Monday, 26 August 2013

A taste of the sea itself

Oysters – or seaside food porn, as it might be known
As the struggle to deal with a kitchen that includes a fancy juicer gadget but no knife sharpener continues, it’s not really felt as though there have been a huge number of culinary successes to report.

There have been one or two simple meals – not least a boudin Catalan, sliced in half lengthways and grilled briefly – and the inevitable magret de canard.

This was, after all, where we really learned last year that, to be a proper magret de canard, the meat must be from a duck reared in the south west of France for foie.

There’s a reason they have a fabulously thick layer of fat on them – all of which can be saved for potatoes.

A little fish has been cooked – not easy to prepare, though, when you don’t have a thin, flexible, sharp knife to fillet, and the only knife that’s worthy of the name is a cook’s knife, which is fine for many things. But not filleting or skinning fish.

Little soles thankfully required no prep, but an attempt to roast some white fish (I haven’t a clue what it was) in a fresh tomato sauce rather turned into something akin to a stew as the fish, finally skinned, fell apart rather a lot.

The Other Half was complimentary, but I felt far from thrilled.

I tried a very small chicken too – just like last year – but that was disappointingly flawed. Stuffed with garlic and lemon and basil, and with paprika and pepper generously applied to the skin, it had been placed on a trivet of lovely red onion chunks, in the roasting dish. A little liquid was added, the pot was lidded and went into a fan oven at around 160˚C. Less than an hour later, the onion was pretty much cremated.

As The Other Half observed when washing up, the pot itself may not have helped, being almost impossibly lightweight for a casserole. Did that make a difference? I don’t know.

However, the most noteworthy success thus far was meatballs.

The local boucherie sold me approximately 340g of a mix of pork and beef mince – perfect – and this had paprika, pepper and some bread that had been soaked in milk worked into it, before being shaped into balls the size of a large plum. Inevitably, there was an odd number. C’est la vie.

I skinned some of the local tomatoes – the ‘ugly’ ones that taste of the sun – and browned the meatballs in olive oil before setting them on one side.

Some sliced onion and garlic was then softened in the frying pan, before the tomatoes (drained and chopped roughly) were added, together with a little more paprika and black pepper.

After simmering gently for a minute or two, the meatballs were returned to the pan and a ‘lid’ was created with foil, since there was no proper one.

It was cooked for approximately 30 minutes, and garnished with tiny basil leaves on the plate. And the result was good – really good.

We have, in the last week, had one evening meal out, returning to nearby L’Amphitryon for the third time.

It had, we’d heard, a new manager. So there were questions about whether anything had changed and, if so, what?

A lovely view for dining
We booked (sensible, since it was a Friday evening) and found ourselves in a delightful corner on the terrace with a lovely view of the chateau as the sun descended.

Last year, when we dined there on our last night, we had been presented with very fancy amuse bouche. One was a tiny quiche each, with parmesan in, which – and regular readers may need to make sure they’re sitting down – The Other Half ate, knowingly, and didn’t object to.

Anyway, this year, the amuse bouche had been simplified to small croutons with Serrano and cheese on one, and a swirl of aïoli and a curled anchovy on the other.

And damned fine they were too, relying not on fancy culinary skills, but on the quality of the ingredients.

My starter, I admit, was as simple as it comes: six oysters.

Now it was late last year that I tried my first oysters, with no problems. These were rather different – being Mediterranean oysters and rather larger.

Not only are they larger, the taste is different: these really zinged with a sense of tasting the sea itself – just as Elizabeth David described the experience of eating utterly fresh sea urchins in Italy. What an absolute joy. There was some shallot vinegar with them, but I didn’t bother and stuck simply with the lemon. I’m too much of an oyster baby to want anything extra.

It was also a new experience in that they had not been cut free from the shell, so I had to do a new kind of work for my kick.

Cod, chorizo sauce and very nice vegetables
That may have been the cause of the problem I had some hours later, when a single dash to the bathroom was required. Not enough – thankfully – to make me believe that I’m allergic to oysters per se.

For my main course, I opted for cabillaud – cod – with a chorizo sauce. And very nice it was too, with a selection of vegetables that were also superbly cooked.

I know it’s boring, but I finished with ice cream, because I was just far too full for anything else – and the portions sizes were generous, to say the least.

We enjoyed a nice bottle of local rosé to wash it all down.

One of the few other differences we could see was the presence of chips – hand cut – where we don’t recall seeing them before.

But I’m delighted to report that the food at L’Amphitryon remains of excellent quality, and helps it stands out far from the ‘tourist trap’ restaurants to do exist in the village. And the service too is charming and unrushed.

All in all, it was an excellent evening.

No comments:

Post a Comment