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Eating for Health
Eating to save the Planet
Eating vegetables: vegetarian, vegan?
Eating for Love
Oven temperatures - cooking times
How to cook a chicken
How to cook a duck or duckling
Pastry (pâte brisée)
Puff pastry (pâte feuilletée)
Beef Wellington (Filet de bœuf en croûte)
Mashed potato, Purée de pommes de terre
These are my recipes. Not, with some exceptions, the ones I do for my customers. They are the ones that I do for my friends and family, for the people I love.
They are not intended to be easy, though they may be, and they are not intended to be quick, though they may be. On the other hand they are mostly inexpensive.
(I do not have a lot of money, and you do not need a lot of money to eat well.)
To prepare a dinner, first stop, the local market. I am lucky, I live near to Versailles. Depending what I have in mind for the main course, meat, poultry or fish, I will check out my preferred sellers. Or, more likely, I will visit them all, to see what catches my eye. Next, for the fruit and veg, off to the local farmers (maraichers).
My preference is for organic (bio), and my preference is for local ( locavore). But it is not a religion. If you limit yourself to local products, I do not know what you will eat in January and February, when the earth is frozen and under six inches of snow (or used to be). Not very much. That is why, in olden days, one killed and cured a pig in the autumn, to provide nourishment during the long winter months. Not much variety, not very healthy. Going back to the "natural" way of doing things is not my ideal. I confess to a guilty pleasure, come March or April, and the first new vegetables start appearing, imported from far away, to abandoning my locavore principles.
But now, back home to start cooking. How can we best honour all these wonderful products we have acquired? How can we honour the farmers, fishermen, butchers and fishmongers who produced them? This is where technique comes in. I hope, here, to be able to impart to you some technique. You will note that, up to now, we have not spoken of recipes. There are too many recipes. Every day, in newspapers, magazines, books and on the internet more and more recipes pour out. But the number of plants eaten by human beings is limited, as are the number of different animals and fish. Surely their must be a limit to the number of different ways of combining them. And what is the point? You get the feeling that everything must have been done before. On the other hand, take something simple, a piece of meat or fish, and some fresh vegetables. Learn to cook them perfectly, to extract every ounce of flavour and goodness. That is something you could be proud of. That is something that your guests will appreciate.
Of course we need recipes. They are a way of communicating how we cook. I will be giving you recipes. But they are not the be all and end all. The great chef Alan Passard, who has never published a recipe book in his life, said that the best cookery book was your vegetable garden (potager). Or for us, who do not have a vegetable garden, our local market. And I will be pointing you to other people's recipes. If it is good, it is worth sharing. Happily no one has ever tried to patent a recipe. It would not be possible. Even the most original of chefs are just redoing and rehashing the work of their predecessors. Techniques may evolve (a bit), but fundamentally we are all doing the same things as we always did. A word on "real", "authentic" recipes: the real, authentic cassoulet, or couscous, or bouillabaisse, or steak and kidney pudding. This is all rubbish. No one cooks the same way as their mother, and certainly not the same way as their grandmother or great grandmother. And it's a very good thing. Tastes evolve. Possibilities evolve. Of course you can and should use traditional recipes for inspiration. You should try to understand what is behind them, what their techniques were, why they did what they did. And then you can adapt them to your own situation. Because at the end of the day there are only two types of food: good and bad. Fashions come, and fashions go. At the moment we have a fashion for Instagram food. Not only amateurs but great chefs design their dishes primarily to look good on Instagram. You will not be finding any Instagram recipes here.
We all want to be healthy (though it should not become an obsession). But what to do? There is so much conflicting advice. New theories pour out almost as fast as new recipes. High protein, low protein, high fat, low fat, olive oil, fish, vegetables, fibre, fasting. And always the latest miracle food, usually something exotic from the other side of the world. And behind that there is received opinion, what health authorities and the majority of scientists tell us to do. For example, in France we now have
. All foods are rated on a scale of A to E. But this is, at the best, a very blunt axe. Cheeses usually get a D, and Roquefort, in particular, gets an E. The producers of Roquefort are, rightly, very upset about this. But the received opinion of one decade may be completely reversed a decade later. It was long held that fat, and in particular diary fats were bad for you. So for "health" reasons processed foods were made with very little fat. And since fat is one of the things that give flavour to food they had to put something its place. And what they put in definitely was bad for you. In Food myths busted: dairy, salt and steak may be good for you after all the journalist Joanna Blythman reports on a Swedish meta-study which shows just that. Also, for a long time people who were overweight were told that the solution to their problems was simple: just eat less and/or do more exercise. Calories in, calories out. A ten year old could do the maths. However we now know that it is much more complicated than that.
