Calamars à l’Armoricaine = Squid in Armoricaine Sauce

A family favourite and probably my signature dish, Squid in Armoricaine sauce are a little fiddly to prepare but worth the effort.

You can use either fresh squid or frozen, the taste is not altered. Moreover, this is a dish that freezes well and it comes in handy if you have a lazy day.

People are sometimes put off the idea of eating squid because they have only eaten rubbery rings, not sufficiently cooked. In this recipe, the squid are well cooked and tender and the sauce and flambé ensure that the taste is definitely present. The other misconception is that they could be as big as the deep sea monsters  featured in films. Not so, be reassured.

It is best to buy smallish squid but larger ones will mean less work for you at the preparation stage. If you like to cook en famille, young children will enjoy removing the transparent back bone (this, they can do by pulling it out, so do not need to use knives, which should be reserved for the adults cooks) and looking at the beautiful tentacles which resemble flowers. It is a good way to introduce children (but not infants) to tastier and varied dishes so they can educate their palate for adulthood.

My fishmonger sources them fresh from the coast or frozen from California, providing, as he says, that El Niño has not created a problem!

Serves 4:

1 kilo squid

1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 handful flat leaves parsley, finely chopped

2 small tins tomato purée

50g butter

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

100ml dry white wine

2 or 3 tablespoons Cognac

salt and pepper to season

  1. Warm up the oil in a big cast iron cocotte, if you have one, or in any cooking pot. Gently fry the onion and the garlic. Add the tomato purée with a volume of water identical to the volume of the tin. Stir and let it simmer gently. Add half the white wine.
  2. Rinse the squid in a colander. On a chopping board, slice them open, one by one. Chop off the head just below the eyes and under the tentacles. Remove a little white hard ball that is at the base of the head. Reserve the tentacles. Open up the body and remove the transparent backbone. Discard it (or keep it for birds). If there are eggs, remove them and discard. Slice the flesh into thin strips, approximately 1 cm wide. Keep the slices and the tentacles in a colander and rinse. There is sometimes a black ink which I do not keep, but some people do to make a sepia sauce.
  3. Pre-heat a metal frying pan which is not a non-stick one. Put half the squid and dry fry it until it turns light pink. Collect the cooking juices and pour them in the simmering tomato sauce. Continue cooking the squid and add 25g of butter, stir well.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon Cognac on top and flambé. When the flames have died down, put the squid in the cooking pot and déglacé the frying pan with some of the remaining white wine. Add the juices to the sauce.
  5. Repeat the operation for the remainder of the squid.
  6. Simmer gently for 20 minutes and add the chopped parsley 2 minutes before serving.
  7. Finally, serve either on a bed of black spaghetti or on a bed of rice, with a good Chablis or any other dry white wine of your choice.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: Save the transparent back bone and let it dry. Small birds will enjoy eating it. They are the original cuttlefish bones.

The black spaghetti have been tinted with the squid ink and they give a pleasant visual contrast to the red sauce.

Veau aux Olives = Veal with Olives

Rosé veal is now easily available and for this warm Winter dish, chunks of meat are easy to cook. This dish freezes well, so it worth to make a little more.

Beef can replace the veal, if you cannot find veal- or do not like it.

 

Serves 4:

500g rosé veal, cut into chunks

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves , peeled and sliced

1 dozen green olives, preferably pitted

200 ml strong red wine

1 small tin of tomato purée, diluted with same amount of water

1 tablespoon corn flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

 

  1. Put the meat in a salad bowl and cover with the wine. Sprinkle a little pepper and salt (not too much salt as the olives are already salty). Leave in a cool place  for 1 hour but not in the fridge as it would harden the meat.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: in a frying pan, warm up the olive oil and gently cook the onion and garlic, add the diluted tomato purée and simmer.
  3. Add the meat and the olives and cover with the wine marinade. Simmer for 15 minutes and thicken the sauce with the cornflour, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

Serve with pasta and a good red Burgundy.

Bon Appétit!

