Rick Stein’s Secret France by Rick Stein

Secret France Rick Stein

What’s the USP? Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein really needs no introduction. After 25 years on British TV screens and 45 years of running his world famous The Seafood restaurant in Padstow Cornwall, Stein is something of a national treasure. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) about his world travels that include Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, and Mexico. Now he’s returned to France, a country he first wrote and broadcast about 15 years ago with his cookbook and TV series French Odessey. He takes a meandering journey through rural France from Normandy in the north to Provence in the south, making 10 stops along the way including Alsace, Champagne, the Haute Jura and Burgundy

What’s great about it? In addition to the usual suspects like snails in garlic butter,  omelette aux fines herbes, croque monsieur and steak frites, Stein has gone off the beaten track and unearthed pounti, a ham and chard terrine from the Auvergne; wild boar stew with pinot noir from Alsace, and boles de picolat, meatballs flavoured with cinnamon and piment d’Espelette from Prades in the Pyrenees. Food and travel photography by James Murphy is glorious, bringing France to vivid life and making the food look extremely appetising. Introductions to the book, chapters and recipes are informative and Stein’s distinctive voice comes across loud and clear.     

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few things that you will need to seek out, but there is a very handy suppliers list that will sort you out for most things including Kampot pepper, snails, brik pastry, Banyuls vinegar, and Bockwurst sausage (the latter coming from that obscure vendor Lidl). As you’d expect from Rick Stein, there is a chapter devoted to seafood and you will certainly want to visit a fishmonger for bream, palourde clams, lobster, octopus, brill and scallops (the list goes on). 

How often will I cook from the book? Although a few of the recipes will take some planning ahead, there are many that will suit a midweek supermarket-shopped meal such as deep-fried pork chops with parsley; lamb chorba (a very delicious North African stew with chickpeas and orzo pasta that’s flavoured with harissa and ras-el-hanout,  cooked for Stein by an Algerian fisherman in Cassis) and spelt risotto with spring vegetables.

What’s the faff factor? Stein may be a chef, but he’s a self-taught one and generally eschews too much complexity. There are more involved recipes such as The Flavours of Bouillabaisse with Gurnard and Fennel which has a long ingredients list, requires the making of a shellfish stock and the preparation of both confit tomatoes and green pistou sauce, but mostly, the dishes are approachable and very achievable.

Should I buy it? Fans of Rick Stein will not be disappointed with his latest effort. If you are new to the food of France this is a great introduction, and if you are a Francophile, you will enjoy revisiting old favourites and discovering new dishes to add to your repertoire.

Cuisine: French  
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein’s Secret France
BBC Books, £26

Sticky Toffee Pudding by Francis Coulson

096 sticky toffee pudding

Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel United Kingdom 1970s

50 g (2 oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to butter the dish
175 g (6 oz) dates, chopped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
175 g (6 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs
175 g (6 oz) self-raising flour (all-purpose flour plus 11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
vanilla ice cream, to serve

For the sauce

300 ml (1⁄2 pint) double (heavy) cream
50 g (2 oz) demerara sugar
1 dessertspoon black treacle (molasses)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Butter a baking tin about 20 cm x 13 cm (8 x 5 inches).

Boil the dates in 300 ml (1⁄2 pint) water until soft (some dates are softer than others, so will need more cooking), then remove the pan from the heat and drain any liquid. Add the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs and beat well. Mix in the flour, date mixture and vanilla extract and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 30–40 minutes, until just firm to the touch. To make the sauce, boil the cream, sugar and treacle (molasses) together. Pour over the top of the sponge until it is covered (there will be some left over), then place under a hot grill (broiler) until it begins to bubble. Remove, cut into squares, and serve with the remaining sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Signature Dishes That Matter
Phaidon, £35

The Crunchy Part of the Lasagne by Massimo Bottura

165 crunchy lasagne

Osteria Francescana Italy 1995

1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 g extra-virgin olive oil
2 dried bay laves
1 sprig rosemary
100 g bone marrow
50 g pancetta steccata, chopped
100 g sausagemeat
200 g veal tail
100 g veal tongue
100 g beef cheek
100 g cherry tomato confit
80 g white wine
1.5 g capon stock
5 g sea salt
1 g black pepper

Pasta dough

100 g spinach 100 g Swiss chard 500 g ‘00’ flour
8 egg yolks
1 egg
salt

Béchamel foam

30 g butter
30 g flour
500 g milk, at room temperature
120 g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated sea salt

