Classic French cuisine


'Romanian hamburger' with baked potato and asparagus on a plate, before 'saucing'

‘Romanian hamburger’ with baked potato and asparagus, before ‘saucing’

Recently I haven’t posted much about cooking, once a mainstay of this blog. Resisting the temptation to comment on recent horrific events and the sad world we live in (later), I’ve decided to tell you about my ‘Romanian hamburgers’.

I don’t really do ‘recipes’ – there are few things for which I use exact quantities (English dumplings, some cakes and bread being examples). I just use recipes as a guide. My favourite cooking is just throwing something together with whatever is in the home at the time (see ‘Fast food’ under the Food menu above).

Romanian hamburgers are an invention of mine, you’ll find hamburgers in Romania are just like here, in McDonalds and the like. When I make ‘hamburgers’ I usually make ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise’, roughly following Julia Child’s recipe in ‘Mastering the art of French cooking’, volume 1 my cooking bible since the mid-1960s (first published in 1961) and joined by volume 2 when it was published in 1970. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past, a couple of times under the Food menu above.

Romanian hamburgers

Two 'Romanian hamburgers' before cooking.

Two ‘Romanian hamburgers’ before cooking.

As suggested by the name the meat in Julia Child’s recipe is beef and the principal ‘flavouring’ is thyme (and butter?). My ‘Romanian’ version substitutes pork for beef (Romanian pork is superb, beef not good), dill (mărar), one of the most encountered herbs in Romania, for thyme and smoked pork back fat (slănină afumată) for most of the butter in the ‘French’ recipe. In the UK you will find slănină afumată in a Romanian shop, perhaps in other east European shops.

For two of us I use about 300g of minced pork that has little fat.

Sweat a finely chopped onion and two chopped garlic cloves in a little butter till translucent. Tip it into a bowl containing the mince. Add finely chopped fresh dill – a lot! – and finely diced smoked fat (a bit like the fat in black pudding). You can use dried dill but if so leave the mixture for a few hours before cooking for the flavour to develop. Add salt and black pepper. Add a large free range egg and thoroughly mix (hand is best). Leave in the fridge for a while then form into into two fairly thick patties. Sear in a frying pan with a little butter (it’s hot enough when the foam subsides) then  lower the heat and fry till cooked through, turning when half done. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine opened to drink with the meal (I prefer Trei Hectare from the Murfatlar region of Romania but it’s not available in the UK; a good reason to drive to Romania – fill the boot!), and pour over the hamburgers. We like with chunky chips and a salad but a baked potato (or boiled Jersey Royal potatoes) and asparagus, as here, at this time of year is another good accompaniment), as is mashed potato.

Advertisements

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

Yesterday was a damp, misty, chilly day so very suitable to serve our dinner guests a classic boeuf Bourguignon (or, if you prefer, boeuf a la Bourguignonne); very filling so a simple, light starter (more below) and a small but rich classic desert – mousseline au chocolat – with a little side of fresh fruit to offset the richness.

Romanian wines, red and whiteMuch as I like French wine, it was a good opportunity to drink a couple of excellent Romanian wines which have been in the rack for a while, a red called ‘3 Hectare’ (three hectares) from the Murfatlar wine region, between the Danube and the Black Sea in south east Romania and made from the ancient Romanian grape variety Feteasca Neagra, and a sweet white called Grasa de Cotnar, from north east Romania, with the dessert. This latter is a wine favoured by French visitors as an affordable alternative to Château d’Yquem. With the starter I chose a refreshing dry Riesling from Germany.

This is the first ‘haute cuisine’ I’ve attempted in quite a while, for reasons I touched on in the previous post (and I forgot to take photos for this post so have cobbled some together from left-overs and pix taken by my wife at the occasion). (more…)

First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve

Practice

35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

A busy day; the filet still to be pre-roasted and the ‘croute’ for it still to be made – I’ve stopped for a gin and tonic! One disaster averted; I arrived at the butcher at 3.10 to find he’d closed at 3.00. Frantic banging on the door produced my wonderful piece of filet – aged for a month by farmer Charles Johnson of the farm at Mallard Grange in Sawley, North Yorkshire.

