Chapter 27: Week 25: A little cheffy common sense

French bureaucracy is complicated for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it’s charged with keeping French bureaucracy going. In the UK, 11% of the workforce works for the government in one capacity or another – policemen, nurses, bureaucrats, whatever. In France, the percentage is 24%. Twenty-four percent! A quarter of the workforce which does nothing productive at all, just spends its days providing fodder for the nation’s stand-up comedians and moaners. Blimey.
So today at school we spend an hour learning about the French judicial system which, according to the bureaucrats who organise the French educational system, I need to know about before I’m safe to unleash on the omelette-and-chips buying French public.
Like much of the civilised world, French government is divided into Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches (are you asleep yet? Try reading this in a hot, stuffy, sunlit classroom after getting up at 6 am, working in a hot kitchen all morning and then stuffing yourself with stodge at lunchtime) and the separations thereof  “As detailed in the 5th French Constitution of 1958, the fundamental text of the Republic, of the state of law and democracy,” I noted before nodding off. And then I woke up and drew a huge diagram of the French judicial system, the eight tribunals and all the rest of it. Blimey. No really, blimey.
Anyway. Luckily this morning was much more interesting. The cookery we learn at school is very traditional; the recipes largely date back to Escoffier and the early 20th century, some beyond that to Careme or earlier. It’s the basis of French cuisine from which everything since has sprung – this is how Escoffier made a fond de veau, veal stock, no one has found a better method so this is how we do it now is what we are told at school. The French are, quite rightly in my view, very proud that their cuisine is the foundation of most cookery in the Western world and, naturally, insist that theirs is the best version of it available.
In a way it’s reassuring; these methods have been tried and tested by generations of chefs over more than a hundred years so they work and work well; equally it’s discomfiting to realise that, if your recipe doesn’t work it really is your own fault and it’s really you who’s done something wrong.
I am most discomfited by things which are supposed to rise and foam, everything from whipped cream to bread. So today I have the cold sweats as we approach the pâte à brioche which we are going to use to make a favourite snack dish of many French people, the saucisson brioché, sausage in a (brioche) bun, i.e. posh sausage rolls.
Frankly I’d much rather make the saucisson, a process that interests me much more than baking simply because I know I can do it. I’ve already written about how Pascal, the nice chap with whom I share a workstation at school, whips my cream for me while I cut his potatoes into pretty shapes. My inability to make things rise extends to bread too I’m sure, since every time I’ve tried making it myself at home – either manually or in a bread machine – I’ve managed to produce only doorstop-quality lumps of flour and water so unleavened the ancient Israelites would be proud of me. Although if one of my loaves fell on them out of the sky they’d end up with concussion rather than a decent feed. I have no idea why I can’t make bread or decently-risen cakes; I have warm hands, I have acid sweat, I am stupid – all are possibilities and, indeed, true in at least two of the three cases. The fact remains that, in the rising stakes, I’m a non-starter.
So brioche, Chef Garnier assures us, is easy. Anyone can make it. It’s almost as easy as profiteroles, he says. My profiteroles always end up as flat as my Yorkshire puddings, I tell him, and have no reason to think that my brioche will be any different.
We’ll see, he says.
The lesson starts with a discussion of flour types; today we’re using what is known in France as Type 45 or Farine de Patissier, since it is very rich in gluten, the protein which gives it the strength to stay up once it’s risen. “This is very white flour,” he tells us. “Even whiter than English skin.” Har har, who would he tease without an English guy in the class? Anyway, the higher the number the less gluten the flour has, Chef tells us. Right.
