A ‘Demi-Glace’ is a very rich sauce that is itself used as a base for other sauces in traditional classic French cuisine. At one time, it would be expected to be one of the essential skills for a chef to master but it seems to be far less commonly employed than was once the case. Indeed, back in the day, when I had quite a few jobs in the food service industry, I can recall only one chef actually making his own. A few kitchens used commercially prepared concentrates in lieu of the real thing, and the rest seemed unconscious of its existence.
Part of the reason for the decline in usage is, I am sure, that the traditional preparation is so dauntingly complex as to be intimidating, and actually requires such time and expense to make it impractical for the home cook. The basic form is the result of blending reduced brown stock with an Espagnole Sauce (which is itself based on brown sauce), and then further reducing it to a thick ‘half-glaze’. The result can then be used as the basis for many classic French sauces such as Bordelaise, or Sauce Robert, or else added to stews or ad hoc sauces for a major flavor infusion.
Anyway, the ponderous and complicated process of Escoffier’s day is now frequently supplanted by methods that dispense with the traditional Espagnole sauce and either thicken the basic stock with a light starch, or else rely entirely on reduction to concentrate and thicken. Today’s post is an experiment I tried in my own kitchen using the latter process, and which produced a pretty decent result …. Continue reading “A Port ‘Demi-Glace’”
Ratatouille has its roots in Provence, and commonly associated with Nice. It is something of a melange of vegetables, stewed or braised with the seasonings of the region… Thyme, Garlic, Basil, etc. … but there are many variations. The main ingredients typically include Eggplant, tomato, onion, and bell pepper, but zucchini and fennel often appear, with mushrooms and black olives being added in some recipes.
Most traditionally, the main ingredients are individually sautéed with a little olive oil, and then finally cooked together until everything gets nicely blended with a rich ‘creaminess’. These days, Balsamic vinegar is often added, with white wine also being used in some cases. The dish could be served hot, as a side dish, but it is often served at room temperature, on its own, or with other foods, essentially in the manner of a relish.
For today’s recipe, I am also doing a two stage cooking but, here, I am roasting some of the vegetables before-hand and then letting them sit overnight with some aromatics to develop flavor before finishing with the ‘saucier’ portion of the recipe … Continue reading “Ratatouille”
Rillettes is a specialty of French cuisine that can be thought of as something of a cross between the rustic Confit and a fine Pâté. Like a confit, it uses salt and fat to preserve meat but, as with the confit, the preserving process produces a lovely result that is prized in and of itself. It has been many years since I last made a batch, and I am still planning to post the recipe when I finally do again, but, for now, I am just going to share with you the very pleasant version I had at Play Food Wine in Ottawa not long ago…
This rillettes dish came with slices of pickled cucumber. They were clearly not a lactic acid ferment type, but were made using a very mild and slightly sweet vinegar. What set these apart is that the pickling medium also included some finely shredded seaweed of some sort (Wakame, perhaps), and this added a different level of flavor that was both unexpected and very good.
The rillettes here were quite bit more finely processed than others I have had. My own have tended to be quite granular in consistency, and others can be composed of tiny shreds, but these were very smooth and quite unctuous, almost like a pâté, in fact. The mix was not heavily seasoned, indeed, other than the expected salt, the only thing I could identify were some tiny brown mustard seeds. These, surprisingly, were softened to the point that I had absolutely no sensation of biting into seeds and their flavor had obviously been given up to the blend. The result was anything but bland, though, and the pork really spoke for itself without a lot of additional enhancement. I have to say that my own efforts, thus far, haven’t exceeded this particular dish.
