Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poached salmon and fennel salad

On Wednesday, S and I made a salmon and fennel and salad for lunch with Hermann in the kitchen at Les Tuillières. We poached the salmon, the best way to cook it according to Hermann, and had great conversation about the poaching liquid, which is officially called court bouillon when it’s for fish and seafood. Hermann started one from scratch (pictured above), but he said that you can reuse the same liquid over and over again, just by straining it and freezing it in between cooking sessions. At some point, maybe by the fourth or fifth time you use it, it becomes richer than the salmon and gives back more flavour than it takes, so the fish always gains. I asked Hermann how long he would keep using it and he said “Jusqu’à je suis mort!” So there you go, we mere mortals may come and go, but our poaching liquids can live on forever.

Poached salmon and fennel salad
serves 4

salmon fillets, fresh or frozen
4 fennel bulbs
1 tsp ground fennel and coriander seeds
juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp Pastis (anise-flavoured liqueur)
salt and pepper
olive oil
cider or white wine vinegar

Poaching liquid

3 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 Tbsp salt
a few peppercorns
bay leaf, thyme, parsley

Bring the poaching liquid ingredients to the boil and simmer at the barest simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Add the salmon and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Wash and trim the fennel bulbs. Cut off the tops but reserve some of the green sprigs for garnish. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters, remove the core at the bottom and discard. Slice the bulb quarters as thinly as possible.

Place the fennel slices in a bowl and add the lemon juice, fennel and coriander seeds, and Pastis. Mix well.

Break the lukewarm salmon into bite-sized pieces with your fingers and add to the fennel. Add a vinaigrette of vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil, and gently toss.

Boiled potatoes are a nice accompaniment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Côtes du Rhône wine tasting

S and I joined Susan and the other cooking students after lunch on Wednesday for a Côtes du Rhône wine tasting. Susan introduced us to three whites, three rosés and three reds, and I took away three things — even with a spitting bucket you can get quite tipsy, I should no longer ignore rosés and most importantly, I have expensive tastes. (My favourites were the Domaine Font de Michelle 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape red and the Saint Péray Terres Boisées white ;)

The Côtes du Rhône region makes approximately 420 million bottles of wine a year, and about eight million of those are exported to Canada (2005/2006 statistics). Wines must be made from several grape varieties to get appellation status. Another requirement is that yields must be small to keep the grapes of good quality, so the winegrowers cut back their vines every fall.

From the car, I saw many vineyards with rosebushes growing in front of each row of vines. Susan told me roses fall prey to the same insect pests as grapevines, but show disease earlier, so the roses are a sort of early detection system by which the farmers gauge the health of their vines. The thicker the trunks, the older the vines and the finer the wine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Picodon cheese and Madame Jullian's goat farm

On our fifth day in Provence, Susan took all of the cooking students to the village of Truinas to visit Madame Fabienne Jullian's goat cheese farm, which is high up in the mountains. We took home six packages of one-day old goat cheeses and had them for lunch with a smooth raspberry coulis dribbled over. It was delicious! At this stage, the cheese is almost like cottage cheese, but with a much milder flavour.

There are 60 nannies and two billies at Mme Jullian's farm. The nannies were overjoyed to receive visitors. If you move your hands over their heads to pet them, they think you're offering food and try to eat it, but if you pet under the chin, they know you are giving affection. At six months old, they start visiting the billy. We saw the billies too, but they were too tired to come say hello.

Mme Jullian makes a fresh raw milk goat cheese that's locally known as Picodon cheese. It's one of many agricultural products that have AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status.

She pours the milk into these small moulds that have tiny holes and adds a little bit of rennet and salt. Then the little rounds dry in her fridge for two to four weeks.

Some goats in the region live even higher in the mountains and graze on the wild mountain thyme that grows at those altitudes, which gives their milk and its cheeses a special flavour.

I don't think these cheeses make it to Canada, and that's too bad because they are delicious! Susan says that cheeses cured over 60 days are allowed into the United States, but the fresher raw milk cheese like the ones chez Mme Jullian are all too young to make it over.

We saw Picodon cheese everywhere in the supermarkets. Young cheeses, like the day-olds we ate for lunch, can lose a lot of weight during the aging process and develop a rind and a hardened centre. The flavour is so concentrated that it "piques at your dents" (teeth). I preferred the younger versions, but I can see how the aged Picodon could become an aquired taste.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Les Aubergistes in Marsanne

On the way home from Mirmande, S and I stopped for dinner at Les Aubergistes, a hotel restaurant in Marsanne. S had the poulet fermier laqué au miel et lavande, and I had the noix de veau rôtie et son jus aux pleurottes. Those loosely translate to chicken with lavender honey and round fillet of veal with mushrooms.

I noticed that certain French phrases here were very different from the Canadian French we have absorbed living so close to Quebec. Maybe it's just the way of the service industry, but French French seems more formal and emphatic. For example, instead of de rien or bienvenue for your welcome, the servers here say je vous en prie. Draft beer on tap here is bière en pression, not bière en fut, and we also heard la facture more often than l'addition when we asked to pay our bill.

One of the guests at Les Tuillières told us that the French think Canadian French is quaint, and gave us the example of how the Québécois say char for car. To the French, char is an old-fashioned word for a cart or wagon. Another instance happened when I told a bartender in Paris that we were going to faire du magasinage demain, he didn't seem to understand and then chuckled with an ahh, oui! Later, I looked it up and in France they say faire les courses or quite simply le shopping. So ours must be an older French and the language is obviously not evolving the same way in Quebec. But no matter what Canadian French we mustered up, we were always understood, and in most cases even my rusty French was better than their English. Hourra! All those years of public school French have not been in vain!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fruit recipes from Mirmande

On Tuesday afternoon we went to Mirmande, another medieval village perché that is almost 1,000 years old and has received many national accolades. It's a maze of narrow, twisting alleyways, and houses with ancient stonework and beautiful wooden doors. At the very top is a very pretty church, St. Foy, with amazing views of the countryside.

Mirmande is nested among orchards and has a thriving fruit industry. The office of tourism's website has a link to the recipes of one of its employees. Click on Recettes de Marinette for some authentic, handwritten Provençale fruit recipes, in French of course ;) like sorbet à la pêche, clafouti de cerises and tarte aux figues fraiches.

Mirmande is on France's official list of most beautiful villages. It has also won awards for its rooftops. At one point, there was a law exempting houses without roofs from taxes, which led to many homeowners dismantling them. After this, the price of buying a house was based on the number of roof tiles still on it!

In the thirties, an artist named André Lhote moved to Mirmande and decided to save it from ruin. He encouraged other artists to move to the village and bring it back to life with their trade. Lhote's own art became part of the cubist movement. By the seventies, Mirmande had became known for its modern but traditional terracotta tiles in beautiful colours of red, straw and pink. The inhabitants had roofs over their heads once more!

Mirmande has also gotten national recognition for its gardens and plants, which are selected for their ability to grow in dry, stony ground by a group called "Les Rocailles Botaniques” (Botanic Pebbles).

Mirmande overlooks the Rhone valley and the Massif Central. Its name has gone through many incarnations, but it originates from combining the Latin mirus, which means admirable, and mandare, which means to dominate.

As we made our way to the top, I couldn't believe that such a place existed and that the 520 or so people who live here are able to make a living in a remote medieval village. I asked Susan about it later at Les Tuillières and she said that people have artisanal lives here — some have an orchard and grow apples, others have goats and make goats' cheese. They do one thing and they do it well.

And just when I was starting to get carried away with how old and romantic things were, S and I heard two little boys playing in the streets, humming the theme to Star Wars.

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