I wanted to cook a special Valentine’s day menu, filled with some of the favourite flavors I’ve shared with my husband a few romantic meals ago. I’ve always felt a link with Saint-Valentine, perhaps because my middle name is actually Valentine. My full name is Marie-France Valentine Thorisson, sounds very old-fashioned to say the least! That’s why everybody calls me Mimi.
Yesterday morning, despite the cold rain pouring in Médoc, we headed to the market inspired to hunt for beautiful ingredients to make this post a special one. Little did I know that my morning turned out to be a bit of an eclectic adventure. En route, we saw a group of hunters hunting for the bécasse (woodcock). There were a few familiar faces so we stopped to say bonjour. At the market, we met ‘the artist’. Such a charming man, certainly the best dressed that morning. He had such allure, humor and passion for life. As we kindly asked if we could take his photo, he accepted and declared ‘Je suis un artiste’. He is in Médoc to produce a musical show, just like in the old days. It’s nice to know that characters like that still exist. With a smile on my face, I went on with my shopping list. A dozen red roses, two dozen oysters from Arcachon, four slices of bacon ‘noir de bigorre’, a few veal chops, five large sweet potatoes and rose water.
On my way back home, we bumped into a big group of hunters again. They looked so happy, and it didn’t take me too long to figure out why. They proudly showed us their prize, a huge wild boar they had hunted. It’s their passion, their culture, they are true Médocain hunters. I could hear discussions and debates on how to cook the animal, echos of a grandmother’s recipe for sausages with white wine. Hunting is as big of an activity as wine making in Médoc.
Back home, after such an interesting morning, I got to work on the menu. The starter, oyster fritters with a wasabi cream dip, is inspired from a dish I had years ago in Sydney. Some of my fondest food memories are from meals I’ve had there. The freshness, the creativity and beauty of it all. The main course is simply a lovely piece of veal chop, pan-fried in butter and olive oil, served with roasted sweet potatoes, thyme, rosemary and garlic. And the obligatoire bacon noir de bigorre (black pig bacon from Bigorre) with its incredible nutty taste. Add some fresh parsley, garlic and use the juices from the pan to drizzle all over the dish. It’s such an incredible mixture of sensations. Living in Médoc we naturally tend to drink mostly local wine. But for this meal I was in the mood for something different, something very red and clear and slightly chilled to match the occasion. I chose a lovely Pinot Noir from Burgundy, it was a perfect fit. To end this meal, I prepared a rose crème brûlée, and instead of using cassonade brown sugar, I used pink crystal sugar (something I bought for my daughter’s birthday last November). Everything looks prettier in pink, especially on Valentine’s day.
Oyster fritters with wasabi cream dip
Ingredients: (serves a generous 2)
24 fresh oysters (if you can’t find oysters, why don’t you try using shrimps, crab, fish, or even vegetables. The wasabi cream dip goes with everything.)
For the batter:
55 g/ 1/2 cup corn flour (I use maïzana)
70 g/ 2/3 plain flour
Enough ice-cold fizzy/sparkling water to make a sticky thick batter – not too liquid, not too thick – it should coat the oysters).
For the wasabi cream dip:
120 ml/ 1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tsp wasabi paste (you can add more or less according to your taste)
In a bowl, pour whipping cream, add the wasabi and whisk till stiff.
Coarse salt & black pepper (for seasoning)
Peanut oil (for frying)
Open the oysters and drain the water. With a sharp knife, cut of the oyster off. In a medium pan, heat peanut oil until approx 180°C (8 cm/3-3.5 inches deep). You can measure the temperature with a thermometer or test with a drop of batter – if it sizzles and turns golden within 5 seconds, it’s ready.
Place each oyster in a teaspoon, dip in the batter until coated all over. Fry in oil until golden. The fritters will puff up instantly. Fry oysters by batches (5 by batch). Drain on kitchen towel before serving.
Drizzle oyster fritters with coarse salt and black pepper. Serve with salad and wasabi cream dip. Serve immediately.
Pan-fried veal with sweet potato wedges (serves 2)
2 good-quality côtes de veau (veal chops)
3 large sweet potatoes (sliced in wedges)
6 garlic cloves (4 for the sweet potatoes, 2 finely sliced for the veal)
A bunch of fresh rosemary
A bunch of fresh thyme
A bunch of fresh parsley
2 slices good quality bacon (I used bacon ‘noir de Bigorre’/ black pig – optional)
1 tbsp unsalted butter (for frying veal)
Olive oil (for frying and for the roast sweet potatoes)
Coarse salt and black pepper (for seasoning)
Preheat oven to 210°C/ 400°F
Slice sweet potatoes into medium-sized wedges, place on a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, shake the pan so all the wedges get coated in oil. Season with salt and pepper, add a branch of rosemary, thyme and garlic cloves (you can leave the skin on). Cook for 30 minutes, stirring the potatoes frequently (and gently as sweet potatoes are softer).
Chop parsley and garlic finely. Set aside. Season veal with coarse salt and pepper. In a frying pan, melt a tbsp of butter and a tsp of olive oil on a medium to high heat. When sizzling hot, add the veal and fry on each side for approx 2-3 minutes (depending on your choice of ‘cuisson’) – the veal should be golden on each side . At the same time, fry the bacon in another pan (or in the same pan as the veal if you don’t mind).
Place veal on a serving plate, pour all the juices from the pan in a small bowl. Add the chopped parsley, garlic and bacon on veal. Serve with the sweet potato wedges. Pour the reserved juices all over the meat and potatoes. Serve immediately.
Crème brûlée (serves 2)
3 egg yolks
40 g/ 3 tbsp granulated sugar
80 ml/ 1/3 cup ml cream
80 ml/1/3 cup full fat milk
2-3 tbsp rose essence extract (depending on strength)
1 tbsp pink sugar crystals (or plain sugar/ brown sugar – to be sprinkle and caramelized)
Preheat oven 120°C/ 240 F
Pour milk and cream in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Set aside. Whisk egg yolks and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add rose essence extract in the milk/cream mixture and pour on egg yolks. Mix well until smooth.
Place ramequins in a roasting pan (deep enough to add some water). Pour the mixture in the ramequins. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for approx. 50 minutes, until they are set but still trembling. Set aside and chill before serving. Just before serving, sprinkle the crème brulées with sugar, and use a blowtorch or hot grill to caramelise the tops (be extra careful not to burn as it heats up fast).