So what to do? We know the basics: cut right back on sugar and processed food. Lots of fruit and vegetables. Fresh. Cooked by you (freeze if necessary). But deep down inside your body knows what it needs, what is good for it. You just have to get in touch with this inner you. But easier said than done, I will admit.
We all want to save the planet, don't we? After all, if we did not have a planet to live on life would be a bit tricky. So we need to keep this in mind when we plan our meals. However that does not mean we have to deprive ourselves. Eating "virtuously" for the planet can be synonymous with eating virtuously for our bodies, and at the same time maximising the pleasure for out taste buds. No one can seriously enjoy eating junk food whose production necessitates burning down half the rain forests of the Amazon or of Borneo, and evicting their indigenous populations. So try to be aware of where your food comes from, and how it is produced. It is true that international supply chains have become so complicated that it is impossible to be perfect in this respect. But the more you can eat locally the better.
However the big argument is over whether or not one should eat meat, with each side taking increasingly strident, even self-righteous positions. Let us try to throw a little light on the subject.
Should we eat meat?
It tastes nice. It is a part of our tradition and our culture; humans have been eating meat for six million years, since we first stepped out of the jungle onto the savannah, and started walking upright; it is (metaphorically) in our genes. It is good for you (depending on who you listen to).
Meat production, on an industrial scale is catastrophic for the environment. Humans are easily outnumbered by farm animals. The combined total of chickens (19 billion), cows (1.5 billion), sheep (1 billion) and pigs (1 billion) living at any one time is three times higher than the number of people. But those figures are dwarfed by the number of animals we eat. An estimated 50 billion chickens are slaughtered for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production. (See.) And all these animals suffer. They suffer when the live, and they suffer when they die. You have probably seen videos of the way animals are reared on an industrial scale, and what happens in slaughter houses. I will not show them to you, they are too upsetting. But if you have any doubts, ask a vegan. It is bad for you (depending on who you listen to).
There is no doubt that the massive meat production, described above, is catastrophic. The arguments are irrefutable. However proponents of regenerative farming argue that raising animals can actually be beneficial for the environment. Note that here we are not talking about the enormous quantities of meat presently produced industrially. So we have to learn to eat less (which is probably better for our health, anyway). It will be more expensive. But as we are eating much less we can still afford it. We should also learn to use the whole animal, not just the prime cuts. I will be covering recipes for the less expensive cuts later. They are close to my heart, and actually have more flavour. So, in my view, if we follow the instructions above we can carry on eating meat with a clear conscience - at least as far as the environment is concerned.
What about suffering? Do the animals suffer when they live, do they suffer when they die? Let us consider first when they live. When I see a cow chewing the cud in a field, with its tail swishing away the odd fly, it does not appear to me to be suffering. In fact, it looks pretty happy. Does the cow have to worry about where its next meal is coming from, how to find a child minder for its babies, what to do about its adolescent children who have fallen into bad company and started taking drugs, what to do with its aged mother who has Alzheimer's? I think not. In fact, a cow's life looks to me a pretty happy one.
(This is a story about a duckling which grew up to become a duck. The duckling was born into blessed circumstances. There was a big duck pond in the middle of a beautiful field. Every day the farmer's wife came out with a sack full of grain and other ducky goodies, which she distributed to all the ducks. The duckling grew up into a big strong duck. It enjoyed itself immensely, and had lots of sex - thats OK with ducks. But after a while the duck felt the urge for more serious things. It was exceptionally intelligent and decided to devote itself to the study of philosophy and mathematics - more particularly statistics. One day - christmas eve, actually - the duck was just putting the finishing touches to its thesis, which demonstrated conclusively that the duck was living in the best of all possible ducky worlds, if not the best of all possible worlds, when out came the farmer's wife. But this time the sack was empty, and in her hands was a chopper. Chop, chop, chop! The duck was in the sack. The farmer's wife was back in the farm. That was the end of the duck.)
Do the animals suffer when they die? As a rule, all animals, including human beings, suffer when they die. The only exceptions that come to my mind are: dying in their sleep, dying a violent death - but so short that it does not really count, some domestic animals (we will come to that), and human beings in "advanced" societies who are sufficiently drugged as not to feel the pain. It is an American, Dr Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who has devoted her life to developing humane ways of slaughtering animals. (She has also done much to advance the recognition of autism, being herself autist.) I do not know how widespread Dr Grandin's methods are (She certainly seems to have a following in the States), but we can conclude that it is certainly not necessarily so that animals reared for meat suffer at death. When animals are stressed the quality of the meat drops, so a good butcher has every reason to sell meat from animals that have been "happy in their lives and not suffered at death".
