Monday 9 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras BONUS: Turron Foie Gras from Pasacal Aussignac

I originally started off with seven days of foie gras but as a bonus here’s an eighth unconventional foie gras. Haven’t had this one so not entirely sure it works, but it’s so wacky it demands a mention!
Previous entries:
  1. Shaved Foie Gras, Lychee & Pine Nut Brittle from the Momofuku Cookbook
  2. Foie Gras Ganache from Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine
  3. Steamed Foie Gras with Broad Beans and Peas from Essential Cuisine
  4. Whole Roasted Moulard Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles from the French Laundry Cookbook
  5. Hot Foie Gras, Lentilles du Pays, Sherry Vinegar Sauce from White Heat
  6. Foie Gras Five Ways from Charlie Trotter's Meat & Game
  7. Roast Smoked Foie Gras with Onion Mousse from Made in Great Britain

Bonus Recipe: Turron Foie Gras

The dish: Turron is traditionally a rather moreish French nougat. So what’s it doing at Club Gascon, London’s premier foie-gras eatery? Infiltrated with duck liver of course! This is effectively a traditional foie gras terrine, but instead of macerating in port the foie gras is marinated in Baileys and sugar. Then, instead of being studded with truffles, it’s studded with chunk of turron and walnut. To finish it’s dusted with cocoa and served as a dessert with a passion fruit coulis.

Why it’s special: It’s a dessert. With foie gras. Nuff said. To be fair I have no idea if it’s a car crash or really does taste “amazing” as the cookbook says. Actually it may well be both, but as they say you should try everyone in life once apart from Morris dancing and incest… (Pass the jingle bells…)

The Chef and the Book: Pascal Aussignac is London’s unofficial ambassador of Gascon Cuisine and Conspicuous Foie Gras Consumption. After training with sud-ouest master Alain Dutournier in Paris he decamped to London to found a pocket-size restaurant-empire on the edge of the financial district (so far: one-star restaurant Club Gascon, epicerie-cum-bistro Comptoir Gascon and wine bar Cellar Gascon). It vaguely reminds me of Christian Constant’s 7th  arrondisement mini-empire in Paris, just with a higher duck count.

His book Cuisinier Gascon is an enticing combination of the old and the new. Think of it as Memories of Gascony for millennials (Pierre Koffmann even provides the foreword). While regional classics like garbure, poule au pot and cassoulet get a look-in, the spine of the book is the more contemporary cuisine served at Club Gascon. This is unmistakably bolshy, rustic food (think duck hearts with spinach, or beef fillet with oyster sauce) but dotted with off-beat cheffy touches - foie gras with popcorn, pigeon with onion & elderflower and, most outrageously, that turron foie gras. There are many regional cuisine books and many cheffy books, but this is one of the few unmistakably regional cheffy books.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras 7): Roast Smoked Foie Gras With Onion Mousse from Aiden Byrne

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:

The dish: A tranche of foie gras is hot-smoked over wood before being pan-fried until golden-brown and just soft in the center. It’s served alongside a set custard of white onions and parmesan studded with caramelised baby onions, a spoonful of stock, and nothing more.

Why it’s special: This is a dish I enjoyed many years ago at the Dorchester Grill. At first sight this is a traditional hot-foie-gras- with-something-sweet dish. However two things elevate Byrne’s version. Firstly there are the extra little grace notes – smoking the foie gras; using a sweet onion custard rather than the usual fruit sludge. They lift it above the ordinary. Second there’s a certain sense of restraint. Lesser chefs would be tempted to smother it with an extra slick of this or an extra crunch of that. Here the two main components stand alone. It’s a reminder that at the highest levels of cuisine, less is often more.

The chef and the book: Aiden Byrne is possibly the world’s unluckiest chef. After apprenticing in a number of fine kitchens around the UK (Adlards, Tom Aikens etc.) he finally got his big break as head chef at the Dorchester Hotel. Then, just as he was starting to make waves with his snappy modern British food, management decided to install a certain M. Ducasse in the restaurant across the hall, which took our Aiden from flagship to sidekick sooner than you could say “have you nicked my truffles again Alain?” Undaunted he decamped to a gastropub in Cheshire only to find that the locals didn’t really appreciate “fayn dining” (it’s a North/South divide thing). He is now at the theatrical Manchester House, still chasing stars. I wish him well – he deserves a break!

In between gigs he published the wildly underrated Made in Great Britain. This is one of the most delicious, unpretentious chefbooks of recent years. Despite the title, it doesn’t harp on about some ersatz British cuisine like, say, Historic Heston. Nor it is an exhaustive personal story like the Momofuku or Nobu books. It simply presents a dazzling sequence of dishes featuring (primarily) British ingredients.

