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Simon Scrutton BlogRoutes de Confolens, Lesterps, Confolens, 16420
We are lucky living in this golden age of food, where the sub-conscious restrictions of regional boundaries have largely disappeared. In the UK, such dishes are often labelled by the guides as ‘Modern British’ – but in France, you could still surprise your French guests by introducing them to unusual combinations.
Gremolata, the Northern Italian herb condiment, made with a mixture of lemon zest, garlic & parsley (and sometimes chopped anchovies) and traditionally-served with Osso Bucco, is one such taste weapon. When mixed with fresh breadcrumbs you end up with a delicious coating for chicken, pork or veal escalopes – or my favourite - plaice or lemon sole fillets – giving you an easy new twist on fish & chips!
The finished dish is user-friendly, as most of the work can be done ahead of time. You can then choose whether to deep or shallow fry.
Ingredients for 4 people:
8 tablespoons (120ml) freshly-chopped Parsley
4 big cloves of Garlic, peeled & chopped
The freshly-grated zest of 2 Lemons
120g/4 oz fine Breadcrumbs. You can make these yourself with liquidised stale bread
4 fllets or escalopes of your chosen fish, meat or poultry
A plate of flour – seasoned with salt & pepper
2 medium Eggs, beaten together with a little salt to break down the albumin
Oil for frying
To serve – 2 additional Lemons, cut into wedges – or, if you are eating privately, you can use the lemons stripped of their zest.
1. Mix together the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic & lemon zest. Dip your chosen fish, poultry or meat escalope in the seasoned flour, then into the egg mixture, before coating well with the breadcrumb mixture. Shake off any excess crumbs and set aside, or refrigerate until needed.
* Can be prepared ahead up to this point.
2. If deep frying, heat the oil to 160⁰C/325⁰F. If shallow frying, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil the oil in a wide frying pan – as it will probably be easier to fry your bread-crumbed items in two batches. Don't be tempted to use olive oil as a neutral-tasting oil is better.
3. If deep frying, fry until the fish floats and is lightly golden – turning once – it is then ready. If cooking meat or poultry, cook until the crumbs are a little darker in colour.
4. If shallow frying, cook until golden – but don’t be tempted to add your pan until the oil is hot, or the breadcrumbs absorb too much oil.
5. Either way, drain on a kitchen paper towel, and serve perhaps with a salad & chips – but don’t forget the lemon wedges.
In regional France, nothing much has changed cooking traditions for several generations – if not longer. The encroachment of pizzas is possibly the only exception, and even this the French can claim back to Pizzaladère from the Nice area.
In our little Charente village, we have a local family-run restaurant, where you can tell the days of the week by the ‘plat du jour’. Each Wednesday it’s Coq a Vin, each Thursday Tête de Veau etc.
Also, by Coq a Vin, that’s what you get – not poule or even poulade. The beast so large that the legs & thighs are sawn across in the style of an osso bucco! The end result from cheffy is very good though – although I’m not sure if he resorts to the pressure cooker or just extremely slow cooking.
Out he comes at the end of service, complete with high toque – shaking hands and beaming all round.
A slightly more modern style of restaurant has opened a few miles away, and is already attracting some of the younger generation – but I think this is more atmospheric than the style of food itself.
Returning to pizzas. Most restaurants offering them have invested in wood-fired ovens and the standard is very high (so are prices, at about 14 euros a throw). Unlike those from Italy, tomatoes are rarely used as a base, and mozzarella not common place (Emmenthal more usual). Instead, in our area of the Charente we are treated to ‘Snails in Garlic Butter’ (see photo); ‘’La Périgourdine’ (duck confit & gizzards) and ‘La Toulousane’ (Toulouse sausage).
2nd January 2018
What is perceived to be Italian cooking, is just a general style, belonging nowhere in particular. This often isn’t even cooking, but assembly. In any case, the truth s there’s no such thing as Italian cuisine, as traditional dishes vary from region to region, and often from village to village –Pesto Sauce, emanating from the area around Genoa, is a good example of this. It’s quite usual in the Italian provinces for all the restaurants in a town to list the same dishes. To change your choice, you might have to travel 10 or 15 miles – where you’ll find different toppings for the crostini and a different stuffing in the porchetta.