Filet of beef, from the 'coeur de filet', as bought

Filet of beef, from the ‘coeur de filet’, as bought

The trimmed filet

The trimmed filet

First job was to trim it. I have a local butcher who sells great meat but he’s not a French butcher so I didn’t trust him to trim the filet, a lesson learned when I asked him to ‘Frenchify’ a rack of lamb. I’m not that great at it either but with no trained chef or French butcher on hand, needs must. Being only two of us for dinner, I ordered just a short length from the central portion, the ‘coeur de filet’. Even so it’ll be too much but I bought a larger piece to make it easier to handle and the part I am not using is in the freezer for another day.

As I said when I first mentioned my main course, I’m making ‘filet de boeuf en croute’ but not ‘Beef Wellington’ because it won’t be long enough to enclose the calf of Wellington, it will be cooked already sliced to make serving easy, and the ‘croute’ will not be the usual puff pastry, but a brioche dough subjected to a little S&M, ie kept under restraint! But more of that after the pudding.

The ‘pudding’

The pudding is in the fridge; Alleluia! It’s basically a modified Bavarois cream tipped into a mould lined with slices of cake – a la Malakoff.

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

The cake (Madeira but could be Genoa or any firm sponge cake) was sliced about 1/4in thick, then cut into four quadrants for the bottom (which will become the top when un-moulded) and ‘fingers’ about 1.1/4 in wide to go around the inside of a 2.1/2pt mould, with a few spare ‘just in case’. They were painted with clarified butter, sprinkled with sugar and popped into the oven at about 200 deg C until golden brown after having put 7oz of almonds in at 180deg C for a few minutes until a deep golden brown. The almonds were then pulverised in a food processor. Meanwhile, 1.1/2 tbl of powdered gelatine was soaking in 4 tbl of kirsch.

Egg yolks, 7 of them (should have been 6 but they looked a bit small to me), were beaten with 6oz of sugar until very pale and ‘the ribbon’ survived a few seconds. Meanwhile a pint of milk, with a few drops of vanilla essence, was made very hot and then poured into the egg/sugar mixture in a thin stream while beating with the whisk. Back on the hob and carefully heated while continuously stirring until the wooden spoon had a thin creamy layer on the back of the bowl. Off the hob, a vigorous stir to cool a bit then the gelatine/kirsch tipped in and beaten with a whisk until certainly dissolved (2 mins). Now 8oz of unsalted butter was beaten in, adding 2oz at a time. Then the pulverised toasted almonds were mixed in. A taste suggested a small pinch of salt and a few drops of almond essence. Finally the cream, now tepid, was spooned into the cake-lined mould, putting the ‘spare’ cake fingers in when about 2/3 full. I found that the side fingers started to rise up when the mould was full so I covered with some non-stick baking paper and put a plate on to to keep them in place until set. Into the fridge till tomorrow. Phew! It’s very rich and far too much for two of us of course, but it freezes well.

The filet

Trimming the filet is quite a faff, even with a very sharp knife, especially trying to remove as much of the membrane and fat as possible without detaching the ‘side straps’ (often, of course, the filet is sold without these but it makes the slices rather small). Then I cut six slices about 1/2in thick; this is where a very sharp knife is needed and the larger than needed piece is helpful. The rest of the filet, as I said, went into the freezer.

Between the slices I put a duxelles stuffing. Mushrooms finely diced (1/16in) and twisted in the corner of a cloth to extract as much moisture as possible. Into a frying pan with some butter heated until foaming, together with some chopped shallots and some finely diced ready-cooked ham; fairly high heat until the mushroom began to brown very slightly. A little flour was then added and stirred for a couple of minutes. Off the heat, I added a little dry sherry, then beat in some liver pate (should be foie gras but a good liver pate had to do), followed by an egg yolk, a pinch of tarragon and salt and pepper. Left to cool.

