p1: Flammekeuche

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-30437-1385763316-0One of the very few “pizzas” that France can call its own (like New York Style… I wonder if they have a regionally rivalry with some place in Languedoc making Deep Dish versions), Alsace is home to what they call Flammekeuche; it’s also known as Tarte Flambe in the rest of France, Flammekeuken in Germany, and multiple variations of the same name depending on who you ask. At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing, “Flamed Tart” (or “Fire Cake” or “Burning Flatbread,” there’s at least 10 ways to translate this to English I’m sure).

I love how this particular food started. So, back in the day, when bakers or any other French/Alsatian/German shop heated up their big, wood-fired brick ovens, they needed to test whether it was hot enough (you know, enough to say, melt a cast iron pan or something… those ovens get hot, damn). So they’d thinly roll out some bread dough, put some random chops of onion and bacon on top (a classic German combo, like mirepoix but with meat), maybe with some cream or fresh white cheese, and slide it in like a pizza. If the edges browned and everything cooked and bubbled in 1-2 minutes, the oven surface was good, and they had lunch (or maybe breakfast or something).

Of course as popularity went on, some refinement happened over time, recipes call to ensure thin slicing and the use of crème fraicheor other dairy sources. I can’t even tell, from the multiple sources, if the original versions of this used raw onions+bacon on the “pizza” and moved to lightly cooked and caramelized for each, or if they started cooked beforehand and nowadays focus on raw. Either way, the raw-on-top before oven cooking seems to be prevalent in recipes, and the style I’m focusing on today.

A Word On…

Dough:Don’t really know too much about dough to say anything about what’s “required” for certain types, and there’s nothing stated in flammekeuche history that hints at any particular unique aspect to its bread, other than it being able to roll out Thin. So just find a recipe that seems to work, if you have a good one you’ve used before then go for it. I’ve even seen someone use puff pastry… which sorta feels insulting, but whatever floats your boat.

20140521_114544Dairy/Sauce:One of the three ingredient cornerstones to this dish is the creamy “white sauce” spread heavily with the other generous food items. This is nowadays usually Crème Fraiche based, but it doesn’t have to be all crème fraiche; in fact, most recipes I’ve found mix it with an equal portion of soft, fresh curds. Fromage Blanc, Farm Cheese, Ricotta, even Cottage Cheese; for fun, I decided to make my own, both the Crème and Cheese. The links to their recipes are in the ingredients list lower down.

20140517_133512Bacon:Truly, any bacon will do (from what I’ve seen), no particular “Alsatian/German style” we need to worry about. Though, as I always say, if you’re gonna do a real “Bacon” dish, ya gotta get it thick cut. Any place that has it in the counter as a whole slab and slice it to order can get it to wherever you want; the pre-sliced stuff can just has that good width ya know?

Now, we should also talk about “cooking” this. Whether one likes it or not, if you want to make it how it’s classically done, then you’ll be putting it on the pizza raw. I know, it scares you, scared me too, but it WILL cook all the way while baking on the pizza (if you do it as directed). For argument’s sake, though, I actually decided to make two of these flatbreads for the dinner; I had extra dough anyways.

One was the highly classic, raw bacon and raw sliced onions; the other was a “cooked” version. Bacon sizzled in the pan until crispy, removed, and then I sautéed some thicker onion slices in the leftover fat and used both to top the fraiche/cheese covered dough.

It tasted pretty good, the cooked version. Wasn’t classic, but who can say no to crispy fatty bacon and almost-caramelized onions? Wish I had more of it though… and more sauce (sorta just soaked into the crust with no raw onions to coat).

20140521_185935Baking:Classically done, as all good pizzas are, in a fire-fueled brick oven. I’m guessing most people don’t have access to one of these to play with (I mean, I don’t… if you do then bravo sir, bravo); one could possibly attempt substitution by building a wood fire in a non-propane-designed grill, getting it to those blazing embers and setting a baking stone on top to heat up. Lotta work though, and not quite sure it would go exactly as planned… so oven it is. Just get it super hot; I prefer all my pizzas at the height of 500F, a pizza stone inside while it heats up, to allow for fast cooking and browning, one of the most important aspects of pizza construction. The recipe I found called for 450F though, so I just went with 475; anything in this 50 degree range seems to work.20140521_141713

