A plate of various charcuterie is a very common starter on restaurant menus in France. This is not strictly a recipe, so much as an assemblage of thin slices various types of cured meats and sausage according to what is available from the charcutier. Several thin slices each of the dry-cured French salami saucisson sec, andouillette, garlic sausage, and possibly a cured raw ham jambon cru are arranged artistically on the plate, invariably accompanied by a gherkin and a lettuce leaf. However a plateful of meat like this can sometimes turn out to be more than a person really wants for a starter, and the dish also makes a good platter for a buffet.
This was one of the few dishes Scrote's brother (who worked in France) knew how to cook at first and whenever he threw a party he would make a huge quantity of it. Old Scrote put it about that he had the stuff delivered and joked about another tanker-load arriving. Boeuf Bourguignonne should be, strictly speaking, baked in the oven in a casserole dish (which, being earthenware, cannot be put on a gas or electric ring), but with some care the same result can be accomplished on the top of the cooker if you use the cast-iron casserole dish and a gentle simmer.
You need olive oil, a quarter of a pound of bacon pieces (lardons), 2 large onions, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, 2 lb of stewing beef. (French butchers supply a marvellous, well-hung piece of beef specifically for this dish, but it is tough and needs very lengthy cooking.) You will also need a bouquet garni, half a pint (2 good-sized glasses) of red wine, a tablespoon-ful of flour to thicken, half a pound of button mushrooms, and parsley to garnish. Pick over the beef and cut it into cubes. Sear the beef in some olive oil to brown the outside, reduce the heat and add the chopped bacon pieces. Chop the onion and smash the garlic and fry them gently with the meat. Add the button mushrooms. Adjust the oil (there should be some) and add the flour, mixing it into a paste. Add the wine, and stir rapidly as the sauce thickens. Adjust the liquid content with water to cover the meat and bring back to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bouquet garni (a small bunch of mixed herbs tied together with string, usually a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme and a sprig of parsley- remove again at the end of the cooking). Bring to a very gentle boil, cover and turn down the heat. Simmer for an hour for good cuts of beef, and it can take more than two hours for tougher cuts, such as shin of beef. Stir and check the liquid level occasionally to prevent it sticking. Serves about 8 people with other vegetables such as potatoes.
This is another casserole which can be done on the top of the stove with your cast-iron pan. You need some olive oil, about 2 lbs of stewing beef, 4 onions, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, a tablespoon-ful of flour to thicken, a bottle of beer, salt, pepper, a bouquet garni (a small bunch of mixed herbs tied together with string, usually a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme and a sprig of parsley- remove again at the end of the cooking). Pick over the stewing beef and cut it into smallish cubes. Sear in the oil, browning it well. Chop the onion (you need a lot for this) and smash the garlic. Turn down the heat and simmer the onion and garlic gently with the meat. Check the oil (there should be some). Stir in the flour and mix to a paste, then add the beer, stir rapidly as it thickens and adjust the liquid with water so that the meat is covered. Season with salt and grounf black pepper and add the bouquet garni. Cover with the lid and simmer gently for at least one hour (more for tougher cuts of beef), stirring and checking the liquid level occasionally so that it does not dry out and stick. Serves 8 people with filling vegetables such as potatoes.
It is always instructive to compare cookery books. Scrote has been looking up two authentic recipes for cassoulet, one actually in French, and says they differ even on major points like the basic ingredients.