So we sieve the flour and form it into two adjacent rings, one large and one small. These are fontaines, which literally means fountains but translates better as wells, to receive, in the large one, the majority of the liquid and eggs; the smaller one takes the yeast dissolved in a little of the warmed milk; the large well takes the sugar and, importantly, the salt. Mix the salt and yeast and the former kills the latter and your dough will not rise. Hmm. Perhaps salt from my sweaty hands is killing the yeast? But then why am I equally incapable of making cakes rise when using levure chimique, baking powder?
Anyway. We mix up the two wells separately for a couple of minutes, adding the salt, sugar and eggs to the large well before mixing the two fontaines together. The mixture, we are warned, must be neither too dry nor too humid; it must have body, Chef says, and you give it body by battering it against the steel worktop, throwing it down and lifting it up like some sort of alien blob, thumping it down to Give It Body. It’s done when it no longer sticks to the counter, apparently, but the fault in the process here is that, until it no longer sticks to the counter, it sticks to the counter. And your hands, clothes, hair, face and anything else it touches. So much for Escoffier’s great recipes.
But eventually I wear my dough out enough so that it gives up (most) of its hold on me, my clothes and the worktop and I add little parcels of softened butter (beurre en pomade en petits parcelles) before leaving it to rise for half an hour at 30-35 degrees. At which point we ‘chase out the carbonic gas’, as Chef translates it (badly) for me before allowing it to rise again.
Roll it out, wrap it round your sausage (Ooh Missus!), paint it with egg yolk and into the oven for 45 minutes or so until it looks just like the ones they sell in the shops. Well, a misshapen version of one they sell in the shops, one which only my mother could love and even she would be caught feeding it surreptitiously to the dog under the table when she thought I wasn’t watching.
Still. Chef deems them all Good Enough to let us out to lunch and we trek off to the school canteen to eat, well, saucisson brioché. What a coincidence. I am careful to choose a slice from one not made by me and quite tasty it is too, if you ignore most of the pastry and eat the bought-in saucisson inside.
And avoiding the stodge is a good idea, it turns out, since there’s that aforementioned class on the French legal system immediately after lunch.
We eventually escape with our lives after a nice nap to spend the afternoon making ‘Chou de ménage’, household cabbage. What?
Household cabbage, it turns out, is a cabbage cut into quarters and then used by Chef as an example of ‘Braiser par expansion’, braising by expansion whereby the delicious taste of the cabbage expands out into its cooking medium (can you spot the fatal flaw in this argument, children? Can you?)
Anyway. Trim your cabbage, cut it into four equal quarters, rinse it in vinegared water to kill the beasties, blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, refresh in iced water, drain, cut off the root which you’d left to hold the whole thing together while it cooked (oops), fry off your Garniture Aromatique (onions and carrots cut into a nice macedoine), add the cabbage wrapped with bacon or couenne (the membrane which surrounds a pig’s stomach – very useful for holding together things which would otherwise float off and do their own thing – pop it into your casserole dish and cook it in the oven at 200 degrees Centigrade for an hour and a quarter. Blimey. All this for braised cabbage? Ah, but the lessons are about braising and wrapping and making a macedoine with everything the same size. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have learned these lessons on something edible.
Still. We finish off the afternoon with some Pommes Fondants, melting potatoes. The object of which, of course, is not to finish up with melted potatoes. Well, not until they arrive in the client’s mouth that is. We start with large potatoes, 7-8 centimetre jobbies which we cut in two and then turn so that they’re all the same size and with the legally obligatory seven-sided shape and then cook in a buttered dish in the oven, moistening regularly with ‘fond blanc’, white chicken stock (i.e. stock made from unroasted chicken bones – as opposed to fond brun, which is made with roasted bones) so they sit up to their waists in it. Except that, at the end of the cooking time (an hour or so) the liquid should all be just evaporated and your spuds barely coloured. So get that one right or turn your pommes fondants into pommes on fire.

