Pyrenean Fast Food!

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The other evening we fell into an aperitif trapère! We stopped at our favorite local bar-restaurant “Le Faisant Doré” to meet my brother Jean-Louis to have an apéritif (before dinner drink) before making our way back up to the montains with our good friends Peter Cockelberg and his wife Delphine Grave for dinner. The one drink turned out to be a round per person. Jean-Louis was already sitting there with his 2 good buddies, that made a total of 7!  Thanks god I was drinking small ballons de rosé & managed to skip a few. It is always one of my great pleasure to hang out with my bro, he is the funniest and the most entertaining guy. Not really a politically correctest dude, but I adore him and put up with his most salacious & sarcastic comments!

Anyhow we safely returned to the mountains and managed to cook dinner in a flash. Again, no time to wait for the fire to make enough embers to slowly cook the beautiful slab of veal from chez Jammes. I pulled out my frying pan and cooked it all on the open fire.

Tranche de Veau Sauce à l’Ail et au Basilic
Pan fried veal with basil & garlic cream sauce
Tomates Provençales
Pan fried tomatoes with persillade

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Render enough fatback (see previous blog) to lightly coat the pan and cook the meat medium. Reserve and keep covered in a hollow dish.

In the same pan render a little more fatback add the tomatoes cut in half or quartered, depending on their size. Add the persillade when the tomatoes are almost done, sauté a few minutes and reserve.

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Still in the same pan, add some brandy and flambé. Add the juices that have rendered in the meat dish. Add one cup of heavy cream, the garlic and let boil on the fire. Once the cream starts thickening add the freshly (at the last minute or it will darken) chopped basil. Boil a few more seconds, add salt, pepper and some ground piment d’Espelette (see last blog). Pour the sauce over the meat and voilà! Eat and lick your plate!

Veal Tomates

Duck Hearts, Trouts, Kanoon & More

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A few years back Pierre and I bought a kanoon — from the arabic:  قانون, kanoûnqanoûn or kanun— at a Luchon street fair. It is a North African clay brasero for cooking with charcoal. It makes great tagines and it is very convenient when we have no time to make a big fire in the fire place or when the weather is really hot.  Monday I used it to cook our entire meal that consisted of local offerings from the Luchon market:
Hors d’Oeuvres:
Hure de porc or pig’s head paté (Martial Vargas)
Paté de truite with chives (Pisciculture d’ Oô)
First Course:
Hearts of duck salad (Lazorthes, a.k.a. “Caniche”)
Purchasing duck hearts at Mr. Lazorthes standduck hearts
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Main Course:
Mountain trout from the pisciculture de Oô (see last year’s post for another recipe made with these excellent trout)
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Potatoes, beets & broad beans  (Madame Fondeville)
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Cheese & Dessert:
Goat cheese (Alain Garcia a.k.a  Emingo)
Mara des bois strawberries in red wine & honey
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Pierre fired the kanoon with lots of charcoal to have enough to cook the whole meal in it.
First I cooked the veggies in a cast iron pot. Instead of using oil I used the incredibly tasty salted fatback the Jammes gave
me as a present when I went to get the lamb (see previous post).
Fat back from bourg d'oueil
I rendered half a cup of fat and added potatoes, beets, salt & lots of black pepper and set it on the kanoon for about ½ hour. I added the beans later, as they take less time. When cooked, I reserved the veggies and set them aside.
Meanwhile I had cut the duck hearts in half. These hearts where beautiful. They were bright red & so fresh. I placed my special open fire frying pan on the kanoon and again melted some fatback. Once the fat had rendered and the pan was very hot I added the hearts and fried them until cooked but still pinkish. Be careful: overcooked hearts get unpleasantly rubbery. At the end I added a generous persillade and served them warm on top of a very lightly dressed salad.
While we ate the salad I tightly fit five trouts in the tagine dish. I coated the trouts with olive oil in which I had soaked garlic cloves and added the cloves too. I topped the whole thing with “new” onions, one quartered lemon, salt and & piment d’Espelette —that is, a very popular chili that grows in the the Basque country and is fragrant and not too spicy. The trout cooked while we ate the  delicious hearts of duck salad. We waited for them a little, but who cares when the Tariquet Rosé & the conversation are flowing!
I very much like the combination of the hearty veggies and the delicate trouts, thought the trouts could have been a little spicier.
We opened the red Saint Mont wine to accompany my favorite local goat cheese made by my good friend Alain Garcia (see picture above). The dessert was a nice conclusion to our meal — sorry I didn’t take any pictures but I was too involved with the company!
Voilà! for now as I am off to visit my dad (87!) at the local physical rehab center where he just arrived after  successful complex back surgery that
will hopefully  allow him to walk better… I teased him today that if he keeps progressing as fast as he does, he might even be ready for soccer season! (before being an hotelier & a politician — mayor & senator — he was the regional star soccer player)!
More soon and thanks for following our summer adventures!

