Saturday, September 3, 2011

Global cuisine - France

[Steak au Poivre with truffle mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks]

Continuing on from our previous plan, last week we focused on French food. What a change from our previous week which had been simple, light, and easy. French food, with its profuse use of butter and cream and a multitude of techniques was very different. But that's what we were looking for so we dove straight in.

While it would be easy to get bogged down in the highly technical and fancy food of French haute cuisine we were more interested in finding recipes that were more the basic, eat around the farm table fare. Also keeping to our seasonal vege rule limited our forays into too many exotic areas. But good thing for us, leeks are in season right now. And if a leek is not the epitome of french cooking then I don't know what is.

Our first french meal was mussels gratine with green lentils and herbs. Rich with a tasty creamy sauce, the mussels were a lovely, cheap way to start things off. The next night, we had Steak au poivre (or pepper steak) with truffle oil mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks. Familiar with the carnivorous leanings of french cuisine (or my experience and knowledge of it), we wanted to see what sorts of vegetarian dishes were there. We had a tasty (and butter and cream filled) leek tart, leek and potato soup, and of course, french onion soup (so much better than my first taste of it at a highway rest stop on the Alaska Highway in the middle of the Yukon). And throughout all this I was researching and planning my coup d'eta - cassoulet. Unfortunately, this led me to realize that cassoulet was not a meal to be made in a day, or even a week really. So we will have to enjoy it a little later, once the duck confit is made and rested. And the beans are found and soaked. Then, say in three or four weeks (I've been told the duck confit improves with age), we can finally sit down for the finale. But for now, we're moving on - Thailand up next.

[Mussels Gratin with green lentils and herbs]

Mussels Gratin (from So French - A lifetime in the provincial kitchen by Dany Chouet and Trish Hobbs)

1.25kg mussels
2 large french shallots, diced
250 ml dry white wine
40 g unsalted butter, plus extra for grilling
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 egg yolk
50 ml cream
juice of half a lemon
20 g fine fresh breadcrumbs

1. Scrub mussels thoroughly under running water and pull our the hairy beards. Do not soak them or you will lose their precious liquid. Once clean, place them in a bowl and set aside.

2. Combine the shallots and wine in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes only and add the mussels. Cover the pan and shake. Continue to cook until the mussels begin to open. Remove the mussels as they open (allow them to get quite open, not just slightly). Throw out any mussels that do not open (these were dead before you cooked them and could make you sick).

3. Once all the mussels are out, strain the remaining juices through a fine seive and allow to settle. Remove the empty half of the mussels and lay the meaty ones in a large gratin dish (shallow baking pan with sides). Set aside.

4. Meld the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add the flour and stir until completely mixed (make a roux). Gradually pour in the mussel juice, being careful not to stop before any of the sediment at the bottom gets in. Whisk this until smooth, add the garlic and the curry powder and cook on low, stirring, until it thickens. Check your seasoning and add salt or pepper if you like. If it gets too thick add some water.

5. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the cream with the lemon juice and some pepper. Add to the sauce.

6. Preheat your grill on high. Pour the sauce over the mussels, being sure to get some in each little shell. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top and dot with butter. Throw it under the grill for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

- Chouet, D. & Hobbs, T. (2010). So French: A lifetime in the provincial kitchen. Murdoch Books; London. p.96

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