I think the French just understand the love affair between shopping and cooking. So much more is fresh – even their supermarkets are brim full of fresh veg, always with a great butchers and always a vibrant, exciting fish counter – even with things still moving on it to show how fresh it is! Crabs of all sizes, lobsters, langoustine etc. They have a far smaller frozen food aisle than English supermarkets. They care about even the smallest things. It matters to them where they buy their bread from – one boulangerie we knew was known for its saltier bread, another for how crisp it was. And of course the price of French bread is centrally controlled so you will not pay more than the maximum price. Yes, it goes stale after a day but they always go out and buy fresh anyway each day. Left over bread can be warmed up, just drizzle a little water over it first before giving it 5 minutes in the oven on a high heat. Or you could serve it like my great friend Joel, an ancient soumariner from from St Nazaire used to – as a dish called ‘trempinette’. I have no idea where the name came from originally but it means literally, to dampen down. so I guess you are dampening the hard bread with wine. It certainly is a good way to use up left over baguette and left over red wine. You pour the wine over the bread – add a little sugar-leave it for about ten minutes in the fridge – then eat! It was odd but strangely pleasant. Or maybe I had just had too much to drink anyway!
Joel was a great cook, despite the trempinette (!), and he loved his mid morning snacks. A little glass of ice cold white wine or a small beer with a few small slices of boudin noir. He showed me how to prepare snails and it is a long process! He did not exactly sell the idea to me, it has to be said, especially when he informed me that the best snails were to be found in the local cemetery! Still, I am happy to eat them, though I would not order them in a restaurant. They are not as bad as some English think. The flavour is mostly buttery garlic and they are a tad chewy.
We always seemed to be constantly eating or drinking at his house – his two favourite lines were – t’as soif, Keith or t’as faim? (Two of my favourite things to hear in France!) We would sit down at mid day and not rise from the table until about 3.30pm. Just enough time to stagger down to the beach, snooze and recover, ready for the festival of food to begin all over again at about 7pm. Another first with Joel was consuming an eel. I had only ever come across jellied eels in London which to me look repulsive. However, down at St Nazaire market, Joel chose some eels, the lady ran a knife down them in front of our eyes – they were still alive up to that point (no pun intended!) and popped them in a bag. Once over the squeamish moment, back home Joel sliced them and pan fried them in butter – they shrink a little so the spine becomes like a ready made skewer and you just nibble the meat off. They are very tasty and quite meaty in flavour. Talking of boudin noir ( I think I was a while ago ) we used to buy the most delicious boudin blanc from a local traiteur, Gervois Pere Et Fils. A traiteur is a catering business devoted to take-out food and supplying banquets etc. Many traiteurs also undertake home delivery. Generally there is no seating on the business premises although a few traiteurs may have very limited seating. Especially in market towns where there is competition, traiteurs take great pride in the beauty of their window displays. The one in Hesdin, where we had or house, was no exception – the array of dishes was phenomenal for what is a relatively small business. Anyway, their boudin blanc was very good. It is traditionally served at Christmas time and New year. The ones we had contained truffles and were just mouth wateringly splendid. It is essentially a sausage like black pudding but filled with fine white meat paste – usually poultry, pork or rabbit, though veal can be used also. Another favourite dish from the local charcuterie is rilettes. a dish similar to pâté. The one I prefer is usually made from pork and the meat is cubed or chopped, salted quite heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded. It looks like a coarse paste and you can clearly see the shredded pork meat. It is great with warm crusty bread or toast and may appeal to anyone who is not a fan of pâté. Joel also taught me how to make my own mayonnaise. It is so simple and delicious and nothing like the stuff you buy in jars or tubes.
I would start by experimenting with one egg yolk to begin with. Drizzle in a few drops at a time of vegetable, sunflower or ground nit oil, whisking as you do so. ( You could use fruity olive oil – but it mustn’t be too powerful, or it will dominate the flavour) Continue, very slowly, until you have the consistency you want. As a rough guide 3 egg yolks will probably use up about a half pint of oil. You can then add a little salt and if you so desire, a little dash of white wine vinegar and some Dijon mustard. But it is great without the latter two and you can always experiment adding them when you have got the knack.
Well, whatever you do today – enjoy every moment! I’m off to my local farm’s Spring Market. Will post some photos in the near future. Happy Sunday!