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.

Petit Rôti de Lapin = Small Rabbit Roast

Looking for a change and wanting some lean, white meat ?

Then, look for rabbit and veal. Some people don’t like it but for those of us who do like it, it makes a nice alternative to chicken.

The meat is firm and tasty and can be accommodated in a variety of ways. This time, I have chosen to stuff some saddle of rabbit with diced veal and prunes. This provides an extra tenderness without giving a sugary flavour to the meat. If you can find some pruneaux d’Agen ( prunes from the Agen region in Southwest France, not too far from Bordeaux), it is better as they are organic.

To make life easier, ask your butcher to de-bone the rabbit.

Serves 2:

1 saddle of rabbit

100g diced veal

3 pruneaux d’Agen, stoned

1 large onion, peeled and sliced in long strips

1 slice of smoked back bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small glass strong red wine
1. Prepare the stuffing : in a frying pan containing the oil, sweat the onion slices and then reserve, leaving the oil in the pan. Toss the veal for a few minutes and add the stoned prunes.

2. Spread the rabbit meat on a plate and place the stuffing in the centre, then roll the meat tightly and use the bacon to close the parcel. At this stage, you can use a wooden toothpick to hold the meat together.

3. Place the parcel in an oven-proof dish, cover with the wine and cook at 160C for 40 minutes.

4. Remove the toothpick, decorate with the onion strips and serve on a bed of petits pois.


Bon Appétit!
Tip: 

Depending on your appetite, this is sufficient for 2 people as the flesh is very firm, but you may wish to double the proportions.

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!

 

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.

Tasty Choux de Bruxelles = Tasty Brussels Sprouts

Mention the word sprouts and generally there is an expression of intense dislike. These poor vegetables are accused of being tasteless and overcooked, usually boiled in water.

Being used to eating tasty Brussels sprouts, I have shared our family recipe with quite a large number of people who have enjoyed this way of preparing them.

So, to change the bad reputation of sprouts, there it is:

Serves 4:

1kg fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed
1large onion, peeled and sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
200g lardons
1 table spoon olive oil
100 ml dry white wine
Salt and pepper

1. Remove the stalks from the sprouts and cut a small cross at the bottom. (This will ensure a more even cooking at the heart of the sprouts).

2. Warm up the olive oil in a cast iron cooking pot, if you have one, or in any cooking pot.
Add the onion and the carrot slices and toss for a few minutes.

3. Then add the sprouts and the lardons, a little salt, pepper. ( Beware not to put too much salt as the lardons are already salty). Add the wine.
Stir and put the lid on. Simmer for 8 minutes.The steam produced will cook the sprouts delicately.

4. Serve immediately.

Bon Appétit!

Tip: For those who like them, a few vacuum-packed chestnuts will give a festive taste to the sprouts.
If you choose to add them, do it 5 minutes before the end of cooking time.

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

Bean and Courgette Soup with Basil

A quick and easy soup for tonight, ideal for vegetarians or anyone wanting to eat more vegetables.
The basil and olive oil are typically Mediterranean but this soup can be prepared anywhere, as long as you can obtain the ingredients. Alternatively, you can grow the vegetables and the basil. For the olive oil, it is more difficult, my olive trees refusing to produce olives !!

Serves 6:

300g runner beans, rinsed, string removed and cut into 2cms pieces
2 courgettes, peeled and cut into thick rings
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and quartered
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
A handful basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Garlic croûtons

1. In a big cooking pot or pressure cooker, put all the vegetables into 1,5 litre of salted water.

2. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

3. When it is cooked, add the olive oil and the crushed basil leaves.

Serve immediately with garlic croûtons.

Bon Appétit!