Liver-replacement therapy

They say you should never trust a skinny chef. I would probably add to that ‘never trust a sober one either’. It is with this in mind, halfway through a second week of lovely friends visiting ‘Chez Le Horny Chef’ here in Normandy, and forcing me to drink too much, that I offer up my latest idea.

Liver-replacement therapy. I figure that if we all eat enough of some other animal’s livers (in this case, breaded deep-fried duck liver sat atop pan-fried goose foie gras), we must be doing ourselves some good.

10644831_10152417644330369_8973768281557367352_nServed, by the way, with an apple & mint salad and fig jam. Local apples, mint (two types – apple mint & spearmint) and figs all from the garden.

 

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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.

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nature of the vegetables available, but even when in season, they show their faces for only a few days, before being superseded by larger, milder white onions.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).

Steak & frites, rio plata style

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Ever since I’ve been cooking in anger, the dish ordered most often is steak & chips. I’m lucky in that I can pick up fabulous fresh Charolais steaks right from the farm gate from ‘La Fermette’, our local farm shop. It’s usually gorgeously delicious, perfectly marbled meat, high quality enough to use for steak tartare.

My menu includes a small choice of sauces: Béarnaise, peppercorn, Roquefort or wholegrain mustard (and it’s the blue cheese that wins out most often), so I thought it was time to branch out a little. So for my first new one, I’ve gone South American with a spot of chimichurri. Supposedly first uttered by British prisoners of war in the 18th century (‘chi mi curry’ or ‘give me curry’), who demanded more interesting meals from their Spanish captors, this is one of the simplest sauces to chuck together.

The first important decision is “to chilli or not to chilli”. I’m going with ‘no’, as it’s designed to be light & refreshing to match tonight’s sunny, ‘summer is nearly here’ evening. So it’s just parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil and white wine vinegar. The first three are plucked fresh from the garden, and finely chopped. I’m going with a bit of shallot, too, to give it a little more body, since it doesn’t have any base to carry it. This is also its upside, though, because in these quantities (5 cloves of garlic, half a cup of parsley, and a quarter of oregano) those raw ingredients really zip with flavour. Blitz the lot, and chill in the fridge.

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This baby is my favourite pan – it’s heavy cast-iron that I (literally) tripped over in the dusty corner of a vide grenier (attic sale) for €4, and fabulous for steak frying because it’s equally at home on the hob or in the oven (it is seen here having a well-deserved smoke after being well used). Always remember to stick your oven on before you start preparing your steak. Nice and hot, 220 degrees at least. Oil the steak, not the pan (and by ‘oil’, I mean melted butter), season (with both salt and pepper), and ensure the pan is absolutely smoking hot before chucking those steaks in. Let Maillard do its work on both sides, and then stick them in the oven – about six extra minutes for medium-rare, or three if you like it moo’ing (like I do).

I normally serve with thin chips (allumettes, or match sticks) in the traditional French style, but just fancied some big fluffy chunky ones today.

 

No Pain, No Central Nervous System

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A friend of mine recently had a crisis of faith over the mass-murder of live mussels in the name of nom-nom-nomminess. This reminded me of a tale from collège culinaire. A poor soul, who shall remain nameless, refused to kill his lobster (the right way – freeze it for an hour to put it to sleep, then slice cleanly down it’s backbone from just behind its eyes). Chef calmly explained that with no central nervous system, there is no way for a crustacean to feel any pain, so to man up, grow a pair, and get on with it, which the student finally, after much pacing around, finally did, through teary eyes.

However, this led to him gaining a new nickname from Chef, who from then on called him ‘Meatloaf’. I’m afraid it remains funny to this day to recall hearing “I Will Do Anything For Food, But I Won’t Do That” being sung in a thick French accent whenever Chef approached ‘Meatloaf’s bench.