Tag Archives: French cuisine

Seftons

earl of sefton

The first Earl of Sefton

In my previous post, I gave you a recipe for a basic veal stock, so I thought I would give you another recipe that shows of these kinds of home-made stocks to their best.

The recipe comes from the distinguished French Cook Louis Eustache Ude, chef to the Earl of Sefton. He came from good cooking stock himself, his father was chef to King Louis XVI.

Ude was quite a character, there’s a great story of him being hauled in front of a magistrate after he had been found selling roast grouse on his menu before the 12th of August (the date from which the gamed season begins. See here for a post all about that). He was given a fine and sent on his way.

The next day, the Scottish Laird who had reported Ude to the police returned to Ude’s restaurant to make sure he was abiding by the rules. Pleased to see there wasn’t a morsel of the offending bird on the menu, he ordered Salami de fruit défendu, i.e. Salmi of Forbidden Fruit, which turned out – of course – to be grouse!

Louis-Eustache-Ude_2911477k

Louis Eustache Ude

There was none of this nonsense when he worked for ,and was handsomely paid by, the Earl of Sefton, except when he left his service because Ude spotted the Earl’s son adding salt to some soup he made. Offended by this, he turned on his heel and left.

This recipe is in essence a savoury custard, and may sound odd, but it is in fact subtle, delicious and light. It could only work with a home-made stock though. I imagine it would be excellent nourishing food for someone that is ill. The little custards can be served in their ramekins or turned out onto a plate.

The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s English Food, where she suggests serving it with thin dry toast. A very good idea, I can confirm.

It makes between six and ten portions depending on the size of your ramekins.

 

600ml of good, clear, home-made stock

6 beaten eggs

grated zest of a lemon

¼ teaspoon of ground mace

salt and Cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons of clarified butter

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Bring the stock to a boil and whisk into the eggs as you would with a regular custard. Add the lemon zest and mace and season with the salt and Cayenne pepper and whisk in the butter.

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Place your ramekins in a deep roasting tin and pour the custard into them and cover them with foil. Pour boiling water into the tin, technically turning it into a ban Marie. Carefully slide the tin into an oven already preheated to 180⁰C and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still have a good wobble on them. Serve straight away.

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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, French Cookery, General, history, Recipes

Forgotten Foods #2: Verjuice

Having a crabbed face of her own, she’ll eat less Verjuyce with her mutton

T Middleton, Women beware Women, 1657

Verjuice was a very popular cooking ingredient from the Middle Ages onwards. Many old recipes ask for it and they seem to hit a peak during Tudor times. It is essentially the juice of either sour grapes or crab apples; Britain might not be the best place to grow delicious sweet grapes, but we can certainly excel in growing sour fruit! It took the place of fresh lemon juice in recipes for salad dressings, desserts like syllabubs; it was added to stews, soups and sauces as a seasoning, as well as an ingredient in marinades. It was also believed to have medicinal properties; for example, it was mixed with olive oil and blown up horses’ noses to treat colds! It was basically a necessary piece of kit in any kitchen, seeming to drop out of favour by the end of eighteenth century when lemons became more accessible.


Crushing the grapes for verjuice

The word verjuice comes from the Old French verjus, with ver-  meaning green or unripe and –jus being juice. The earliest written mention of it in British literature comes from around 1302, so we are talking old. It must have been such a useful ingredient in a place where fresh lemons will have either have been impossible to get hold of or terribly expensive.

I expected never to taste verjuice, but then as I was wandering around the excellent Global Foods Market in St Louis minding my own business, I happened upon a jar of it in the Middle East aisle of the shop. Naturally I bought some and thought I’d try some original recipes where verjuice was a main ingredient rather than just a seasoning.

17th century verjuice vinaigrette

In the 1897 volume of Good Housekeeping the subject of using verjuice in salad dressings inexplicably crops up. It takes quotes from the 17th century cook book The English Huswife by Gervase Markham. Anyway, it says that if you want to make a simple sallet then make a dressing of verjuice, sallet [olive] oil and sugar. Use it with sparagus, camphire, cucumbers, leeks, blanched carrots, purslane, with a world of others too tedious to nominate. He must have been in a bit of a mood the day he wrote that part.