Flammekeuche
1 cup Water, lukewarm
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) Active Dry Yeast
2 ¼-2 ½ cups Flour
2-3 tsp Salt
½ White Onion
½ cup Crème Fraiche
½ cup Fromage Blanc or other fresh, white Cheese, preferably Homemade
3-4 slices Thick-cut Bacon
Black Pepper
Cornmeal

Directions

  1. Combine Water, Yeast, and 1 cup Flour in a bowl, stirring until all blended. Leave 5 or so minutes to Bloom/Proof the yeast (with the flour mixed in, the appearance won’t really change; it may smell MORE yeasty).20140521_113742
  2. Slowly stir in remaining Flour and 1 tsp of the Salt, mixing until it’s too stiff to stir.20140521_115828
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands, and begin kneading thoroughly at least 10 minutes (or, if you’re me, 30… I probably should have gone longer too). It will remain lightly sticky throughout the kneading process; if it’s ESPECIALLY sticky, add more flour while working.20140521_115954
  4. Once ‘smooth and satiny,’ aka when it feels like actual dough, place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed onto the skin), leave to proof in warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.20140521_123229
  5. Punch down, re-cover, and let double again, another hour.20140521_135543
  6. While this is resting, thinly slice the Onion and combine with Crème Fraiche, Cheese, Black Pepper and rest of Salt. Leave to sit at least 15 minutes to mingle and “soften” the onions.20140521_114838
  7. Chop Bacon into small chunks, reserve.20140521_184217
  8. Place a Pizza or other thicker Baking Stone/Pan in oven and turn to 475-500F.20140521_180857
  9. Take out as much of the prepared dough as needed/desired and flatten onto a lightly floured surface with the palm of your hands.20140521_181236
  10. Roll out, trying to keep the desired rectangular shape, until as thin as one feels comfortable making it. If unable to get the shape one wants, and is quite adamant about the final appearance, cut the dough with a bench scraper or pizza cutter.20140521_181228
  11. Heavily sprinkle (more than what’s seen in the picture) the Cornmeal on whatever transfer paddle/pan/etc one is using (you WILL need one). Carefully and quickly lift and transfer the naked dough onto this.20140521_182519
  12. Spread the cream-coated onions evenly over the base dough, going almost all the way to the edge. Follow by sprinkling the raw bacon evenly on top, getting as much as desired on top.20140521_184204
  13. Crack a fresh seasoning of black pepper over the top and move to the oven, transferring onto the stone with a quick push+backslide of the pan and tug of the dough (if there’s enough cornmeal, this should be a snap).20140521_185942
  14. Bake 12-20 minutes, depending on various factors, until the dough edges are dark brown and crispy.20140521_190149
  15. Remove, slice, and serve immediately; no need for resting. Enjoy.

T20140521_190622he Verdict

Crust ended up a bit too thick for what I was going for (still worked and tasted good, just wasn’t technically a “thin crust” item); maybe next time, besides ensuring it’s rolled even thinner, I’ll dock the dough as well to prevent more rising. Maybe slice the onions in half too; the thin rings tended to pull on some bites. Other than that, I liked it; the flavors were a little more muted than I would have thought with onions and bacon. But it was creamy, with a bit of that black pepper and onion spiciness, soft topping and crunchy handle. It felt like something I would eat in that little corner between France and Germany. I really liked how soft the onions got, and the different flavors of the raw-baked bacon. Which is something else to note; despite worries I had starting out, the raw bacon cooked all the way in the oven; it may not have gotten that thorough “crispiness” we’re used to, but it’s still hammy, delicately smoky goodness.

At the end of the day though, it’s crunchy, creamy, delicious pizza/flatbread, and that’s all that really matters.

Primary Pairing – Alsace Pinot Blanc

Just because a dish is from Alsace doesn’t mean it has to automatically be paired with Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which I keep finding on Flammekeuche webpages. I don’t really know why, there are some quite notable aspects of this food item that immediately preclude both these wines, if one knows anything about Alsatian vinification practices.

Let’s start with something immediately noted; tart crème fraiche, milky cheese, BACON, this dish has some fat and lactic acid. Not too much, but it needs the same acid in its wine to cut through a lot of it and stand up to our sour dressing. Gewurztraminer has NO acid (okay, some, but it’s not a lot at all), it’s low and flabby and highlights an oily texture for those spicy aromatic; just NOT what we want here at all. Now, Riesling has plenty, but like Gewurz it has something else the winemakers in this region like to give. Ripening their grapes to their fullest extent, they then take these sugars and ferment ALL of it out, stereotypically making very DRY wines with BIG bodies; well, if they have enough sugars. The Riesling often does, and unlike its German counterpart is known for large, fully bodies and mouthfeels; which would hold true even for those French winemakers who are transitioning to sweeter products (it’s a big thing, and I talk to much as is, so I’ll stop now).