A double thickness of butter muslin (cheese cloth) was laid in a small roasting tin and painted with rendered pork fat (cooking oil would have done as well). The sliced fillet was then reformed with a thin layer of duxelle stuffing between each slice. A loop of butcher’s string was put on lengthwise to hold the slices in place, then the filet tightly wrapped in the muslin, twisting at each end (like a sausage) and tying, then wrapping a spiral of string around the whole thing to hold it together. Now it’s wrapped in cling film and in the fridge till pre-roasting after breakfast tomorrow. The ‘sausage’ will be roasted for about 25mins in a hot oven (210degC), turning a few times, then allowed to cool before covering with the brioche.

Whether I’ll get to the brioche dough this evening I’m not sure – I’m a morning person! But this is as much as I’m going to post today; I’ll catch up on the rest tomorrow, with one or two more pictures, one of the advantages of eating this meal in the evening.

A superb sauce is an essential part of many classic French dishes, and that means something more than the pathetic skidmark put on the plate according to current fashion. So today I’ll be making the sauce to go with filet of beef on Christmas Day. It’s little wonder that so many English restaurants have the menu in French; if I tell you I’ll be making ‘brown sauce’ you’ll likely say I’d save myself a lot of work by buying a bottle from the local supermarket. But I’ll be making a classic ‘Sauce Brune‘. I’m drafting this in advance, so it’s in the future tense, but it will be posted when the sauce is made.

The ingredients which turn good bouillon cubes into something approaching classic bouillon

The ingredients which turn good bouillon cubes into something approaching classic bouillon

Way back in the ’70s when I fancied myself as an ‘haute cuisine cook’, I lived in a fair-sized 17th century house with an enormous kitchen complete with Aga, had an equally enthusiastic ‘classic cooking’ partner, and had ‘dinner party’ guests at least twice a month, so I/we made my/our bouillon from scratch. Now I cheat, using some bouillon cubes as a starter.

There are only two of us for Christmas dinner so I’ll be making a little under a pint of sauce, the starting point being 2 bouillon cubes in a pint of water in a pan. To this will be added finely chopped carrot and onion (about 3 tbl – tablespoons – of each), and finely chopped celery (about 1 tbl). A couple of sprigs of parsley, a small bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, and a 1/4 pint of red wine will be added. This will be simmered for about 1/2 hr. Now I have my ‘cheat’ bouillon. 10 mins from the end I’ll begin the next stage.

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, I’ll ‘sweat’ finely diced onion, carrot, celery (about an ounce of each) in about 3tbl of clarified butter, with 1.1/2 tbl of finely chopped boiled ham, for about 10 minutes. Then I’ll slowly add an ounce of flour, stirring continuously over a moderate to low heat until the flour turns golden brown – 8 to 10 minutes. STOP – too brown and the sauce will have a bitter taste and will not thicken properly. Although making this sauce seems a long-winded process, in fact this is the only part of the process which, like scrambled eggs and risotto, requires your complete attention.

Off the heat, the boiling bouillon is tipped in all at once while blending with a wire whisk, then 1 tbl of tomato paste is beaten in before adding a a small herb bouquet tied in a bit of cheese cloth (a couple of parsley sprigs, a very small bay leaf and about 1/8 tsp of thyme).

Now it’ll be simmered very slowly, partially covered, for not less than a couple of hours, skimming off fat or scum from time to time and adding a little boiling water if it thickens too much. I should end up with a little less than a pint of liquid, which will be strained then degreased completely. A fine film of bouillon, reserved for the purpose, will be floated on top to prevent a skin forming, then when cool it’ll be into the fridge until Christmas Day. It isn’t quite finished of course; it’ll get its final fillip after the meat has roasted (watch this space!).