Bourg d’Oueil 2009

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Bourg d’Oueil is a very small village in the central Pyrenees where I escape to every time I can. It is located in the secluded valley of Oueil, 10 miles from Luchon —where I was born and raised— at 4600 feet high. Today the village counts about 10 full time residents. There is one good old fashioned hotel-restaurant “Le Sapin Fleuri” and only one family that still breeds sheep (about 2000 at a time) and a few cows. The rest of the population either works in the town of Luchon or are people like us coming for vacation.
Going to the farm to get lamb is one of the great pleasures and that is what we do as soon as we get there. The first call I make is to Henri Jammes to order 1/2 lamb for our stay (see photo below). Their name is
probably of Basque origin, we tease them a lot and pronounce their name the English way, especially Henri! Henri, Roland, Jeremy (Henri’s son) & Marie Jeanne run the family farm. I used to take Gascon lessons with the father, François Jammes, sadly he passed away this winter at the very honorable age of 89. I really  miss hanging out with him this year.
My connection to the village goes way back. The chef and co-owner of the “Sapin Fleuri”, Jean Toucouère, apprenticed cooking under my grand father. Joseph Garces, Maitre d’H for 15 years at the family hotel, whom I consider family, is also from Bourg. In 2002 he lend me his barn for 2 weeks and it is at that time that we decided to try get a place there. An other event of significant importance for me is that it was in Bourg d’Oueil in 1971 that I earned my first and only victory in a ski race!

In the summer the sheep are in the mountains above the village. While Roland Jammes cuts the hay with Jeremy, Henri is the shepherd. They used to hire a summer shepherd but in the past few years they do it all by themselves. I feel like they are working way before I wake up and way after sundown. So we are here for a few weeks and to sum up how I feel I will say: this place makes sense to me!


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La Blanquette d’Agneau

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La Blanquette is a dish inscribed in the tradition of French “cuisine bourgeoise”. My mother, Renée Peyrafitte-Gallot makes a very good one and serves it for lunch over rice. The term blanquette comes from the word “blanc” or white. It is a stew in a white sauce that can be made either from veal or lamb. The same sauce can be used for poultry but then it would be a Fricassée. French historian Jean-Louis Flandrin dedicated a lecture to that dish and a book was published posthumously —I came across this reference through the excellent French food blog: ” Boire et Manger, quelle histoire ! “.
Enjoy the Blanquette!

Blanquette d’ Agneau
for 4 (this is a variation inspired by James Beard and my mother’s recipe)

2 ½ pounds of lamb shoulder cut into 2-inch cubes
1 onion “nailed” with 2 cloves (see pix below)

1 carrot
salt & pepper
1 sprig of thyme or better a bouquet garni
1 pound mushrooms
about 8 tablespoons of butter
lemon Juice
about 20 small white onions
4 tablespoons of flour
2 egg yolks
½ cup of heavy cream

Rub the meat with lemon. Place the meat cubes in a stewing pan with the onion stuck with the two cloves, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the bouquet garni and freshly ground pepper. Cover with cold water. When it comes to boil, reduce heat, put a lid on the pan and simmer gently until the meat is tender -about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour. Skim the broth a few times.

