Saturday, May 11, 2013

Waking Up With Karim ...

Gross Statuary, n° 5 ...
... is all in a day's work, for neither rain, snow, hail, nor plagues of frogs, nor purulent boils, will stop these ministers from their appointed rounds ... still, I was kind of disappointed. Yes, I'd told Karim - my petit suisse -  that I would be more or less available that day, but I had rather forgotten that the Swiss, having hidden behind gold ingots for five years, do not celebrate Armistice 1945, and I was grumpy when the phone cheerily exterminated beside me at 8am and dragged me from my blameless slumber. (Also, I was looking forward to going up to the village and throwing stones at the fanfare municipal as they tootled in their trombones, and wanted to be rested for the occasion.)

For lo! there was indeed a problem, the stuff needed to be shipped out that very day: you see, of course, where this is going. So instead of snoring blissfully for a few more hours, I was up and in front of the computer until 14:00, trying to work out just what was going on. Not at all what I had had in mind.

... and n° 6. Collect the entire set!
Whatever, we managed to get it out the door on time, and as I was well and truly awake by then I thought I might as well drag the camera out and go for a bit of a wander. Of course the weather is variable (as I write it is pissing down vertically, which is probably an improvement, and kind of cool out) so I garbèd myself in jeans and the usual black polo-neck ...

That was probably a mistake, for as I climbed up above the Chateau des Allues and wandered along the little tracks and smelled that wonderful smell of hay baking in the sun, I couldn't but notice that that same baking sun was doing a pretty good job on me. I sweat like a pig anyway at the slightest provocation, and what with its being the first decent walk of the year and me thus a bit out of shape, I swear I lost three litres of - um, liquid - on that little jaunt: rest assured that on arriving back home I lost no time in replacing it.

Like I said, I made that strawberry coulis and I thought I'd better do something with it, and the best idea I could come up with was to make some chocolate soufflé batter (three eggs, separated, the yolks beaten with 150 gm of sugar, and 200 gm of decent dark chocolate melted with a bit of cream) and then stick some of the strawberries on the bottom of a silicone cake mould, pour half the batter on top, then put it in the oven to bake for a bit.

After ten minutes, when the top was firm, I took it out, spread more strawberries over that and then filled the mould with the rest of the soufflé stuff and put it back in the oven, whilst the baked potatoes cooked. And then, as we sat down to our lamb chops and trimmings, I turned the oven off and forgot about it for a bit.

Soufflés do fall, it's kind of in the nature of the beast, but it unmoulded rather nicely: sad to say, I seem to have produced version 2.00 of the chocolate-strawberry cowpat cake that I once made, to much critical acclaim, for Sophie. No-one will ever like it for its looks - probably just as well - but the taste is sublime. If, of course, you like chocolate, and strawberries.

I have since wondered what to do about the delivery aspects ie how can I make it look less ugly, toyed with the idea of baking it in a pastry shell but then it'd just be a banal chocolate pie, so maybe it's destined just to be cooked and served in ramequins. Or, for kids, as a cowpat, just the way it comes.

Some people seem to think that a week is a long time between reading a recipe and putting it into action: cower, mere mortals, for the longest gestation period I have ever had is 27 years. In the way-back-when, at a time when I thought that "disposable income" meant stuffing dollar bills down the toilet (something Larry Ellison still does if rumour can be believed, but it would seem it's mainly to wash the coke off), I strode purposefully out the door one day, only to return with La Technique and La Méthode, by the estimable Jacques Pépin. Who was, apart from being a great chef in his own right, also a close friend of the late and much-lamented Julia Child.

