A French Chef in Spain

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Spain may seem an odd topic for the first edition of a newsletter about French cooking. But I felt I had to share the experience of my first visit to the Spanish province of Andalusia in January. Aside from fabulous sites, some beautiful landscapes, and great music and dance, we ate well everywhere–mostly tapas–and drank Fino, the local wine from Jerez.

Andalusia also happens to be the world’s leading region for olive oil production. Halfway between Cordoba and Granada, bordering the natural park of the Subbetica, is the town of BAENA, where since 1795 the NUNEZ DE PRADO family has been producing an organic olive oil, which benefits from the first DOP (denomination of origin, equivalent to an appelation for wine) in Andalusia. Several varieties of olives are blended for a well balanced result: a fruity nose and taste, with touches of bitterness and spiciness.

We made a special stop to visit the mill where the sandstone conical millstones still function in the traditional way, without filtration. I brought home some precious, easily recognizable bottles: square with a red wax seal.

In a recent dinner party, my Nunez de Prado oil enhanced this BAR AU FOUR recipe:

For six people, take a 2 lb white whole fish, preferably a seabass, cleaned. Sprinkle some dried fennel seeds inside, some coarse sea salt on the outside, drizzle some NUNEZ DE PRADO olive oil over it, and bake it at 360° F for 20 minutes. (Cooking time depends on the size of the fish, the strength of your oven and your taste preferences.)

Then, slightly heat some of the same olive oil in a saucepan with a dash of Piment d’Espelette flakes, the only french hot pimento. Add some chopped parsley and chives at the last minute.
Serve the fish and sauce separately. And of course, some fresh vegetables for a low cal dinner.

Back to France — and to Lyon

As soon as I came back from Spain, I jumped into the TGV to Lyon to watch the 9th BOCUSE D’OR contest at the SIRHA, the leading fair for the hospitality industry. The BOCUSE D’OR (named after Paul B, of course) is the most prestigious event for culinary professionals. Since 1987 chefs from all over the world have gathered every other year to the French capital of gastronomy for this exceptional occasion.

The event is the only gastronomic competition where chefs prepare their dishes in open booths, visible to the public. And the cheerful atmosphere is reminiscent of a ball game (“le football français,” since we are of course in France). January 28th and 29th 23 countries competed
The jury was presided by Ferran ADRIA, from the Spanish restaurant El Bulli in Rosas (Catalunya), 3 Michelin stars. Spain again, and Adria is probably the most avant-garde chef in the world at this moment.

I’m looking forward to making visits with more of you to the “fournil” on rue du Cherche-Midi.

The winner was Charles TJESSEM from Norway.

The American chef Hartmut HANDKE, from Handke Cuisine in Chicago, won a special prize for MEAT.

I closed my trip to Lyon with a few must-see stops, which I highly recommend for your next visit to the city:

BERNACHON, one of the best chocolatier in the world, with no shops outside of Lyon,
Colette SIBILIA for the lightest and freshest fish quenelles and a “saucisson de Lyon pistaché”
Bouchon Brunet for a typical lunch.

Les Gens

As many of you know, Lionel Poilâne, the most famous boulanger of France, died in the crash of his helicopter last October 31st, with his wife, Ibu. Overnight, their two daughters became orphans. For 5 years now I have been taking people to his original boulangerie’s wood-fire oven, and this visit always leaves people captivated. Well, we are all very very sad; we miss Lionel and his wonderful personality.

But the company lives on. Lionel’s oldest daughter, Apollonia, who has always known she would join the business, has now done so. She is only 18 but very focused. Poilane is well managed, and the dedicated team maintains its now-legendary quality. I’m looking forward to making visits with more of you to the “fournil” on rue du Cherche-Midi, where my friend, Pierre, has been baking for 27 years now.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of Lionel’s recipes:

Tartine Poilane: Down on the Farm Tartine

(From Lionel Poilane’s Favourite Savoury Tartines, published by Michel Grancher, copyright April 2001. Reprinted with permission.)

  • 200 g/8 oz chicken or turkey breast
  • 4 tablespoons good mayonnaise
  • 4 fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • One large, ripe tomato
  • A few drops of Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper
  • Freshly-grated gruyere cheese

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process on the slow setting. Taste the result and add seasoning if necessary. You can spread this preparation directly onto your toasted tartines or sprinkle the top with more gruyere and place them under grill until the cheese is nicely browned.

Dorie Greenspan

My good friend Dorie is a highly acclaimed cookbook author, who specializes in desserts (including chocolate desserts with pastry star Pierre Hermé). She contributes to Bon Appetit and the NY Times. My students all have a copy of Dorie’s article on French butter, which is as essential as olive oil, n’est-ce pas?

I strongly recommend her latest book, PARIS SWEETS (from Broadway Books). The book features the best pastry chefs and bakers of Paris, their shops (amazingly illustrated by the talented Florine Asch), and their most cherished recipes, thoroughly tested by Dorie for home bakers.

Dorie divides her time between NY and Paris, where she has an apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Three weeks ago, Dorie invited a group of us to her Paris apartment for a feast. She had cooked for two days at least! Among other delicious sweet and savoury dishes, she served a personal version of “pudding au chocolat” de Christian Constant.

Since Dorie closed her meal with this sweet treat, it seemed somehow appropriate for me to do the same with the newsletter, too. Enjoy!

Chocolate Bread Pudding/Pudding au Chocolat

Adapted from Christian Constant by Dorie Greenspan for PARIS SWEETS

Makes about 8 servings

  • 9 ounces (250 grams) stale bread, preferably brioche, challah or other egg bread
  • 12 ounces (330 grams) moist dried fruit (I love this with raisins, but you can use cherries, candied fruit or small pieces of apricot or prune)
  • 3 cups (750 grams) whole milk
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 grams) sugar, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 8 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 5 large whole eggs, at room temperature
  • 9 ounces (250 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Butter a 3-quart (3-liter) 13- x- 9 x- 2-inch (32.5 x 24 x 5-cm) baking dish (Pyrex makes a fine pan for this pudding), dust the interior with sugar and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet and set aside.

2) Tear the bread into pieces about 2-inches (5 cm) on a side and toss the bread and fruit into the baking pan, mixing them together with your hands.

3) Bring the milk, sugar and vanilla bean (pod and pulp) to the boil, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, put the eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl and whisk them for a minute or two, just to blend. When the milk is boiling and the sugar has melted, pull the pan from the heat and remove the vanilla bean; discard the bean or save it for another. Whisking the eggs all the while, slowly pour the hot milk into the mixing bowl. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the chopped chocolate, stirring gently until the chocolate is melted. Strain this chocolate custard over the bread and fruit.

4) Slide the baking sheet set-up into the oven and bake the pudding for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean. Transfer the pudding to a cooling rack and let it rest until it is just warm or at room temperature – both nice temperatures for serving.

Keeping: Most people prefer bread pudding warm or at room temperature and served the day it is made, but few people have been known to turn down pudding that’s been covered, refrigerated for up to 1 day and brought back to room temperature.

An American in Paris: I love this pudding with plump dried fruit in place of the candied fruit and stem ginger. Sometimes I make the pudding with pitted prunes, sometimes with dried cherries and sometimes with sweet dried apricots. And, to be on the safe side, I usually plump the fruit before I toss it with the bread. To plump fruit that looks a little dry, just dunk it in a pan of simmering water for 30 to 60 seconds, drain and pat dry. This little bit of rehydration is an insurance policy guaranteeing that hard fruit (which won’t soften when it’s baked) won’t spoil your great dessert.

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