What about shellfish? Can they suffer? Scientists say so, but how do they know? Can you imagine what it is like to be a lobster? (Can a scientist?) If so, can you imagine what it is like to be a lobster that is suffering? If this is the case, please write in and tell me, you may earn yourself a bit of a reputation in the philosophical world (what is it like to be a bat?). Anyway, let us assume that the scientists are correct, what can we do to minimise or eliminate their suffering? Because, assuming you buy your shellfish alive, it is us who will be killing them. The traditional way is to toss your crab or lobster into a big pan of boiling water. Probably not very pleasant. One writer I read proposes putting them in a pot of cold water, and gradually heating the water up. He said that they would calmly lose consciousness, then die. This argument seems questionable, especially as they did start to move about as the temperature increased. So the recommended procedure is as follows. Place your crab or lobster in the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes till it stops moving. It is now unconscious. But it did not feel anything. Lobsters are cold blooded and do not feel the cold. Whoever saw a shivering lobster? Take it out of the freezer and place it on a large chopping board. Now kill it. For the lobster take a large sharp knife and push it through the head between the eyes. The knife is aligned with the length of the body, not across it. For some recipes you cut along the whole length of the lobster, cutting it in two. You can do this before the freezer treatment. We would here, I guess, be in the category of short and violent death. But is difficult as the lobster moves a lot, even when dead. They say that if you cut the head off a chicken, it will carry on running round the farm yard. I do not know if this is an urban myth. For the crab, take a sharp pointed instrument, push it through an eye, and make minced meat of its brain. Yuk! However, mission accomplished, no brain, no suffering, right? So that is crabs and lobsters dealt with. What about small shellfish, prawns and shrimps. Can we just toss them into the pan? Maybe as they are so teeny-weeny they only suffer a teeny-weeny bit. But all those teeny-weeny bits add up. I regret that I myself am getting confused here, and that I can not help you any more. If you really want to know, ask a philosopher, or a neuroscientist.
There is one creature that I do have some qualms about eating: it is the octopus. Octopuses are very intelligent. They have neurones in their tentacles. So that means that even if you cut a tentacle off, it (the tentacle) can still think and feel? The neuroscientist Anil Seth quotes the scuba-diving philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith "If we want to understand other minds, the minds of cephalopods are the most other of all". No one can imagine what it is like to be an octopus.
I love vegetables, I adore them, they are almost my favourite thing. So if you want to become vergetarian, or even vegan, I think that's great. It is fantastic. All those different flavours and textures which change subtlely as the season advances. All the different ways of cooking them with different spices and herbs. But there is one thing I do not understand: if you want to become vegan, why would you wait for "Veganuary". Just do it! And if you really prefer to have your vegetables decomposed into their different constituents, thermally stressed, mechanically stressed, and then recomposed to look like meat, maybe you would be better of sticking to real meat (see above). And do not think that just because you are vegan or vegetarian, you are automatically virtuous. Vegan junk food is still junk food, and it is worse for you than ordinary junk food. Avocados are considered really bad for the environment. And we all know the havoc caused by Palm Oil.
But at the end of the day, we are not incarnate machines bent on optimising our own performance, or health. And we do not eat to save the planet, we eat because we are hungry. We cook for and eat with our friends and family because we love them. Cooking and eating becomes a celebration of life. We celebrate nature: the fruit and vegetables that the farmer has so skillfully grown to perfection, and that the cook has transformed into the mouth watering dishes on the table before us. And we celebrate also the animals we eat. Like native Americans we consider them sacred, and like native Americans we offer a little prayer for their souls. The meal becomes a ritual. It is a ritual that binds us together in our common humanity.
I read an article by a vegan who explained that, to minimise our energy consumption, we should cook everything in a microwave. That way we only heat the food, not the container. There is no point in heating up a whole oven, just to roast one carrot (I suppose you can see her point). At the end of the article she admitted that she did not like cooking. I think that if she had been entirely honest she would have said that she did not like food.
You do not need expensive gadgets to cook fantastic meals. You can go a long way with just basic equipment. Some sharp knives and a good chopping board make a fine start. The latest trendy high tech equipment will no more make you a good cook than the most expensive camera will make you a good photographer. I do not believe that the food we eat now is better than it was one hundred years ago, when the chefs did everything by hand. However a certain number of electrical devices can make our work quicker and easier. This is what I have:
I have a confession. I do not know what it means for an oven to have a temperature of, for example, 200°C. Food in an oven can be heated by one of three means: radiation where heat is radiated from the walls or the roof of the oven, convection where the hot air round the food heats it up, and conduction where the food is actually touching the side or the floor of the oven. This last case would be for a pizza or bread placed on the base of the oven. What happens when the air inside the oven is not the same temperature as the walls which are radiating the heat? Suppose we have an old-fashioned oven which is heated by just one grill at the top. We turn on the oven. The grill becomes red hot. The air is still cold. What is the temperature of the oven? If there are any scientifically minded readers who can cast some light on this subject, please write to me.