The name of today’s dish may sound as though it is a classic of French cuisine but, in fact, I made it up to suit the result. It is definitely a Fricassee, being meat cooked, without browning, in a white sauce, and it is similar to other dishes given the appellation ‘Forestiere’ in that it is somewhat rustic and contains mushrooms. The use of pork may not strike one as being especially forest-related (hare, squirrel, or even venison being perhaps more appropriate) but I am going to marinate the pork with wine first (a technique I learned from my father) in order to give it something of the flavor of wild boar. This technique usually uses a strong, full-bodied red wine to achieve the effect but I want to keep the traditional pale color of a Fricassee, so I am using white… Continue reading “Fricassée à la Forestiere”
One of the dishes on my ‘bucket list’ of ‘Foods to try in their Place of Origin’ is the incredible German-French specialty from Alsace-Lorraine known as Choucroute Garnie. This dish (more of a gargantuan feast, really) is a huge mélange of various pork products slow cooked with Sauerkraut and other vegetables. The main ingredients and flavorings can vary considerably, of course, but the unifying characteristic of the different versions is that the result is very hearty, rib-sticking sort of affair.
Today’s recipe can only be regarded as a poor cousin of the Alsatian specialty as I am doing a very small casserole type dish using just pork ribs with a little bacon for flavor. I am also departing from tradition somewhat by using sauerkraut as a secondary ingredient only. I am not using home-made sauerkraut here and, since I find that most commercial varieties are shredded so thinly they turn mush with any length of cooking, I will instead use coarsely shredded fresh cabbage augmented with some sauerkraut for added flavor. I am going to call this dish an ‘Alsatian Hotpot’ even though I admit that this name is probably a little ambitious given the rich complexity of its ancestry… Continue reading “Alsatian Hotpot”
21 George St, Ottawa – 613-241-1516 – Website
Date of Visit: July 14, 2013
I picked this spot for my evening meal during a scouting expedition in the Byward Market area one very hot Sunday morning. What appealed to me, perhaps even more than the menu, was the lovely cool and shaded courtyard from which it takes its name. The menu, though brief, and consisting of just 16 items excluding desert, was quite rich with the promise that anything I might order would be both complex and interesting… Continue reading “Review: The Courtyard Restaurant”
18 York St. Ottawa – 613-244-1188 – Website
Date of Visit: December 3, 2012
I must have passed by E18teen countless times without noticing it. The understated signage outside, and the rather imposing, yet featureless appearance of the building doesn’t really suggest a restaurant at all. I had taken a quick look at their web-site before deciding to visit, of course, but what I saw in those pages along with the ‘trendiness’ of the name, made be think it might be a bit of a ‘gimicky’ sort of place, with more emphasis on the ‘nouvelle’ rather than the ‘cuisine’. As it happened, I was far more impressed than I expected to be… Continue reading “Review: E18teen”
A Bouillabaisse, for those unfamiliar, is a seafood soup claimed, by the residents of Marseille, in southern France, as their very own specialty. For the rest of you who have tried it elsewhere, the chances are virtually certain that it was a derivation of the sort that would have a Marseillaise restaurateur rolling his or her eyes and squawking Gallic epithets of deep disapproval.
According to tradition, a Bouillabaisse, was a very rustic soup made by French fisherman, who employed the less saleable remnants of the day’s catch which they then boiled (‘bouille’) for supper. It is said, in that part of the world, that a true version of the dish must contain at least three or four species of rock fish from the native waters and thus, since these fish are rarely available elsewhere, a Bouillabaisse, in other parts, will necessarily differ. Indeed, whereas a Marseillaise Bouillabaisse, is mostly fish, and only includes the occasional odd variety of shellfish, other versions are often mostly shellfish and can include, lobster, scallops, shrimp and clams. Far be it for me to argue the point with the guild of Marseille restaurateurs (who once drafted a charter specifying exactly what constitutes the dish), but I do recognize that any dish can have a whole variety of otherwise acceptable versions that the strict ‘purists’ will always disavow. Still, I do feel that, to properly be called a Bouillabaisse, certain features must come together:
In my opinion, a Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup based on a broth heavily redolent of the ocean, but infused with the additional flavors of saffron, garlic and fennel, with a bit of dried orange peel optionally added for that special taste. Potatoes, tomatoes and leeks are all welcome additions and a little bit of wine is also very nice. I think that some variety of fish (as opposed to just shellfish) really should be added, but for the present experiment, since I had nothing I thought suitable available, I am using a combination of shellfish only… Continue reading “Bouillabaisse”