Trilogies.

When I started working with Jean-Remy Joly at La Table des Agassins just outside Avignon, one of the first dishes I learned to make was this, the Trilogy.

It’s layers of confited (dried or preserved) tomato, goat cheese and aubergine caviar, an assemblage of Provençal ingredients he put together when he first arrived in the region in 2000 as a tribute to the local gastronomy.

It’s been on his ever-changing menu continually since then.

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to make them at the start; I had to work my way up through the plonge, the dishwashing room and do my CAP cuisine qualification before he allowed me to do anything more than remove the stalks from the tomatoes, but it was a worthwhile education.

Although the Trilogy appears very simple, it takes time to make and illustrates the biggest lesson you have to learn when you start cooking for others than just your immediate family: Planning. You can’t decide to eat this dish half an hour before you sit down at the table; you can’t even decide to eat it tonight if you’re thinking about your menu any later than first thing in the morning, since it takes some time to prepare.

The longest preparation is for the tomatoes which need to be peeled, de-seeded and slow-roasted. In French this is called ‘Monder les tomates’ which means literally blanching them. You need to remove the skins to allow them to dry properly and not be too tough when they’re eaten; leave the skins on and they’re pretty chewy.

To do this you need a saucepan of simmering hot water and a second of iced water. Start by removing the stalk and then cutting out the part of the tomato to which the stalk attaches. Do this by holding the pointy end of a small vegetable knife between your thumb and index finger and, with the tip of your thumb on the hard, green bit of the tomato push the point about half to one centimetre into the fruit. Use the tip of your thumb as the axis and cut a cone shape out of the tomato to remove the hard bit.

Dip each tomato into the simmering water for 10-15 seconds – until you see the skin starting to peel – and immediately transfer them to the iced water. Do this with kitchen tongs, not your fingers. Then peel off the skin – I find it easiest with a vegetable knife, sliding the point under a loose bit of skin and pulling it off.

Cut the tomato in half horizontally and pull out the seeds. Keep them and the fleshy bits around them to make a tomato sauce later, they’re very tasty. Lightly salt both sides of the tomato and add some dried Provencal herbs if you wish. Leave them open side down on a rack to drain liquid for an hour or two in the fridge before transferring them to a baking sheet (I line them with baking parchment or silicone sheets) and putting them into an oven at 80°C for three or four hours. Yes, as long as that. They will shrink but keep an eye on them after the 2.5 hour mark to make sure they don’t colour too much.

While they’re drying you can make the aubergine caviar; cut off the stalk end and then cut your aubergine in half lengthways. Cross-hatch the flesh with the point of your knife quite deeply then sprinkle with salt and Provençal herbs, then add a good dose of olive oil. Note, when you’re cooking there’s no point in using the good stuff – heat denatures most oils and removes the taste to a large extent, so use some cheap stuff for cooking. Keep your sippin’ olive oil to pour lightly over food just before serving.

Roast the cut aubergines in an oven pan with the tomatoes or if you need to do them separately, for an hour at 180°C. Pour boiling water into the oven pan so they don’t dry out – a few centimetres is enough, about halfway up the sides of the aubergines.

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Roasted aubergines

When they’re cooked, scrape the flesh off the skin and squish it up between your fingers so there are no big bits. You’re looking for a fairly rustic effect here. The original recipe calls for sheets of gelatine to be added at this stage to firm up the caviar, but I prefer not to use it. Your choice – if you prefer firm aubergine caviar you should use two sheets per kilo of flesh.

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Aubergine caviar

Take the tomatoes out of the oven when they’re dried enough.

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Roasted tomatoes

The last ingredient to mix is the goat cheese. Buy the youngest, freshest pelardons you can find, the fresher the better – I buy them on the local market at just 4 days old when they’re just starting to firm up and have a delicious, goaty flavour. (They’re delicious spread like butter with Vegemite on toast, too).

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Goat cheese seen here with a couple of stray tomatoes.

Mash them up with a fork, a light sprinkle of salt and Provençal herbs and some of your sippin’ quality olive oil – just enough to bring the mixture together, you don’t want this to be liquid.

Now comes the assembly. Put a small dribble of olive oil into the base of a silicone cupcake mold, then a tomato half. You will have two types of tomato halves, of course, one with a hole in the middle and one without. Serve your guests the pretty ones, obviously.

After the tomato comes a dessert spoon of goat cheese mix, then another of aubergine caviar.

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The assembled Trilogies

Pop them into the fridge for at least an hour to allow them to ‘set’ a little before serving.

While they’re in the fridge, make some basil sauce to serve them with. Strip the leaves from a whole basil plant and put them into a pot.

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Picking basil leaves

Add in a small pinch of salt and a few glugs of good olive oil. Then, using a stick blender, mash them up into a pouring consistency liquid.

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Making the basil sauce

Keep adding olive oil until you have the consistency required. A large basil plant will need something like 250-350mls of oil.

To serve, place your Trilogy tomato side up on a plate (a soup spoon is a good utensil for persuading them out of the mold) and dribble over a dessert spoon or two of your basil sauce.

