Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brandade of salt cod

Elizabeth David, whose French Provincial Cooking was my principal guide in France, is discouraging on the subject of brandade of salt cod. "This is not really a dish to be made at home," she writes; amalgamating the fish, oil, and milk requires "great patience and considerable energy".

It is true that my first effort at brandade was a disaster. Then, I followed the advice of Richard Olney, who tells you to beat the flaked cod with olive oil over a high heat. I ended up with rubbery flakes of fried fish. The more common advice is to use a low heat.

This version worked better. The lemon juice and nutmeg come a recipe by Keith Floyd; but his quantities of olive oil and milk are excessive to the tune of about 300%.

400g salt cod (the salt cod I bought from my local shop came in a packet, which advised that the fish needed only four hours' soaking, in several changes of water)
2 cloves garlic, chopped and then crushed with the help of a tiny bit of salt
Olive oil - about 3tbsp
Milk - about 3tbsp
Juice of 1 lemon

Drain the pre-soaked cod, put it into a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to a simmer over a medium heat, and turn the heat right down as soon as bubbles start to rise. Test the cod, which may tenderise rapidly. Remove it from the water as soon as it yields to the point of a knife. When it is cool enough to handle, pull it apart into flakes, removing any small bones.

Put the flaked cod into a small saucepan over the lowest flame. Add a little oil and milk, along with the crushed garlic, and mash it with a potato masher. Keep mashing and adding oil and milk, along with the lemon juice, until you have a substance with the consistency of mashed potato. Season it with nutmeg and plenty of black pepper.

I prepared my brandade, and warmed it later in a bain-marie before serving it with toast. It was delicious; but the fine strands of cod, perhaps as a result of having been warmed three times, were tough. I think that whizzing the flaked cod in a food processor rather than mashing it might work better.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Normandy apple tart

750g apples (sweet apples with a tart quality, such as Cox's, are good; but even the dreaded Golden Delicious, provided their textures are not too mealy, would be fine)
Juice of 1 lemon
60g butter
4tbsps caster sugar

120g flour
60g butter
1dstsp caster sugar
Cold water

While in France, I cooked a good deal from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking; but I sometimes had to adapt the recipes and techniques. For instance, she suggests that to cook apples in butter, you might put 2lbs (about 900g) of apples, sliced, into a large frying pan with 2oz (57g) of butter and three or four tbsps of caster sugar. This would be quite difficult to manage, because the apples would form several layers and would need to be stirred, under which treatment they might well break up. Though disliking fiddly operations, I cooked them in two batches.

Peel and slice the apples, and as you work toss them in the lemon juice in a bowl, to prevent discolouration. Melt 15g of the butter in a large frying pan over a gentle heat, and pack in a layer of apples. Scatter a tbsp of sugar over them. Cook them for about five minutes, turning once. They should be tender to the point of a knife, but not too soft to hold their shape. Repeat the process.

If, like me in France, you do not have a food processor, or if you prefer not to use one, grate the butter into the flour. Rub it in. Stir in the sugar. Add a tbsp of water, and bring the mixture together; gradually add more water until you have just enough to enable the dough to cohere.

Now, as David recommends, spread the dough by hand in your tart tin - mine was 28cms, and lightly oiled. At first, you may think you do not have enough, but you should find that it spreads out satisfactorily. Patch up any holes as you go.

Place a baking sheet in the oven, and pre-heat it to gas mark 6/200C.

You do not blind bake this pastry. Working outwards from the centre, arrange the apple slices in overlapping rings in the tart case. Place the tin on the baking sheet, and cook for about 30 minutes.

Melt the remaining 30g of butter in the frying pan, and pour it over the apples. Scatter the remaining sugar on top. Return the tart to the oven for about 3 minutes, or until golden.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Potatoes a la barigoule

This is from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. She calls it "a typically southern method of cooking potatoes".

The potatoes, though David does not say so, must fit into the pan in a single layer - otherwise, the bottom layer will collapse before the large volume of water evaporates. Maincrop potatoes such as King Edwards would disintegrate under this treatment in any event.

David tells you that the olive oil should come half way up the contents of the pan. What a lot of oil that would be.

So: scrape or peel new potatoes, put them into a heavy saucepan with as much olive oil as you think would be palatable when divided by the number of people at the table, and pour in just enough water to cover. Bring the contents of the pan to a rolling boil, and continue to cook until the water has evaporated. Turn the potatoes gently in the fat. David says that you cook them until they turn "a rich golden brown". Mine did not colour in this way, perhaps because I used less oil than she recommends.

Salt in the water would speed the softening of the potatoes. You may think that they do not need this assistance, and prefer to salt at the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fruit tarts

I made three of these tarts, in 10cm tins. Obviously, the ingredients may be expanded proportionately to make any number of individual tarts, or a larger one. However, this is what I did, with the quantities I had.

100g flour
50g butter
1dstsp caster sugar
Cold water
1 medium apple
2 Victoria plums
Caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
75ml creme fraiche
75ml milk
1tsp vanilla essence

Grate the butter into the flour, as rapidly as possible, so that it does not go squidgy in your hand. You should now be able to rub it in - or blend it in a food processor - in no time at all. Stir in the sugar. Add a little water, and bring the mixture together; keep adding water sparingly until you are able to form a dough. (I added too much to mine, with the result that the pastry was slightly stodgier - more glutenous - than it should have been.)