Cassoulet is a classic French peasant dish, from Toulouse. You need (according to the French book) in English measures, about a pound and a half of dried haricot beans, two pounds of belly of pork cut in cubes, 10 cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, thyme, a clove (smashed), a tomato, about half a pound of pork rind, six pieces of goose or duck, 4 Andouilles (meat sausages made of chitterlings), and about 15 inches of Saucisse de Toulouse (a pork sausage). The French recipe continues:
Rub the pieces of goose with spiced coarse salt. Put them in a dish and leave overnight. Put the dry beans in a pressure cooker, cover well with water, cook for 20 minutes and drain. Remove the meat from the brine, drain and wipe. Fry the pieces of goose in their clean fat until they become lightly golden. Roast them gently in a shallow dish for about 2 hours (depending on the age of the bird) in low oven. Watch the cooking so the pieces do not dry: the fat must remain clear. Salt and pepper the fresh pork pieces, brown them in the goose fat, add the haricot beans, then the garlic, the bay, the tomato (peeled & de-seeded) and the pork-rind, blanched and tied up in little packets. Cover with warm water and casserole for one and a half hours. Lightly grease an earthenware casserole, and tip in the preparation. Add the pieces of goose, the Andouilles (pricked) and cook for 20 minutes in a hot oven. Add the Saucisse which has been browned without fat in a frying pan and return the dish to a medium oven for 10 minutes. Serve on warm plates.
There is a trick to these- the mushrooms are not fried as they seem to be. You need a good number of small very fresh, closed white mushrooms. Smash and chop a clove of garlic or two. Put a big lump of butter- an ounce or more in a small pan and add an approximately equal quantity of cold water. Heat the pan until the butter melts and then drop in the garlic. Simmer for a few moments and then put in the cleaned trimmed mushrooms. Simmer open very gently for about 10 minutes so that the butter and water foams into a smooth sauce and some of the water evaporates away. Serve hot as a starter.
French food shops often serve a range of ready made salads, and the French are much more prepared to buy part of their meal rather than make it. This salad is one of the commonest, but it is very easy to make. It consists of button mushrooms stewed in a tomato sauce, and eaten cold as a salad. Finely chop a few shallots and soften them in a pan in in a little olive oil (unlike ordinary onions, shallots disintegrate when cooked, which is why they are preferred in sauces). Add the cleaned, trimmed button mushrooms (they must be small and whole, and in France mushrooms are sold with the foot- the root- still on). Add a glass of white wine & a good amount of sieved tomato (pasata, or tomato puree), then stew gently for about 20 minutes. Serve cold, garnished with parsley as part of a selection of salads.
Strictly speaking, Scrote says, this is a poulet a la sauce chasseur- chicken in a sauce of bacon pieces (lardons), button mushrooms & red wine- but there is a lot more red wine. Personally, Scrote thinks it is a bit of a waste unless you can get hold of a boiling fowl, which needs the long slow cooking of a casserole, and has a stronger flavour. Spring (roasting) chickens tend to fall apart too easily under this treatment.
Take your chicken and joint it into quarters. You can do this with a large heavy knife just by cutting the carcass lengthways from the inside through the backbone, then the breast bone and then cutting each half through behind the ribs, but this tends to produce small splinters of bone. A better way is to bone out each leg from the backbone cutting through the hip joint, and then bone each breast and wing back from the breast bone, leaving the carcass.
If you use the latter method, don't waste the carcass- make some chicken stock from it. Break the carcass into pieces and brown it in your casserole on a good heat. Roughly chop a small unpeeled onion, a carrot, a blade of celery, and throw those in. Add half a glass of white wine, a glass of water and plenty of black pepper, then cover and simmer gently for half an hour. Drain the liquor (the stock) and throw away the vegetables. Pick any remaining meat from the carcass and add it to the stock, then throw away the carcass. Seal the stock in a container and allow to cool, then either freeze for later or keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week for soups.
Put some olive oil in your cast-iron casserole and sear the chicken pieces, browning the skin well. Add a handful of chopped bacon pieces, the lardons. Add several small onions quartered and some cloves of garlic, smashed. Add a very big handful of small, closed, button mushrooms. When all the ingredients have taken to the oil and coloured, add a small dessertful of plain flour (to thicken the gravy a little) and mix it to a paste. Now add at least half a bottle of red wine and stir it in. Sniff the acohol boiling off! Adjust the liquid level with some water, season it with some black pepper, and add some herbs- bay and a little thyme. Cover and casserole it gently for at least and hour (two for a boiling fowl), stirring occasionally and adjusting the liquid level.