This is a book which lives or dies by its recipes (some of the highlights shown below). They are what makes it such as great work. A few themes particularly stand out:
  • The first is a certain lightness and freshness, exemplified in a lovely summer Tomato and Peach Salad with Pine Nut Vinaigrette or zingy composition of Chicken Breast with Lemon, Rosemary and Figs. Despite Byrne’s roots in a Liverpool council estate, there is an almost Italian sensibility at play.
  • The second is a sense of restraint – there are rarely more than two or three components on the plate (e.g. the Veal Fillet with Lobster, Apple Fondants and Jabugo Ham). NB this isn’t St John “raw peas on a plate” simplicity; the dishes are undeniably complex but as I said earlier Byrne has the rare ability to sense what not to put on the plate.
  • The third are the flavour combinations. Everywhere you look there are interesting little touches – scallops poached in red wine with scallop tripe, pork chop with pear and hawthorn flowers, vension baked with Polish bison-grass. These are unusual, almost pastoral, pairings but ones which make sense rather than only being included for shock value. Highly recommended.
Coming up tomorrow: One last sweet little bonus!


Saturday 7 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras: 6) Foie Gras Five Ways from Charlie Trotter

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:

The dish: This is a mighty composite plate comprising five separate foie gras preparations.
  1. Seared foie gras served with braised cabbage and golden raisins.
  2. A foie gras terrine interleaved with slices of Buddha’s hand fruit (no I’ve got no idea either; apparently it’s a type of exotic citrus).
  3. Another terrine of cured foie gras, smothered with a chanterelle gelee.
  4. A foie gras custard (basically foie gras crème brulee without the brulee).
  5.  A foie gras and apple ice-cream.

Why it’s special: This dish might as well be called “Heart Attack Five Ways”. I’m not going to claim it’s the most radically inventive plate ever created (although there are nice touches, like the Buddha’s hand fruit and the ice-cream). However as a set-piece shock-and-awe assault on the palate and the arteries it cannot be matched.

The chef and the book: The late Charlie Trotter is a controversial figure in the foie gras world – it was his original decision to ban it from his restaurant that lit the touch paper for the acrimonious Chicago foie gras ban. This book dates from just before that announcement so we have the peculiar picture of him cutely shooing chicks at a foie gras farm (see scan below), despite later claiming it was just such a visit which turned him against foie gras. However I much prefer to focus on the book itself which is IMHO the highlight of his blockbuster quintet of Charlie Trotter’s cookbooks. Even though he predates the molecular wave, we shouldn’t forget how much we owe him for his improvisional style and (for the time) daring flavour combinations. This is a must-have volume full of big, ballsy, beefy flavours.

Coming up tomorrow: We end the series with the world's unluckiest chef (and author of one of the worlds most underrated cookbooks)...
Charlie relaxes with a few feathered friends...

Friday 6 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras: 5) Hot Foie Gras, Lentilles Du Pays, Sherry Vinegar Sauce from Marco Pierre White

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:
  1. Shaved Foie Gras, Lychee & Pine Nut Brittle from the Momofuku Cookbook
  2. Foie Gras Ganache from Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine
  3. Steamed Foie Gras with Broad Beans and Peas from Essential Cuisine
  4. Whole Roasted Moulard Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles from the French Laundry Cookbook

Recipe 5: Hot Foie Gras, Lentilles du Pays, Sherry Vinegar Sauce

The dish: An escalope of foie gras (almost certainly goose, given the vintage of the book) is fried until just brown and crunchy and served on a bed of braised lentils and garnished with ceps. The dish is finished with a demi-glace spiked with sherry vinegar and a touch of cream.

PS At the risk of being a pedant I have to say the fungi in the picture look a damn sight more like chantarelles than ceps to me! And I'd wager good money those are actually lentilles du puy, not lentilles du pays... :-p

Why it’s special: Mixing humble and haute ingredients is an old kitchen trope. Robuchon did it with his cauliflower cream and caviar; Thomas Keller with his oysters and tapioca pearls. This is Marco Pierre White’s version – allegedly inspired by pork pies with mushy peas/vinegar (squint and you might see a slight resemblance). Although the recipe and techniques are slightly dated now (why use demi-glace when you have a cryo-filtration rig?) the combination – rich buttery foie gras and earthy piquant lentils is a good one; Robuchon’s Cuisine Actuelle also has a version (reproduced at the end of this post) where he steams the foie gras and presents it on a soup-like lentil cream.

The chef and the book: Marco, Marco. Another chef who needs no introduction. Three Michelin stars at the age of 33, and it’s been downhill ever since. Last seen getting slammed by hygiene inspectors in Birmingham – how far you have fallen! But in his time he gave us some great food and one truly iconic cookbook. White Heat was a genuine revolution. Just as Jaws spawned the summer blockbuster, every soft-focus cheffy book owes its origins to Marco and his photographer Bob Carlos Clark. Up until White Heat the food was the star, after White Heat the chef was the star.

Coming up tomorrow: Shock and Awe from Chicago's controversial culinary godfather...