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Serving suggestion

These were so popular in the restaurant in Avignon that some customers would have them as a starter and dessert.

Bon appetit!

Lunch

Father’s Day today, so I get to have a day off from cooking and washing up.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

No seriously I enjoy food too much to leave my wife alone in the kitchen, so I’m cooking today.

On the menu: duck breast with mushroom sauce, roast potatoes and asparagus with parmesan.

The planning: The duck takes about 10 minutes to cook and 10 minutes to prepare; the asparagus 5 minutes to cook and prepare; the potatoes about 15 minutes to cook and 5 to prepare. And the mushroom sauce takes….well, as long as you can give it, really. The longer you can cook the sauce, the better it will be.

The real art of being a good restaurant cook is getting every part of the client’s meal onto a plate and onto their table at the same time. It’s no good serving them the steak and sauce and then arriving five minutes later with the fries. This is what I spent a fair amount of time learning about when I became a professional cook – timing.

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Basic timing sheet for one dish

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Timing sheet when you have to make multiple dishes

The first timing sheet is the sort of thing you’d get a commis to use when they’re learning how to cook one dish; the second is the type of sheet you’d be expected to use during a whole-day exam to show your timings in 30-minute slices throughout the day of the exam. This one’s just for patisserie – I did a general cookery course, not this specialised one.

The procedure is fairly simple – at the bottom you’re shouting ‘Service!’ and the monkeys waiters turn up and carry the prepared plates out to the hungry customers. You work backwards from there for each dish – remembering to have separate serving times for your starter, main and dessert courses. You spread your time out, in this case including your compulsory breaks, back to now to see what you have to do first.

The principles are simple – if I need the duck out of the door at 1pm it need to have spent two minutes being cut up, and have rested for five minutes before that, and have been roasted for five minutes before that, and been browned for five minutes before that, and been prepared during 10 minutes before that so I need to have started working on it, at the latest, at 12:33. Assuming I have nothing else to do.

So in the case of the simple duck with mushroom sauce and roast potatoes, the thing which needs to start first is the mushrooms – the longer you cook them the better, so you start chopping them. Next I’d do the potatoes which simply need to be steamed at this point – later on they’re cut up into quarters lengthways and fried off in duck fat and, since the duck fat comes from cooking the duck, you need to cook the duck before you can fry the potatoes. Simples.

Whilst the mushrooms are frying in a little olive oil and salt (the goal is to remove liquid from the mushrooms at this point, with the aim of concentrating their taste) I trim the duck breasts. IMG_3839

This is what the duck breasts look like when they come out of their sous vide packaging. Note that in France these magrets de canard (nothing to do with maigret) come from ducks raised for foie gras and so may be larger than the duck breasts available in other countries where gavage is frowned upon.

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Fish bone (and duck feather) tweezers. Yes, OK this does count as kitchen equipment porn. Other more famous and expensive brands like Global and Wusthof are available. You can spend a fortune on this stuff without even trying.

You may find that there are a few stubs of feathers sticking into the skin side – if so use a pair of fish tweezers to remove them.

They’re heavy-duty tweezers with a curved end, ideal for poking into fish and other types of flesh for pulling out reluctant bones and feather roots.

Once you’ve finished de-feathering, turn over your duck breast and remove the traces of fat and, in particular, two areas of what in France are called ‘nerves’ but which are really veins and/or ligaments or some such anatomical things. You should remove them as carefully as possible, since if you leave them in they’ll feel like gristle in the eater’s mouth.

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Trim around the edges to make the fat level with the meat and chunk up the fat into a fairly small brunoise-size dice. Cross-hatch the fat so that it dissolves more easily and looks prettier when you cook it. You should have an odd number of cuts down through the fat just to the flesh – everything is done in odd numbers in kitchens because it’s more pleasing to the eye.IMG_3867

Place the duck breasts fat side down in a very hot pan and sear them until they’re nicely browned just on the fat side. Don’t brown the meat side at all. You can see a slight incision in the lower side of the nearer duck breast – this is where I cut out the nerve/vein/whatever so my diners don’t have a mouthful of gristle.

