Mussels with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Moules marinière, Mosselen met Look, Mussels in Beer, Mussels with Anise, Mussels with Cream, served with crusted bread or with French fries: mussels are great to combine. Mussels with Spicy Tomato Sauce is a nice, spicy surprise, provided the mussels are really tasty. If not, then the spicy sauce will overwhelm the mussels and it will be an unbalanced dish. Best to make the tomato sauce a day before. You could also go for Piri Piri, but please make your own. The industry-made Piri Piri is never as tasteful.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our mussels with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet AOP les Flamants. Let’s explain the name: the grape is called Picpoul Blanc. And the vineyards belong to a village called Pinet; close to the Etang de Thau in the south of France between Narbonne and Montpellier. The terroir (think calcareous soil, clay, quartz) is influenced by the sea, which is reflected in the mineral taste of the wine. The story is that Picpoul could be read as pique poul which translates into something like ‘stings the lip’; a nice reflection of the high acidity of the grapes. This acidity guarantees a refreshing white wine, which is exceptional given the warm climate. The wine is bright yellow with a very subtle touch of green. It’s aromatic, floral and fruity. The taste has notes of citrus and hopefully some bitterness, which will make it into a really interesting wine. To be combined with oysters, mussels, fruit de mer, skate and fish in general.

What You Need

  • For the Mussels
    • 1 kilo of Mussels (we prefer small ones)
    • Olive Oil
    • 1 Shallot
    • 1 Garlic Glove
    • Bouquet Garni (Parsley, Bay Leaf, Thyme)
    • White Whine
  • For the Sauce
    • 4 Ripe Tomatoes
    • 1 Shallot
    • Olive Oil
    • 3 Garlic Gloves
    • 2 Chili Peppers
    • Red Wine
    • Bay Leaf
    • Black Pepper

What You Do

Please remember to read our mussel basics. Start by making the sauce. Remove the pits from the tomatoes and cut the meat in small chunks. Remove the seeds from the peppers and slice. Peel the onion and garlic gloves and chop these. Glaze the onion, garlic and chili pepper in olive oil. Ten minutes on low heat will do the job. Add the tomatoes , the tomato juice (simply put the pits and the left overs from the tomato in a sieve and use a spoon to squeeze out all the lovely juices and flavors), some red wine and the bay leaf. Cook for at least two hours, remove the bay leaf, transfer to the blender and make a very smooth sauce. Pass through a sieve. Transfer back to the pan and reduce until it’s a nice, rich sauce. Cool quickly and transfer to the refrigerator for the next day.

Warm a fairly big pan and gently glaze the sliced onion in olive oil. Then add the chopped garlic. Add a glass of white wine and the bouquet garni and cook on low heat for 10 minutes, allowing the flavours to integrate.
Turn up the heat to maximum and when really hot add the mussels and close the pan with the lid. Listen and observe: you will be able to hear when content of the pan is becoming hot again. You will see steam, more steam. Check the status of the mussels. Close the lid, listen and observe. Remove mussels with a slotted spoon, transfer to a warm soup dish and serve with the warm and spicy tomato sauce and crusted bread.

Saumur Champigny with a Salad of Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Breast of Duck

The Loire

One of France’s most beautiful and interesting rivers. It flows from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean and its valley is linked to towns like Nantes, Blois, Tours and Saumur and castles like Chambors and d’Azay-le-Rideau. Its banks are rich, just think of the many vineyards, farms and orchards. So much history, so much gastronomy. The river inspired many, including Hilaire Walden who wrote Loire Gastronomique in 1993. She followed the river and describes its gastronomy in this travelogue. The book features the typical food of the region and the recipes are authentic, easy to follow and delicious. Highly recommended!

Saumur is also a wine region and well-known for its sparkling wine. Another wine made in the region is Saumur Champigny, made from Cabernet Franc. Smell your Saumur Champigny and think of sharpening a pencil. Graphite, cedar wood. Exactly. That’s the specific aroma of Cabernet Franc. The Saumur Champigny wines are typically light or medium-bodied, have a crisp acidity, are easy to drink and they come with flavours and aromas of berries.

