Monday 15 August 2011

When in France ....

I am sorry to say but after over 20 years of trying to convince myself otherwise, I am finally persuaded that the French just cannot cook.  Year in, year out, we sit through practically inedible meals of nasty limp salads, badly cooked steak and bought in, frozen chips.  I am not talking expensive restaurants with Michelin Stars, which I am sure are fantastic, but personally I cannot bare pretentious meals on holiday.  Instead, we hunt out gorgeous little local bistros in Medieval Villages.  Everything about them is perfect.  The ambiance, the setting, the tables under the fabulous old Plain trees in the square, the dappled sunlight, the simple tableware - everything apart from the horrible food.  I know that this is the countryside.  I know it is not Paris, Marseilles or Lyon.  But you would think that they could cook a Steak.  "Steak Frites".  It does not get more French than that.  They invented the dish, along with so many of the worlds greatest recipes. 

The waitress politely asks you "Cuisson?" Like they care.  I have tried "Saignant" (bloody) which comes either grey/brown with every trace of blood drained out of it or it is so blue that it is practically still mooing. I decided to give up on my preference of rare and switched to "a point" which I believe is meant to be the perfect medium-rare.  It wasn't.  Same thing - desecrated or raw.  I gave up altogether and decided just to stay in and cook instead. 

The produce is so fantastic, the markets bursting with the most fantastic vegetables, sausages, cheese, bread and olives.  But beware.  It is shockingly expensive.  Blink and you have parted with 50E for little more than a Sausison Sec, some Tapenade and a small piece of mountain cheese.  We decided to eat mainly vegetables and fruit.  It really wasn't hard. 

The market would dictate what we had for lunch and dinner.  Just buy what looks the most delicious.  We stuck to classic French dishes and kept things simple.  Nothing too complicated. After all, everybody knows the English can't cook.

Salad Nicoise

I have got a bit old fashioned with this dish in my old age. When I worked in restaurants, it was all "rare char-grilled Tuna" and "soft boiled eggs" but my version is very classic apart from the dressing. I know that some great chefs such as Simon Hopkinson omit the tuna all together in favour of fabulous Anchovies but I personally do not like big mouthfuls of overpowering anchovies, and I like the tuna. So I put the anchovies in the dressing, which incidentally is the same dressing that I use for Caesar Salad. This way you have a subtle anchovy flavour in every mouthful. And I like a creamy dressing which pulls the whole salad together in a most satisfying way.

75 mls extra virgin olive oil
75 mls vegetable oil
2 free-range egg yolks (preferably organic)
Juice of one Lemon
8 anchovy fillets
3 cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g small new potatoes
200g french beans
4 free-range eggs (preferably organic)
6 ripe tomatoes, cut into eighths
Cos or little gem
225g can MSC-certified pole or line-caught tuna
in olive oil (drained)
2 tbsp baby capers
Generous handful of good stoned black olives

In a food processor whizz up the anchovies with the egg yolks and the garlic until smooth.  Gradually add the oils until amalgamated and finally add the lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Boil the potatoes until tender and drain. Unless they are really tiny, break them or cut them in half, and toss with about a tablespoon of the dressing while still warm. Set aside. Boil the beans until they are done as you like them, cool quickly (I plunge them into a bowl of cold water) and set aside. Place the eggs in a pan of boiling water. It is up to you whether they are soft (6 minutes) or hard boiled (10 minutes) or somewhere in between . When done, plunge them in cold water for a minute and peel. Toss the tomato, potato, lettuce, beans and tuna lightly in the remaining dressing and either serve in a large bowl or as individual portions. Finish the top of the salad with the quartered eggs and sprinkle with olives and capers. Add more anchovies if you like.

Hugh's Famous Tomato Salad

It is not really "famous".  We just like to call it that.  I am not sure why!  Just make sure the tomatoes are fabulous.

4 large Coeur de Boeuf or beefsteak tomatoes, thickly sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Splash red
 wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful fresh
basil leaves
Handful of baby capers
Anchovy fillets cut in half lengthways.

Arrange the tomato slices in a circle on a serving platter. Scatter the spring onions over the top. Place the garlic, mustard and vinegar into a bowl and whisk well to combine. Whisk in the oil to emulsify the dressing. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Decorate with anchovies and scatter over the capers and basil leaves.

1 comment:

  1. Shame you have had such a bad experience with French restaurants. It's very rare when I am disappointed when eating out in France but then I'm married to a Frenchman so perhaps a bit of local knowledge helps.
    The markets are quite something. I could spend so much time taking in the sights, sounds and the lovely aroma of the produce available. Even the smallest village have fantastic markets and don't get me started on the cheese selection....


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