Eever since the Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967, everyone wants to have their own mantra. Ours happens to be “harmony in the kitchen and seasonal ingredients perfectly cooked”.
We are meticulous with the produce we select and with the techniques that allow us to achieve exceptional flavour.
In the early 19th century, Britain was dominated by French cooking, under great chefs such as Marie-Antoine Carême and Georges Auguste Escoffier, based in the great hotels of the day such as the Ritz and the Savoy in London. At such institutions rules were hard and fast and transgressed at your peril.
Today we can be more relaxed and are free to be creative and enterprisingly modern; we can adapt and adopt the best of the available produce from our own island as well as importing the finest Gallic offerings.
The great legacy handed down from those far-off days is a vast array of precision techniques that we can employ in today’s kitchens and the knowledge of the intrinsic link between food, wine and joie de vivre.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in both the classic French brasserie and the bistro.
This to me is unsurprising and a wonderful sign that people can appreciate the outstanding flavour that can be attained through a series of processes which, once learned, are relatively simple to apply.
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
25ml balsamic vinegar
75ml olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 heads of red endive
1 radicchio di Treviso (or any seasonal leaf)
2 x 125g balls of unpasteurised buffalo mozzarella, each cut into 6 slices
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 very thin slices of speck or Parma ham
2 blood oranges, peeled and divided into segments (or regular oranges)
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
12 sprigs of chervil
90g softened unsalted butter
80g curly parsley, chopped
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 guinea fowl crowns or 2 small free-range chickens
2 tsp vegetable oil
½ garlic clove
50ml white wine
1 sprig of thyme
300ml brown chicken stock
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 quantity of herb gnocchi
40 small fresh morel mushrooms or any seasonal mushroom
160g shelled broad beans, blanched and thin outer skin removed
120g puff pastry
110g softened salted butter
130g caster sugar
7 Braeburn apples, peeled, halved and cored
120ml crème fraîche
40g icing sugar
1½ tbsp Calvados
ENDIVE SALAD WITH MOZZARELLA, BLOOD ORANGES AND SPECK
This makes a great starter or snack and takes mere minutes to put together.
1 To make the dressing, mix the honey, mustard and balsamic vinegar together, then gradually whisk in the 75ml of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
2 Cut the bottom off the endive and radicchio and separate the leaves. Lightly toss them with a little of the dressing.
3 Drizzle the mozzarella with the 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
4 Make a small bed of leaves on each serving plate, lay a slice of speck on top, then three slices of mozzarella and add a few orange segments.
5 Curl the remaining slice of speck on top and scatter the pomegranate seeds over the salad.
6 Garnish with the chervil sprigs and finish by drizzling a tablespoon of dressing on to the plate.
SUPREME OF GUINEA FOWL WITH BROAD BEANS, MUSHROOMS AND HERB GNOCCHI
I urge you to try making your own gnocchi. It really does taste much better than shop-bought.
1 To make the herb paste, put the butter, parsley and breadcrumbs in a food processor and blitz until they combine. Transfer to a piping bag.
2 Prepare the guinea fowl by removing the wishbone and wings (these are used in the sauce later), then push your fingers between the skin and breast to loosen. Pipe the herb paste into this cavity and spread it out evenly.
3 Heat the vegetable oil in a large, ovenproof frying pan until smoking hot. Seal the guinea fowl on both breasts until golden brown. Transfer the pan to an oven preheated to 200C/Gas Mark 6 and cook for 25 minutes, basting regularly.
4 Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes, then remove the breasts from the crowns and keep warm.
5 To make the sauce, chop the wing bones into very small pieces. Heat a heavy-based saucepan (big enough to hold the bones in a single layer) until it’s very hot. Add the chopped bones to the pan with the garlic and reduce the heat slightly. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, ensuring the pan is hot enough to roast but not burn the bones. They should turn a deep golden yellow colour.
6 Add the white wine and thyme and cook until the mixture is reduced by three-quarters. Add the chicken stock and cook for 10-15 minutes or until it’s reduced to a light coating consistency. Season with salt, if necessary, and finish with a few drops of lemon juice. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve.
7 Just before serving, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the gnocchi for 2-3 minutes or until golden all over. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
8 Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan and sauté the morels gently for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Season with a little salt.
9 At the same time, reheat the broad beans in a pan of boiling salted water. Drain, then sauté the beans in the remaining olive oil for 30 seconds and season with salt.
10 To serve, slice each guinea fowl breast into three and place in the centre of each serving plate. Surround with the gnocchi, morels and broad beans. Spoon over a little sauce and serve immediately.
TARTE TATIN WITH CRÈME NORMANDE
A true French classic. Its origin isn’t 100 per cent clear, but I like the idea of the apple pie that went wrong, made by the Tatin sisters at Hotel Tatin, just south of Paris.
1 Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 21cm round. Prick all over with a fork and rest in the fridge for 40 minutes.
2 Spread the butter over the bottom of a 20cm tarte Tatin mould or an ovenproof, non-stick frying pan.
3 Sprinkle the caster sugar over the mould in an even layer, then arrange the apple halves over the sugar, standing them on their sides, with two halves in the middle.
4 Lay the pastry round over the apples, tucking the edges down the side.
5 Place the mould or pan over a medium heat on the hob for about ten minutes or until the sugar starts to caramelise.
6 Transfer to an oven preheated to 160C/Gas Mark 3 and bake for 90 minutes.
7 For the crème Normande, mix the crème fraîche, icing sugar and Calvados in a bowl, then cover with cling film and refrigerate for one hour.
8 Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. Invert it on to a chopping board and cut into four portions.
9 Serve with a generous spoonful of crème Normande.