Roast chicken with aligot

This post is really about aligot, not roast chicken or even about red, orange and yellow carrots.

Aligot is a dish from the Massif Central in France. This region is noted for dairy produce, specifically cheeses like Cantal and Laguiole, with the latter being the cheese used in the Aveyron, which is claimed to the the original version. There is an excellent recipe for Aligot in Jeanne Strang’s book Goose Fat and Garlic. Her recipe uses the cheese known as tomme fraiche de Cantal.

Anyway, the dish is associated with the Auvergne, the Pays d’Aubrac, the Aveyron and elsewhere in south-western and southern France.

In simple terms, it is a rich purée of mashed potato with cheese and garlic. If you follow the purists, the correct cheese is the young fresh version of Laguiole, known as tomme de Laguiole, but you are extremely unlikely to find this in the UK, so you need an alternative. Cantal Doux is a good one, but so is the smooth buttery kind of Lancashire, which is what I used for this recipe. The purists will no doubt be horrified, but sometimes authenticity can be overrated and, anyway, I expect that in the Auvergne there are plenty of cooks who will defend their own local cheese as being the right kind for l’Aligot. You have to work with what is available. I would say, however that Cheddar is all wrong here so avoid using that.

Anyway, you need to boil and mash some floury potatoes, a ricer is great here as you get a lovely smooth mash.

Then you need garlic, a lot of garlic, which you need to cook in some butter until it melts. I find that grating it with a microplane grater helps a lot. Then add in some cream and the mashed potatoes and keep stirring.

Next, add in your grated cheese, you will need a lot, because this dish is all about the cheese, which you want to melt and bind together with the potatoes. You should keep on stirring with a wooden spoon over a low flame until the mixture is smooth and unctuous. Do not use a hand whisk or stick blender, because the texture will be all wrong.

The aligot is ready when it becomes stringy.

This is very rich and you won’t really need a lot on the plate. It goes well with sausages or with roast chicken, but you can also eat it by itself with just a green salad.

Any leftover aligot can be formed into balls or croquettes, floured, egged and breadcrumbed and deep-fried.

Potée

A potée is a peasant dish from France, but there are similar dishes from all over Europe. It is a sort of poor relation of a Pot-au-feu, with a piece of bacon replacing the beef.

In France there are many local variations of this dish, from Lorraine, the Auvergne, the South-West (where it is called Garbure) and elsewhere, but essentially it is salted pork (hocks, petit-salé, gammon etc), carrots, leeks, onions, potatoes and cabbage, with other root vegetables such as turnips and maybe soaked dried or fresh haricot beans as well. A smoked sausage is often added too. In France, this would probably be a Montbéliard sausage or a Saucisse de Morteau, althogh there are local versions of smoked pork sausages all over France.

The bacon joint is placed in a large pot with water and brought to the boil. A lot of whitish scum will be produced and this needs to be removed with a slotted spoon. It is OK if a small amount of soft white foam remains, but you need to get rid of the harder stuff.

Then you can add seasoning. You won’t need salt because the pork will be salty already, but you should add a bouquet garni and some black peppercorns, plus the tough green parts of the leeks tied up with string for easy removal. You can also add juniper berries, but be careful because the flavour can be overwhelming.

Simmer this for about an hour or so, until the meat is nearly cooked and then add in your prepared vegetables, except the cabbage, and the sausages (I used German Bockwurst this time). Remove the bouquet garni and the green leeks and cook this further, until the vegetables are done and then add in a cabbage, cut into wedges. I think that a Savoy cabbage is best here. This will take about 10-15 minutes to cook.

You need to remove the meat and strain the vegetables from the liquid, which you should keep for making soup.

Remove the rind and fat from the bacon and slice it.

This is best served on a large plate so that people can help themselves and make sure that there is Dijon mustard to accompany the meat.

Any hearty wine will go well with this, but so will beer.

Lamb boulangère with petits pois à la française and mogettes in tomato sauce

I’ve written about this dish before, but it is such a lovely thing to eat that it is worth another post. The lamb is slowly roasted in a covered pot on top of potatoes and stock. It is simple and represents classic French food from the past, back in the days when few people had ovens and they took their Sunday lunch food to the local boulangerie to be cooked in the oven once all the bread had been baked.

It needs to be cooked slowly in a low oven, I did this for four hours at 150C and it was wonderfully tender once it was served.

The potatoes were layered with sliced leeks, puréed garlic and rosemary and the liquid was vegetable stock. More garlic was smeared over the lamb and it was all liberally seasoned with salt and pepper.

I served the lamb and potatoes with some petits pois à la française, braised with lettuce in some of the stock from the lamb pot and mogettes cooked with softened shallots, diced carrots and tomato passata. Mogettes are a variety of white haricot bean from the Vendée region of western France. I soaked them for 24 hours and then cooked them for about an hour in unsalted water until they were soft.