20140521_184714And this is not a “big” dish; thin crispy crust, some onions and fresh/lighter style cream, and gentle flavors, any full-bodied wine would easily overpower this. Which is why I love that they use Pinot Blanc; it’s a higher acid, low body grape which, with this climate and winemaking practices, changes to a medium-ish acid and body white. It’s a great food wine for all the non-hearty or uber-Germanic foods (see Choucroute once I get into it). Plus it’s usually more price-conscious than other offerings; not a lot of character to it either, but that’s nice too, not as “distracting.”

My Bottle: 2011 Zinck Pinot Blanc

A convenient and well-pairing option, the price-conscious Zinck quaffed itself down easily, providing nice little simple citrus and white floral tones over the general winey flavors. It’s somewhat musky (which I enjoyed with the black pepper) and fills the mouth just enough, as any decent Alsatian wine should, to swim along the bacony-oniony bread. Overall, it’s a viable option for any searching; would be nice to try some of the more expensive Blancs for super-refined freshness (such as the well-known Zindt-Humbrecht).

mehrere Ma§ BiereSecondary Pairing – Märzen/Oktoberfest

When we’re on the cultural border of France and Germany, one just can’t count out the inclusion of beer. I feel I’ve been doing a lot of white, wheat, light-malted, etc beers for my pairings so far; some of which would definitely fit right into drinking here, but I’d like to change things up a bit.

The traditional Oktoberfest beer, Marzen’s origins lie in the need to make large quantities of beer in later winter, while the temperature was still cool and perfect for clean fermentation, and holding in chilled caves during the summer. Often made in March, thus Marzen, these biers were often given darker malts and more hops than usual to cover up any off flavors resulting from the warming temperatures and long “ageing” in cellar as they waited for consumption. Those still left by October would develop rich, toasty malt bodies and mellowed hops.

There has of course been much refinement of this up to today. Thus, the main thing to focus on is a leaning towards those medium-toasted, caramel-toffee flavored malts, using just enough to give that characteristic burnt orange color. Alcohol, as it says historiclally, was made “high” to last during storage, but it really only comes up to 5-6%, a great beer range to pair with this food. And finally, a stronger than mild but not intense use of hops will serve the same way as our acid.

A tasty beer to celebrate the seasons, along with a flatbread to eat on a sunny summer day. Truly an almost perfect expression of Germanic influence.

p1: Escargot de Bourgogne

enhanced-buzz-16649-1385769921-4The Dish

The thought of Snails in food culture, if we were to ask practically anyone, is inherently considered a solely French interest, as the eponymous “Escargot.” And yet these adorably skin-crawling critters have been found to have ancient culinary use in multiple Mediterranean societies, particularly those of Roman and Cistercian focus. For those in the know, both of these regions and cultures have great acclaim as some of the biggest influence in the development and, most important, spread of grape vines through trade and travel. We could likely theorize that it was through these same journeys that the use and taste for snails spread from the Mediterranean to France.

Here they’ve found a stronghold in a certain Burgundian recipe, simply baked with garlic-herb butter. Whether the growing environment was ideal or the regional dish was lucky enough to explode in popularity, the fact remains that Escargot de Bourgogne has become the global example for cooking snails. In fact, of the two most common type of snails eaten today, the variety known as “Escargot de Bourgogne” stands at the forefront (the other is known as Petite-Gris, or “little grays”).

They’re certainly a scary thing to think about eating for those not-so-epicurious, especially if they haven’t had it yet. But believe me, same with any offal meat, if you have one that’s prepared properly, and don’t think hard on what it is before murder and fire, this tender and buttery-delicious dish can be a sending from heaven. So put your fears in the back seat and let’s cook something odd.

A Word On…

20140415_153134Snails:Really the only important thing in this highly simplistic French classic… and we can’t even get it over here. Well, not the Fresh and still-alive ones anyways, or at least not without some serious digging. What we DO have is a choice: canned or frozen. Pre-cooked and pre-purged (they’re diet makes them naturally quite toxic if eaten without purging), it takes the major effort of the lengthy and important snail prep away, but then again we also lose the joy and better flavors of cooking something from fresh. Oh well.

