Chicken liver and raspberry mousse

Parfait de mousse de foie de volaille aux framboises does sound nicer, doesn’t it? In fact, and yes I’m showing my linguistic prejudices here, all menus sound better in French than English.

Crème anglaise or custard with that, madam? Vichyssoise or cold leek and potato soup?

It’s an easy choice.

This chicken liver and raspberry mousse is pretty easy; a little cooking, some assembly required, there you go.

Start with your chicken livers; no need to do much to them, just put them into a frying pan and heat them through in a little melted butter. I did this with 600 grammes of livers.

Next, the slightly difficult part: mix them up them force them through a sieve. Yes, against their will if necessary.

I cook them in a saucepan so I can mix them up with a hand blender and then sieve them; if you wish, you could use a frying pan and then a blender, which I never use. Blenders are something else to go wrong, less versatile than a hand blender and much harder to clean to boot. But it’s your choice.

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It takes a while to do this and it it pretty messy. There are other ways to do this, but this is the easiest overall. Traditionally when cooking chicken livers you trim them by cutting out the veins and cells and crunchy bits before frying them off, and if you’re putting them in a salad then that is what you should do.

However, to get the perfect parfait you do need to ensure no nasty bits are left in them, so you sieve them anyway. So cut out the first bit and do this anyway = 10 minutes of your life back, you’re welcome.

I put my sieve on top of a close-fitting stainless steel bowl and force the livers through using a wooden spatula. It works well, but you could use plastic or silicone scrapers if you prefer. The object it to get all the meat through and leave behind the stringy bits.

In the bowl I’ve already put two 250g packs of butter, on salted one unsalted. The mousse will start to melt the butter, making it easier to mix them up. Once you’ve finished sieving the livers, add in 500g of raspberries and 100ml of raspberry vinegar. Then you mix it all together to a smooth paste.

You can do this with a wooden spoon or even your hands, and your resulting parfait will be denser; I use a hand mixer and it makes the mixture quite airy and light.

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Scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spoon a couple of times to ensure it mixes well, then put it into individual ramekins, large ramekins, whatever you want depending on how you want to portion this up.

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Then cook it in a bain marie for 30-60 minutes at 150°C – until the temperature inside gets over about 75°C. For the bain marie I use a regular oven dish into which I pour a kettle of boiling water. Bains marie ensure that whatever your cooking’s bottom doesn’t get over 100°C, so it doesn’t cook to quickly or too much and dry out.

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Allow the resulting parfait to cool down after cooking before refrigerating; I keep it for 3 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer.

Spread on toasted sourdough, it’s delicious.

 

What the kitchen thinks about you

Cooks are, by and large, not People Persons. Waiters, sure, they like people well enough to be able to look them in the eye, smile and not laugh when you ask stupid questions.

Cooks, mostly, can’t do that. They want to shoulder-barge you out of the way so they can get to peeling the potatoes or gutting the fish or dressing their plate. What they want is to make you some nice food, for you to enjoy it, and then for you to go home.

What they don’t want is for you to tell them how they should have written the menu. That you’d like the beef but with the sauce from the lamb. And the vegetables you think should be served with the fish. And on the side, please. Put the sauce on the side. In a pretty little pot. So I can dip my fries in it. Because now that you think about it you’d prefer fries to mashed potato. Even though there are no fries anywhere on the menu.

Can you not read? Was it not clear on the menu? You won’t like the rosemary jus with the beef, and the steamed spinach isn’t suitable for the beef or the lamb. And we don’t have a deep-fat frier.

And then you ordered your beef rare but send it back because it’s not cooked enough. 

Cooks want you to arrive at the beginning of service. Come at 7, if that’s when the restaurant opens. 8 at the latest. 9 if you must, but order quickly. If it says that last orders are at 9:30 pm, don’t turn up at 9.29 and expect the kitchen to love you for your custom. Expect them to grunt and moan and whinge about your lack of consideration.

And if you do turn up one minute before the end of service, don’t hum and haw over your order and not be able to decide. And don’t, whatever you do, order the tasting menu if you arrive so late.

Of course, most people won’t know about any of this wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes on in the kitchen; that’s why restaurants employ waiters. But certainly in restaurants where staff work limited hours for very low wages – see my earlier article on this topic – if you stop the kitchen getting out by, say, 10pm when their wages finish, they won’t be happy with you.

What you won’t get is the mythical spitting-in-your-food treatment; I have never, ever witnessed this in all my years cooking. And you won’t get lower quality food than someone who treated the kitchen with respect – cooks live to serve good food, period.

But there will be a few people more in the world who don’t like you very much.