Joel Robuchon's alternative foie-gras-meets-lentil recipe

Thursday 5 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras: 4) Whole Roasted Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Apples and Black Truffles from Thomas Keller

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:
The dish: A whole duck foie gras is scored, seared and then roasted in the oven for five minutes until slightly soft, like a rare steak. The liver is rested and sliced, while in the meantime apple pieces and truffles are sautéed together in the rendered fat and served on this side.

Why it’s special: Cooking a whole foie gras is a rare and festive dish which you almost never see in restaurants (aside from the cost, it just doesn’t work in a traditional individual-plated-portion setting). This rarity makes it a magical dish – serving up a whole foie gras sends a certain message about generosity and luxury which you just couldn’t with a comparable weight of individual portions. Do bear in mind this dish isn’t one for the faint-hearted due to the main ingredient’s alarming tendency to melt away to a puddle almost as fast as you can cook it.

The chef and the book: Neither really need any introduction. I would say though that the French Laundry Cookbook is also one of the best hands-on books for foie gras you will find anywhere. There is an extensive spread going through the cooking options and preparation techniques (including the dreaded deveining process) and along with the roast foie gras there are also an unusual poached foie-gras recipe (cooked in Gewurztraminer) as well as Keller’s famous foie gras au torchon where the liver is not so much cooked as barely melted together. Also don’t miss Keller’s iconic description of what a perfect hot foie gras looks like on p105:
… you need the proper thickness-three quarters of an inch to 1 inch-for the three textures you want in perfectly sautéed foie gras: a crisp exterior, an almost-molten interior, and a very slim center this is firm because it’s still rare.
Coming up tomorrow: A humble take on pork pies and vinegar from one of Britain's greatest chefs.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras: 3) Steamed Foie Gras with Salad Of Broad Beans and Peas from Stefano Cavallini

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:

The dish: This is a bright, summery dish. An escalope of foie gras is lightly steamed and laid on a bed of ripe broad beans, peas and tomatoes. It is simply dressed with a beetroot vinaigrette. That is all.

Why it’s special: Steaming or poaching is my favourite way of cooking foie gras. While you don’t get the crispy crust of the sauté pan, it’s made up for by a much cleaner foie gras flavour. And (unlike the terrine) you still get the bursting juiciness you get as you bite into the hot liver. Unfortunately recipes which use this technique are rare: Alain Senderens was famous in his time for steaming foie gras in a wrapping of cabbage leaves and Joel Robuchon paired steamed foie gras with a lentil cream, I struggle to think of many other versions. This recipe is also notable for ditching the thuggish foie/fruit combination and instead opting for fresh, green vegetable flavours.
The chef and the book: Trained in Italy with Gualtiero Marchesi, Cavallini ran a one-star Italian at London’s Halkin Hotel for a number of years. He dropped off the radar for a number of years (I vaguely remember him running a deli in Clapham which seemed a crying waste of his talents) but seems to have resurfaced recently at a restaurant called Bacco so maybe there is still hope. Essential Cuisine is his only book, a modish late-90s translation for Italian cuisine with Michelin-star accents. I wouldn’t say this is a must-have book but it’s a pleasant read and contains an excellent step-by-step masterclass on risotto Milanese (one of his mentor Marchesi’s most famous signatures).

Coming up tomorrow: A dish which doesn't do things by halves, from America's very own Mr Torchon.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Seven Days of Foie Gras: 2) Foie Gras Ganache from Marcus Samuelsson

Continuing this week's series highlighting seven great foie gras recipes and the cookbooks behind them. Previous entries:

Recipe 2: Foie Gras Ganache

The dish: This is the signature of Ethiopian-Swedish-American chef (it’s a long story) Marcus Samuelsson. Basically it’s the Michel Bras chocolate coulant cake, except its spiced with garam masala and using foie gras instead of chocolate. It’s not that hard to make, but as with many coulants the trick is to get the timing exactly right so the outside is lightly browned by the centre is still liquid.

Why it’s special: This is one of the most unusual foie gras dishes you will ever find – notable for having no connection with either the traditional terrine or sautéed slice. It’s also a rare example of crossover between the sweet and savoury kitchen – the sort of thing that Michel Richard does well but no-one else quite manages to pull off.

The chef and the book: Aquavit is a sparkling book, taken from the eponymous restaurant which won three NYT stars in its day for its updated Scandinavian cuisine. The style could best be described as Nobu-meets-Nordic, substituting salmon & lox for black cod & miso. As well as their use of Scandi ingredients, the recipes are notable for a certain lightness of touch. Stand-out dishes include Rice-Smoked Duck Breasts with Honey-Ice Wine Sauce, Crispy Seared Salmon Bundles with Orange-Fennel Broth and half a dozen different recipes for aquavit to get you through those long winter nights… (Having said that Pickled Herring Sushi-Style on balls of mashed potato are probably a fusion too far.)

Coming up tomorrow: Getting hot and steamy with a forgotten Italian star.