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Meanwhile, cut up the mushrooms, sauté gently in butter, add a dash of lemon juice, cook until just tender and reserve. Peel the onions and cook them until barely done; they have to remain firm.
When the meat is tender, remove it to a hot platter and keep it warm. Let the broth from the meat reduce down to two cups over a brisk flame for 5 minutes and then strain it. Add the liquid from the onions and the juices from the mushrooms. If you do not have enough liquid, add some chicken or vegetable stock.
In a sauce pan melt 4 tablespoons of butter and blend in the flour (you are making a roux). Gradually stir in the stock, and continue stirring until the sauce is consistent. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat the egg yolks and mix them with the heavy cream. Add to the sauce and stir until heated through, but do not let boil or the egg will curdle. Add a dash of lemon juice, put in onions and mushrooms and pour the sauce over the meat.
Serve with steamed rice or rice pilaf.

Dîner de Fêtes / Festive Dinner

Les Croquettes de Morue sur un Lit de Verdure
Salt-cod cakes served with greens

Le Chapon de Noêl aux Marrons
Stuffed Christmas Capon with Chestnuts
&
Les “Racines” d’Hiver Braisées
Braised Winter Root Vegetables

La Crème Paysanne
&
Les Pescajous du Luchonnais

This is a festive winter dinner menu I made several time. I wrote it many years ago for a series of cooking classes untitled “The Demystification of French Cuisine” that I taught at the Café Capriccio Cooking School in Albany N.Y — someday I will retrieve my notes on that topic and will share them with you. Meanwhile here are the recipes for this menu. I think you will agree that it is a well balanced, not heavy, fun to cook & fun to eat menu! So try it and let me know. I have also included some historical background for dinner conversation!

First Course:
Les Croquettes de Morue sur un Lit de Verdure

Salt-cod cakes served with greens

Morue, a.k.a. baccalaú or salt-cod, is my favorite fish. I like the texture, the taste, the convenience, the flexibility. The use of cod can be traced as far back as the Upper-Paleolithic. And closer to us there is evidence that Basque fishermen came to the coast of Newfoundland to fish for cod way before Columbus had set foot on the American continent. Their first motivation had been to catch whales, but then they switched to fishing cod. It was safer and more lucrative.
There are many different ways to accommodate salt-cod; today we will make croquettes. This is a basic recipe that you will be able to reuse with other ingredients.
I like to serve the “croquettes” with a tossed mixed green salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette. (see my famous simple salad)

Ingredients:
1 small chopped red pepper
1/2 chopped Jalapeño pepper (optional)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
1 bay leaf
3 cloves of garlic
1 whole medium onion
1 chopped medium onion
2 grated (raw) big russet potatoes
1 tablespoon saffron
salt and pepper to taste

The day before:
Rinse the filets and soak in plenty of cold water for about 12 hours, changing water three or four times.

The next day:
Place desalted cod, one onion and one bay leaf in a stock pot with plenty of water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and discard onion and bay leaf.
Mix all raw ingredients in a bowl, shred the cod in it. Mix it well. Shape the mixture into little cakes, use a ramekin if texture is too loose, and fry in a hot pan in olive oil about 5 minutes on each side (but that is going to depend on the thickness of the croquettes. I usually eat the first one to check texture and seasoning, and to judge the doneness).

Entrée
Le Chapon de Noêl aux Marrons

Stuffed Christmas Capon with Chestnuts

&

Les “Racines” d’Hiver Braisées

Braised Winter Root Vegetables

Our main course is going to be a capon stuffed with chestnuts, sausage and all kinds of delicacies. Capon is such exquisite poultry that it is saved for special occasions. Good, real capons are rare and difficult to raise and therefore difficult to get. Capons are a very ancient tradition: the creature came to us via the Romans, and the Romans learned how to fatten chickens from the Island of Kos in Greece — were Hippocrates (460-377 BC) lived and worked. The people from Kos, unlike the Romans, kept their chickens inside and gave them only selected grains and milk so they were getting fat quickly and their flesh incredibly delicate. Everybody in Rome started doing the same, keeping their chickens inside and so on, but it got to the point where so many people were doing this that Consul Caius Favius was obliged to pass a decree forbidding this practice for sanitary reasons. So now all the chickens were put back in the streets where they were easily distracted and didn’t focus on eating anymore, so they were not getting fat. Along came a veterinarian who had the idea to castrate the chicks so they would get bigger — and it worked!
Today we will serve the capon with winter root vegetables ­­ — they are delicious though much neglected and I also believe in using seasonal produce.

