Dinner for friends
What to cook for homesick French friends? Well, les grands classiques, bien sûr! My friends Jean-Pierre and Alexia came over for a visit last week-end. They left Paris three long years ago and came back to France for a little holiday. They absolutely love their new life, but had turned into homesick Parisians, or, should I say homesick for good old French food. Nothing can really replace the authentic taste of baguette, country bread, Normandy butter and fresh foie gras from the Gers region. I can understand exactly how they feel as I have been in a similar situation when I lived abroad. Sentimentally speaking, I had to cook food that meant the world to me. Good times, good friends and good food have a precious link.
So here was the menu: A little glass of Pastis for an apéritif. The hot summer nights call for a little anis seed infused cooling drink. For starters, a hearty old-fashioned onion soup that is so good you will want to keep this recipe forever. Served with Comté cheese tartines. The main course had to be special. In France, we have the Eiffel tower, we have couture, we have wine, and we have foie gras. Foie gras is the national festive food, often served for Christmas, new year’s eve or any special occasion. And there are so many special occasions. I got a glistening piece of foie gras from a producer in the Gers (he has a reputation for being ethical and working with proper methods).
As they are good old friends dashing with humour, I couldnt’ help making a little ‘Portrait Chinois‘ (if you were a dish, what would you be?) of them through my cooking. For Jean-Pierre, it had to be the poached egg version with Périgueux sauce as his family is originally from there. For Alexia, the golden rosé apples match her beautiful mane, for my husband, a baked version with Chasselas grapes macerated in Cognac, very masculine and deep. And for me, a simple pan-fried version with figs and Chasselas grapes, since they come from my grandmother’s hometown Moissac. September rhymes with Chasselas grapes.
1) Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples and cognac.
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice apples horizontally.
In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras and apples. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras and apples. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the apples to cook for 3-5 mores minutes turning them on each sides. Drain the pan, keeping a little bit of duck fat and fry slice of bread in pan for 10 seconds on each sides. Serve apples and bread with foie gras.
2) Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Preheat oven 200°C. Peel and remove pips from grapes. Place in a bowl and soak in cognac for at least 2 hours. Place foie gras in a heat-proof small oven dish (I use a small Staub cocotte) and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, drain the fat and add macerated grapes in dish. Bake for 8 more minutes and serve.
3) Pan-fried foie gras with Chasselas grapes and figs
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice figs in quarters. Rinse and dry Chasselas grapes. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras, figs and grapes. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras, figs and grapes. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the figs and grapes to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.
4) Pan-fried foie gras with sauce Périgueux and poached egg.
50 g butter
200 ml stock
1 small glass white wine
1 shallots (finely sliced)
2 g salt
10 g flour
1 bay leaf
1 chopped black truffle
2 g pepper
Chop the truffle and set aside. In a small pan, melt butter and fry shallots until soft. Add flour, stir well, add wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Stir well. Gradually add stock and stir constantly. Add bay leaf, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat. The sauce should be slightly thick and creamy. Strain the sauce and add the chopped truffle last.
Egg: In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. Prepare your egg by breaking it into a little cup so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the egg in the water. Cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if it needs a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make the form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like the egg cooked, 3-5 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon egg onto a plate. Set aside and drain.
Foie gras: Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Place the egg on top, drizzle generously with sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Old-fashioned French onion soup with Comté tartines
1 kg large yellow onions (sliced finely)
50 g duck fat (alternatively you can use butter instead)
1.5 litre good-quality chicken stock
100 g Comté cheese
Salt & pepper for seasoning
Peel onions and slice them finely. In a large pot, heat duck fat and cook onions on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and cook for 15 minutes. Scoop out half of the onions and purée the onions in a food processor. Return the pureed onions to the soup and mix well. The soup should have a nice smooth velvety consistency as well as bits of onions.
In a pre-heated oven 200 °C, grill a few slices of country bread topped with a slice of Comté cheese for a few minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Serve soup in individual bowls, add a melted cheese tartine on top of each bowls and season with salt and pepper.
For the choux pastry ring:
150 g plain flour
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g butter
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp flaked/sliced almonds
Icing sugar (for sprinkling)
For the cream filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g sugar
40 g flour
60 g ready-made praline mix (it’s a mixture of sugared ground almonds and hazelnuts – nearly like a paste)
350 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
175 g good-quality butter – at room temperature
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
For the choux pastry:
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt, sugar and bring to a simmer. Take the pan away from the heat and add the flour (in one go) and stir constantly until you get a smooth dough. Put back on a low heat for 2-3 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Off the heat, add the beaten eggs, slowly (reserve 4-5 tbsp for final brushing) and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature. Line baking tray with parchment paper and trace a 20 cm circle. Place the choux dough in a piping bag with a large nozzle (2.5 cm) and pipe the 20 cm ring. Pipe a second ring around the inside next to the first ring. Finally, pipe another ring on top of these two rings. Use remaining beaten egg adding a small pinch of salt – brush top ring with egg and sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is firm and golden. Take out from oven and immediately slice the ring horizontally into two layers so the steam escapes. Set aside and leave to cool.
For the cream filling:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the flour. In another pan, bring milk to a boil with the salt and coffee, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, return it to the pan, and whisk over gentle heat until boiling. Once thickened, cook the cream gently for one minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool completely, until cold. Once cooled, gradually ‘smooth’ in butter with a spatula, alternating with the praline. Note: If you are not a praline or coffee flavour fan, you can alternate and create your own filling with rum, vanilla, chocolate. As you wish.
Scoop cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Put the lower half of the pastry ring on a serving plate. Pipe the cream in ‘rosettes’ onto the ring and set the upper ring on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Keep in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.