If you gently bring the dough together, it may fall apart when you try to roll it. If you knead it for a minute or two, it will be more coherent, but may be tougher as a result of the gluten that has developed. I didn't roll my pastry, because I tend to make a mess of the procedure, but got out the grater again and grated the dough into the tins. Then I spread it over the bases and up the sides with my fingers. (Experts recommend that before rolling you chill the dough, wrapped in cling film, for 30 minutes or longer.)

Put the pastry-lined tins on a baking sheet (which helps the bases to firm up) and bake for about 20 minutes, or until dry and golden. You might cover the dough with foil, weighed down with an ingredient such as rice or dried beans, for 15 of the 20 minutes, to stop it from buckling as the water content evaporates.

Peel the apple, quarter and core it, and slice it thinly. Quickly, before it discolours, transfer it to a heavy pan in which a small knob of butter is starting to sizzle over a gentle heat. Turn the slices to coat them in butter, and cook them gently until tender. Place the slices in one of the pastry-lined tins.

Halve the plums, stone them, and slice them. Put them into the two other pastry cases. Scatter a little sugar over the fruit.

Mix together the egg, creme fraiche, milk, and vanilla essence until smooth. (Use double cream if you can find only factory-made creme fraiche, which always splits, in my experience.) Spoon the custard mixture over the fruit in the tins. I didn't need all of it.

Bake the tarts, again on the baking sheet, at gas mark 3/160C for 20-30 minutes, or until the custard is set.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Salt cod, potatoes and onions

Salt cod (morue) is widely available in supermarkets here in Normandy. I should guess that it is even more prevalent in the south. The kind I bought carried the claim that you could desalinate it in four hours; it remained salty after that time, but pleasantly so.

This is a Keith Floyd recipe. I ignored his recommendation that one cook the fish in a court bouillon, which seemed unlikely to be very influential during such a short procedure. Also, Floyd tells you to fry the potatoes in a covered pan. There are eight medium-sized potatoes in his recipe - how large a pan does he have in mind? A much larger one than I can lay my hands on at present, in any event. I roasted them instead.

Serves two.

400g salt cod, soaked according to the packet instructions
Butter and olive oil
4 medium potatoes, sliced
2 onions, sliced

Drain the salt cod, cover it again in cold water in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. As soon as the water starts to bubble, turn the heat right down, to avoid overcooking the fish and toughening it. It may be tender in just a few minutes. (Floyd gives a timing of 15 minutes, which is surely too long for even the thickest cut of fish.) Remove the cod to a plate, allow it to cool, and flake it.

Put a generous layer of olive oil into a roasting tin - one with a non-stick surface you can trust. Put the tin into a gas mark 6/200C oven for five minutes. Take it out, and tip in the potatoes, turning them to cover in hot oil. Roast them for 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove them to a plate, and mash them roughly with a fork.

In a heavy frying pan (one with a lid) or casserole dish (I used a Le Creuset), gently fry the onions in just enough oil and butter to prevent their sticking. Give them about 15 minutes, until they're golden.

Tip in the potatoes, and spread them out so that you're frying a potato and onion cake. Spread out the flaked cod on top, season with plenty of pepper, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the base of the mix is crispy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Courgette and aubergine stew

This would have been a ratatouille - albeit a cheat's one - with the addition of peppers, which I had forgotten to buy. Normally, I roast and skin them, and add them at the end. But I'm feeling a bit lazy during these early days of my holiday, so probably I would have cut them up and added them with the onions, before the courgettes.

The key is not to stew the dish for too long, allowing the ingredients to turn mushy. So you reduce the tomatoes before adding them. Authenticists might sauté each ingredient separately, before merging them for a brief simmer.

Serves two as a main course, or four as a side dish.

1 medium to large aubergine, cubed
2 plump tomatoes, or 1 tin tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 courgettes, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Aubergine is difficult to tenderise by frying, I think. Instead, put the cubes into an oven dish, toss them with just enough oil to coat them, as well as with salt and pepper, and bake at gas mark 6/200C, turning once. French ones, which have meltingly soft flesh, are ready in about 20 minutes. The aubergines I buy in England take longer.

Put the fresh tomatoes, if using, into boiling water for about 20 seconds. Allow them to cool, and peel off their skins. Remove their cores, and chop them roughly. Simmer them in a small saucepan over a gentle heat until thick and mushy. (Another method is to chop up the unpeeled tomatoes, cook them, and push them through a sieve or through a food mill.) Or: pour the tinned tomatoes into a saucepan, and simmer until thick.

Warm a couple of tbsps of olive oil in a heavy pan over a gentle heat, and throw in the garlic and onions. Fry, adding more oil if the vegetables are in danger of sticking, until the onions soften - about 10 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium, throw in the courgettes with a little salt, and continue to cook, stirring almost continuously. The courgettes are soft when their rings of seeds show vividly.

Tip in the aubergines and tomato sauce, and continue to cook very gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Check the seasoning.

I prefer to cover the pan, leave it, and eat the stew at room temperature.