The example I always quote is from Christmas, 2009. The restaurant where I was working was closing on Christmas Eve after the lunch service for three days. Chef had already left to go on his Christmas vacation, so there was just me and the dishwasher to do the lunch service. Which, as we’d told the owner repeatedly, would not be worth doing; most French people do NOT go out to eat lunch on Christmas Eve.

So we hadn’t stocked the kitchen with anything fresh, the ‘Menu du jour’ was what was left in the fridges together with anything interesting we could find in the freezers. The salad of the day was bamboo shoots from a can, mostly. We did three covers, clients leaving the hotel (which was also closing for three days) as soon as we opened at midday.

Then we did nothing; we cleaned the kitchen, changed the oil in the fryer, cleaned again and stood around, the two of us moaning about how stupid it was to open on Christmas Eve.

Until 1.27pm, when I saw two cars pull into the car park behind the hotel and eight – eight! – people get out and walk towards the restaurant. I called the Maitre d’hotel and warned him that we didn’t have any food, certainly not enough for eight people and, anyway, it was closing time.

Unfortunately the restaurant owner caught the arrivals at the door, welcomed them and seated them and gave them the à la carte menu, from which they ordered liberally. Foie gras, pigeon, bull steaks, fish. Starters, puddings, wines, everything. I listened to the order in dismay as the owner read it out and told him, flat out, that we didn’t have two thirds of the dishes he’d allowed the clients to order and that, in any case, it was now 1.45 pm.

But he insisted we serve them, that we defrost everything necessary and serve the group who, it turned out, were old friends of his from his previous workplace whom he’d invited over for lunch.

‘Invited’ in French means that you don’t pay. So we ended up working one and a half hours unpaid overtime on Christmas Eve to serve a group who weren’t even paying for their meal.

And yes, I hated them but yes, I did cook perfect meals for them. Complaining all the time.

Cooks like to complain.

Quick tip: To cover or not to cover a saucepan?

I got into a conversation the other day about warming plates. Nowadays it’s automatic and I always do it. Before I cooked professionally, it was pretty rare – special occasions only, and then only if I remembered.

Something else that mystified me was: When should you put a lid on saucepans? When boiling potatoes? When making soup? When browning onions for soup? When making stew? And if so, why? Or why not?

In fact, all it takes is a little common sense, like so much in cooking. If you’re heating things up to cook them – boiling potatoes, making soup – then put the lid on. It reduces the cooking time and reduces the energy you need. If you’re trying to colour something, or reduce it down – caramelising onions for soup, or thickening a sauce – then leave the lid off to let the steam out. If you keep the lid on then, duh, it won’t reduce.

Why small restaurants may not open every day

A while ago, someone complained about restaurants around where I live – rural France – not being open on Monday evenings. So I had a rant, as follows:

OK, I have an interest in this topic, a very personal one.

There are two points to be made here with regard to restaurants.

1. It is not economically feasible to open a restaurant around here 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. There aren’t enough customers. Jamie Oliver could open a restaurant on the top of Ben Nevis and people would still queue out of the door for middling Italian food.

2. The ‘Midi’ outlook on life is this: The winner isn’t the person who dies with the most money – the winner is the one who’s had the most fun on the way.

So, 1: It costs, roughly, €2 000 a month to employ a minimum-wage cook or waiter in a restaurant, working 39 hours. A service lasts, at a minimum, 5 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening, i.e. 9 hours a day minus two half-hour breaks, for an 8 hour day which starts at 9 am and finishes at 10 pm with an afternoon 4 hour break. If you want to have that person work longer hours, it costs 1.25 – 1.5 times as much per hour for overtime, and they can’t work more than 48 hours normally anyway in a week. Restaurant owners juggle their staff to try to employ them, without overtime, for the most profitable services during the week. As very few French people want to eat out on Sunday evenings and at all on Mondays, they often close then since these services will attract the least customers. Some open Monday lunchtimes if in town centres but not all, so staff sometimes manage to get 1.5 continuous days off with another half day to be taken at some other point in the week. If a restaurant were to open on a Monday evening with a single cook and a single waiter, they would need to take, roughly, €275 just to break even. Say, 10 covers eating the €20 menu with half a bottle of wine per person. Perhaps not difficult in the centre of Nimes or Montpellier but not easy where many English people live, i.e. the middle of bloody nowhere. But this assumes that the restaurant can manage to exist with just one cook and one waiter, who can each do 10 services a week. How about the other, more profitable services in the week? Someone has to work those services too. And it also assumes that no one ever needs to have a holiday, since the restaurant is open 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. So in fact you need at least two waiters and two cooks to stay open all the time, i.e. €8 000 a month in staff wages which, using the third/third/third overheads/ingredients/staff standard restaurant calculation means you need to earn €24 000 a month just to break even. The last restaurant I worked in was in a 75-bedroom hotel where the owner was happy if the restaurant simply broke even, since it attracted people to come and stay in the much more profitable rooms. There were only three of us in the kitchen there doing up to 130 covers per service – and, if it was a service when someone was on a day off or sick, well, too bad you did it à deux including the washing up. How do restaurants manage to sell you a three-course meal for €12 or €14 as that restaurant where I worked did? By having three cooks in the kitchen who love their profession so much they’re happy to work for less than minimum wage, effectively, by doing several hours unpaid overtime just so people don’t have to reach into their pockets for an extra few euros. There is a knock-on effect to all this; if you work all year on minimum wage, you get a bonus at tax time from the Government equal to about a month’s wages. You also get about €240 a month housing benefit. Roughly another 4 months’ wages per year from the taxpayers who don’t want to pay more for their meals, thanks very much. That money has been very useful for those odd occasions when I’ve needed to feed my children.