The epitome of French "good taste"
Only incidentally cookbooks, their purpose was, like it says on the tin, to teach the techniques and methods of cookery, and they did a pretty damn good job. Hell, they certainly helped turn me into a cook. The photographs were, as they say, "of the era", not designed to make the food look pretty (not an easy thing to do anyway with a pile of squishy kidneys and assorted lungs'n'lights) but to illustrate what was going on: they may also explain why a generation of would-be cooks grew up thinking that the natural colour of meat - of almost anything, really - was gray. Could also explain a certain period in the history of English cuisine, about that time when the guy that invented gray food colouring became filthy rich. But I digress.

English cooking, incidentally, gets a very bad press. Yes, during, and for an unnecessarily long period after, WWII there was rationing which meant that some rather vital ingredients were rather hard to get. (The French had it easy, they were all fearless members of the résistance and found it no hardship to bleed a bit into the sauce so that it thickened. And they always seemed to have some cognac about.) Completely needless, maybe it was just habit, and a result of the political agendas of the time - sharing the hardship and all that - or possibly just incompetence. But the point is that England was always a resource-rich nation as opposed to - let's say, France - and consequently evolved a completely different style of cooking.

When you have a prime piece of meat, roasting it in the simplest fashion makes a hell of a lot of sense and you get to keep all the natural flavour: but when life hands you frogs' legs, which are your only option because the unspeakable unfettered aristocracy who happen to own you get to keep all the arable land as forest so that they can hunt, and take all the good bits of whatever mangy beasts you do actually manage to raise anyway, you do what you can to make them palatable. I guess.

Also explains the completely different cuts of meat. English cuts are designed to get the most of the best: in France a beast is cut so that everything gets used, and to hell with the consequences. Hence long, slow stewing. Anyway.

Getting back to the point, in one of those books there is a recipe for bavette farci, aka stuffed skirt steak, and it was one of the first that drew my attention. But somehow I never got around to it; partly, I suppose, because of the difficulty back in NooZild at the time of actually finding a piece of skirt steak that hadn't been promised to the cat.

And I never made it over here either, partly because a decent hunk of bavette costs an appendage of your choice and personally I'm quite happy just to fry it quickly and then eat it with a slab of foie gras melting over it and some bastard béarnaise dribbled over the lot.

But for some reason I found myself last night with a thick bit of hampe in the fridge, and most of the necessaries for the stuffing, and a certain urge, so after a quick stagger oop t'village to get a bit of mince (which is, let's face it, so much nicer freshly ground than the unspeakable stuff under nitrogen from the supermarket) I finally took the time to do it. After all these years.

Once you've butterflied your steak (easier said than done with hampe, given its architecture, but I am patient, and have very sharp knives) you can stick that aside and out of the reach of cats whilst you get the stuffing ready. If you happen to have a favourite you can use that: I followed Pépin and fried a couple of slices-worth of bread cubes in butter and oil, added a finely chopped shallot and heaps of garlic to that so that they softened, and mixed it all gently into 200gm of steak mince, beaten up with an egg and lots of chopped parsley and some thyme, salt and pepper.

Please do be gentle with it: you do not want your lovingly fried croutons turning into mush.

Pile that lot over the butterflied steak and pull one side over to cover it: personally I tie it, having learnt the trick of doing that neatly and quickly, but do feel free to resort to toothpicks if you wish. Then brown it rapidly all over in butter in one of those handy stainless steel sauteuses you really should have, add some sliced carrots and onions and let them brown too before putting a large chopped tomato into the mix.

And when all that's sizzling nicely, slosh in 250ml of wine and beef stock (proportions to taste, some stock is essential if only to keep up appearances, using too much wine would require you to open another bottle), bring to the boil then cover and let simmer for at least an hour.

At which point you can fish it out, reduce the sauce until thick, slice and serve. I am not going to say that you owe it to yourself to make this, nor that it was worth that 27-year wait, just that it is rather delicious and has the happy side effect of stretching out  the meat: good thing in our case as Jeremy appeared unexpectedly for dinner.

And right now I have another urge, which is to make bagels. Godnose why, not as though I'm Jewish, just wanna! wanna! Be good, people.

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