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Simon Scrutton BlogRoutes de Confolens, Lesterps, Confolens, 16420
29th March 2018
The popularity of The National Tea Day has led to its overflow into two days this year. These days, the term ‘tea’ includes the many flavours of tisines, which have a growing popularity amongst the young.
The main event is to be held a Chiswick House in West London, where there’ll be entertainment for all the family + a museum of historic tea ware; but tea rooms all over the country are offering special promotions. See https://www.nationalteaday.co.uk/ for more information.
11th March 2018
What I meant to add to my blog of 6th March was the fact that many of the locals in this area (of a certain age) use Occitan as their everyday language. The village & town signs are labelled such, as well as in French. So Lesterps is ‘L’Esterp’; Saint Junien ‘Sent-Junian’; Limoges ‘Limòtges’ and Limousin ‘Lemosin’. Everyday language is completely different, not just a dialect – for example Ca route = ‘Lò menas’; Qui est-ce – ‘Quau es quò’ and T’as encore fait la fête hier soir = ‘T’as d’enguera fach la bringa arser’’
The Bistrot Limousin markets itself as ‘Lo Bistrot Lemosin’ – giving the men both in Occitan & French – and concentrating on local traditional dishes.
I was thinking that Napoleon, and indeed as recently as the 2nd World War, it might be quite hard to communicate with French troops from various parts of the country – as indeed it might have been in Britain with those with strong regional accents!
I must confess that when I first thought of writing a blog I wondered if I’d have much to write about – but no worries there – although possibly nothing much of interest to anyone else.
Lying on a bed in Limoges University Hospital – where, if you’re going to be ill, I’d thoroughly recommend. At present plugged into one of my 3 times a week, 4 hour, dialysis sessions. Now I’m fully ‘plumbed-in’ with my system of pipes the event is painless and the hospital becoming a second office for Gourmet Britain editing.
All the crucial people speak English here, and those that don’t couldn’t be more friendly. Restrictions on my diet are slightly limiting, but it’s often only when you’re not allowed something that you want it. Items with too much potassium are a no-no, so avocados, baked potatoes, any form of nuts (including peanuts) are out – plus strictly speaking only one item of fresh fruit per day.
Spring has suddenly sprung here, and the first daffs are flowering. We’re lucky that our house’s previous owners planted about 4,000 bulbs & corms in our garden – so we have had crocus’s for some time & end up with iris’s in late April. It’s a pity they didn’t pay as much attention to the roof of the house, which has been leaking like a sieve throughout an extremely wet winter! Still this should soon be fixed, thank goodness.
Had a good lunch yesterday at Bistrot Limousin today in Saint Junien. I was surprised how full it was on a winters Tuesday – we only just got in,
I had Tete de Veau which was excellent (although my greedy side could have done with more), It came nicely presented in a deep white bowl, with a dumpling, buckwheat galette & fresh chicory/endive leaves. As is quite usual in this part of France (Charente) my wife – who’s a part time vegetarian – had to ‘make do’ with a Smoked Mackerel Salad; but this also when done very well, a poached egg combining well with the vinaigrette dressing.
Puds were a rather flat Cherry Clafouti & good Profiteroles with excellent vanilla ice cream. Will certainly go again.
With reference to my last post about Britain’s best Curry Houses, it’s strange to think that the Indian sub-continent had no chilis until well after Christopher Columbus brought them to Europe at the turn of the 16th century. Before that dishes were spiced, partly to cover up any lack of freshness in the meat/fish due to the difficult climatic conditions, but any heat would only have come from pepper.
If you’re a curry lover, you may wonder where the best authentic curries are to be had.
Birmingham is crammed full of good curry restaurants, but although many dishes have achieved almost universal popularity, they were invented (or at least named) in the city.
Balti’s, Phaal’s & Tinderloo’s spring to mind.
Even the genuinely-named Vindaloo shouldn’t be screamingly hot; the dish being native to Goa, where, in its days as a Portuguese colony was flavoured with wine & garlic – bearing little resemblance to the fiery dish we know in Britain.
I had a spell travelling the country tasting curries for Egon Ronay, to such an extent that I can no longer eat very hot versions.
As for my favourite ‘Indian’ restaurant – it would have to be a toss up between Madhu’s and Brilliant (owned by cousins) – both are in Southall, and well worth a trip; and come from the Punjab via Kenya. If I had to choose just one, I’d go for the former & straight away scoff down some delicious paratha bread, stiff ‘puffed up’ from the kitchen.
See Gourmet Britain for info on the restaurants.
With the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, why is it in this digital age that television volumes can’t be more consistent? With older programmes you expect to have to make adjustments, but when listening to say ‘The News’, you shouldn’t have to sit there clutching the remote while alternately being almost blown out of the room or having to listen to an article that barely audible. Can’t ‘they’ get their act together?
Congratulations from www.gourmetbritain.com to Millers Haxby, Yorkshire for winning the Seafish ‘Fish & Chip Shop of the Year’ Award – see http://www.gourmetbritain.com/restaurants/32368/millers-fish-chips-haxby/
The steady improvement of restaurant food in Britain has put the hardcopy guides in a bit of a predicament! Either they increase their standards for a basic entry, or ‘drop’ restaurants worthy of inclusion – or have a bulky guide too cumbersome to handle.
One victim in this, is perhaps London’s most romantic restaurant ‘Poule au Pot’ – on the corner of Ebury Street. If you’re after genuine French provincial cooking, you’d be hard pushed to do better.
Prices are firm, but not excessive for the overheads they must incur for this part of London.
Living in our area of the Charente, we see at first hand the terrible waste of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
Farmer workers, all seemingly equipped with gleamingly-new tractors, start work industriously at about 7am (often in the pitch dark). Ploughing, watering, moving things about – whatever farmers do. Around here, sheep are the main livestock, plus some beef cattle; but the money available for capital kit (such as tractors), doesn’t seem to cover fencing. Most of this is in a terrible state, so when driving, as well as wild boar & deer – which at least run – you might meet static sheep around any country corner.
The main arable crops here are winter wheat, which is generally ready to harvest in July, Sunflowers & Sweetcorn. The latter two are grown, then at the end of the summer, ploughed back in - i.e. totally wasted!
The trouble is, without farming, there would be no jobs; apart from those paid to endlessly cut roadside verges, which really don’t need cutting – or re-surfacing roads that are smooth in any case.
You can see why many ‘in the know’ in Britain want out of the EU. Only time will tell if Brexit works out well for Britain – but if I were France or Germany, I’d wonder where the 11 million euros the EU gives Poland each year was going to come from without a British contribution!
Like Spain, Poland will soon have a railway network to be proud of – whereas in Blighty, we just pay for everybody else’s and suffer from a second-class & outdated rail & road system.
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.