Canned is probably the better way to go. Frozen one has to of course worry about damages during defrosting; not to mention that all frozen escargot I’ve found already come “pre-stuffed” with a butter I’m sure isn’t quite as good as what we can make at home, not to mention it takes away the one thing that we can make by hand. If you’re lucky, you can find a canned version that comes with a tube of empty shells like I did at a special seafood shop. Funny story, at first I thought all the shells were already filled, and the can on the bottom was just a label; then I found out otherwise.

If, somehow, you can find still-alive snails to work with, there are some very special considerations that need to be taken into consideration. To keep it simple, here’s what needs to be done. Fast/Starve them for at least one day, up to 3 is best (if you want to feed them, use thyme and other flavorful herbs). Rinse and Cover with Salt and Vinegar for 3 hours. Rinse again, boil in shells 10 minutes ish. Remove from the shells, then boil and sanitize the empty containers. Rinse snails again, removing a black part at the end of the tail. Simmer snails slowly in a flavorful liquid for about 1-2 hours, until tender. Drain, pat dry, and use.20140427_155505

See? So much more work than rinsing canned snails off in water.

Cooking:Traditionally this is a dish “a la Bourguignonne,” the most famous and commonly seen version of snails, simply stuffed with the garlic-herb butter in its shell and baked. There are other ways to cook these snails though; the Bordelais (Bordeaux region) with “stew” piles of in-shell creatures in a broth of wine, herbs, and stock, sometimes tomato-based. If one has the time, interest, and resources, they should look into playing around with it (I just might).

People don’t always have access to snails with shells, as mentioned earlier with most pre-cooked, canned versions we can get. My suggestion is simple, toss the meaty buggers in an open baking dish/casserole, cover in enough butter to submerge and bake until it’s all melted and sizzling.

Which is something to diverge off of. I’ve found, even in shell, there is no such thing as a set cooking temperature or time; from 350F to 450F, the only set rule is that it should bake in an over until all butter is melted, bubbling, and you’re sure the snails are hot.

Compound B20140424_201648utter:Basically, any butter mixed with seasoning, aromatics, etc. The traditional compound for this dish, as mentioned, consists of lotsa Garlic, some Shallots, and Parsley; a couple recipes I’ve found also include Brandy or a bit of White Wine.

The main consideration here is how these are all combined; usually this is done by hand or with electric mixer. However, we want to get all these herbs and garlic pulsed fine and thoroughly, thoroughly blended into the butter. If it’s strong enough, a Food Processor works well for this; normally this would be where I wax and wane over my handy-dandy-tiny-processor, but it’s sadly not sharp or strong enough to shred those herbs and garlic up into the paste I need. As such, if you’re in a similar situation or just don’t have a processor, make sure that these ingredients are chopped VERY fine for the ideal butter.

Also, don’t be afraid to make a big batch! Make sure you have enough to stuff into the shells, and if there’s leftover just roll it up in a little bundle and store in the freezer for later use; it’s great on top of a freshly grilled steak, or pushed under the skin of a chicken that’s about to be roasted. Or just more snails.

Baking Dish:Cooked in-shell, these garlicky baked snails are known for being baked and served in a special “casserole,” a baking dish with semi-spherical holders (sorta looks like a takoyaki grill… or those pans that make spherical pancakes). Obviously not everyone has one of these, and I think it’d be ridiculous to buy one just for this use (unless you do indeed eat snails relatively often, and if so GOOD FOR YOU!!). One could probably just crowd them tight together in a regular casserole or baking tin without issue. I refer the use of a muffin tin, thus giving each shell its own holder. If only it would look as pretty to serve in, but oh well, nothing wrong with snails on a plate (Lamest. Movie Ripoff Name. Ever. But the most delicious though).20140427_131337

Escargot20140424_200057
2 Shallots
1 small head or ½ large head Garlic
½ Bunch Fresh Parsley
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) Unsalted Butter, softened
3 Tb Brandy (Cognac preffered)
1-2 Tb White Wine
Salt and Pepper
Cooked and Prepared Snails + Shells