At this point dedicated chefs amongst you will remove the chicken pieces and pick out the bones and inedible bits of the chicken before returning the meat to the casserole. Peasants will tend to let the diners sort this out for themselves. In either case serve the casserole hot with something absorbent- bread or potatoes, and more red wine.
Rather surprisingly, croissants are not all that difficult to make at home, although because they take a fair amount of time they are not the sort of thing Scrote makes very often. Nor are croissants strictly even French. Apparently when Budapest was besieged by the Turks, the bakers (who bake at night for the next morning) heard the sound of tunnelling, raised the alarm and thus saved the city. The croissant is supposed to celebrate this event.
Croissants are a sort of bread version of puff pastry, and like puff pastry are definitely not a good idea if you are on a diet. Basically the idea behind a croissant is to work half a pound (227g) of butter into a rich, soft bread dough made with 1 lb (450g) of strong flour.
Start by making the bread dough with the flour. If you are using real yeast, or dried yeast that needs preparation beforehand, you will need need to 'start' about an ounce (25g) of yeast with a teaspoonful sugar in some warm water and leave it 15 minutes to 'work'. Nowadays Scrote uses packet yeast that you can mix with the flour dry. Meanwhile warm a half a pint of milk, and mix with it a big knob of butter. Add about one and a half tablespoons of sugar and a bit less than a teaspoon of salt to the flour. Add the yeast mixture to the warmed milk if you are not using the dry mix yeast. Mix the warmed milk and butter into the flour, and then knead the mixture until you have a smooth elastic dough. Set the dough aside in a warm place for an hour or two until it is well-risen, and in the meantime get the butter out so that it can come to room temperature.
When the dough is risen, knock the dough back and knead it again, then roll it out flat, long and thin. Spread the butter over the dough and fold the ends over it into the centre. Turn the dough, roll it across, fold the ends in and repeat three times. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a while. Roll out again, fold the ends in, turn the dough, roll it again and fold the ends in several times. By now the dough should be absolutely full of layers of butter. If you can still see lumps of butter under the surface of the dough, then you need to continue. Chill the dough again in the refrigerator, and it is ready.
To bake, roll the dough out thinly, cut it into triangles. Roll each one up, starting from the longest side (so that the point of the triangle ends up on the outside). Pull the ends round to make the 'crescent'. Arrange on a baking tray and allow to rest for a while. Brush the tops with milk or beaten egg and bake gently in a moderate oven for 20 minutes.
Considering how widely available this is in France as a simple fast food, it is surprisingly rare in recipe books. Basically this is France's answer to the Welsh Rarebit, and it consists of a sandwich of a white, melting cheese like Emmental between two slices of white bread, soaked in beaten egg on both sides and fried gently until the outside is golden brown and the cheese inside melts.
Crudites are sticks of very fresh, raw vegetables. They are usually served as a starter with a bowl of real mayonnaise into which to dip them. Typical vegetables are fresh celery, cucumber sticks, green pepper strips and carrot sticks, but you can also use other raw vegetables if they are sweet and tender, such as raw cauliflower florets or raw courgette sticks.
Boil 4 eggs or so for 10 minutes or so until they are hard-boiled, then shell them.
Meanwhile make a sauce bechamel from 2 oz butter, about a dessertspoonful of flour, about three-quarters of a pint of milk, plus a dash of salt & black pepper for seasoning. A non-stick pan helps when cooking with milk.
Heat the butter in the pan- do not brown the butter. Add a good-sized handful of plain flour, and stir it in so that a greasy paste is formed. Throw in the bayleaf. When the flour and butter are properly and evenly mixed and heated through, remove the pan from the heat and add a slosh of the milk. Stir the flour/ butter paste quickly into the milk- it is important to dissolve the paste as evenly as possible in the milk at this stage. As the initial sauce thickens from the heat of the pan, add some more milk- you can add quite a lot now- and stir the thickened sauce thoroughly into the cold milk. Return the pan to the heat and heat it gently, stirring thoroughly all round the pan so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom or sides. As it nears boiling point, the milky sauce mixture will start to thicken again. Adjust the sauce with more milk and re-heat it.