I once had an oven thermometer labeled Heston Blumenthal. So one must assume that it was approved by the great man himself. When I was in a customer's kitchen, I would put it in the oven and turn the oven on. I would then wait till it showed the required temperature. However, it turned out that there was a significant time lag between the moment that the thermometer of the oven showed the temperature and the moment that it was given by my thermometer. That made it pretty useless.
An oven is called a Convection oven when the hot air is blow in via a fan. This is a much more efficient means of heat tansfer, and you should be aware that the cooking time is in the order of half what it would be for a conventional oven.
If some person or a recipe tells you that a dish will be correctly cooked after a certain time at a given temperature, they are lying. All ovens are different, even if we make allowance for the fact that it is a convection oven or not. A cooking time is just an indiction. You have to learn to judge for yourself when something is cooked. We will be discussing this in some detail.
When you open the oven door the heat will drop right down. This may not make too much difference with a convection oven, which will heat up again quickly, but for a standard oven, especially at lower temperatures the effect can be radical. Do not open the oven door wider than you have to,and not more often that you have to.
When you place a piece of meat in a hot oven the meat contracts under the influence of the heat, forcing the juices out. When the juices reach the surface of the meat some will drip off into the roasting pan, and some will dry on the surface. At the same time the meat will brown. This is called the Maillard Reaction. Note that this process does not seal the meat, keeping the juices in, as you may sometimes read. But there is a contradiction here. You want the juices to stay in the meat. Roast meat should be juicy, it should not be dry. But at the same time you want them to come out and give the meat that tasty roasted flavour. How much you like your meat cooked is a matter of taste. Personally, I balance to the juicy side of the dilemma. However, when the meat is fatty, such as with duck or lamb, there is another possibility. You can cook it for much longer, but at a lower temperature. The fat will keep the meat moist. The flavours become more concentrated and the meat becomes more tender. This is called confit.
What happens to all the fat and juices that escape from the meat is critical. After all, this is all the goodness and flavour which is going away! If you have some vegetables or potatoes in the roasting pan, then the fat and juices from the meat will help cook them and give them flavour. That's great! Depending on the temperature of the oven the juices may dry up. If this is not what you want add some water. If you let the juices dry up they will form little brown crusts in the roasting pan. Perfect! The Maillard reaction again. (But do not let them go too far and burn.) When the meat and the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the pan and add a little water - or lemon juice, or white wine. Scrape it all around until the meat crusts have dissolved. Reduce if necessary. You now have a perfect jus to serve with your meat, and nothing has been wasted.
Red meats - beef, lamb, and most game, can be cooked more or cooked less according to your taste. There is some ambiguity in saying you want your steak "well done" or "medium rare", but there is none in specifying a particular temperature. (But the next time you go to a restaurant, please do not tell the waiter that you would like your steak cooked to 55°C.) I give the different temperatures below, in centigrade.
|55||medium rare, à point|
|60||medium, bien fait|
Ah, you say, isn't something missing? What about "well done"?
|70||In the words of Heston Blumenthal "Some people call this well done, I just call it leathery"|
At 45 or 50 meat still has its red meat colour. Get up to 60 and it's pink. Going over 60 it loses all signs of redness. When you get to 70 it really is "well done". Filet of beef, the most tender meat, is more tender the less it is cooked. Personally I would never heat a filet over 50. Cooking it to 60 is sacrilege. If you want to go up to 70 you could consider it outright murder. The less tender cuts do need to be cooked more. The French will happily order their "bifteck" "saignant". I think they must be born with sharper teeth.
When a roast is cooked, take it out of the oven and leave it in a warm place for 10 minutes or so. The heat from the outside will continue to penetrate the interior, cooking it more. The juices at the centre spread through the meat, and the fibres relax.
A chicken needs to go up to 70. If you insert a needle into the thighs, the juice that runs out should be transparent. Or you can lift the chicken up and let the juices run out of the cavity. We shall be discussing chicken in more detail later. Pork or veal can be left slightly pink.
Hard boiled eggs. The eggs must be at room temperature before you start. Place them very delicately in a pan of boiling water. Count 10 to 12 minutes. For oeufs mollets it's 5 minutes. Allow for the size of the egg and exactly how you want it cooked. Starting in already boiling water makes them easier to peel (but more care is needed). To peel them try this method.