IMG_3873Here you can see the fat is nicely browned and quite decorative; the meat side isn’t coloured at all. When cooking time arrives they’ll go (fat side up) into a 180ºC oven for 4 minutes saignant/rare, 6 minutes à point/medium. Any more cooked than that and you’ll be in trouble with the taste police, proceed at your own risk.

While the pan is still hot, throw in the bits of duck skin you cut into cubes (not the trimmings from the meat side – they’re basically inedible even to French people).IMG_3875

They will colour quite quickly and you need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t shrivel up to nothing. But basically when they look cooked, take them out, put onto a serving tray, sprinkle with salt and try to resist the temptation to eat them all before dinner.

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Now you have the duck prepared the mushrooms should be nicely fried off – keep an eye on them while you’re preparing the duck so they don’t stick to the pan. Now it’s time to déglace/deglaze the mushrooms with the alcohol of your choice. 

IMG_3845I like to use Noilly Prat vermouth or, sometimes, Muscat wine. The latter is sweet and goes well with chicken and lamb sauces. The vermouth gives a nice grown-up taste a depth to your sauce. Déglacer/deglazing means using alcohol to scrape up the caramelized bits of whatever you’re cooking that have stuck to the bottom of the pan; you add enough to cover the bottom of your pan and scrape with a wooden spatula, and then leave this to reduce until the alcohol has almost disappeared. You can add a second round of alcohol if you like or, if not, some stock.

I mostly use chicken stock because it is easy to make and, since we eat a lot of rotisserie chicken, I always have lots of chicken stock on hand. The secret – one of the secrets – to making a good sauce is not to add all  your liquid at once. So if you’re adding, say, a litre of chicken stock to your sauce then you add it a little at a time in four or five batches. Just enough to cover the main ingredient of the sauce, the mushrooms in this case, then reduce it down until it’s almost all disappeared then add some more. It doesn’t take any longer than reducing down the entire litre added at once but gives more flavour – the mushrooms or whatever aren’t simply boiled in the stock liquid.

When your sauce is reduced to a decent consistency you can simply take it off the heat, ready to re-heat just before service.

Your potatoes should have cooked by now, so when they’re cooled enough to handle cut into quarters.IMG_3885

 

Keep them somewhere safe where they can dry a little – on the chopping board is fine. The dryness and rough bits will become nice and crunchy. 

Last thing to prepare is the asparagus. 

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Preparing asparagus is quite simple; hold it in both hands and snap it in the middle. It has a natural break point – the lower, root end is harder and will break off easily. This is the part that’s harder to eat but which is fine used in a stock, for example, so I keep and freeze these broken off bits to use in the future.

The spears I line up on a baking tray and grate parmesan across them, then grill them under a very hot heat for two or three minutes. This works well with very fine spears of asparagus, if you like the thick ones or white asparagus you’ll need to go a more traditional steaming/boiling route.

So by now you should have everything ready and five or ten minutes away from being served.

Make sure the kids/butler have set the table then put the duck into the pre-heated 180ºC oven, put the potatoes into the pre-heated (maximum heat please) duck fat in the frying pan and the asparagus under the grill. In this order, too.

After four/five/six minutes, take the duck out of the oven and set it to one side to rest for five minutes (meat should rest for as long as it cooks, generally speaking). Put the mushroom sauce on to heat and add in some cream if you like – I usually add a 200ml briquette of single cream. This should just heat up – if it boils it may curdle.

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When the parmesan has melted and is browned, take the asparagus out of the oven. Keep turning the potatoes until they’re browned on all sides.


Put the potatoes on a serving dish and them and the asparagus go onto the dining table. Cut up the duck – diagonal slices down from the top looks nice – and arrange it on a serving dish, pouring all juices into the mushroom sauce. Send out the duck, put the sauce into a sauce boat and send it out. Have a drink. Sit down at table with your adoring family.

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Transforming

 

I was slicing some gravlax one mid-summers evening in a busy restaurant, when a thought occurred to me.

Now, thoughts can be good and they can be bad when you’re working in a professional restaurant kitchen.

Good thoughts are things like “Ah, the Maitre d’ just called another salmon so I’ll keep slicing this now rather than wrapping it back up and putting it away immediately.”

Bad thoughts are things like “Ooh, Marilyn Monroe…” Distracting thoughts, in other words.