Food pairing

Saumur Champigny Les Hauts Buis, 2017, has a red colour with a touch of violet. Soft aromas that made us think of raspberries and cherries. Easy to drink, fresh acidity and soft tannins. Earthiness, lots of red fruit and cherries; with a nice finale with more red fruit. This is a well-balanced wine. Ideal to combine with charcuterie as apéro, a salad and perhaps with couscous. We decided to combine the wine with a salad. A salad that would bring juiciness, nuttiness and sweetness. Gently fried Oyster Mushrooms, smoked Breast of Duck and perhaps Quail Eggs. A few days later we combined the wine with roasted chicken. Again, very nice, light and inspiring.

What You Need

  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Mesclun
  • Shallot
  • Smoked Breast of Duck
  • (Optional) Quail Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Tear the oyster mushrooms into smaller bits, following the lamellae. Don’t use a knife to do so. Make sure the mesclun is ready to be eaten. Slice the breast of duck into smaller bits if so required. Gently fry the oyster mushrooms in olive oil, just to give them warmth and colour. Cook the quail eggs until just set. Make the vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine (or cider) vinegar, black pepper and the thinly chopped shallot.
Create the salad by tossing the mesclun and the vinaigrette. Serve with the mushrooms and the breast of duck on top of the salad. Serve with crusted bread and of course a generous glass of Saumur Champigny.

 

Oysters With Tarragon

Not Just Any Oyster

The best way to eat an oyster is to eat it raw. You will taste the saltiness, the texture and all of its flavours. The usual way to counter the saltiness is by adding a bit of lemon or mignonette but you could also go for something spicy like Tabasco, horseradish or perhaps wasabi. Don’t add something sweet because the oyster has its own sweetness.
Enjoying an oyster begins by deciding which oysters to buy. Should they be small or large, should the taste be creamy, sweet or more lean and juicy? The rule is simple: if an oyster looks creamy (opaque) then it will taste creamy.
The next step is opening the oysters and then you’re good to go. Please remember, as always: eating means chewing and tasting. Some people think they should drink an oyster. And then state that an oyster is just a bit of salt water.
Be careful if you see cooked or steamed oysters on a menu. In most cases the oysters will be covered with lots of overwhelming ingredients, in an attempt to hide the taste of the oyster. Plus if the oyster is overcooked its structure will be rubbery and nasty. Feel free to go for Steamed Oysters with Black Bean Sauce at your Chinese restaurant, or for Oysters Rockefeller (when you trust the chef) of for our quick and delicious Oysters with Tarragon.

Wine Pairing

When eating oysters, your wine must have some minerality. Think Chablis, Picpoul de Pinet, Sancerre, Sylvaner, and Champagne. We enjoyed a glass of Sylvaner Reserve 2017, Fernand Engel. It has a nice yellow colour with aromas such as citrus. The taste is fresh with an elegant acidity and fruit. It’s a very open wine and one that combines very well with the flavours of the oysters and the tarragon.

What You Need

  • 6 oysters (or 12).
  • Butter
  • Lots of Tarragon
  • White pepper

What You Do

We will add butter to the oyster, so buy ones that are lean (so not creamy), for instance the ones from the Île de Ré. Pre-heat your oven and set to grill. Combine the butter and the finely chopped tarragon with some white pepper. Make 6 equal sized lumps. Set aside and keep cool. Scrub each oyster under cold, running water. Open the oyster. Use your knife or a spoon to detach the muscle underneath the oyster from the bottom shell. Remove any small bits of broken shell or sediment. Remove some of the liquid, top with the tarragon butter. Make sure you have everything ready for serving the grilled oysters (plate, tongs, wine, guests). Place under the grill for 1 minute and serve immediately.

 

Scallops with Winter Truffle

Just One?

Scallops, or Coquilles Saint Jacques, can be delicate, special and tasty. But very often they are basic, chewy and tasteless. The reason is very simple: the ready-to-cook scallops were frozen, shipped from Canada or China and quickly defrosted, maybe days before you bought them as ‘fresh’. The result is on your plate.
The solution is also simple: buy fresh scallops. Then the flavours and aromas will overwhelm you. The structure of the meat (either raw or cooked) will be exactly as it should be.
Agreed, fresh scallops are much more expensive. But the advantage is that one per person is all you need, so yes, just one per person.