It was a pretty brief recipe. Although verjuice is very tart, its underlying flavours are rather subtle so it needed quite a high ratio of verjuice to oil (much more than vinegar or lemon juice dressings).

I mixed together 4 tablespoons each of verjuice and extra virgin olive oil. To offset the sourness, I added a teaspoon of soft dark brown sugar, stirring until it dissolved. Lastly I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper. Easy and surprisingly subtle. Any leftover dressing can be stored and blown up your horse’s nose should it ever get a sniffle.

Sweet verjuice ‘scrambled eggs’ with brioche toast

I recently wrote a post about fruit curds, and I seem to have found a possible source of the preserve when looking for verjuice recipes. There is a recipe in Le Patissier François (published around 1690) that has helpfully been translated into English by Harold McGee where verjuice and salt are added to eggs in order to make them coagulate at a lower temperature, tenderising them:

Break four eggs, beat them, adjust with salt and four spoonsful of verjus, put the mix on the fire, and stir gently with a silver spoon just until the eggs thicken enough, and then take them off the fire and stir them a bit more as they thicken. One can make scrambles eggs in the same way with lemon or orange juice.

It is of Mr McGee’s opinion that a sweetened version of this recipe could be the origin of the fruit curd. Notice that fresh lemons or oranges can be used, suggesting that they are less common than verjuice.

Below is my interpretation of that recipe. I add plenty of acidic verjuice and a large pinch of salt, meaning that the ‘scrambled eggs’ actually end up thickening more like a custard. I have to say it was delicious, so if you ever do come across some verjuice have a go at this recipe:

Ingredients (for 2 people)
A good knob of butter
2 eggs
6 tbs verjuice
good pinch of salt
2 level tbs sugar
2 slices of brioche

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat. Whisk together the eggs, verjuice, salt and sugar until there is no trace of white left. Pour the egg mixture in the saucepan and carry on whisking over a medium heat. Meanwhile toast the slices of brioche. When the eggs have thickened and are just about to boil, pour them into two small pots and serve with the brioche.

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Filed under Britain, Desserts, food, French Cookery, history, Seventeenth Century

Potted Chicken Livers

Now I know you’re thinking that I am dressing up something French as British by saying ‘potted chicken livers’ instead of pâté but the British have been potting meats like beef, game and salmon, and also liver, for a long time now. Potting helps preserve meat if covered with an airtight layer of clarified butter and kept in a cool place. I am going to write a post very soon on potting meats as well as some other methods of meat preservation soon; the point of this post was for me to write a little diatribe about how the word pâté has the same roots as pot so I could feel a little smug and say that I was right. You know like those people who say raspberry coulis, when they just mean sauce. It turns out that I was a little wrong: my French is worse than pidgin and I just assumed the two words had the same root. I am blaming Elizabeth David for this gaff: she talks of potted chicken livers as though that’s what everyone calls them down her way.

Pot or pâté? Ms David knew which side of her toast was buttered

So as it turns out that the word pâté has the same roots as the words pastry and pasta, coming from Greek words meaning ‘small particles and fine textures’ according Harold McGee in his tome On Food and Cooking. So potted livers have a fine texture as they are a mixture of butter and liver, and pastry is made up of particles of flour and butter. Actually, pâté started life more as a chopped assemblage of meats, rather than the refined smoothness we think of today. Oddly enough pâté and pie eventually became interchangeable words in medieval times because chopped meat was often cooked in pastry on both sides of the English Channel. As I have said before, the food histories of Britain and France blend so much there is sometimes no point in trying to discern between the two.