The thought that came to me that evening back in the middle of 2008 was, “Blimey. I can slice salmon. Properly. Like they do in restaurants.”

Well of course I could. By then I’d been working for the best part of five years in gastronomic restaurants and the homes of some of Europe’s wealthiest people. But still, it’s like the day when you realise you’re an adult now and no longer an adolescent – a bit of a shock, really.

I was using my Special Knife, the one proper cooks use to slice things like salmon, but it wasn’t really a knife porn moment. Proper tool for the job, especially as I was slicing through 10 kilos of salmon or more a day.

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A seriously professional knife. I have barely used it since I stopped working in restaurant kitchens.

No, it was just that I had a momentary out of body experience, looking down on a Chef de Partie doing a good job, slicing the salmon thinly but not too thin, nice big pieces, covering the plate well. And it was me doing it.

Blimey. A transformation from keen amateur to cool professional overnight. With just several years of training and experience to get to that overnight transformation.

Blimey.

 

 

Transformation

Smoothly does it…

So WordPress, being the kindly folks who host this place, invite me to write about Smooth….

And as I’m here to answer your questions about cookery (like I used to about computers but now you can eat your mistakes), I’ll answer the one about how to make smooth custard.

Crème anglaise, as it’s known in French, is an emulsion of egg yolks and milk; it’s dairy mayonnaise, if you like. Add in sugar instead of salt and, voilà. Vanilla pod scrapings give it a bit of flavour and added poshness.

OK, right. Egg yolks. So the quickest and easiest way is to crack the egg and allow the white to drain through your fingers. Unless the health inspector’s watching. Keep the whites for the future recipe on making meringues.

Well. Like all simplest things, there’s a lot to go wrong and when making custard it’s too easy to make it lumpy – the heat is too high, the egg yolks attract other bits of egg yolks and the fat content in the milk and there you go, custard like Grandma used to make.

So, do this. Use 10 egg yolks for one litre of milk (full fat, or a mix of full fat and cream is good). Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the milk and then add in the pod itself. Top tip: the flavour’s in the pod, mostly, not the seeds. Bring the milk to the boil while whisking together the egg yolks and the sugar – 100-200 grammes, depending on how sweet your tooth is.

While it’s heating, whisk the yolks and sugar until they reach the ribbon stage – all this means is that when you lift your whisk and waggle it over the surface of the liquid, it leaves a trail for a few seconds. Faire le ruban, they say in French to impress your friends. It won’t take long, a minute or so – less time than the milk takes to boil especially if you forget to cover the pan with a lid.

So, as the milk/cream comes to the boil pour it gently onto the yolks, all the time whisking the yolk mixture. Keep whisking. Then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking it, turning the heat down to about half the maximum possible.

Change the whisk for a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in a figure of 8 to make sure you get into all the corners, and don’t stop.

Keep this up until the liquid will coat the back of your spoon/spatula thickly, and when you drag your finger across it (don’t forget to lick your finger clean) the trace stays clear like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Put the custard into a cool recipient and keep stirring. If your custard hasn’t already gone lumpy, this is when it will choose to do so. In professional kitchens we sometimes did the cooling down giraffein a cold bain Marie or even an ice bath to hurry it along.

So if, despite all this, you get lumps like grandma made, get out your stick whisk mixer,the one you use to make soups smooth inside the saucepan. The giraffe, we call it in French restaurants as it has a long neck. And just mix the hell out of your recalcitrant custard.

If you have an evil and mean chef on your back you can instead choose to force the lumps through a fine sieve. This takes longer. Much longer. It also makes evil, mean chefs cackle a lot.

So, there you go. Smooth.

 

 

 

Miam, as they say in French

The cooking is really simple; all the complicated bit is done by the farmer who raises your rib, the butcher who chooses, ages and cuts it and then you who buy the right one.

 

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Colouring your rib of beef.

Once you’ve done the hard bit, fry off your rib of beef just to colour it – the outside looks lovely, the inside remains essentially raw. This will take about four or five minutes. Top tip: wipe the surface of the meat to get it as dry as possible; if you leave it moist this will produce steam and stop it attaining maximum heat to produce the essential Maillard Reactions. Second tip: salt the surface of the meat with fine (table) salt just before putting it in the pan; if you salt it before it’ll draw moisture out of the meat, and if you don’t salt it it won’t taste as good.

Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat to maximum, since you’ll be paying close attention to it and not letting it burn.

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After colouring, cooking in the oven and resting.

Once the rib is browned, put it into the oven at 180°C for, well, as short a time as you dare really; the one you see here had 7 minutes to come out ‘saignant’, rare. 12 minutes will give you medium. 3 hours and it’s ready for my dad.

It’s very important to rest your meat for as long as you’ve cooked it – so another 7 minutes in this case. It won’t go cold, although you can cover it with some tin foil if it makes you feel happier. Resting allows the juices to return inside the cells – it’s not scooping up the juice that flows out (that you should add to your sauce), it’s making the meat itself juicier inside.

Then slice and serve it.

Traditionally this would be served with oven roasted potatoes (roasted in duck fat, obv.), seasonal vegetables (or just a little salad) and mushroom sauce (recipe later).

Recipe: Fond brun de poulet – brown chicken stock

Ingredients

1 or more chicken carcasses with its giblets, if you have them (keep the liver apart – that’s some good eating right there)

Per chicken carcass you will need:

100g carrots, roughly chopped

100g onion, roughly chopped

200g tomatoes OR 20g concentrated tomato paste

Bouquet garni (herb stalks, bay leaf, leek leaf wrapped together)

1.5 litres water

Method

‘Brown’ because you roast the carcass(es) first. If you don’t roast the carcasses it becomes white chicken stock. That simple.

So, break up the carcass(es) and colour them in an oven at 180C, while preparing your GA – Garniture Aromatique. This means just chop up the vegetables, then add them for the last five minutes of your 25 minute roasting of the bones.

Put the whole lot, plus the giblets, into a suitable saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and allow to simmer very gently for one and a half to two hours. I quite often drain off the cooking liquid after an hour and re-cover with more water, then mix together the two lots at the end and boil it to reduce by half. It seems to give a more concentrated taste than just using one lot of water.

And then that’s it, you now have a couple of litres of chicken stock. Usually I freeze it in half-litre portions and put some into ice cube trays. These I later decant into plastic bags so I can just add a little stock to a soup or sauce as necessary without defrosting a whole half litre. It really does add Scrummy and Yummy to your recipes and is well worth the effort.