Omelettes There are two sorts of omelette: French and the others including Spanish. The French omelette is light and fluffy. It is cooked rapidly, a maximum of 30 seconds. The inside is slightly runny, "providing it, as it were, with its own sauce". I quote Elizabeth David, from memory. At the Savoy hotel in London, to teach young chefs to make an omelette, the omelette pan was placed on the back burner of a gas stove, and the chef's hand, holding the handle of the omelette pan, was over the front burner. He had every incentive to go quickly.
Poached Eggs Do not forget poached eggs. They are surprisingly easy and, for example, can transform a salad. You need a wide pan of boiling water. Add a good dose of vinegar. Break the eggs in one by one. It is easier if you first break them into a cup, for example. Count 3 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon and place them on some folded kitchen paper. Then turn them off the paper and onto a large kitchen spoon, and place them on your salad. To save for later put them first in iced water.
Friends say that my vegetables are the best. The recipe is based on the classic recipe for Carottes vichy. But Alain Passard uses the same technique for his Fricassée de légumes d'hiver. We are mainly talking here about carrots and turnips (navet), but Passard uses a whole lot of winter root vegetables. Place the chopped carrots in a pan with a some water (experience will show exactly how much), salt, a little olive oil and butter. Optionally some sugar. Cover the pan and cook till all water has boiled away. The carrots are now covered with a silky, buttery glaze. They still retain a bit of crunch. And most importantly none of the flavour in the carrot has been thrown away with the water used to boil them. Use the same approach for turnips, but with some sugar, and I do not use olive oil. The sugar counters the bitterness of the turnips, and you can leave them to become lightly caramelised.
Every chef seems to have their own, different recipe for roasting a chicken. That is because it is not easy. There is a problem. We place the chicken in the oven and start cooking. After a while the breast, which is on the outside and is extremely delicate, is cooked to perfection. But the legs, especially on the inside next to the joint, are definitely not ready. So what do we do? Serve with undercooked legs, or carry on cooking and serve with overcooked breast? Jamie Oliver recognises this problem and proposes a solution. "To me the perfect roast chicken has tender moist breast meat, crisp skin and, dare I say it, over-cooked thigh meat. So at this point, simply slash across each thigh about 3 or 4 times and rub in some of the leftover herbs, which allows the heat to penetrate directly into the thigh meat, enabling it to cook faster.". (I think he means under-cooked thigh meat.) I do not like Jamie's solution. If you slash the thighs you are going to start losing the juices. Heston Blumenthal has another solution. He leaves the chicken for a long time in a low temperature oven, in fact exactly the temperature he wants the meat to be. So no risk of over cooking. Blumentahl says 60°C, but unless you like your chicken pink, this is too low. So you now have a perfectly cooked chicken, but it is anemic. No colour. Not exactly a roast chicken. So Blumentahl (after leaving the chicken to rest for 1 hour - I do not know why) fries the chicken with oil in an extremely hot pan, to give it colour. I will admit that I have never tried this, but I am unconvinced.
The method that I propose to you is a cross between Blumentahl and classic. After the usual preparation (salt, pepper, butter ...) place the chicken in an oven at 200°C. Leave for 10 minutes (baste if necessary). Baste again, cover the chicken with foil, and turn the oven down to 70°C. Leave for one and a half to two hours. Check the chicken. With a bit of luck it is nearly cooked, but not quite. Say 60°C, throughout. And not much colour. Turn the oven up to 200, baste with butter and the juices. It will soon be a hot, brown, crispy chicken, well cooked throughout. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for five to ten minutes.
There is another possibility if you have a SousVide. I offer you a variant on Poulet à la crème. Bone (Désosser) the chicken. Cut it into small pieces. With the carcass make a stock (fond). Reduce the stock. Add the cream. You can thicken very slightly as for a bechamel. Cook your bits of chicken in the SousVide at 70°C. The chicken is now perfectly cooked. Reduce your sauce as necessary. You can flavour it with a few dried morels, or some slices of truffle in season (January, February) - a great luxury.
We have seen the problems with cooking a chicken. We have the same problems with a duck, only a hundred times worse! You would probably want the breast cooked pink, and the legs should definitely be well done. I offer you two solutions. The first is similar to the last method for a chicken, above. Bone the duck and make a stock with the carcase. Reduce it and you have your jus. Put the two breasts aside and cook the rest (legs and wings). You can roast them, but in the case of a duck, rather than a duckling, the legs are tougher and would benefit from some long slow cooking. Now cook the breasts. If you have a SousVide heat them to 50°C. Then you can quickly colour then in a pan, and they are at 55°C.
The other solution is this: with a sharp knife remove the breasts from the duck. Place some screwed up kitchen foil in the place of the breasts. Tie it all up, and roast slowly. You are aiming for confit. Cook the breasts as above.