2. What’s the point in earning all the money you can possibly get if you never enjoy it? I used to be like that, spent my life flying around the world and never seeing my family, never swimming in the pool in my lovely home in the South of France which I could only pay for by flying around the world working. I know several restaurateurs who work out how much money they need to earn to live on throughout the year and, when they’ve earned it, simply close for the winter. The add-on cost of staying open through the winter, especially on Monday evenings, is ridiculous. Even more expensive than the summer, in fact, since you need to heat your restaurant in winter. And local people don’t have the habit of eating out in winter/on Mondays because the restaurants aren’t open because people don’t eat out….it’s a vicious circle all right.

I do feel strongly about this, as may be obvious. It’s not reasonable to expect small countryside restaurants to be open all day, every day. Do the math yourselves the next time you’re eating a slap-up feed for €14 and then leave a good tip when you’ve finished – and send your thanks back to the kitchen too.

Quick tip: When you need three hands

When you’re making mayonnaise, or stirring crème anglaise, or holding a baby on your hip while working in the kitchen, you may wish you had an extra hand or two.

I learned this trick while trying to make mayonnaise in one of my first restaurant kitchens; the example you see here is me making crème patissière at home. The problem with both these recipes is that you need one hand to do the whisking, a second hand to pour the oil (for mayonnaise) or hot milk (for set custards) and a third one to hold the bowl into which you’re pouring stuff still.

So. Take a heavy saucepan and set it on a teatowel on your work surface. Line it with another teatowel. Jam the mixing bowl into the teatowel-lined saucepan so it stays put.

Now, you can pour with one hand and whisk with the other without the bowl moving around.

Quick tip: Freeze stock in ice cube bags

I used to use regular ice cube trays to freeze stock, but it gets complicated in summer in particular when you want to make regular, water ice cubes and accidentally slip some beef stock into your rosé.

So now I use ice cube bags. It makes it very simple to use one or a few cubes at a time to add into a cup-a-soup, a sauce or whatever. Here I’m using a dozen chicken stock cubes or so to give some more flavour to the scrapings from the roast chicken tray on Sunday.

And yeah, I know I’m not the first person to recommend this but I still think it’s worthwhile.

Very easy posh meal for two

This is a timing plan for a meal for two (or more, adjust quantities as necessary). It was designed originally for a – male – friend who doesn’t normally cook, but who wanted to prepare something ‘impressive’ for his spouse.
So, start yesterday with:
Apple collars
Use medium-sized tasty apples, Granny Smiths are the only ones I can get here. Core them with an apple corer (lemme know when I’m getting too technical) and then slice thinly with a mandoline (the kitchen kind, not the play-when-drunk kind). If you don’t have a mandoline you could try a sharp knife but you may fail to get the slices thin enough – you want them to be about 1 milimetre thick. Make a sugar syrup by dissolving 600g sugar in 500ml of water, warm it over a low heat until the sugar is all dissolved. When it’s cool, slip the apple slices in (they can break so for two people I’d do about 10 – they’re delicious anyway) and let them soak for a few hours. Then cook them for two or three hours in an oven at 80 C, turning once. Best to cook them on a silicone cooking mat, a Silpat, or greaseproof/silicone paper if you don’t have that. They should be crystalised when you take them out but not browned. If you’re doing this for lunch tomorrow, start today.

OK, time planner for soup/chicken/pears.

Assuming you want to eat at 1pm, adjust for other dining times.

