France

So…I’d been working on this post for a while, and had a whole bunch of smartarsed jokes to make about France – the country and its stereotypes – but the fact is, they’re a wonderful, brave people, and in the wake of today’s Nice attacks, even light-hearted joking doesn’t seem appropriate, or as funny.  At any rate, this post is dedicated to French passion and resilience.

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Having spent a few weeks travelling through the country and having met some lovely people, and in the spirit of the Euro 2016 football tournament currently underway, I decided to celebrate the cuisine of the host nation. After some agonising, I settled on three courses – Entrée,  Main, or ‘Plats Principal’, if you’re feeling fancy, and Dessert

Les Entrée

 STEAK TARTARE

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My introduction to this dish actually came from where else but Mr Bean, I was obsessed with as a child. I speak specifically of the classic scene which featured Mr Bean treating himself to dinner at a fancy French restaurant. Clearly unfamiliar with haute cuisine, he selects what he thinks is a steak, and because I was a horrible child, full of equal parts chocolate milk and schadenfreude, I vividly recall my delight at Mr Bean’s horror of the dish that confronted him.

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Mr Bean’s hesitant nibbles and subsequent attempts to dispose of the dish via any convenient receptacle, including underneath his bread dish, inside the salt shaker and down the pants of a nearby violinist clearly made an impression on me, as from that moment I’d always wanted to try the dish.

Fulfilling my childhood desires, I’ve since had the dish several times, and only spat it down the trousers of a passing musician, like, twice – but I had never actually made it myself. This was my attempt.

INGREDIENTS

–          200g eye fillet, chopped as finely as you can

–          2 tbsp salted capers, rinsed and chopped finely

–          2 tbsp parsley, chopped

–          2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

–          A few drops of tobasco

–          1 egg yolk

–          1 tbsp diced red onion

–          1 tbsp Dijon mustard

–          1 tbsp diced cornichons

–          A pinch of salt and black pepper

 This one’s pretty straightforward. Combine all the ingredients, apart from the egg, in a bowl and mix together. Put on a plate and put the egg yolk on top.

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 And how was it? Sensational! I’ll definitely be making it again.

 For main – or Plats Principal, if you’re feeling fancy – I made a variation on bouillabaisse, called bourride.  Like bouillabaisse, it’s essentially a fish soup, but it also contains aioli and saffron, giving it a dazzling golden glow. If you find yourself in Marseille, there’s a good chance you’ll be pretty close to a restaurant serving bourride, and I would definitely recommend it.

Les Plats Principal

BOURRIDE

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FISH STOCK

–          Bones from white-fleshed fish, rinsed

–          1 carrot, chopped roughly

–          2 stalks of celery, chopped

–          1 onion, sliced

–          2 bay leaves

–          Good splash of white wine

 Combine the fish bones, wine and a couple of litres of water – or enough to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and skim away and gross stuff that forms on the surface. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about half an hour. Remove from the heat, strain and add a pinch of salt.

 AIOLI

–          A dash of white wine vinegar

–          1 egg yolk

–          Some grapeseed oil – maybe a cup or so

–          1 garlic clove, minced

–          1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Whisk the egg yolk with the vinegar, garlic and mustard until smooth and combined. Add the grapeseed oil incrementally, a tiny amount at first, whisking constantly, until it’s emulsified. At this point, taste and season, and add more vinegar if necessary.

 SOUP

–          1 fennel, sliced

–          1 leek, sliced

–          2 tomatoes, chopped

–          1 onion, sliced

–          1 bay leaf

–          2 cloves garlic, crushed

–          1 cup of white wine

–          1 litre fish stock

–          Pinch of saffron

–          Balmain bugs, or lobster, or marron

–          A fillet of a tasty, white-fleshed fish. I used John Dory.

–          A bunch of storm clams.

Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the fennel, leek, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Saute for about 10-15 minutes, until everything has softened slightly. Raise the heat to medium, then add the wine. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the soup, return to a low heat and add the seafood, the saffron and a pinch of salt. Gently cook the seafood for another couple of minutes.

At this point, remove the seafood and place on plates. Whisk a couple of cups of the soup into the aioli. Return to the heat for a couple of minutes, then pour over the seafood. Job Done.

 1a

Man, this is such a great dish. The aioli gives it a creamy, garlicky punch. I thought bouillabaisse was the zenith of fish-based soups until I made this. To accompany it, go track down a bottle of Pastis, an anise-flavoured spirit that’s traditionally mixed with water. It’s a Marseillais classic, and I’ve become quite fond of it recently. And by fond of it, I mean I love it so much I will guzzle it down until I sink into a liquoricey stupor.

Dessert

GALETTE DES ROIS

Dessert was a tough call. On the one hand, I know that the French people love ice cream, at least according to the definitive source material on French history, customs and behaviour: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

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On the other hand, ice cream is a little boring. Instead I chose to recreate a wonderful dessert I was introduced to fairly recently – Galette des Rois. I  combined all of the things the French are most famous for – pomp, ceremony, little porcelain toys and hiding under tables (those are French things, right?) – and it tastes amazing as well.

 CRÈME PATISSIERE

 –          500 mls milk

–          Seeds from 1 vanilla bean

–          25g plain flour

–          35g cornflour

–          100g caster sugar

–          1 egg

–          1 yolk

–          50g butter, at room temp

In a saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla bean and seeds and gently heat. Meanwhile, add the flour, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and mix together. Add the egg and the egg yolk and whisk until combined and creamy. When the milk reaches the boil, remove the vanilla bean, and whisk half of the milk into the flour and egg mix. Once combined, add this mix back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Return the saucepan to a low heat and whisk continually until the custard just about gets to boiling point – then keep whisking for another couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and whisk for another few minutes.

 ALMOND CREAM

–          150g softened butter

–          150g caster sugar

–          1 egg

–          1 egg yolk

–          150g almond meal

–          25 plain flour

 Cream the butter and sugar together, until smooth. Add the egg and the egg yolk, one at a time, and continue to beat. Add the almond meal and flour and beat until combined, then continue to beta until the mix is light and fluffy.

 GALETTE DES ROIS

–          1 egg

–          1 pinch of salt

–          2 sheets of puff pastry

–          200g Almond cream

–          100g Crème patissiere

 To make the frangipane, whisk the almond cream and crème patissiere together until smooth. At this point you can add some almond essence if you’d like, but I don’t think it necessarily needs it. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and salt together, and set aside. Cut the puff pastry into two circles, one slightly larger than the other. Spoon the frangipane mix onto the smaller of the two circles, leaving a small border around the edges. Brush the border with some egg wash, then place the larger pastry circle over the top, pressing down gently to seal. Brush the top with egg wash, then make a design on top with a paring knife.

Bake in the bottom of an oven at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until golden and flaky and wonderful – and then make sure you eat while it’s still warm. So how did it turn out? I can see why the French only make this once a year, it’s a bastard to perfect – and my attempt was pretty shameful – presentation-wise at least. I’ll definitely need more practice. Luckily, it’s so delicious that’s practice time I can definitely afford 🙂

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