The recipe that I use comes from Patricia Wells, an American food journalist resident in France.
300 gm flour
150 gm butter
100 ml iced water
The butter and the water must be as cold as possible. If necessary place them in the freezer. Put the flour with the salt in a Magimix. Add the butter loosely cut up. Turn on and count to 10. Turn off. You should now have the flour with bits of butter the size of a very small pea. Add the water and hit the pulse button in short bursts. It should all come together. If some of its sticks to the side, loosen it off with a knife. If it stays powdery, add a little more water. Once it has more or less cohered, turn it all into a large bowl. Pat it together into a lump and wrap in cling foil. Leave in the fridge or a cool place for a minimum of two hours. You can use more butter. Patricia Wells says 250 gm. But 150 gm is sufficient for most purposes.
It is worth mastering this. Looking on the internet everyone seems to have their own variation. So it can not be that easy. But there again it is not that difficult. I have always used Michel Guerard's recipe, which I believe is the classical one. ( This site has a series of photos which illustrate the process.) I will explain to you how I very slightly adapt Guerard's recipe to reduce some of the risks.
250 gm flour
50 gm butter
water - approx 120 ml
250 gm butter
I usually use double the quantities, it is probably easier and you can always freeze. These proportions give the lightest, most airy "feuilletage". Use it for feuilletés or vol-au-vents. For other purposes you can cut the butter in the "beurrage" by half, and a lot of recipes seem to cut it right out of the "détrempe" - Bocuse does.
I start by putting the butter and the flour in the Magimix with the salt. Pulse it till the butter has completely "disolved" in the flour. Put the mixture in a large bowl. Mix the water in till you have a dough. It is impossible to say exactly how much water you will need, it depends on the flour. At this point the recipes will tell to wrap it in foil, put it in the fridge and leave it for 30 minutes. I am telling you to knead it till it is elastic, and leave it in the fridge for two hours, so it loses its elasticity. Your dough is now smooth and completely homogeneous. After you have finished the dough take the butter and with a rolling pin beat it into a flatter brick shape. You can use your hands if need be. Put it in the fridge with the dough.
For the rest follow photos 16 - 62 here. You are going to enfold the butter in the dough, roll it out into a long rectangle and the fold the two ends in over the rest to have a triple thickness. This is called one "tour". Turn it a quarter and do another tour (see photos). Wrap in clingfoil and leave in the fridge for 1 hour. Repeat twice. Your puff pastry is now ready. Do one more tour before using.
You have one enemy when making puff pastry, and one ally. The enemy is heat. If it is hot summer's day, I strongly advise you to leave it all for another time. You can get up early and work while your kitchen is still cool. You can also put a plastic bag full of ice cubes on your work surface, to cool it down. Your ally is time. You are in no rush. Leave the butter, the dough, the pastry in the fridge for as long as need be to cool right down. They will often tell you to wait 20 minutes between each double tour. I recommend an hour, especially to begin with.
I use Gordon Ramsay's recipe (you can leave out the chestnuts he gives in this version). Count 150 gm of meat per person. The example he shows is for 4 - 5 people, and the cut is taken from the centre of the filet. You can do bigger ones. I have done for as many as 12 people. However a whole filet is not a uniform cylinder, it is thicker at one end than at the other. Your butcher should do his best to have an equal thickness. But it does not matter if it is not completely uniform, one end will be cooked slightly more than the other, which will suit the different preferences of your guests. Your butcher must remove the "chainette".
Following Ramsay's advice you should cook the Wellington for 30-35 minutes till the temperature is in the middle is 30°C. You then leave it to rest for 20 minutes and the temperature will rise to 50°C. This is correct, as far as the meat is concerned. However the pastry will be on the soggy side. I prefer to leave it in the oven till it is at 50°C, and then serve it straight away.
I do not know how many bad quiches I have eaten in my life. When there is a party and the guests are asked to come with something, everyone seems to turn up with a quiche: soggy pastry, runny filling. A quiche is supposed to be easy. It is not, it is difficult. You start by putting the filling, which is uncooked and still liquid, onto the pastry, which may or may not be cooked depending on which method you are following. And you do not have a professional pastry oven, which would make it all so much easier. So it would be almost a miracle if the pastry did not end up soggy.
There are three factors: the pastry, the filling, and the heat. For the pastry, use my recipe above. Avoid having the filling too thick. In fact, it should be as thin as is reasonably possible. The idea is not to have a sort of savory egg custard sitting on top of a crispy pastry. It is just not possible. For a 31 cm diameter tart tin I use:
As your tart tin is probably smaller than mine, adjust quantities appropriately. The cheese must be strong, it must have some taste. Otherwise your quiche will have no taste. I use compté, but not young compté. In the UK you could use a good cheddar. For the cream I use crème fraîche. In the UK you could use whipping cream. In this case you would probably not need any milk.
