Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What makes the French laugh?

If you’ve ever wondered whether the French laugh at us Brits for our attitude toward food, then I think I’ve found the confirmation.

A neat little book arrived for me today: I had ordered the now out-of-print Le Creuset Cookbook less for the recipes and more for the promise of details of just how to get the most out of your cast iron cookware.

Since I’ve bothered to invest in some (and then spent part of the weekend tidying out some cupboards to house it – ‘my god, when did I buy this and what is it?’), I decided that a further small investment would be worthwhile.

It’s written by Elisa Vergne and chef David Rathgeber, with food porn photos by Thomas Duval, and was published in France.

I soon spotted the brief section on “A few easy-to-follow healthy cooking rules”.

This included instructions on trimming as much fat as possible off ingredients, adding a minimum of “grease” to any dish (and absolutely not “butter, lard or pork fat”, all of which are “rich in saturated fatty acids”; draining any foods that have initially been fried or sautéed and discarding any fat left in the pan etc.

You get the gist, I’m sure. The message is simple: saturated fat is bad.

Okay. If that’s the way you want to play it …

But then, the recipes start, and the fifth is for foie gras in a terrine.

The eighth is a chicken liver terrine.

Other joyous celebrations of fabulous fattiness include pork belly with buttered cabbage – boy, do I want to try that one! – and, on the following page, ham hock with foie gras.

There’s a blanquette of veal, which includes double cream and egg yolks, and a free-range chicken with cream – a lot of it, judging by the very sexy picture.

And that’s before we reach the baking and desserts sections, on which fatty levels you’ll have to trust me.

This, I admit, tickled me pink. I imagine – and of course I could be wrong – that that original introductory note about naughty fats was designed to placate the US market, for which the book was originally produced.

After which, the French authors, knowingly and with a sly shared wink, went about the business of imparting some recipes that were simply about seriously good food.

In the office today, I bumped into someone I only meet a couple of times a year. The first thing she noted was that I’d lost weight.

We stood around the tea point gassing and sharing stories. She has no illusions about becoming skinny – and doesn’t want to – but is attending a slimmers’ group at present to help with some weight loss.

She asked what my ‘secret’ was – and seemed surprised when I told her that, having given up dieting 12 years ago, I simply ate what I fancied, but that it has involved less and less processed rubbish as the years have gone by and my late-blooming love affair with food has developed.

I suspect the French authors of that book would be less shocked than she was.

On the same general theme, I now have to make a big, big declaration of thanks to Mary – a regular reader who, having noted that I was struggling to find lard locally, brought down 500g of the lovely stuff from the west midlands when she arrived for UNISON’s NEC yesterday, plus 500g of dripping for good measure.

Mary – you’re an absolute gem. And tonight, some of it was used in a midweek toad in the hole, which I sort of borrowed from Nigel Slater and adapted a bit. Thus:

Take six decent butcher’s sausages for two people and, very carefully, skin them.

Wrap the sausages in pancetta or Serrano or streaky bacon.

Sift 125g of plain flour into a bowl with two eggs, 150ml of milk and 150ml of cold water and seasoning. Whisk this up and leave to rest for 15-30 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 220˚C.

Pop a gratin dish into the oven with three tablespoons of dripping or lard in it. Once that’s smokingly hot, pour in the batter mix and then lay the wrapped sausages in, together with three stalks of rosemary.

Pop back into the oven and cook for around 25-30 minutes.

In the meantime, slice an onion and soften in oil. Add a tablespoon of plain flour and cook for a minute or so. Then add red wine until I stops thickening. Cook until you need it.

And that, my friends, is a damned fine midweek supper. And one that I don’t think the French would scoff at.

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