Combining fresh and thinly sliced raw scallops with thinly sliced black winter truffle is a marriage made in heaven. Just a few drops of olive oil and black pepper and your starter is ready. We go for a slightly more complex preparation, bringing various flavours together: earthiness and umami from the truffle with sweetness, light acidity and bitterness of the Noilly Prat, with the sweetness and sharpness of the leek, the crispiness of the leek and the truffle with the soft structure of the scallops. And of course: the colours are amazing as well.

And in case you’re not sure how to open and clean a scallop: this is an excellent video that will show you how.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our scallops with a glass of Chablis, Antonin Rodet, Premier Cru, Montmains, 2016. It has a clear and pale golden colour. It comes with mineral notes and a touch of lemon. The taste is delicate and persistent with aromas of fresh citrus. It goes very well with the ‘long’ taste of the dish and the citrus is ideal with the scallop and the Noilly Prat. Combining the scallops with a Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris will also work, as long as the wines are delicate, fresh and not sweet.

What You Need

  • 2 Scallops
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • White of Leek
  • Noilly Prat
  • White Pepper
  • Black Winter Truffle

What You Do

Begin by opening and cleaning the scallops. Clean the two bottom shells because we will use them to serve the scallop. Now thinly slice the leek. Warm the Noilly Prat, allowing for the alcohol to evaporate. Add the leek and allow to cook very gently for 5 minutes. Use a non-sticky skillet with a dash of olive oil and a little butter to fry the scallops. The trick is to fry them until 1/3 has changed colour, then turn them and fry the other 1/3. Add some leek to the shell, a bit of sauce, then the scallop, a touch of white pepper and the thinly sliced black winter truffle on top.

 

 

Veal Cheeks with Pak Choi (Bok Choy)

Joue de Veau

You may have spotted this in a French Boucherie or Supermarket. Probably close to the Ris de Veau, the Collier D’Agneau and the Abats de Porc. Not the most obvious choices, but in reality the Joue de Veau (Veal Cheek) is a true delicacy. The meat requires a few hours to become tender, but it’s worth the wait. When you serve it you will pleasantly surprised: the meat is extremely tender, juicy and a touch of pink on the inside. Which makes it a great idea to serve it sliced, especially because the outside of the meat is deep dark brown.
The Joue or Cheek requires cleaning. Best is to ask your butcher to do this or use a very sharp knife.
We use a classic combination carrot, onion, leek and celeriac plus red wine and a bouquet garni. Don’t make the bouquet too powerful; the idea is to support the meat, nothing else.
No need to use an expensive wine for the stew. A simple, red wine is fine. Some people will argue that the wine you use for cooking must be the one you serve with the food. Nonsense. Feel free to drink a Baralo (like we did) with the Veal Cheeks, but don’t waste half a bottle of it by using it as a cooking liquid.
The Pak Choi works really well with the Veal Cheeks. It brings the bitterness of cabbage, balancing the sweetness of the meat and the deep taste of the sauce. Plus the fried Pak Choi is a bit crispy, both the leaves and the stem, which is great in combination with the moist, tender meat.

Wine Pairing

A full-bodied red wine with clear tannins, a delicate smell and red fruit aromas will be an excellent choice. Velvety and smooth. As the Veal Cheeks: simple yet complex. We drank a glass of Barolo San Silvestro, Serra Dei Turchi, 2014. A perfect match with the braised veal, the sauce and the cabbage.

What You Need

  • 2 Veal Cheeks (one per person)
  • Carrot
  • Celeriac
  • Onion
  • Leek
  • Olive Oil
  • Bouquet Garni
    • Bay Leaf
    • Thyme
    • Parsley
  • Red Wine
  • Cognac
  • (baby) Pak Choi (Bok Choy)

What You Do

Start by adding oil to the pan. Fry the Veal Cheeks until they have a nice, golden colour. Transfer to a plate. Add more oil and fry the chopped vegetables. Be careful not to add too much carrot or celeriac. Stir for a few minutes and then add the meat. Add wine and the bouquet garni. Leave on a low heat for 4-6 hours until tender. Make sure to turn the meat every hour or so. Cool the stew and transfer to the refrigerator. The next day remove the fat (if any) and warm the stew. When warm, transfer the meat to a plate and keep warm (for instance in an oven of 70 C, the ideal temperature for your plates as well). Remove the vegetables and the bouquet. Reduce the liquid with one-third or more. Taste the sauce. Add a splash of cognac. Black Pepper? Cook a few minutes longer allowing for the alcohol to evaporate.
In a non-sticky pan heat some oil and fry the Pak Choi for 2 times 2 minutes, maximum. In parallel fry the meat in a non-sticky pan, one or two minutes in total. This will give the meat a crispy touch and an even deeper dark brown colour. Serve the Joue de Veau with the sauce, crusty bread and the Pak Choi.