Roll out the pastry and put it in the tart tin. It is advised to leave it for an hour or two, otherwise it will retract when the cooking starts. You can fry off some lardons and put them on the pastry. Mix the cheese, cream and eggs together. Then add just a small amount of milk to make it slightly more liquid, and pour in on top of the lardons. Another option is to put the grated cheese directly onto the pastry and the lardons, and then pour in the cream and eggs mixture afterwards.
And now for the heat. The filling will cook quickly, the pastry takes longer. So you want the heat coming from underneath, but not too strong or the pastry will burn. This is what I do. Heat the oven to 180°C with the fan (convection oven). Place the quiche in the second lowest position. Leave like this until the filling is set, about 20 - 30 minutes. As my pastry is a sort of simplified puff pastry (remember the little pea sized bits of butter) it will bubble up. Watch and prick the bubbles with a knife. Now turn the oven down to 170°C and have the heat coming from the bottom. No more fan. I leave it for a total of 1 hour, 10 minutes. Experiment and adjust with your own oven.
People love barbeques. They are simple, they are healthy, they are fun! So at the first sign of summer we invite the neighbours round, and out we go and light it up. Prepare our preferred cocktails, or open a few bottles of wine, toss some sausages or steaks onto the barbecue, listen to that wonderful sizzling sound and watch the smoke rise up to the sky. This is the outdoor life, the party has begun!
Unfortunately fun they may be, but simple or healthy is not so sure. It is much more difficult to cook well with a barbeque than with a domestic cooker. So someone, that is you the host and the cook, needs to give it constant attention. By all means bring your cocktail or your glass of wine with you, but your place is with the barbeque, not with your guests. Compared with your indoor cooker, the heat is much more difficult to control. This is obviously the case when you use charcoal, but it is also the case with gas. Typically the gas flames are under a grill. So you do not directly control the heat of the grill. Some barbecues have a top which closes down to make a sort of oven. There is usually a thermometer to tell you the temperature inside, but contrary to a domestic oven it does not control the temperature. It will just politely inform you when it has got so hot that everything is probably burning. Let us come back to the grill. We have discussed the Maillard Reaction. The meat wants to be a tasty brown on the outside, not a burnt black. Then there is the problem of flames. If your meat is fatty the fat will melt, drip down onto the flames, and burn. Big flames will now shoot up and burn your meat. This not only gives your meat an unpleasant flavour, it also causes cancer.
A tip for large pieces of meat. Preheat them in an oven or, preferably, a SousVide. For a rib of beef heat it to 45°C. Then put it on the barbeque to colour it. The temperature inside will rise to 50°C. Perfect.
Of course, all barbeques are different. I am just helping you understand the different factors involved. Happy barbeques!
Is Foie Gras cruel? By eating it, are we participating in the suffering of ducks and geese? A lot of people seem to think so. It is illegal in California and New York. I once asked a friend of my brother in law, who raised ducks for foie gras, and who did the "gavage" (forced feeding) if the ducks suffered. She replied "Well, it does have to be admitted, they really do seem to have had enough". However this can in no way be compared with the suffering of animals raised industrially, which constitutes at least three quarters of the meat we eat. So, in my view, anyone who says that they do not eat foie gras because it is cruel, while at the same time helping themselves to the first steak they find in a supermarket or at the butcher's (or ordering meat in a restaurant, where the origins are even more unknown) is either ignorant, or hypocritical or both.
Now we have got the ethics out of the way, how do we cook it? I will tell you how to do a terrine, or ballotine (Foie Gras au Torchon). The most important thing is that the foie should be absolutely as fresh as possible. Once it has been removed from the carcase of the duck, it degenerates very rapidly. I get mine from a boutique in Paris. They have their own farm in the south west. I ring them to see what day they are being delivered, and then I go and pick it up accordingly. The other possibility is to use frozen. This is what Heston Blumenthal does. So does this person who would appear to know what he is talking about. Fois Gras come in different sizes, 450 g to 650 g. For a terrine you should use the smallest you can find. They lose less fat during the cooking. A whole foie gras contains veins, which look uncomely in a terrine. Often, now, the foie is sold with the veins removed (déveiné). If this is not the case with your foie, follow the instructions of Eric Léautey to remove them. Now place the foie in iced water, which has been salted at 10g salt per litre of water (equals 1 kg). Leave it for at least 2 hours. Some of the remaining blood will come out. Remove, pat dry, and place on a tray. Add salt (10 g per kg), and some finely ground white pepper. Joel Robuchon adds a pinch of quatre-épices. Now sprinkle with the alcoholic beverage of you choice: cognac, port (or both of them), sauternes ... . I use cognac. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. Take it out of the fridge and leave until at room temperature. There are now two possibilities: you have or do not have a SousVide. If you do not have one we are nearly there. Place the foie gras in a terrine. Place the terrine in a bain-marie (i.e. a tray with some water in it) in an oven at 200°C - or a bit less, the slower and more gently you go with foie gras the better. Wait until the temperature in the middle is 68°C; but see below for a discussion of temperatures.