Chapter 11: Week 8: English cooking

The French are initially surprised to find an English person cooking at all. There’s a famous TV advert here for After Eight chocolate mints which shows a group of BCBGs (French for ‘yuppies’) eating After Eights with their post-dinner coffee and finding them distinctly edible, if not positively quite nice. “After Eights,” the tagline runs, “they’re English – but they’re good!”
Then they start asking about ‘La Cuisine Anglaise’ – English cooking – and what sort of stuff English people cook at home. Well, here we’re leading the French, I tell them – we’ve been buying cooked/chilled ready meals by the tonne and nuking them in the microwave for more than a couple of decades. French people are doing their best to catch up now, I tell them, and then they start talking about the Traiteurs they have – shops where you buy freshly-made (well, normally freshly-made) portions of restaurant classics and, er, zap them in the microwave. And anyway, traiteurs are closing down all over the place because they can’t get the staff and they’re too expensive to run and the supermarkets are filling up with cook/chill dishes…
And then, after a quick detour to laugh at ‘Lamb with mint sauce! Ha ha ha!’ they say Ah! Oui! Légumes à  l’anglaise! Vegetables cooked in the English style means boiling them in salted water. So now they remember that English people boil the crap out of just about everything, usually all in one giant vat-like pan for three or four hours. Which isn’t that far from the truth in some cases – one of the few stories I know about my great-grandmother Loseby was that she used to boil tripe and potatoes in the same pan. For three to four hours.
So today at school we’re cooking Merlan à  l’anglaise, which turns out not to be boiled but to use that other great traditional English cooking method, frying in a pan of oil. Merlan is similar to the English Whiting and American Silver Hake and is a member of the cod family. We use it often at school because it’s cheap – we don’t serve it to customers at the restaurant, although it does feature sometimes in staff meals.
To prepare it à  l’anglaise you have to remove the gills first and drag the entrails out with them through the gill slits, without cutting open the belly. This is easier to do than it sounds, fish turn out not to be very attached to their insides. Then you open it along the spine, rather than along the belly as is more normally done, removing the bones as you do so. Then you fan it out but leave the head in place. The body is coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and pan-fried, leaving the head in place to stare up accusingly at those about to eat it. I can’t see English people ever eating fish like that these days – most think that fish swim around shrink-wrapped in polystyrene trays if they think of fish swimming at all. And normally, I tell my French friends, they eat only the fingers of the fish these days, an idea that amuses French people no end since they, like Americans, eat fish sticks not fish fingers.
By now I’ve done lots of fish at work so I don’t find the whole procedure too difficult; it’s really a way of practising various knife skills, I realise, since this is now a very old-fashioned dish which you wouldn’t see in any restaurant even over here – too much effort to start with and the French, especially younger ones, are starting to not like things that stare back at them from their plates. Many people have real difficulties cutting out the spine and then de-boning the still-joined filets, and end up with something that looks like it’s been given a good kicking by Manchester United fans. Still, that’s why we have breadcrumbs, “Pour cacher la misère” – to hide the misery, as my restaurant chef puts it, normally when he’s surveying something I’ve messed up in the patisserie. Be very suspicious if you buy a pudding in a French restaurant and the sauce/custard is poured over the tart/pie/whatever instead of in an attractive pattern onto the plate around it – it means the patissier has really messed it up and is hiding his errors from you or, more likely, his Chef de Cuisine. Two nice thick coats of breadcrumbs and we’re ready to go.
We also do Petits Pois Paysanne, little peas peasant-style, in which peas are the least of the ingredients – there’s carrots, turnips, baby onions, lettuce and bacon bits in there outweighing the peas two-to-one. Which is fine if you don’t particularly like peas and want to hide them – but then you’d probably be better off cooking the whole recipe and just leaving out the peas.
 After lunch we have our regular fortnightly Hygiène class, this week talking about Glucides – sugars. Which apparently should represent 55% of our diet, particularly from ‘glucides lentes’ – slow sugars – such as those found in pasta and, apparently, bread. As little as possible should come from pure, refined sugar. Glucides, we learn, are where we get our energy from for our muscles and nerves, and we need 100 grammes per day. We also need 15% of our diet to be protein and 30% lipides – fats. 
Right. So I’d better put that pain au chocolat away, then?
We do légumes à  la Grècque this afternoon, vegetables cooked the Greek way, which means slowly in a little water and olive oil after cutting them up into attractive shapes. Artichauts, artichokes first – these confuse many of my culinary student colleagues who end up with something the size of half a ping-pong ball full of fluff. But, again luckily, I’ve done these at work so understand that the idea is to remove the leaves on the outside and the fluff on the inside and put the rest into acidulated water (i.e. with half a lemon squeezed into it and then the lemon chucked in for good measure). Then there’s cauliflowers cut into ‘bouquets’ which just means bite-sized pieces, escaloped mushrooms (cut into quarters on a slant, although even our school chef says he finds this idea impossible to accomplish), diced onions, chopped garlic, a bouquet garni and a ‘sac aromatique’ to prepare. The ‘aromatic bag’ is a bit of cloth with any interesting-looking spices you can find bunged in, which turns out to be a bit of old nutmeg and some peppercorns, being the only things left lying around the school kitchen. And since each vegetable needs to be cooked on its own it means a bouquet garni and ‘sac aromatique’ for each pan. And as there aren’t that many saucepans in the room we have to group our cooking, which is fine by me unless we then have to present a plate to be marked – not everyone turns their vegetables as well as me and I’ve been marked down before for featuring vegetables from someone else on my demonstration plate.
Still.
 A la Grècque cooking turns out to be very similar to our teacher’s favourite way of cooking most vegetables – à  blanc, i.e. in a sautoir with a little sugar, salt, pepper and butter. Remove the sugar and replace butter with olive oil, cover with a circle of silicon paper and you’re good to go. 
And in the end there’s no need to make up a plate for service, so my superior English turning isn’t seen by anyone.