 

Loup en Aumônière = Parcel of Sea Bass

Fresh wild sea bass had arrived at the fishmonger’s and it was an invitation not to be refused.

As I do not like to de-gut and scale the fish, it was done nicely and promptly by the expert. You can, of course, do it yourself if you are keen. Otherwise, you can buy fillets of sea bass.

For the rest, I visited my favourite green grocer who is conveniently located next to the fishmonger’s.

On a cold day, the promise of an oven-cooked fresh fish is warming in itself and it does not take very long to prepare and cook it.

Moreover, from a dietitian’s point of view, apart from the tomato oil which is olive oil, this is a typical Mediterranean diet dish, to be enjoyed without worries for your arteries or waist line.

Serves 2 or 4 (depending on your appetite):

2 medium-sized fresh sea bass, cut open in half, like a book

4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, cut in small pieces

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

4 small branches of fresh fennel bulbs, finely sliced

coarse sea salt and pepper

2 tablespoon oil from the sun-dried tomatoes jar

juice of 1 lemon to serve

  1. Rinse the fish in cold water and place in an ovenproof dish, opening them like a book.
  2. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the inside of the fish and add the tomato pieces, the fennel slices and the garlic. Sprinkle a few drops of the tomato oil.
  3. Close both fish, sprinkle a little more salt on top and drizzle the remainder of the tomato oil.
  4. Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes.

 

Serve with small steamed potatoes and a cool Chardonnay from Bourgogne.

Bon Appétit!

Note:  I forgot to take a picture before eating the sea bass, so the only one is of the dish before it went in the oven 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain Perdu à la Tomate = De-Structured Pizza

Pain Perdu in French is a pudding similar to Spotted Dick and is a way to transform stale bread into something edible.
The alternative is to feed it to the ducks.

This time, the ducks will have to rely on someone else to provide their meal and yesterday’s baguette will become a savoury dish, using freshly made tomato sauce ( see previous post on Velouté de Tomate of 5 August 2014).

In Italy, this sauce is a passata, so called because it is put through a sieve to remove the seeds.

This de-structured pizza may not appeal to the genuine pizza lovers but it is easy to prepare and will be very tasty when you garnish it with parmesan shavings. You can, of course, add a few black olives, some anchovies and capers, depending on taste.
The texture will be very different from a traditional thin based, oven-baked pizza in that it will be soft – but it is worth trying.

If you do not want to make the tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, tinned ones will be fine, providing you simmer them for long enough or the sauce will be watery.

Serves 4:

1 baguette or 4 thick slices of country bread or any other bread
Parmesan shavings
Fresh basil leaves

For the sauce:
1kg fresh tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 garlic head, cloves peeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

1. Cut the bread in thick slices, toast it and rub it with peeled fresh garlic cloves.
Place it in a cooking pot containing the tomato sauce and simmer until most of the sauce has been absorbed by the bread.

2. Add a few leaves of fresh basil, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan shavings and serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

Tip:
Try using chilli infused olive oil, sparingly if you do not like chillies too much.

Autres Coquilles Saint Jacques = Scallops with a Difference

Another family favourite is to use scallop shells and fill them with salt cod, mushrooms and a creamy sauce.
You will know by now that we like salt cod, desalted.
Apart from being healthy, it is part of a culture of growing up by the sea and enjoying all kind of sea food.
This is again an easy dish to prepare and can be made in larger quantities to freeze. I have never tried to freeze the scallop shells as I don’t think they would resist the very low temperatures but the fish mixture freezes well.
Fishmongers are usually happy to let you have free empty scallop shells if you ask.
I believe you can buy some oven-proof dishes in that shape but I prefer to use the real shells which are very attractive.
Usually 1 shell per person is fine but it is easy to double the quantities, depending on your appetite.

