“Forming part of the permanent cultural achievement of mankind”. This is one of Webster’s Dictionary’s definitions of the word “Classic”. It is the one I like, because it so perfectly encompasses good food and timeless recipes.
When I taste a perfect Moussaka I opine that it is a classic dish of Cyprus. Alas, as with kebabs, these days it is usually made with pork and not the proper, the traditional, lamb or kid, which it should be. And then I found a proper, good Kleftiko hard to find in Cyprus, yet it is so easy to make! One for four uses a half shoulder of lamb, a couple of tomatoes and onions, garlic and herbs of choice (mine is simple: a sprig of rosemary). Into a sealed heavy casserole with half a bottle of red wine and three hours in the oven at 140ºC. What could be simpler? Lovely.
It is to the French kitchen that I suppose one must turn for the great classics of Western cooking. Many are accessible to every day home cooks, like the Coq au Vin I made the other night from the recipe below. It is a dish that brings back a memory or two.
Once, in London, I attended a PR events at “Boulestin” then a well established and famous French restaurant, where the chef-proprietor, Marcel Boulestin had prepared Coq au Vin with a good but every day red Vin de Table and a second using a good Beaujolais. The attending hacks and would-be gourmets were asked to tell which was which. About half correctly identified them. So the adage that “a coq au vin is as good as the wine you put in it”, may well not be true. In my experience, the classic recipe I give below is sufficient. I agree with M. de Pomiane when he suggested drinking the same wine as you use in the cooking of the chicken.
One of the best examples of this classic dish I have encountered was at a small hotel-restaurant in Northern France. We had telephoned from Paris to book lunch, but on the way our car broke down and by the time we got to the hotel it was past three in the afternoon. The chef was off duty. “I can offer you some Saucissons”, the patronne told us, “and some Coq au Vin”. When it came, it was superb.
Coq au Vin
This recipe is by Edouard de Pomaine, the distinguished gentleman pictured, of whom I wrote last week. In his introduction to the recipe he advised “leaving most expensive chickens aside and choose (an ordinary one) weighing about 1½kg/ 3 lb.
You will also need:
75 g/2½ oz butter
15 g/2½ oz bacon
120 g/¼ lb mushrooms
2 medium-sized onions
A sprig of thyme
1 75 cl bottle of inexpensive red Burgundy
A small glass of brandy
Half a teaspoon of flour
- Joint the chicken and brown the pieces in a heavy casserole in which you have melted the diced bacon in half the butter.
- Add the onions chopped in four and let them turn golden brown.
- Salt and pepper lightly.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and the thyme and pour in the whole bottle of wine.
- Leave the pot uncovered on a very high heat so that the liquid boils rapidly and reduces in volume; at the same time the wine colours the flesh of the chicken.
- When you have about a wineglass and a half of liquid remaining, lower the heat, put on the lid and simmer for 20 minutes more.
- Test the chicken with a fork to see if it is done.
- Mix the flour into the rest of the butter, thinning it with 2 tablespoons of liquid from the chicken. Stir it into the wine sauce together with the brandy and simmer for 5 minutes more.
- Taste and correct the seasoning.
10.Carry the casserole to the table and fill your guests’ glasses with
the same wine you have used to make the sauce for the coq au
FRENCH APRICOT TART
“He resided in Park Street, St James’s, and his dinners there and at Melton were considered to be the best in England. He never invited more than eight people and insisted on having the somewhat expensive luxury of an apricot tart on the sideboard the whole year round.” Reese Howell Granow (19th. Century London gentleman)
Unlike Mr. Granow I make this about once a month. Actually, I assemble it, because it is a joint venture of my wife and me – she makes the pastry and the crème pâtissière, whilst I add the apricots and the glaze. It requires a loose-based pie tin of 25 cms diameter, to make a pastry case which is “baked blind”.
Pastry for 6 – 8 servings.
220 g village flour
110 g butter
A little water
1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C
2. Sift the flour into a bowl.
3. Cut the butter into small chunks and lightly but quickly rub into the flour until the mixture is like breadcrumbs.
4. Add a few drops of water and mix into flour/butter mixture until a good stiff dough is formed.
5. Roll out to fit a 25 cms round pastry tin, which you have rubbed with a little butter.
6. Cut away surplus pastry.
7. Put a circular piece of grease-proof paper on the pastry and
cover with baking beans to present pastry from rising whilst
8. Put pastry tin in centre of oven and bake for 15 minutes
9. Take out the tine and remove the baking beans and grease-proof
paper and return pastry to the oven for about another 5
minutes or until it is nicely gold.
10. Decant from the tin and set aside.
60 cl milk
120 g caster sugar
60 g plain flour
1 level tbsp corn flour
2 large eggs, beaten
50 g unsalted butter
- Warm the milk on a low heat.
- In a bowl mix together sugar, corn-flour, the beaten eggs
- Stir in the warm milk slowly and mix well.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat over a low heat until it starts to thicken, and comes to boiling point.
- Take the pan off the stove and stir the butter in well. Add a couple of drops of a good vanilla essence if you wish.
- Cover the pan and leave it to cool.
Take 36 – 40 dried apricots, put in a pan and pour boiling water over them. Cover and leave for an hour, when they should be quite tender. Remove from the water and slice in half (slice along the longest side to make two flat halves)
The Glaze: 3 tbsps apricot jam and one tbsp of lemon juice.
1. Spread the Crème Pâtissière evenly in the pastry case.
2. From the outside edge lay the half slices of apricot, cut side upwards, slightly overlapping them.
3. Continue in circles until you have covered the entire area of Crème Pâtissière.
4. Prepare the glaze by putting the apricot jam and lemon juice into a small pan and heat, stirring until bubbling. Keep bubbling and stirring until a little of the glaze put on to a cold plate doesn’t run (but is not too stiff)
5. With a pastry brush, gently apply the glaze evenly across the top of the apricots.
6. Leave the tart to rest for half an hour and then enjoy, with cream or vanilla ice-cream.