On watching Mary Berry’s interesting series on ‘Country House Secrets’ the other day, I was very disappointed that her recipe for Coq a Vin was such a let-down. Both her, and a repeated recipe by the great entertainer Keith Floyd, missed two vital tricks to make your Coq au Vin the best. Neither takes skill, just unattended time. First, the chicken pieces should be marinated in wine overnight. Second, after cooking the dish should again be left to stand – so that any fat comes to the surface and can be removed. The recipes of both these cooks relied on quantities of flour (suspending any fat) to overcome this problem. For a fool-proof recipe, good enough to satisfy the Michelin man see http://www.gourmetbritain.com/recipes/19578/coq-au-vin-recipe/ - incidentally, KF (who was making the dish for a group of grape pickers) used bottle after bottle of Gevrey Chambertin in his version, but no shallots or mushrooms!
The change in standard of British restaurant food since the 1960’s is nothing short of amazing. I can remember as a boy occasionally being taken out to a ‘smart’ restaurant where grilled Dover Sole or Fillet Steak would be the star of the show. If a sauce appeared it would be based around an Oxo-type catering mixture. This style of cooking remained entrenched well into the 1980’s, and can still be found in some middle-ranking hotels. Britain’s greatest gains have been in Chinese, Indian & Thai restaurants – the best of which compete with any in the world, outside their home countries.
With world influences taking hold, and the craze for what is perceived as Italian cooking, the ball has swung too far the other way. At its worst, many so-called Italian restaurants, especially of the chain variety, get away with hardly any cooking at all. A central ‘kitchen’ providing them with pre-sliced Parma ham, tinned artichokes, sardines etc – plus bought in ‘fresh’ pasta and pizza bases. Chili’s seem to be the new Oxo cube, I know plenty of people who say they can’t taste food without them – their taste buds having been numbed by chili’s over the years.
A Happy Christmas & New Year to everyone.
23rd December 2017
Now living in France for part of the year, it’s good to see the Gourmet Britain website – www.gourmetbritain.com - going from strength to strength. I would like to thank all our contributors for their reports, and work on the ground. We have had over 1 million site visitors over the last year, and hope for over 2 million in the year to come.
With the end of the year approaching, 2018 beckons excitement & new projects for the Scrutton household. For some reason, years with uneven numbers have never appealed in our family, and so it turned out to be – with several medical conditions rearing their heads. The number 18 seems far more appealing – let’s hope so!
With me, the main perpetrator was diagnosed as being the over-indulgence of strong black tea, which led to a five week stretch in hospital & a run of dialysis - c’est la vie.
New projects include me giving Cookery Lessons to small groups. These should suit everyone from the beginner , wanting to learn a few signature dishes with which to surprise their family, to experienced chefs searching for restaurant ‘winners’ to gain accolades in the food guides. Courses can be tailor-made. Click on the banner on the Gourmet Britain Cookery Schools section for more information.
I can remember all too vividly, in my chef/proprietor days, waiting for the publication of ‘The Good Food Guide’ each year, when restaurants really don’t know if they’ll be included or not – London restaurateurs might scoff, but if you live in the sticks, an entry here is sometimes the difference between survival and going bust. It’s still the hardest guide in which to gain entry, as every customer is a potential critic. Ah! I hear you say, but what about TripAdvisor. The main trouble with T/A is that everyone likes to see their name in print, and all think they are experts. Unfortunately this isn’t so. The Good Food Guide only acknowledges comments after you have built up a reputation of matching those with known experience, whereas any fool can publish on T/A. Indeed, this was shown recently, when a restaurant that didn’t even exist was ‘voted’ London’s best – a few friends working together to write in phony reports.
Also, Etcetera – the free magazine covering The Charente – will be publishing a couple of my recipes each month – all these will be easily manageable even for beginners.