Le Chapon de Noêl aux Marrons
Stuffed Christmas Capon with Chestnuts
(You can find capon at the very fine purveyor D’Artagnan. A 12 pounds Capon will feed about 12 people.)

Ingredients:
1 Capon
1 Cheesecloth
1/2 stick Butter

Farce/Stuffing:
1 LB very good Bacon (no nitrates)
1 LB thin Sausage (plain)
1/2 LB ground veal
1 LB Mushrooms
25 Chestnuts cooked and peeled
2 medium onions diced
1/2 cup Armagnac (or cognac)
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste
Lightly sauté onions, then add mushrooms, then bacon, then sausage, then 1/2 of the chestnuts. Flambé with the Armagnac. Place in a bowl, add the ground veal, the parsley, the eggs, salt and pepper. Mix well and stuff the Capon and saw it back.

Roasting:
Preheat Oven to 450 º
Butter or oil the roasting pan, place the capon in the oven and roast at this heat for 30 minutes. In a sauce pan melt 1/2 stick of butter and let it cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325º, baste the capon with pan juices, and drape it with a piece of cheesecloth, soaked in the melted butter. Roast the bird, lifting the cheesecloth and basting every 20 minutes for about 2 1/2 hours or until thermometer registers 180ºF and when juices run clear when thighs are pierced with a skewer. Then remove from oven and from pan and let stand while you make your “jus.”

Jus:
1/2 cup Armagnac (or cognac)
2 cup chicken broth
2 finely chopped Shallots
30 Chestnuts
Remove all fat and burned pieces (if any) from roasting pan. Put the pan on top of a warm burner. Spread shallots in the pan and move around quickly. Flambé with 1/2 cup of Armagnac (make sure the fan is off when you flambé). Add the two cups of chicken broth, make sure all the caramelized juices are lifted off the bottom of the pan then add the chestnuts. Let simmer gently for a few minutes. Carve the Capon, display on a nice dish with the stuffing. Transfer the sauce to a dish, and serve!

Les “Racines” d’Hiver Braisées
Braised Winter Root Vegetables

This is a very simple dish that will enhance the flavor of your capon.
When I want to be fancy I “turn” the vegetable into olive shapes. Otherwise I cut them into 1/2 inch dice.

Use carrots, turnips or rutabagas, and parsnips -celery root is also an option. Put all your roots in a roasting pan with a little butter and water, salt and pepper, and braise at 300º in the oven until tender but not mushy!

Dessert:
La Crème Paysanne
Light Custard

&
Les Pescajous du Luchonnais

Do you still have a little room for dessert? Sorry, but I will skip the bûche de Noël —
I am not very found of it, I find it too sweet after such a meal. The pescajous will probably remind you of fried dough, they literally mean “little fishes.” This delicacy is unheard of beyond a 25 mile radius of my home town. Pescajous are served on all religious holidays. The biggest challenge about them is to be able to fill up a basket before anybody sees you making them. If just one person sees you, believe me, it will take you a long, long time to fill up that basket! Unless you can convince the little scavengers to wait for the crème paysanne to dunk them in!

Crème Paysanne

Boil 4 cups of whole milk then flavored with vanilla and rum.
In a bowl, separate 12 egg yolks from the whites. Reserve the egg whites and put the yolks in a bowl with 1 1/2 cup of sugar; whisk until it forms a ruban. Gradually add the warm milk. Mix well, keeping the pan on a very low heat and stirring continuously -making a figure 8- with a wooden spoon until the cream coats the spoon. Let cool off, and keep it in the refrigerator; cover to avoid skin formation.