1100: Choose pears that are still firm, one per person. Peal pears really carefully, leaving the stalks. Cut a slice off the bottom so they’ll stand up straight. Put into a saucepan, cover with red wine, add four tablespoons of sugar, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon, two cloves, heat gently. You don’t want this to boil, you want the pears to poach gently so don’t have the heat too high. When it’s steaming/simmering, taste the mulled wine and correct the sugar/spice mix if you don’t like it. If it’s too sweet, add more wine. How long it takes depends on how ripe the pears are. You can cook them for too long and they’ll disintegrate, then you have pear and mulled wine soup which you strain and serve like you meant it to happen. In all, they’ll be done in an half an hour to an hour. Poke a sharp knife into them to see if they’re done – when it slides in easily, they’re done. Remove the pears at this point and keep them on one side and allow the wine to go on simmering until it’s reduced at least by half. You can reduce it more if you like, but don’t go too far or it’ll turn to toffee. When it’s reduced enough for you – keep tasting it – turn off the heat and allow it to cool on its own. You’re going to warm it up just before serving so just leave it in the saucepan.

1115: When the pears are simmering, cut the tops off the carrots so you don’t see any more green centre, cut off the very tips, then scrub them thoroughly under running cold water with a nail/vegetable brush. Cut into equal-sized pieces about 2 cms long/wide and put them into a saucepan of cold water. You’ll need about 250g per person. Use just enough water so all the carrot is covered. Add salt, a four-fingered pinch per litre of water. When the salt is dissolved, taste it – it should taste as salty as the sea.

1130 Cover the carrot pan, bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer gently. 15 – 20 minutes. Peel potatoes, cut into equal-sized pieces, leave in pan of water.

1145: Prepare green veg if you’re using fresh, or use frozen and have a beer instead of preparing green veg. When you can stick a knife into carrots, remove from heat and liquidise with stick blender or liquidiser, cuisinart, whatever. Cover pan, leave on one side.

1200: Prepare chicken. Use chicken breasts. You want them to be of equal thickness all the way around so they cook evenly, so put into a plastic bag and gently pound the thick end with a meat mallet or your empty beer bottle. If you’re using rabbit there’s no pounding to be done.

1215: Put potatoes on to boil. Add salt as above. Peel thumb-sized piece of ginger for two people.

1230: Put butter to melt in e.g. bowl in microwave. Use 25% weight of spuds. Put frying pan on heat to warm up, then add olive cooking oil, then salt chicken/rabbit lightly, then put in frying pan. Give it five minutes on one side without touching it, then turn. When done remove chicken, keep warm. If rabbit, leave long enough to brown outside all over then put in oven for 15 minutes. Don’t clean the frying pan.

1245: Drain spuds, leave in colander on top of saucepan while you drain green veg. Put veg in serving dish, cover in warm place. Spoon mustard into chicken frying pan after pouring off oil, stir well with wooden scraper to get bits up, when bubbling pour on cream, stir well. When bubbling, turn off heat.

1250: Put carrot soup on heat to warm, add one third volume cream reserving a little, grate ginger directly into soup. Mash potatoes, then pour in melted butter, mix well with masher or whisk. Cover, keep warm. Warm serving plates.

1300: Put green veg on to cook, serve soup. Pour swirl of remaining cream onto soup, add sprig of herb e.g. parsley if that floats your boat.

1315-ish: Turn up heat on mustard sauce to make bubble, stir well. Plate chicken chevauché (one bit leaning on another), pour on sauce leaving half meat exposed, add potatoes and veg to plates, herb if need be.

1345-ish: Warm sauce for pears, put pears in dish, cover with sauce, add apple collars if you did them, serve.
Ingredients for two:

500g carrots

Salt

250ml thick cream

Two chicken breasts/two rabbit thighs

Mustard

250ml cream

500g potatoes

125g butter

Green veg to taste

2 pears

Bottle red wine

Sugar

Cinnamon

Cloves

1 apple

Quick tip: Cooking pizza

Whether you’re making your own pizzas or heating up bought-in ones, the secret to a great tasting pizza base is temperature – the higher, the better.

So ignore any instructions on the packet and turn your oven up to its maximum temperature – 275-300°C, usually. Then cook your pizza keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Bonus tip: Buy a Pizza Stone and keep it on one of your oven shelves permanently. Cooking pizza on it will definitely improve the flavour. They’re fairly cheap – I picked one up from Amazon for about €30.

Quick tip: Frying

So if you follow any sort of online cookery page, you’ll see people recommending how to heat up a frying pan and add oil – which to do first and why. This is the definitive answer: heat up your pan to the approved temperature for a few minutes, then add the oil/butter/fat, then immediately add the ingredients you want to cook.

Why? If you add the oil at the start it will heat up at the same time as the pan and burn before the pan itself is up to the correct temperature all over. The bottom of the frying pan will heat up quickly, with the sides taking a while to heat up. You want the whole pan up to temperature to ensure even cooking of your ingredients. If part of it is still cool, it won’t sear your ingredients in the approved way. Instead, being cool, it will allow the water in the ingredients to boil and steam in place, cooking your ingredients at 100°C instead of 200°C+. They won’t look pretty, there will be no Maillard Reactions, and it won’t taste as good.