You have a SousVide. Place the foie gras on some kitchen foil, and roll it up like a big sausage. See Gordon Ramsey doing Beef Wellington to get the idea. Leave in the fridge for an hour or so, to firm up. Now lay some muslin on the table. Carefully remove the foil from the foie gras and place it on the muslin. It should still have its sausage shape. Wrap the "sausage" foie gras in the muslin, and tie the ends with some string. You now have a "foie gras" sausage. Place in a SousVide at 70°C. If you have a thermometer which goes in the SousVide, so much the better. Wait until the foie reaches 68. Take your time, you are in no rush. This will give you a foie with a beautiful very pale pink colour. Many people will tell you that a slightly lower temperature will do. It's up to you. You will certainly lose less fat. But if you have followed all the instructions carefully you will lose very little anyway. Place the foie gras on a rack for 15 minutes so some of the fat and juices can drip out. Your sausage is now looking decidedly saggy. Roll again in kitchen foil to recover its regular cylindrical shape. Place in a bowl of iced water overnight to cool down. (If you put it directly in the fridge it will be slightly flattened as it is very soft.) Next day it is finished. Remove the foil and roll in kitchen paper to dry it. Keep it for a minimum of 3 days to mature, maximum two weeks.
Mashed potato is, well, mashed potato. Purée de pommes de terre used to be a standard accompaniment in French cuisine. Then it met Joel Robuchon. Robuchon opened his restaurant Jamin in Paris in 1981, aged 36. Fourteen years later he retired, having anounced that he would not work beyond the age of fifty. In the meantime he had elevated the Purée de pommes de terre to become one of the most famous dishes in the world, and won just about every culinary award possible. He did go on to open a string of other restaurants, and collect more Michelin stars. But now he was no longer in the kitchen. He left the hard, obsessive work to others.
However, mashed potato and purée de pommes de terre do have one thing in common: they do not want to be watery. In fact, we want to minimise the amount of water in them. To do this, the same solution: we cook the potatoes in their skins, and peel them while they are still hot. It is generally considered that potatoes come in two categories: waxy and floury. For mashed potatoes you want floury. In France I use Mona Lisa. I do not know what would be the recommended variety in the UK. You can cook the potatoes in salted water, or I steam them. You can also bake them, which certainly minimises the water. Once they are peeled, place them in a saucepan over low heat. Crush them with a fork or however you wish. Do not use a mixer, they will go elastic. Add good salt and freshly ground pepper, a little butter and/or olive oil. Mix it all together. Yum.
There are different versions, as well as (apocryphal?) stories around the Robuchon purée de pommes de terre. However, the ingredients are:
Potatoes: 1 kg
Butter: 250 g - 1 kg
Whole milk: 20 - 30 cl
You will have noticed that the amount of butter is variable. Most recipes now give 250 g, but to all accounts in his restaurant it was nearer to 1 kg. According to Patricia Wells the potatoes at the beginning of the season needed more butter and milk to reach the right consistency. I find this credible. I admit that I have never been entirely satisfied with the Robuchon purée. The butter tends to separate when you add it to the potatoes, which can not be right. I prefer the recipe of Jean-François Piège. The ingredients are the same, but he adds the milk before he adds the butter. Piège has the same weight of potatoes and butter. This is the recipe that I will give you.
For the potatoes Robuchon and Piège use Ratte. I use Belle de Fontenay. For the UK Heston Blumental recommends Belle de Fontenay or Charlotte. If you have a SousVide place the potatoes in the SousVide at 70°C, and leave for 30 minutes. Then let them cool completely, either in the fridge or in cold water. This breaks down the starch. See Heston for details. Now cook them in boiling salted water, or steam them. You can also bake them. Peel while hot, and put them through a vegetable mill into a saucepan over a low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dry them further (I admit that I skip this bit). Now start stir in some hot milk, and very cold lumps of butter. Continue like this till you have incorporated three quarters of the butter. At this point you can push it through a sifter. (I admit that I skip this bit too). Carry on incorporating the butter and milk as you need. Finish with a whisk to incorporate air and make it light and fluffy. Look at the Piège video to get the feel. You can compare it with Robuchon.
..... TO BE COMPLETED. MORE TO COME ......