Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A French chef cooked WHAT?

Let's be honest. When you pick up a book of recipes by a serious chef – and perhaps particularly a chef from Frenchland – you do not generally expect to find a page devoted to explaining the best way to make ham and egg.

Okay, you might expect it from Heston Blumenthal, but then he's not French and besides, in his world, the eggs alone would involve frying the white and yolk separately.

But no: this is Michel Roux we're talking about and he has ideas about exactly that humble dish – and they work really rather well too.

The Other Half fancied ham, egg and chips and, seeing as we had plenty of ham left and I'm an obliging sort (some of the time), I decided to do just that.

But browsing through the Roux book on eggs (it's in danger of already becoming a household bible), I spotted that the man himself had written down a recipe for the dish I was intending to toss together.

Now, I don't know whether it's just me, but it would not even have crossed my mind to warm the meat. My approach would, simply, have involved plonking some cold-cut ham on a couple of plates, frying eggs and serving them atop the aforementioned meat. Simples, as the meerkat says.

But Monsieur Roux was having none of that. He suggests that you heat some butter gently in a pan, then warm the ham for a minute on one side, turn and gently place an egg (from a ramekin) onto each piece of ham and give it until it's cooked to suit your taste.

Taking account of his general instructions for fried eggs, I lidded the pan at this juncture, allowing steam to help cook the eggs. It's obvious when you think about it. And the result was excellent – eggs beautifully cooked, but not crozzled. Ham warmed through nicely.

On the side, chips à la Delia as is my usual – in other words, twice fried. And earlier in the day, I'd made mayonnaise for the first time. Yes, I've made aïoli often enough, but not 'original' mayo. And given the menu, I like mayo with my fries.

My introduction to mayo with chips wasn't in France, but some years earlier in Amsterdam – where you can also get sauerkraut with hot dogs as an example of really top street food. Once I'd tried the mayo option, though, I've been addicted to chips this way since.

Having long put off making my own mayo – the process seemed rather more complicated than that for aïoli – I decided to follow Joël Robuchon's instructions. Yet again, it seemed far easier than I had assumed.

Take an egg yolk, a teaspoon of mustard (I used a medium German one rather than Dijon), a pinch of salt and pepper and a few drops of any vinegar (a white wine one with tarragon, in my case) and then mix together. One of those hand-held electric whisks makes really light work of jobs like this.

Once it's all mixed together, start slowly adding a neutral oil (sunflower), just a little at a time. Once the emulsion has come together, you can add more, a little more quickly.

Mayonnaise is one of those things that does actually cost more to make your own than to buy. But having said that, what you get in a jar bears little resemblance to what you can produce yourself.

Decanting the unctuous mixture into a jar, I was close to scoffing the lot in the sort of foodie 'oh-my-god' state that is not a million miles removed from orgasm.

So, ham, egg and chips – the posh version. Or not, really. This latest batch of books is proving a revelation, starting to close a gap that exists in my mind between Good/Proper Cooking and 'ordinary' cooking.

Not that the day's fodder was all quite so down to Earth. The same Roux book also brought forth another dessert: this time, a chocolate and orange mousse.

In the morning, I actually left the flat and pottered up to Broadway Market – almost blinded by the natural (albeit rather grey) light – to pick up a few bits and pieces, including liquid glycerine from the chemist (The Other Half suggested I might find some there). It's the first time I've purchased a product that declares itself as being for "skincare and food preparation".

However, one tablespoon was added to two yolks and two tablespoons of warm water.

150g of good, dark chocolate is melted gently in a bowl over hot water, while 150ml of double cream is mixed with 30g icing sugar.

Then put the egg and glucose mixture into the chocolate mixture and, once that's combined, gently add the cream and sugar, decant into containers and chill.

Clever clogs here mixed the cream alright, but forgot to add the sugar (and probably over-mixed the cream itself too).

Now the original recipe also involved creating a syrup with the zest of an orange and putting a couple of 'layers' of this in with the finished chocolate mix, before topping with more of the same.

My deliberate deviation from the written word saw me scrub an orange to get rid of any wax (and release the lovely scent) and then finely grate it, stirring most of that into the chocolate mixture and leaving just a little to garnish.

It gave a wonderful flavour, although the mousse itself was so dense that it was more like a torte (probably either my forgetting the sugar, over-whisking the cream or a combination of both). But then again, I'd eat a chocolate torte with no complaint, so it was hardly to be consumed under sufferance!

So, the lessons of the day:

1) 'chef' food isn't all complicated and fiddly stuff that's just for 'special' occasions, while there's something else called 'ordinary' food for 'ordinary' days;

2) read the bloomin' recipe carefully – several times before you start and then carefully again while you're working from it!

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