Roulade of Turkey with Chestnuts, served with Brussels Sprouts and Madeira Sauce

 

Time to start cooking for friends!

This exciting dish is a combination of classic ingredients, things you love to eat in December: turkey, Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts. Our version of Roulade of Turkey with Chestnuts, served with Brussels Sprouts and a Madeira Sauce is tasty, tender and juicy. The pancetta and the chestnuts in the roulade combine extremely well with the sprouts (tip of the day: steam Brussels sprouts, let cool and set aside. Warm butter gently in a skillet and add sprouts, crumbled chestnuts and slices of bacon or pancetta. Bit of nutmeg on top and a it’s ready to serve.)
The dish does require a bit of preparation, so make sure you start early or even better, start the day before.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our roulade with a bottle of 2016 Malbec, produced by Kaiken, Argentina. The wine comes with a hint of plum. It is soft, intense purple-red, has velvety tannins and is round in its taste. This combines very well with the sweetness of the chestnuts and the Madeira. In general you are looking for an intense but not overpowering red wine, one that is both soft and present. 

What you need (Chestnut Butter)

  • 250 grams of fresh Chestnuts
  • Butter

With a sharp knife make a cross in the chestnuts. It doesn’t really matter where you do this; it’s just to help you remove the outer shell later on. Wash the chestnuts and cook them for 10 minutes or so. Cool and remove the shell. Transfer back to a pan of water and cook them for another 30 minutes or so. Let cool and peel of the skin of the chestnuts. This requires patience! Blender half of the chestnuts with some butter until you have a nice, tasty chestnut butter.

What you need (filling)

  • 350 grams of Chestnut Mushrooms
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • 50 grams of Pancetta
  • Cognac
  • Chestnut butter
  • Chestnuts

Clean the mushrooms and cut into smaller chunks. Fry the mushrooms for a few minutes and then add the very thinly sliced pancetta. Fry for another few minutes. Add the cognac and allow for the alcohol to evaporate. Crumble the chestnuts. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and combine with the chestnut butter and the crumbled chestnuts. Season with a bit of pepper. You will now have a dough like mixture of mushrooms and chestnuts. Let cool before using it.

What you need (Roulade of Turkey)

  • Two whole legs of Turkey
  • Pancetta
  • Filling
  • Kitchen twine and needle

Remove the bone from the legs and ‘unfold’ the meat, making it longer. Combine the two parts into one, making sure they are overlapping and that the meat on the outside is covered with skin. This can be a bit of a puzzle! Make a strip of pancetta from left to right, one-third from the bottom. Put the filling on top of the strip and then spread it out, making sure the top and bottom are not covered. Put 4 or 6 strings of kitchen twine underneath the roulade and start rolling. Not too tight. We closed the two sides of the roulade using a meat-stitching needle. After all, the filling needs to be inside the roulade. Wrap the roulade in plastic foil and keep in the refrigerator for 6 hours minimum.
Ready to cook? Fry the roulade to give it a nice colour and then transfer to an 180˚ Celsius oven. It’s ready when the centre has reached a temperature of 80˚ Celsius. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. In the mean time gently fry the steamed Brussels sprouts and in parallel create the Madeira sauce.

What you need (Madeira Sauce)

  • Chicken stock
  • Carrot
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Bay leaf
  • Madeira (medium dry Madeira is fine. Keep the dry Madeira as an aperitif)

Creating a true Madeira sauce actually requires a Sauce Espagnol (which is funny because Madeira is part of Portugal) but we take a short cut by pimping chicken stock. Cook the stock with a few slices of carrot, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. After 30 minutes you will have the most powerful chicken stock ever. Pass through a sieve. Combine Madeira, stock and the juices of the cooked Turkey in a pan, reduce the liquid for 10 minutes or so and then stir in two or three lumps of very cold butter.