Pescajous du Luchonnais

4 cups of flour
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoon Yeast
3 Eggs ( yolks separated and whites will be beaten)
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup Milk
1 cup Sugar
2 teaspoon Vanilla and Rum

Put flour, salt, sugar in a bowl.
Proof the yeast in a little bowl.
Beat the egg white.
Mix egg yolks, vanilla, rum, butter and proofed yeast. Mix this into the flour mixture and add the beaten egg whites slowly.
Let the dough rest and rise for a couple of hours.
When ready to cook, heat 1 quart of oil (safflower or peanut oil) in a wok.
Turn the dough onto a generously floured surface, cut small pieces with a knife and shape by hand into 2 inch squares, 1/8 inch thick, and dip them into the hot oil fry them until golden (a few minutes are sufficient). Fry no more than 4 or 5 at a time and you will get best result if you keep moving then around in the oil with a skimmer. Take them out and place on an absorbent paper towel to remove excess oil and start piling them up in a basket; Sprinkle caster sugar as you go along; they are better warm, and do not forget to dunk them in the crème paysanne!
Bon Appetit!

My Petit Déjeuner (mon breakfast)

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I have to share my enthusiasm for my breakfast. I even think about what I am going to eat for breakfast before falling asleep! And I got an acute case of breakfast obsession since my good friend Chef Pierre Landet gave me a jar of his homemade divine plum jam. Pierre is executive chef at the NYC Tribeca restaurant Cercle Rouge. He made the jam with his mother’s recipe for a very special occasion that we will discuss another time. But let me tell you about my breakfast routine, indeed a routine because the format is always the same, only the fruit and the topping of the bread vary.
I wake up early, make myself a cup of tea and get into my daily yoga practice. These days I am brewing a “Russian Caravan” tea from the Park Slope Food Coop. This pleasantly dry & flowery blended Chinese tea gets my taste buds off to a right start. When I am done with tea and practice, I make coffee; always organic and always light roast (also called American roast). I usually get whatever is on sale in that category at Porto Rico Importing Co. I like that company, their quality is consistent and their prices fair. Do not ever offer me French Roast coffee, I will turn it down, I dislike it with a passion, i consider it an aggression to my taste buds!

tartine

Nicole’s Tartine à la Confiture de Prune de Pierre Landet
(recette Madame Landet mère!)

Anyhow, while coffee is percolating I toast my thick slices of rye bread and I eat a seasonal piece of fruit. I either get the Pain de Seigle from Balthazar or Amy’s Organic Miche at the Park Slope Food Coop. They both are a combination of wheat and rye organic flours, I find the Balthazar crustier and more complex, the taste stays in your mouth long after you have eaten the piece. Then, before the toast is cold but not while it is too hot, I apply a thin coat of either pasture butter, or Ben’s cream cheese or fresh goat cheese followed by the careful and even spreading of the sweet toping.
Pierre’s jam arrived at a really good time; I had just finished my special jar of raw honey made by my friend & Bourg d’Oueil mentor Joseph Garcès. So Pierre’s luscious plum jam provided not only the gusto satisfaction but also the emotional ingredient missed from Joseph’s honey. Voilà ze story:

Chef Pierre Landet

Pierre Landet is from the Toulouse region, but his brother Benoit & wife Laurence own the Hotel-Restaurant Le Faisan Doré in my hometown of Luchon (you know the center of the Pyrenées and possibly the center of the world!). It is my brother Jean-Louis’ favorite hang out and mine too when I am in town.

Pierre is a great chef, he cooks genuine Southwestern French country food. His homemade patés and terrines are outstanding, especially his Terrine de Foie Gras which is out of this world. I also have a soft spot for his funny chicken wings, the REAL French fries and I have to mention the stuffed suckling pig; that is a fire work of flavors and texture.

But let’s return to my tartine (though it is a French specialty to talk about a past or future meal while eating); the very slightly caramelized plum jam, flavored with vanilla and brandy, became a marriage in heaven when it encountered the crunchy, but still moist bread. I usually have 2 slices but sometimes I need 3 to complete the ritual properly!

Alright, merci to Pierre Landet pour la confiture and merci to his maman! It is quite late I must go to bed, tomorrow is the 2nd Bay Ridge Farmer’s market and I have to go early, last week it was all sold out by 11am! I have to make sure I can have breakfast without rushing! I forgot to mention that I really don’t like having breakfast out, nothing beats my petit-déjeuner bi-continental!

Ah! and in case you wonder:
YES, I dunk my tartine into my coffee!