To fill 8 scallop shells you need:

300 g salt cod, de-salted ( see previous post on Buljol on 4 September 2014)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 Portobello mushrooms, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped,
A handful of flat leaf parsley, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tub of crème de Brie or 1 tin Carnation milk
3 spoonfuls grated parmesan

1. Cook the cod and onion in a pressure cooker. ( check times with pressure cooker instructions).

2. Gently fry the garlic and mushrooms in a non-stick frying pan.

3. Put the fish mixture and mushroom mixture in a mixing bowl and add the parsley and crème de Brie. Mix well.

4. Fill the shells with the mixture and sprinkle a little grated parmesan on top.
Put in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with a salad or any vegetable. This time, I have used mini corn cobs.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: condensed milk can replace Crème de Brie if you are watching the calories.
A little mashed potato can be added to the fish mixture and so can a few prawns.
Salt cod can be replaced with smoked haddock or fresh salmon.
Of course, you can add a fresh scallop in each shell.

Fricassée de Champignons = Sautéed Mushrooms

It is now mushroom season and they make a marvellous accompaniment to any meat, hot or cold, or any white fish.

They don’t take long to cook and their scent fills the kitchen in a very appetising way.

Serves 4:

400g Portobello mushrooms, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
A handful flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

1. Warm up the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the mushrooms, the garlic and the parsley.

2. Gently toss for a few minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

3. Season and serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

Tip:
Served on slices of freshly baked country bread with a salad or with soup, this makes an easy light meal.

Favouilles au Riz = Small crabs cooked with Rice

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As a child, I remember going with my mother to the fishmonger to buy the local Mediterranean crabs called favouilles and coming home with a huge cornet of strong brown paper which was closed at the top. This was a wise precaution because the crabs were sold alive.
They had a blueish colour which was to change as they cooked and turned a pretty red.
They were to be cooked in a big cooking pot containing boiling water and a Bouquet Garni.*

On one occasion, the inevitable happened and the last crabs to be immersed in the water were near the top of the pot, on their poor friends who were already turning red. A few managed to escape and climb out of the pot, falling on the kitchen floor and running in my direction. It was a scarry experience!
The only consolation was that they were extremely tasty, served with saffron rice.

This is one of my earliest culinary childhood memories and one I treasure, in spite of the fright it gave me.

Now, something strange and unexpected happened.
I went to the beautiful Old Port early this morning and watched the fishermen arrive and unload their small boats. One of them had colourful cages and I knew they would contain the live favouilles.
I looked at them, desperately trying to escape from these cages and suddenly, the prospect of killing them by immersing them in boiling water was no longer providing the anticipated pleasure of the palate.
I took a few photos and left without buying them. Many people around me did not have any qualms and bought them happily.

I shall do this recipe with crab meat instead!

*A Bouquet Garni is a bunch of herbs, tied up and immersed in a cooking liquid, a sauce or a broth to flavour it. It is removed when the dish is cooked.(see photo below)

There are variations on its composition and for this recipe, I add fennel. You need: a sprig of parsley, a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, a celery branch.

Serves 4:

16 small crabs
1 Bouquet Garni*
1 large ripe tomato, rinsed and quartered
1 large onion, peeled ans sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
5g saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
200g wild Camargue rice

white wine

1. In a large cast iron casserole pot, gently heat the olive oil. Add the onion and the garlic. When the onion is golden, add the tomato. Let it simmer, stirring regularly.

2. Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a big cooking pot, add the bouquet garni and the live crabs.
When the crabs turn red, remove the bouquet garni and the crabs. Reserve the broth and add 10ml dry white wine.
Remove the crab claws and crush them with a small kitchen mallet.

3. Put the crabs and their claws in the cast iron casserole pot and gradually pour a small quantity of the crab cooking broth over and stir.
Add the rice and the saffron. Add more broth, a ladleful at a time.
After 15 minutes, when the broth has been absorbed by the rice, serve in a large dish.

4. To eat the crabs, open the shell with the point of a knife and remove the gills. The flesh from the claws has to be sucked.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: if you cannot find small live crabs, try a Cromer crab, already cooked, or tins of crab flesh.

Happy Ending! : I have now been told that there is a humane way of cooking the crabs by putting them in a pot of cold water which is then brought to the boil. The crabs simply go to sleep as the temperature rises.IMG_1031