Tomato terrine

4 ripe tomatoes
1 g sugar
1 g sea salt
0.5 g freshly ground black pepper
3 g extra virgin olive oil
2 g agar agar

Parmigiano crackers

15 g soft butter
90 g 30-month Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
5 g cornflour (cornstarch)

Ragù

Make a classic soffritto by cooking the onion, carrot and celery very gently in
a pan with the olive oil. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl and stir in the bay and rosemary. Blanch the bone marrow in salted boiling water and drain it on paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. Sweat the pancetta in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the sausagemeat and cook until browned. Remove any excess fat, then add the remaining meats, keeping them in large pieces, and cherry tomato confit. Brown them, add the wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and add the soffritto. Put the mixture in a sous-vide bag along with a little of the stock, and seal. Cook for 24 hours at 63°C (145°F). Open the bag and separate the liquid and solids. Place the liquid in a pan and reduce it by half over low heat. Chop the meat with a sharp knife. Put it in a large saucepan and add the liquid.

Pasta

Cook the spinach and chard in boiling water, then chill it immediately in iced water. Drain it well, dry it and pound it thoroughly.

Sift the flour on to a board and make a well in the centre. Add the egg yolks, egg and the spinach mixture gradually to the well, mixing until the dough comes together in a ball. Knead for 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover it with a clean dish cloth and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 mm (1⁄16 inch). Cut it into 5-cm (2-inch) triangles. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water (10 g salt per litre), drain it and dry it well. Stack the pasta, cover it carefully and let stand in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Bake for 15 minutes, until the pasta is perfectly gratinated. Let stand in a warm place for 5 minutes before serving.

Béchamel foam

Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour and salt. Cook, stirring, until it forms a smooth paste, then add the milk. Stir very well and when it starts to thicken, add the Parmigiano and keep stirring. Cook for 5 more minutes. While still warm, process it in a thermal mixer at maximum speed, then strain it, put it into a siphon and chill it. Once cold, charge with 2 charges and shake it well.

Tomato terrine

Blend the tomatoes thoroughly and strain them, adding the sugar, salt, pepper and oil. Put the liquid into a small pan with the agar agar and bring to a boil, stirring, until it has melted completely. Pour the mixture into a 10 x 15-cm (4 x 6-inch) rectangular tray and let cool. Once cold, cut it into 1 x 15-cm (1⁄2 x 6-inch) strips.

Parmigiano crackers

Knead the butter, Parmigiano and cornflour (cornstarch) together briefly. Roll it out to a thickness of 2 mm (1⁄8 inch) and cut it into 5-cm (2-inch) triangles, like the pasta. Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 2 minutes, or less if necessary, until lightly browned.

To serve

Place a straight line of tomato terrine along the plate. Place four spoonfuls of the ragù alongside it, topped with spoonfuls of the béchamel foam. Rest 2 Parmigiano crackers and 2 crispy pasta pieces alternately in front of them.

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Buy the book
Signature Dishes That Matter
Phaidon, £35

Black Axe Mangal by Lee Tiernan

Black Axe

It’s tempting to pigeon-hole Lee Tiernan, chef and proprietor of cult north London restaurant Black Axe Mangal as some sort of ‘rock ‘n’ roll chef’. His pizza oven is emblazoned with the faces of the rock group Kiss, he blasts a soundtrack of heavy metal into Black Axe Mangal’s intimate dining room (a converted kebab shop) and the flavours of dishes like the signature squid ink flatbread with smoked cod’s roe are turned up to 11.

But behind all the raucousness there is a considered, thoughtful and meticulous cook.  On the subject of bread, which he says is the ‘anchor’ of his cuisine, he quotes food writer Richard Olney and calls it a ‘symbol of sustenance’ and explains that his seven-page recipe for flatbread was perfected with the help of Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco.

Another influence on Tiernan’s cooking is Fergus Henderson for whom Tiernan worked for over a decade, including a stint as head chef of St John Bread and Wine. Dishes such as shrimp-encrusted pig’s tails with pickled chicory; braised hare, chocolate and pig’s blood with mash; and oxtail, bone marrow and anchovy wouldn’t look out of place on a St John menu (Tiernan has also included the famous St John rarebit recipe in the book). But Tiernan unquestionably has his own distinctive style. As Henderson notes in his introduction, ‘Lee has borrowed my bone marrow, my cod’s roe, my pig’s blood, but they are not what shape him’.

