Let's be clear, our goal is to produce a clear, clean liquid which will enrich and enhance anything that it is added to, without imposing a flavour of its own. It should not be good enough to consume by itself.
I use nothing more than the cook's "holy trinity" of roughly chopped onion, carrot and celery, also known as a mirepoix which provide pleasing sweet middle tones. You can substitute half the quantity of onion with leek. The only aromatic we will use is parsley and I use just the stalks for flavour.
The proportions: one part vegetables to 10 parts water.
You cannot produce a clear and clean stock without skimming the impurities that will rise to the surface. If you don't remove this scum it will simply boil and emulsify adding it's "flavour" to your stock, this makes it nigh on impossible to achieve a clear liquid, no matter how much you filter it.
Salt. Cooks to not add salt to stock. We wait to flavour the end dish, not this one.
Quick Update - this was a reminder of why content should always be checked by two pairs of eyes. I went to make this the other day and realised that I had made a few chefs shortcuts, i.e. been a little lazy, so I have edited it.
There is a baker in my local French town who makes a “pain aux poires et chocolate”, that’s a croissant filled with chocolate and pears. It’s divine. This is a play on that idea, but using an open-faced tart, which allows your eyes to get excited before you taste it.
A culinary marriage from Poitou-Charentes. You'll find this in restaurants throughout Poitou-Charentes and the Western Loire. It is often referred to as simply "poisson au beurre blanc".
Sandre English: Pikeperch or Zander is a firm and fine white fish with a delicate flavour. Fine specimens up to 1.2m (4ft) long have been caught in the Thouet river just a two minute walk from our house and the fish is common in the rivers of Poitou-Charentes. In these days of dwindling fish stocks, it is nice to offer a recipe for a fish that is delicious, plentiful and thriving. You could substitute any firm white fish but my recommendation would be loin of cod (dos de cabillaud).
Beurre blanc English: White Butter is the sauce of the region. The butter of Poitou Charentes, the first to be granted an AOC, is a pale creamy butter with a high (82%) butterfat content. It is highly prized by chefs worldwide. The sauce is actually a warm emulsion and needs to be prepared and served immediately. If left to stand it will separate.
I have been cooking and refining this dish for years. The recipe is based upon one by Madame Germaine Carter whose 'Home Book of French Cookery' was a favourite in my teens, not only because of the recipes but also due to its narrative. Mme Carter and her co-authors were interned in a number of prisoner of war camps during World War II. During a winter of particular privation in 1941-42, a fellow prisoner suggested the book as a means to boost their flagging spirits. The book is long out of print, but copies are not hard to find.
I have included additional ingredients that you'll find in most 'authentic' recipes in the Suggestion section, but with the exception of the bread fried in bacon fat, I find them a distraction.
This dish is always better when made a day in advance.
We have been growing artichokes in the garden, but I mistakenly planted a globe variety. I have decided to let these bloom (see photo below) and will then replace them with 'violet de provence' artichokes for next year.
Catherine de Medici is credited with introducing Artichokes to the French Court in the first half of the 16th Century. By the end of the century artichokes were cultivated throughout France, Spain and Italy. Britian never succumbed to the artichoke's charms and to this day, they are a rarer sight.
This recipe uses the 'violet' variety of artichoke. This variety is normally about 5cm\2 inches in diameter and more elongated than the globe varieties.
I have given a lot of visual tips on handling artichokes to help those less familiar with them.
A hot summer's day calls for a cocktail with a bit of a breeze flowing through it. Something that refreshes, but also gently reminds you it's not just fruit juice in that fancy glass. Nothing fits that bill better than a champagne or sparkling wine-based cocktail. And we especially like mixing them here at Circle of Misse since there are so many excellent bubblies available from our local Loire Valley producers. This drink, the French 75, with its cool gin overtones, summery citrus notes, and celebratory bubbles, beautifully Frenchifies that most sun-friendly of drinks, the Gin and Tonic.
It reportedly originates from Henry's Bar in Paris, where it was created sometime in the 1920s to celebrate the famous French 75 rifle used in World War I. The idea being, according to the Savoy Cocktail Book, that the drink "hits with remarkable precision." As with most famous cocktails, origin stories abound, including one that a World War I flying ace created it and another that it's a British drink brought to France by Americans. A bored bartender at Henry's in Paris rings most true.
We have started experimenting with some of the classic French hors-d'oeuvre. We covered Tapenade last week as it is popular in summer, but celeri remoulade, champignons à la Grecque and grated carrot salad are ubiquitous, available mass-produced in every French supermarket, and most taste as boring and predictable as store-bought coleslaw.
Our starting point has been the notion that something becomes popular and enters the realm of 'classic' because it is or was good, likely very good. As time moves on and once industrial manufacturing gets involved, there may be little of the original 'classic' left.
There have been olive pastes and concoctions around the mediterranean for centuries, but this dish is relatively recent. It was the invention of Chef Meynier of 'La Maison Dorée' in Marseilles and dates from the 1880s. My version uses a higher proportion of olives and includes lemon zest for added zing.
We're growing several varieties with different hues at the moment, including small plum tomatoes, which we cut in half for this dish. Use whatever small tomatoes you can get your hands on. The fresher the better, and you should aim for cherry tomato-size. Like the name suggests, this is an upside-down tart. The pastry goes on top then you flip it over (carefully) when ready to serve.