantity.

There are several schools of thought concerning the butter. One holds that you should use nothing but unsalted. Right, that's them consigned to the 7th pit of hell, freezing in Satan's icy blasts and hopefully wondering where they went wrong. Another believes that you should chop the butter into the flour until you've got a mixture like breadcrumbs - they're merely misguided, and I wish them no harm. Personally, I like to mix the dry ingredients together with a fork, add the butter in 0.5cm chunks, stir in the liquid until it just holds together and then fold and knead it very lightly. Like this you get what is technically known as bastard puff pastry, which I like. It's semi-flaky, and very buttery. There should be big smears of butter in it when you roll it out. (Incidentally, the same principle - less the almonds, sugar and orange-flower water, obviously - and using an egg instead of/as well as the milk - works really well for quiches. If anyone still eats them, these days. They go really well with a salad.)

The next thing to worry about is whether or not to bake blind. Most books will tell you that having rolled out yer pastry and lined the dish, you should stick a round of baking paper on top and fill it with either dried beans or hideously expensive ceramic replicas and bake for 15 minutes, the idea being to stop it puffing up and making unsightly blisters.

For one thing, this depends on the filling you're going to put in. For some - like the peach tart below, yes, you do want to bake blind - otherwise you'll get prematurely soggy pastry, which sounds rather like some sexual dysfunction but isn't. For others, like the redcurrant meringue or a tarte frangipane aux cerises (which I may tell you about another time), you do not.

Whatever, if you are baking blind, I personally can't be arsed with the baking paper and the beans: stick the lined pie-dish in the oven for 10 minutes, pierce any large bubbles with a knife so that they deflate, then take out your pastry brush and paint the base with lightly-beaten (ie well-whipped with a fork) egg-white and stick it back in for another 5 minutes. This will a) seal the holes from the knifepoint and b) seal the pastry so that it doesn't start to dissolve with the fruit juices from the filling.

Right, on with the fun. First up is - tada!

Peaches and cream tart.

I have to admit that I lifted this one from an Australian author, Stephanie Alexander. I find her style condescending, but the recipes are good.

Beat hell out of three egg yolks, 1/2 cup castor sugar, a few drops of vanilla essence, a tablespoon or two of cornflour and 3/4 cup of sour cream. Feel free to add more flour or cornflour if you're worried that the mixture looks too sloppy. But hey - we're making a soufflé here. Then - the bit she forgot - beat the egg whites until very stiff and gently fold them in. Spread some of the mixture on the base of the tart and cover with thinly quartered peaches, or nectarines, or both. Spread the rest of the mixture over the top, smooth, and sprinkle with brown sugar. (Use a sieve for this. Otherwise it will not so much sprinkle as descend in huge lumps.) Bake until set (about 25 minutes), serve, pig out. Like I said, bake blind for this one.

Tarte meringuée aux Groseilles (aka redcurrant meringue tart).

This one comes from the clippings folder - can never find it when I want it, but luckily enough it's sort of got built-in now, like the recipe for clafouti and homard palestine. You will need about 300 gm of redcurrants for this one, so if you haven't got them adapt. Use frozen raspberries, for example. Do I have to tell you everything?

Whatever, beat two egg yolks up with sugar and 100gm or so of powdered almonds until white and creamy. Put them aside while you whisk up the egg whites with some more sugar until firm. Fold half the egg whites into the yolk mixture along with half the redcurrants, spread into the lined pie dish. Now fold the rest of the redcurrants into the remaining meringue and spread over the tart. You could probably sprinkle that with sugar too. Cook, eat. Yum.


You may have noticed that I've not explicitly noted points during the preparation of these two at which you may reasonably take a drink. Sorry for the oversight, it will not happen again. On the other hand, assuming they're both in the oven, you've got a good half hour before you need to worry about them, so feel free.