The autobiographical introduction is full of stories and anecdotes from Tiernan’s colourful past. As a child, he took fussy eating to such extremes (including hiding unwanted meals under a loose floorboard in the family home) that his mother consulted a doctor about his lack of appetite. Black Axe Mangal’s origins as a pop up in ‘a grimy, graffiti-smeared Copenhagen night club’ where Tiernan cooked thousands of kebabs in a ‘ramshackle shed’ makes for entertaining reading.

The liberal seasoning of salty language and peppering of softcore glamour shots (older readers may be reminded of the Rude Food books from the late 70’) may be off-putting to some, but the step by step instructions on the key skills of grilling, smoking and baking that help define Tiernan’s food, along with the story behind his success, provide an insight into one of the UK’s most exciting and original chefs and make Black Axe Mangal an essential purchase.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Black Axe Mangal
Phaidon, £24.95

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Casa Cacao by Jordi Roca and Ignacio Medina

Casa Cacoa

Although it seems to have been around forever, ‘bean to bar’ is a relatively new concept with the first single estate chocolate produced by Cluizel in 1996. That’s just one of many fascinating facts in Jordi Roca’s deep dive into the world of chocolate, written with food journalist Ignacio Medina and inspired by the launch of the three Michelin starred pastry chef’s own brand, Casa Cacao that takes the bean to bar ethos one step further.

Roca argues that ‘chocolate has its beginnings in the tree’, placing increased importance on the variety of cacao, the farmer and the environmental conditions. The book tells the story of Roca trips to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, visiting cocoa farmers where he discovered that a bean grown in Piura in the northwest of Peru which has ‘fruity and aromatic notes’ is very different from the ‘restraint, elegance and presence’ of beans from Vinces in Ecuador.

With the help of British chocolatier Damien Allsop (‘head of chocolate and bon bon production’ at Roca’s Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca), Roca is pushing the conventions of chocolate manufacturing, creating vegetable-based chocolate made, for example, by combining a paste of peas, sugar, isomalt, puffed rice and ascorbic acid with melted cocoa butter. Allsop has also created ‘chocolate²’ made with just cacao and sugar to intensify the purity of flavour. Recipes for both are included, along with a detailed description of the chocolate making process, but you’d need access to a chocolate factory if you wanted to attempt them.

More achievable are ‘chocolate classics’ such as chocolate brownies or sophisticated desserts including milk chocolate, lemon and hazelnut cake, although only the most ambitious pastry chef would consider trying to replicate Mexican Chocolate Anarkia, the recipe for which takes up eight pages of the book.  Also included are some wildly creative savoury recipes such as cacao pulp and spiced chocolate sauce with langoustines by Roca’s brother Joan.

Casa Cacao is a detailed look at a complex and niche subject area and as such will mainly be of interest to chocolatiers and pastry chefs working in a fine dining environment, but it’s a beautifully produced book that will inform and inspire its intended audience.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Casa Cacao
Grub Street, £35

This review was originally published by The Caterer 

Baked white onion with tamari, ginger, lime and sesame by Bo Bech

White onion.jpg

For 4 people

Ingredients:
4-6 large white onions
1 lemon
4 tablespoons sesame seeds Sichuan pepper
50 grams ginger juice
50 grams lime juice
50 grams tamari
50 grams acacia honey
50 grams toasted sesame oil

Method:
Whisk together ginger juice, lime juice, tamari and acacia honey. Add toasted sesame oil to taste.

Bake the whole onions at 200 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes until tender (the baking time will depend on the size of the onions). Slice off the bottom of the onions and split each in half lengthwise. Divide each onion half into wedges and sprinkle with grated lemon peel, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, salt and sesame seeds.

Arrange the onion wedges on a plate and pour sauce into each wedge. The dish can be eaten as finger food.

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Braised eggs with leek and za’atar by Yotam Ottolenghi

Braised eggs.pngServes six

This is a quick way to get a very comforting meal on the table in a wonderfully short amount of time. It’s a dish as happily eaten for brunch, with coffee, as it is for a light supper with some crusty white bread and a glass of wine. The leeks and spinach can be made up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge, ready for the eggs to be cracked in and braised.

30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil 2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (530g)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (30g)
300ml vegetable stock
200g baby spinach leaves
6 large eggs
90g feta broken into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar salt and black pepper

  1. Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.
  2. Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
  3. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

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