I’m leaving the pudding until tomorrow morning; it’ll then have a day and a half to ‘improve’ before Christmas Day evening. I’ve decided on the Malakoff/Bavarois cross – Le Pelerin en Timbale, I thought the day deserved a nod to the pilgrims – leaving out the apricot sauce for my non-fruit eating wife but with some poached apricots laced with kirsch on the side for me! There’ll be a jug of Chantilly cream on the table too.

By the way, it’s Sunday so earlier I made our usual Sunday breakfast – bacon, eggs and a Yorkshire sausage, what else? But don’t get the wrong idea; I don’t do all the cooking, I just write about some of mine. I do a bit more than half which is fair as I work part-time but Petronela, my wife, works full-time in the arduous job of a high school teacher. She will be making today’s evening meal – tochitura with mamaliga; that’s Romanian. She’ll also be making pretty much all the food for New Year’s Eve, the big Romanian celebration known as Revelion (same word as the French but their’s is Christmas Eve I understand), even though it’s also her birthday.

I said I’d post this after the sauce was finished but it’s now simmering away and I want to make the butter-toasted cake slices for the ‘Malakoff’ part of the desert so I’m posting it now.

Neither Petronela my wife nor I really like turkey, but many alternatives for Christmas dinner that I would relish – pheasant, partridge, even guinea fowl – are ruled out as Petronela won’t eat them. I say ‘dinner’ because for the first time in years we will be able to eat in the evening, which we prefer, rather than ‘lunch’ which was the preference of my mother, now sadly no longer with us.

Breakfast is easy as we’ve settled into our own tradition – smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne – with some butter croissant (which – shame – I do not make myself). But what to have for dinner?

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the table

Simple pizza ready for the table

Then, on Monday evening, I watched a master class on BBC2 tv by the only ‘celebrity chef’ I’ve any time for, Michel Roux jnr. Regular ‘foodie’ readers of grumpytyke’s ramblings will know I have a preference for classic French cuisine; watching and listening to a master enthuse about the classics decided me. Classic cuisine it would be, with one exception – the starter, for which I’m going back to a recent post by another inspiring Frenchman (he says he isn’t a ‘chef’), the author of My French Heaven. More details of the final Christmas fayre in a later post but for the main it’ll be Filet de boeuf en croute (not Beef Wellington, as will be explained in the later post), for the ‘pudding’ maybe a Bavarois – perhaps chocolate or praline – or a cross between a Bavarois and a charlotte Malakoff (my wife doesn’t eat most fruit either!).

In the meantime, I’m having a kitchen rest so everything simple in the run up. One ‘simple’ was a pizza. Why someone would buy a ready-made pizza in the UK to eat at home is beyond me. I’ve had superb pizzas in the USA, and of course in Italy, but never in Britain – not from any of the pizza chains, not from the supermarkets, not even from otherwise excellent small Italian restaurants. But, with a bit of cheating, it’s so simple to put one together at home.

First the base: if you like the thin crispy variety, shop-bought can be fine, so I keep a couple in the freezer. That’s the first cheat. If you like the thicker, puffy variety the ready-mades are less satisfactory. Then there’s the tomato sauce to cover the base; the best solution is to make up a large batch, divide it up into single pizza portions and store in the freezer, but some of the bottled ‘cook in’ sauces can be good for the purpose – given a bit more sparkle with a dose of fresh herbs if necessary.  On this occasion I used a jar of ‘Tomato and chilli pasta sauce’, livened up with a dose of fresh basil. After that it was simple – what happened to be in the fridge.

Mozzarela of course, sliced and arranged on the sauce, followed by thinly sliced chorizo. Then sliced, pickled char-grilled peppers, halved stuffed olives, some grated cheddar cheese, and a liberal dose of good olive oil. Then it’s onto a hot pizza tray and into the hottest oven I can have without setting off the smoke alarm.

So, this was a very simple one and for 5 mins work something which, in my opinion, is much tastier (and much cheaper) than anything from a pizza house.