The end of summer, time to say goodbye to summery food

It is nearly October now and, despite the recent warm sunny weather the mornings are misty and cool and the leaves are turning brown.

Polenta crusted roast potatoes

Yesterday I roasted a chicken with tarragon and butter under the skin on the breast. Nothing special there, just my all-time favourite thing to eat. I roasted some polenta crusted potatoes to go with the chicken and, because it is still warm, I did a simple green salad with a nice vinaigrette to accompany the bird.

So, nothing particularly clever or difficult there, just nice simple and delicious food.

We had a nice bottle of claret with this, a Côtes de Bourg, Château Haut Mevret 2008, which we bought back in 2012 from the Cave of the amusingly-named Alliance Bourg (resistance is futile, you will be assimilated). This was a nice mature Bordeaux red, mainly Merlot and with plenty of body, soft tannins and depth. Perfect Sunday drinking.

For pudding I made a bread and butter pudding, using brioche rolls, split in half and buttered. Some were also spread with nectarine jam, which I bought from a lady with a roadside stall while on holiday in Provence a couple of years ago. It has lasted well, but the last jar is almost gone now.

Brioche bread and butter pudding

The prepared brioche had a basic custard mixture of cream, beaten eggs and vanilla sugar poured over the top and was sprinkled with sugar, and then the whole thing was baked in the oven in a Bain Marie.

We had this with some more cream poured over the top.

Crespelle with beef, parmesan and spinach stuffing

Crespelle are the Italian equivalent of the French crêpes, pancakes basically.

Mine were made with two large eggs, plain flour, a pinch of salt and milk, all whisked up to produce a batter as thick as double cream. I can’t give accurate measures, I judge it by eye. After this had stood for a while, the crespelle were cooked normally in a non-stick crêpe pan and set aside.

Crespelle

This dish is really very similar to cannelloni, but, I think, easier to make.

The filling was made from some steamed, drained and chopped spinach (you need to get as much water out of the spinach as possible), some chopped leftover pot-roasted brisket, fresh breadcrumbs, a large handful of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, some grated Comté (I suppose that Provolone would be a suitable Italian cheese to use), some chopped lemon zest, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.

This sort of dish is an excellent way of using up leftovers. Instead of beef, you could equally use chopped leftover roast or poached chicken or boiled ham too. You could make a meat-free filling with ricotta and spinach instead.

To complete the dish, I used tomato passata and béchamel sauce. The passata went into individual oven-proof dishes and the filled crespelle went on top. Then, the béchamel went on top of that, with extra Parmesan to finish things off.

Before baking

This was baked in a 180C oven until the top was golden and bubbling.

Calves’ liver

Calves’ liver isn’t cheap, in fact it is probably around the same price per kilo as fillet steak, but there is a reason for this. The reason is simple; it is a delicious but rare cut of offal.

Because it isn’t cheap, it deserves respect when you cook it. The best way is to do as little as possible and, most importantly, don’t overcook it.

I like it coated in some seasoned flour and simply fried in a pan, in foaming butter, for about two or three minutes per side, maximum. You want it cooked through, but still with some pinkness inside. Then, put the liver to one side to keep warm and deglaze the pan to make a simple sauce. You can use white or red wine, sherry, Madeira or Marsala or even some dry vermouth (Noilly Prat is excellent for this) but I like the sauce to have an edge, so I use lemon juice most of the time. The sharpness of the lemon juice cuts through the undeniable richness of the liver itself.

This deserves good wine, and I think that red Burgundy is an excellent choice. We had a bottle of 2011 Rully with this, a classic Pinot Noir with a lot of life in it and just the right amount of that lovely farmyardy quality to match the flavoursome but melting calves’ liver.

Rack of lamb with Provençal-style roast potatoes

I saw these nice little French-trimmed lamb loin racks in the butcher’s (Don Hayes in Staple Hill) and I had no choice except to buy them.

Little joints like this take hardly any time to cook, no more than 25 minutes at the outside if you want your lamb less-than pink.

I decided to do something with a Provençal flavour, so I par-boiled some cubes of potato and roasted these in very hot olive oil at 180C for about 20 minutes until they were beginning to colour nicely.

Then I added in the lamb, together with some fresh rosemary, halved cherry tomatoes and halved black olives and returned it to the oven for a further 20 minutes. At this point it was done to my liking.

I served the lamb and potatoes with some green beans and a simple Sauce Ravigote.

Sauce Ravigote is, as you can see, a green sauce, akin to the Italian Salsa Verde. There are several variations but the essentials are parsley, olive oil, capers, shallot, Dijon mustard and something acidic, either red wine vinegar or lemon juice. I also added a couple of anchovy fillets and some rocket leaves. Basically, you just whizz everything together in a blender and that is it.

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