Anyway, I have chuntered on enough now so I shall give you two recipes for potted chicken livers. First, a couple of mentions on preparation and storage: in this recipe the livers are fried in butter until pink, about 4 or 5 minutes on a high heat. It is very important that they should be cooked through and only slightly pink, not just seared and bloody and rare. I don’t want you coming down with Campylobacter or some other nasty food poisoning microbe. The other thing is to cover your potted livers with a good layer of clarified butter along with a lid or a covering of cling film, especially if being kept in a cold larder. The butter isn’t necessary if you are keeping them in the fridge, but they should be covered with something; butter is best though as it stops the livers from oxidising and turning from rich brown to muddy gray (oxidising is harmless, they’re still good to eat).

To make clarified butter, slowly melt some butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Skim off any froth or foam with a spoon and then decant the butter into a jug making sure none of the butter solids get poured out with it.

Potted chicken livers with brandy and peppercorns

This is the classic recipe for potted chicken livers, though I find that there is never enough brandy. I use quite a lot compared to many recipes because I like to be able to taste it; brandy is very rich and it can be a bit too much, especially with all that liver and butter too. To counteract this is I add a good dose of piquant pickled green peppercorns which are available at delicatessen’s shops or online. You can of course omit the peppercorns and reduce the amount of brandy if you’d rather.

Ingredients

8 oz chicken livers

6 oz butter

2 to 4 tbs brandy

3 tsp rinsed and drained pickled green peppercorns

salt and black pepper

clarified butter (optional)

Pick over the chicken livers, removing any large pieces of gristle, carefully removing any little green bile ducts that may be left on them. Get a frying pan nice and hot and add 2 ounces of the butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the livers and fry for a total of 4 or 5 minutes, turning them half-way through.

The idea is for the livers to be cooked, but still a little pink, so cut inside one to check after 4 minutes of frying. Tip the livers and butter into a blender or food processor and return the pan to the heat whilst you deglaze it with the brandy. Tip the brandy and burnt bits into the blender along with the rest of the butter and blitz until the required smoothness (I like mine very smooth). Mix in the peppercorns and the seasoning before potting in one large earthenware pot of several smaller ones. Pour over the clarified butter to form an airtight seal.

Potted chicken livers with gin, rosemary and thyme

My attempt at a recipe rather more Scottish in its flavours, which I think works very well. These livers are much more savoury and less rich than in the recipe above: a good shot of gin provides a subtle aromatic bitter hit of juniper, and the fresh herbs mellow it nicely.

The method is exactly the same as the above except 2 teaspoons each of finely chopped rosemary and thyme are fried along with the livers. Of course exchange the brandy for the gin and omit the pickled peppercorns.

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The Duck Press

The duck press was invented in France during the 1800s by a chef called Mechenet to make what is one of the most extravagant and macabre dishes ever created: Caneton de Rouen à la Presse, also known as Duck in Blood Sauce. It was popularised by Chef Frèdèric who was head chef at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent where it became the signature dish. It is reckoned over a million were served there. What is particularly impressive is that the dish was made at the table in front of the guests.

At La Tour d’Argent you are given a card

telling you the ‘number of your duck’

The dish became very popular in Britain during that famously excessive (and thankfully brief) period of history, the Edwardian Era. London’s high society went to huge efforts to appear sophisticated; French cuisine has always been associated with sophistication and the dish Caneton de Rouen à la Presse was one of the best. The Savoy in the 1900s, which then had the formidable chef Escoffier at the helm, regularly served it.

Escoffier

To make the dish you first of all need a duck press which a large metal press usually made of bronze. It contains a spout low down on the press itself so that the blood and bone marrow can be collected easily and it stands on two our four heavy feet so that the whole thing remains stable; you don’t want to cover some count in blood goo unless you can really help it. Some of them have webbed duck feet. If you want to buy a duck press though it will set you back around £1000.

Once you have procured your press you need to prepare your duck. The best for this recipe would be a Rouen duckling, but a mallard would be a good substitute. First of all kill your duck by strangulation so that the blood remains inside the tissues than pluck it. Next day remove the innards, keeping aside the heart and liver, and roast it on the very highest setting on the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Liquidise the bird’s liver and heart. This is the point where the press and the duck are wheeled to the dining table for the guests to watch.

