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COOKING with FRANCES BISSELL: Recreating French favourites

PUBLISHED: 12:24 06 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:37 07 September 2010

We did not get to the Loire valley this year, one of our favourite parts of France, so I decided to recreate some of its specialities for a meal over the Bank Holiday, Sunday lunch or Monday supper for friends. Vichyssoise with salmon rillettes Chicken

We did not get to the Loire valley this year, one of our favourite parts of France, so I decided to recreate some of its specialities for a meal over the Bank Holiday, Sunday lunch or Monday supper for friends.

Vichyssoise with salmon

rillettes

Chicken casserole in the style of Charles Barrier, flavoured with tarragon and raspberry vinegar

Soft goats' cheese

Green salad, walnut vinaigrette

Prune and almond flan

with custard

To drink: Vouvray brut, Chinon rosé, Chinon rouge.

For the chicken, the detailed recipe for which I gave in a column last summer (June 30 2006) you cannot do better than order a Sutton Hoo organic bird from Steele's of Hampstead - they usually come in on Thursday.

I have tested all supermarket own label organic chickens and they do not come close for flavour or texture. And while organic chickens from Sheepdrove Farm and the Duchy are very good, they are not superior in taste or texture to the Sutton Hoo birds.

Divide the chicken into thighs, drumsticks and the breasts into two pieces, giving you eight smallish portions, about four servings. The backbone and any trimmings use for stock.

Make a casserole in the usual way, gently frying some peeled chopped shallots and garlic before transferring them to a casserole, then brown the chicken pieces in the same pan, add to the pot and deglaze the pan with raspberry vinegar and some white wine.

Tuck a sprig or two of tarragon in with the chicken, season lightly and cook in a moderate oven for 45 to 60 minutes until cooked.

To serve, add a generous dollop of cream and some chopped tarragon, bring to the boil, stir the sauce well and serve, with rice or potatoes.

The soup is a chilled blended leek and potato soup. I make the rillettes by pounding cooked salmon with a little nutmeg, then binding it with home-made mayonnaise or crème fraiche.

The soup is poured into bowls, a quenelle of rillettes placed in the middle and a garnish of, for example, nasturtium or day lily petals added.

The Ravensoak from Marks & Spencer can join a slice of ash-dusted goats' cheese, from Budgens and Waitrose, and Welsh goats cheese, from Tesco, if you are not near a good cheese supplier such as La Fromagerie, Pomona or the Rosslyn deli.

The dessert, a true flan, that is, without a pastry case, is a very easy dish to make, as good as anything you can buy, and one you can vary according to the season, with cherries, nectarines, blueberries, plums, apricots, fresh or dried and sliced pears, what you will. I have chosen prunes because, although most French prunes now come from Agen in the south- west, they are much used in the cooking of the Loire valley, especially Touraine, where you are as likely to find them cooked with pork or lampreys as in desserts.

Prune and almond flan

(serves 6)

Ideally soak the prunes 24 hours in advance

250g/8oz stoned prunes

250ml/8fl oz red wine

50g/2oz butter, very soft but not melted

3 organic eggs

300ml/10oz milk

100g/4oz ground almonds

100g/4oz caster sugar

1 organic egg white

To serve: icing sugar

Soak the prunes in the red wine for 24 hours. Drain them, reserving any wine for another dish. Generously butter a flan dish or individual dishes and lay the prunes in the bottom.

Beat the whole eggs with some of the milk, then add some of the almonds and sugar, continuing to beat until you have a smooth batter by the time you have used all the ingredients except the egg white.

Whisk this to firm peaks and fold into the batter. Pour the batter over the prunes and carefully transfer the dish to the oven, pre-heated to 180oC. bake for 40 minutes and serve warm dusted with icing sugar.

o Frances's latest book is

The Scented Kitchen, published by Serif.

Frances Bissell



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