Now make a cheese sauce of the bechamel.Turn off the heat, and add several ounces (a lot) of grated cooking cheese. Stir it until the cheese is melted and dissolved in the sauce. Add a pinch of salt, but do not over-salt it. Slice the eggs in half and arrange on a gratin dish, an oval oven-proof dish. Pour the cheese sauce over and grate some parmesan over. Put in a fairly hot oven for 10 to 20 minutes so that the cheese sauce just begins to bubble and colour on top. Serve with care as it can be very hot.
Langoustines are small crustaecean creatures very like large prawns. They differ from prawns in being more like small lobsters, having a harder, jointed shell over the tail, with sharp edges, a fantail and a pair of long thin sharp claws. They are also supposed to be Dublin Bay Prawns, although whether these are the same, Scrote does not know. Langoustines are (or were) common around the coasts of Brittany, where when Scrote first went there you could see the big square nets used to catch them suspended from ricketty jetties out over the sea. In France, Langoustines are sold fresh from stalls in the market, in heaps and still alive, waving their feelers at you slowly. They are cooked in boiling water for 5 minutes like prawns, and are eaten cold. If this sounds disgusting, Scrote says they have a very delicate flavour, and all his Scrotey children think they are delicious.
The French serve cooked langoustines cold as a starter, arranged facing outwards with their claws dangling over the edge of the plate on a bed of fresh lettuce with a pot of real mayonnaise. Like prawns, you break off the head, rip the shell of the tail down the belly, prise it open and remove the meat from the tail, discarding bits of legs and so on. Unlike prawns, langoustines are quite robustly built, so this is a rather more difficult operation to do. The shells are considerably tougher and have various very sharp edges and spikes. It is wonderfully messy, and you seem to end up with more debris than the food you started with.
The omelette is another classic French dish and like most French food a vital element is to use real butter, real cream and not overcook it. French omelettes can be served plain (nature) as they come, or with chopped chives (aux fines herbes), or with a filling such as cheese (fromage), ham (jambon), or mushrooms (aux champignons). The Piperade is a classic Basque flavour from the south-west of France, with its characteristic use of tomato and red sweet peppers. To make the Piperade, scorch a red pepper and a plum tomato under a grill until the skin blackens and blisters. This process is a bit messy but cooks and sweetens them. The skin should peel easily off the tomato and sweet red pepper. Core the pepper and slice both into strips. Keep warm.
To make the omelette, beat together 3 fresh eggs. Add a small dash of fresh single cream, and grind over some black pepper. Meanwhile heat your omelette pan. Your omelette pan should be quite a heavy, small, moderately deep rounded pan, only about 10 inches across. Ideally an omelette pan must be as non-stick as possible which is best achieved by it not being washed, only wiped out after cooking, and used for nothing else. If nothing has stuck then your cast-iron casserole frying-pan lid is an ideal omelette pan.
(If for any reason your cast-iron has developed a tendency to stick, perhaps from over-enthusiastic scouring or industrial-grade detergents, you can season a cast-iron pan and render it non-stick again by wiping it and then heating it very strongly on the stove with a spoonful of salt in it. Swirl the salt around untl it gets very hot then remove the pan from the heat, throw away the salt and wipe out the pan with a paper towel while it is still hot. This treatment does not work on stainless steel pans which cannot be seasoned.)
Put a generous lump of butter in your omelette pan, and get it hot but don't let it burn. Give your omelette mixture a final whisking to lighten it and tip it in. As the bottom starts to set, lift it with your wooden spatula and push a fold towards the centre, taking care not to tear it, so that the centre piles up. Continue cooking it steadily until the mixture is mostly set, but moist and creamy on top, then tip in the prepared filling into the centre on one side and gently fold the other side over it. Cook for a few moments longer and serve piping hot. Eat immediately. Do not worry that your omelette is not set solid all through, that is exactly how it should be- a proper omelette is meant to be creamy and soft inside.