Remove the legs and set them aside for later, then remove the breast meat cutting it thinly and keeping it warm and covered on a serving dish with a cloche. Push and shove the carcass in the press to extract the blood and bone marrow from the bird, collecting it in a jug placed beneath the spout.

Make a sauce by gently warming the blood with the liquidised liver, some duck or veal stock and some brandy or cognac. Lastly, whisk in a good knob of butter to thicken the sauce and make it glossy. Pour the sauce over the sliced duck breast. Serve with a green salad.

The legs are usually taken away and grilled to be served up during the next course.

So there you have it; a simple and affordable family meal. I have to say, I am a lover of rare meats and I don’t find this sort of food scary at all and it is being served in some restaurants today. If I make my millions, I’ll buy a press and get you all round for dinner.

I found this YouTube video of one being used, but if you’re squeamish, you’re best not looking, I’d say.

For more duck history and recipes, click upon this very link.

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Filed under Britain, food, French Cookery, General, history, Meat, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Edwardians

Rillettes

A brief hop over the English Channel to France for this post…

I have a great love of potted meats – not the awful ones you get in those little glass jars on the supermarket shelves, but the proper job. Making them is easy and satisfying, but you can’t go too long flicking through the cook books and history books without eventually having to give a huge nod to French cuisine. Pâtés are of course well known and popular, but don’t forget the classic rillettes. They’ve been around for at least six hundred years, yet of recent times they have fallen out of favour in Britain, though they were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian Britain – the heyday for savouries such as these:

Rillettes: A French savoury meat preparation, used for hors-d’oeuvres and savouries

Charles Herman, Culinary Encyclopaedia 1898

See? I told you.

Rillettes are a classic, similar to a pâté in that you spread them on toast and eat them with some nice cornichons, but it is made in rather a different way; long slow cooking with plenty of fat is needed and, rather than being pulverised, they are stripped and potted along with their juices. They are subtly flavoured – the glory comes from the slowly cooked meat and the mild herbs. If I were to be a ponce, then I would say they are sublime. However I am not, so I shan’t.

Any kind of meat, or even fish, can be used to make rillettes but the classics are pork, duck, rabbit and goose. The best rillettes come from Tours and Reins.

 Rillettes de Porc (Potted Pork)

Here’s the recipe I have tried out a couple of times now for rillettes de porc. I can’t wait to get back to England and try some rabbit rillettes (wild rabbits are a rarity in America). There is little variation in any recipe you see, whether found online today or in an eighteenth century cookbook.

Technically you can use any cut of meat as long as it has plenty of fat. I have been using pork belly, but neck would be okay, and for the less squeamish amongst you, the head.

Ingredients

2 lbs pork belly (weight after removal of rind and bones)

2 tbs salt

1 lb back fat

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 or 4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Around 10 fl oz water

Cut the pork belly into strips around 1 ½ inches wide, place them in a bowl and rub in the salt. Cover and leave for around 8 hours. Cut the back fat into cubes and place it, along with the pork belly, in an ovenproof casserole or similar. Tuck the herbs and garlic under the meat in the centre and sprinkle over a good seasoning of pepper and a little nutmeg then pour over the water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil and bake in a very low oven, 140⁰C (290⁰F), for 4 hours.

Remove the foil and take out the bay leaves, garlic and thyme – they have imparted their flavours. Place a sieve over a good-sized bowl and toss the contents of the pan into the sieve so it can drain.

rillettes before

Next – and this the good bit – grab two forks and start stripping the meat and fat into shreds.

rillettes after

If it is easier, do this in a separate bowl. Pot lightly into jars, ramekins or earthenware pots and cover with the salty-fatty juices. Keep covered in a cool place, failing that the fridge.

Serve with thin toast and pickles.

It is very important that the rillettes are spreadable, so if they are kept in the fridge, make sure you let them get to room temperature before eating them.

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Filed under food, French Cookery, General, Meat, Preserving, Recipes, Uncategorized