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.

Monkfish Tail in Armoricaine Sauce = Queue de Baudroie à l’Armoricaine

Monkfish is not blessed with a pretty face but the tail has a firm and tasty flesh, not unlike lobster.
In Provence, it is called a baudroie and a lotte in other parts of France.
It is usually sold without the head, although fishmongers in Provence say that the cheeks, cooked in parsley and garlic, are extremely tasty.

Serves 2:

A monkfish tail of approximately 400g
200 g rice (non-stick variety)
1 medium size onion, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
A handful of flat parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 small tin tomato purée
100ml dry white wine
2 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 stick celery, 1 carrot, peeled, 1 garlic clove, peeled,1 small onion, peeled and quartered for the court bouillon.

1. Fill a big saucepan with 1 litre cold water. Cut the celery into slices and the carrot into dice, add the peeled garlic and the quartered onion and place in the saucepan. Bring to the boil and put 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt in it.
After 10 minutes, add the fish. Cook for another 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the Armoricaine sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a cocotte and add the onion and the garlic. Add the tomato purée, the parsley and the white wine. Season.

3. Take the fish out of the saucepan and reserve the court bouillon. Flambé the fish in cognac and place it in the cocotte. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, turn off the heat. Cover.

4. During that time, cook the rice in the court bouillon. Then, drain and serve with the vegetables. Place the fish on the plate, covered with the sauce.

A cool Chablis goes well with this dish.

Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Red Onion Risotto

An easy and comforting dish which requires little preparation and is perfect for chilly evenings.
It originates in Northern Italy, in the Piedmont region, where the best rice for risotto is grown.

Serves 4:
300g risotto rice
1 big red onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1litre vegetable stock
1 small glass dry white wine
Grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to season

1. Gently fry the onion in the olive oil in a cast iron pot until tender and add the rice, tossing it quickly until it is transparent.

2. Add the stock, a little at a time, until it is all absorbed, then add the wine until it is also absorbed.

3. Simmer for 20’minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

4. Add the parmesan, stir well and cover. Leave for 2 minutes and serve.

Bon Appétit!

Tip:
If you have some dried cèpes (Porcini mushrooms), prepare them and add them to the rice, having used their stock for cooking the rice.

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

Coquilles Saint Jacques à ma Façon = Scallops Cooked in my Manner

No inspiration for lunch prompted me to go and see what the fishmonger could offer.
Fresh scallops had arrived this morning and I thought immediately that they would be on the menu today.
This is one of the best fast foods you can have, in my opinion. It is nutritious and can be cooked in minutes.
To make life easy, I tend to prepare parsley and garlic sauce in advance and freeze it in ice-cube trays. This way, it is always handy and in quantities that can be adapted.
All you need to do is rinse a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, cut off most of the stalks, peel a whole garlic head, put in a liquidizer with a sufficient amount of olive oil to fill a third of the container and whizz. Then, fill the ice-cube tray with the mixture and pop in the freezer.
I do the same to prepare garlic and basil and garlic and coriander sauces.

Serves 2:

6 queen scallops
2 ice-cubes worth of parsley and garlic sauce

1. Cook some long grain rice. 5 minutes before it is cooked,

2. Put the garlic sauce in a non-stick frying pan and heat on a gentle heat.

3. Add the scallops and cook them delicately for 5 minutes, turning them once. They are cooked when the semi-transparent flesh is opaque.

4. Add the rice to the frying pan to recuperate the delicious cooking juices and serve.

Bon Appétit!

Tips: A cool Chablis goes well with this dish but any dry white wine of your choice will do.

If you use frozen scallops they tend to shrink considerably when the ice glaze melts. You need to take that into account as you end up with a diminished quantity from that planned.