Serve two slices of Turkey Roulade per person with the sauce and some Brussels sprouts. A touch of black pepper on the turkey and some fresh nutmeg (from Sri Lanka, of course!) on the sprouts.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Sweetbread or Ris de Veau with Madeira and Truffle

A starter to remember

A culinary treat that is delicate, balanced and overwhelming yet subtle. In a restaurant you will probably get Ris de Veau that was dusted with flour (okayish) or breaded (awful idea, it’s not a Wiener Schnitzel). In some countries the Ris de Veau is grilled which is an interesting idea. We stick to a very traditional approach that works extremely well because it’s all about the taste of the sweetbread in combination with Butter, Cream and Madeira. You could add some slices of fresh truffle to make it even better tasting.

The sweetbread should of course be hot and soft on the inside and brown and crispy on the outside. Just use your non-sticky skillet and a bit of butter for a beautiful result.

Ris de Veau should be between rose and well done. It requires a bit of attention, but it’s hard to overcook Ris de Veau. Although some restaurants are very capable of creating rubber.

It is essential to clean the Ris de Veau. For some reason the process of removing the membrane from sweetbread is intimidating, but don’t be put off.

Wine Pairing

First the Madeira: don’t be tempted to buy so-called ‘cooking Madeira’. This is some horrible, sweet liquid that is not even close to Madeira. One for the bin. We bought a bottle of Santa Maria Madeira, medium dry. It is perfectly suited for this recipe. The story behind Madeira is complex so if you get the chance to buy one that is 10 or 15 years old, please give it a try. Just sip and enjoy.

We’re looking for a wine that will be supporting the delicate taste and the sweetness, earthiness and the slight nuttiness of the sauce. If you want to drink a glass of white wine, then it should be a full-bodied Chardonnay, although not too oaky. Chablis will be a good choice. If you go for red, then we recommend a Beaujolais Cru (St. Amour or Fleurie) or a Bourgogne. It’s about soft tannins, aromas like dark cherries and licorice and on the palate a lean texture and dry.

What you need

  • 200 grams of Ris de Veau
  • Two leaves of Bay Leaf
  • Crushed black pepper
  • Shallot
  • Butter
  • Veal Stock
  • Madeira
  • Jus de Truffes

What you do

Start by filling a big pan with water. Add the crunched pepper and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Now add the sweetbread and make sure the water remains close to a boil. Blanch the sweetbread for let’s say 3 – 5 minutes, depending on the size and shape of the sweetbread.
Transfer the sweetbread to a large bowl with ice-cold water and cool the meat as quickly as possible.
Now it’s time to clean the sweetbread. Remove the bits of fat, the fleeces, any membrane, the veins and anything else you don’t like. Best way to do this is with your hands and a very sharp small knife. Once your sweetbread is clean, you will be able to see how to slice it later on. But first put it on a flat plate, seal it with plastic foil, put a similar flat plate on top of it and put something heavy on top of the plate. Transfer to the fridge and leave it for a few hours. The idea is twofold: on the one hand the sweetbread will be firm and easy to partition. And it will lose some liquid because of the weight.
With the sweetbread in the fridge it’s time to think about your sauce. Cut the shallot in small bits and glaze in butter. Add veal stock and Madeira. Mix and reduce. Transfer to blender and mix. Pass through a small sieve and warm what is the beginning of your sauce. Add Jus de Truffes. This is an essential ingredient because it brings volume and depth to the sauce. It’s not to be confused with Truffle Oil, which in most cases is some kind of horrendous chemical invention. Taste and perhaps add some more Madeira or stock. A pinch of pepper may also be helpful. Keep warm for 5 or 10 minutes, stirring regularly. You will notice that the sauce becomes more intense and mature, which is exactly what you want.
In parallel you will have cut 2-3 cm thick slices of sweetbread. Fry them for 5 minutes or so in a very warm (but not hot), non-sticky skillet with butter. It’s simple: when the sweetbread is golden and beautiful they are ready to be served. If in doubt: there is bound to be a small slice, one that you can use to test. Remember it’s offal, so you don’t want to take a risk.
Take two warm plates, add sauce and carefully put the slices of sweetbread on the plate. You could add slices of truffle on top.