The land that cuisine forgot

I’ve been reminded, just after St. George’s Day, of my homeland’s somewhat patchy history with cuisine. Specifically for much of the 20th century, the UK was widely considered to be the land that cuisine forgot. The reminder came in the form of the English pub, named (of course) ‘The Red Lion’ not too far away from here.

I like to think they serve Watney’s Red Barrel, scampi fries and clichés. But their idea of ‘pub grub’, as evidenced by their chalk board outside (always in English, and English only) does not inspire much confidence. Spotted today: “Chicken mince w/spaghetti”. Makes me want to burn my passport.

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Small things

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It’s one of the oddities of French life that you can very rarely find spring onions (scallions to our American cousins). Partly this is due to the super-local and super-seasonal nature of the vegetables available, but even when in season, they show their faces for only a few days, before being superseded by larger, milder white onions.

So it is with positive glee that I pulled these beggars up from my first ever vegetable plot. It’s one of those small things that makes me happy – time for some rich, buttery, spring onion & chive mash, using the infamous Escoffier recipe (equal quantities of butter & potato).

Slow-roast Ēostre lamb

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Sorry, Easter, but you pre-date Christianity by quite some time, as all the rabbits and spring lambs probably attest. Anyway, it’s lamb for us here today, and as usual, slow-roasted. Normally I’d be doing this in rosé wine, rosemary and garlic, but I’ve gone semi-traditional for a change. Tightly wrapped in a fresh mint (I have three types in the herb garden, apple mint, spearmint and dark mint, the last of which is thriving nicely) and honey breadcrumb, and covered with bacon to help keep the meat nice and moist.

Just the one mildly experimental side-dish today: potato, apple & celeriac dauphinoise, a cream-slathered roasted gratin, with a sweetness that works well with the moist, minted lamb.

Champagne. Battery not included

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Experimentation time again. With food, that is. Fish & chips were hankered after by all this evening, and the only thing you can really experiment with on that score is the batter (unless you start doing something downright silly, like parsnip chips).

So here goes… 200 grams of plain flour, 200 grams of cornflour, 5 heaped teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of white pepper, a smattering of salt, and all sloshed around with a Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs (Champagne to you & me) and a slug of white wine vinegar. Then in the fridge for an hour (and in the freezer for 15 minutes directly before use).

The fish today is pollock, because it’s so fabulously sustainable, and remarkably cheap & cheerful. The selection today was all a tad on the skinny side, but what ho, just means a higher ratio of batter-per-mouthful.

My venerable deep-fat fryer is looking a little shell-shocked at the moment, so I kicked it up to 190 degrees (370 F) just to be sure. Remember that the oil is going to lose a lot of its heat as you place that chilled batter into it, so cook them one or two at a time, and then put them to rest on a baking tray lined with kitchen roll in a low (90C/190F degrees) oven, just to keep them warm and help to dry off any excess oil, before re-heating the oil back up to temperature and going for the next batch.

The mixture made for a deliciously light, yet crispy, batter, with some real flavour to it, especially compared to my more usual beer-batter, which I tend to find loses too much of its yeastiness (it’s better with British bitter, to be fair, but you don’t find that often in rural Normandy). The mushy peas were an optional extra for one diner tonight, as I can’t face the things myself.

There was some champers left over, of course, so what better to serve it with on a positively balmy spring evening?

 

Huey, Dewey, and Louie go mango hunting

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I’m okay with certain fruit/savoury combinations – black cherry and venison, cranberry & turkey, avocado & poultry. I’ve been know to post-modernly do an ironic twist on melon & ham. But generally I’m not a huge fan of throwing fruit into just anything. What I’m saying is, if you put pineapple on a pizza, I will hunt you down.

But I thought I’d give this one a go, as I had a lot of leftovers from two canettes (ducklings to you). So whipped up a bit of duck & mango balti. Surprisingly good, and that Leffe Nectar honey-beer rounded off a nice sweet dinner perfectly.

This little piggy went to the orchard

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Normandy is deeply farming country, with a host of renowned products – mostly dairy (oh, the butter, the butter!), almost all the meats (lots of pork around here, veal, Charolais beef and saltmarsh lamb), and of course the apples, and apple products (cider, Calvados). So today is one of those market-inspired recipes, having picked up a shoulder of free-range pork from one stall, I then hunted out some organic cider from a small family-owned business and some of their apples (which looked a bit ropey, as cider apples often do, but which will cook deliciously).

First job was to slow-cook that pork. I effectively poached/roasted it – it was swimming in all 750ml of that cider (I used ‘doux’, or sweet, using ‘brut’, or dry, it might be wise to add a couple of teaspoons of sugar), with a further 500ml of pork stock, one roughly chopped apple, one roughly chopped onion, a few cloves, a couple of whole cardamom pods and a big handful of thyme. Bring this up to the boil on the hob, before covering and transferring to a low oven (130 degrees) for about 4 hours.

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Then another apple, another onion, and a stick of celery got finely chopped and sautéed in butter, before adding the stripped-down pork, and a cup or two full of the (blitzed) cider stock. I reduced this down just a little more, so that it wouldn’t soggy-fy my pastry.

Ah yes, the pastry – shortcrust, with lots of butter and an extra egg yolk or two, to make it nice and easy to handle. Blind-bake the bottom for 10 minutes to help it survive the moist mixture, and then add a pastry lid and bake for a further 25 minutes in a hot oven (220 degrees). I’m planning to have this hot for lunch today, but it works well as a cold picnic pie, though I suggest adding a little extra seasoning during the final bake if that’s your plan.

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