Directions

  1. Finely, finely mince Shallots, Garlic, and Parsley and much as possible.       Note: a tip for the Parsley is to run it under water first, damp with paper towel and then proceed to de-stem and chop. It’ll stick together and mince easier. Will need to squeeze out some excess water though.20140424_201702
  2. If you have one that’s strong enough, combine everything besides the Snails in a food processor, blending until the aromatics are chopped fine and fully incorporated. Note: if this step applies, you don’t need to chop the aromatics so finely in the first step, just roughly.20140424_202756
  3. If no (strong) Processor is available, combine aromatics, Butter, Brandy, Wine, and a healthy seasoning of Salt and Pepper in bowl, mixing thoroughly until fully incorporated (electric mixer helps).20140427_162318
  4. Transfer to container or roll into log via plastic wrap and store for later use.
  5. Remove from fridge at least an hour before ready. Turn over to 400F once close.20140427_130758
  6. While it’s still somewhat firm, stuff the Empty Snail Shells with at least ½ tsp of thecompound butter, pushing towards the back.20140427_155833
  7. Prepare Snails as needed. Push deeply into the snail shells.20140427_161437
  8. Scoop big wads of the softened butter up and into the shells, topping the meat with a smoothed out later.20140427_175406
  9. Transfer shells to an escargot baking tray or, more available, muffin tin. Place in Hot oven and cook until ready.20140427_180418
  10. Once butter is melted, bubbly, and snails are heated through, about 12-15 minutes ish, remove and serve.20140427_180723
  11. Plate up with warm, crusty pieces of baguette and tiny forks.

20140427_181032The Verdict

I think I needed a lot more butter, these guys should be “swimming” in it. Other than that, the flavor was delicious as expected, not as garlicky as I thought (and somewhat hoped) but it was noticeably present and didn’t overpower anything so that’s a plus. Eaten with the baguette it filled its role that evening as a very satisfying appetizer. Oh, and it wasn’t chewy or anything, so the snails used were of good quality. Overall very enjoyable and delicious.

Would love to try handling my own fresh snails sometime though… now just have to figure out how to get me some.

Primary Pairing – Aligoté

A surprisingly spot-on revelation from the Buzzfeed team! And for such a seemingly unknown grape, those aware of it all know of the awesome pairing it makes with some select Burgundy dishes, such as a jellied ham thing and of course these garlic-butter-baked-snails.

20140427_180639Though Burgundy is known for peppering their slopes with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Aligote grape is still seen in certain environments; usually on the higher, colder elevations where quality Chard won’t grow (aka it’s relegated to the crappy terroir). As such, it’s historically known to be grown along the same terroir as their black currant bushes, and Kir was born. The classic cocktail is mainly considered nowadays to be a mix of Champagne and Crème de Cassis (product of those same currants), but in reality Aligote wine is the first and proper ingredient to mix with the liqueur. Sharply acidic, herbs and stone fruit, with a lightly creamy body, it’s like a Chenin Blanc or Riesling only minus the noted petrol/cleaning chemical smell and crossed with a bit of Chardonnay. A good version would cut right through the thick-bodied sweetness of the cassis while lending a bit of mouth texture, all from a cheap, rustic grape that’s not seen as “fit” for drinking straight like the other Burgundy grapes.

But those in the know see it otherwise, and this fella, when done right, leads to a delightful and fun little mouthful of tart deliciousness. The same qualities that made it great for cocktail also lends it to eating with this garlicky, butter-rich dish; if anything one could add that both have a bit of a “uniqueness” in flavor, one being the oddly seafood-y snail and the other being the somewhat malolactic-chenin-reminiscent wine. Whatever the reason we can ponder, the fact they’ve both worked for decades is solid.

20140427_175628My Bottle: 2011 Jean-Claude Boisset Bourgogne Aligoté (Les Moutots)

Due to its not-so-esteemed status in Burgundy, there aren’t really any specific “regions” that make it, except for one: Bouzeron, located in the Côte Chalonnaise and known for being the only all-Aligote wine AOC in Burgundy. It makes fantastic versions of it, though sadly can be somewhat tricky to find (though I do know we get bottles of it in Minnesota, just not sure where yet), and can end up a bit pricey. It is an area-specific wine in Burgundy, afterall (still better priced than a Gevrey, Santenay, Pomerol, Chambolle-Musigny, or any other one, but still).

So most of the time you’ll have to find a general Bourgogne AOC, where the grapes are picked from wherever along the long region (likely from the southern areas not counting Beaujolais, where it’s more likely to be grown in mass). Luckily for us, there are still some non-Bouzeron focused winemakers that put their attention into making decent quality, drinkable Aligote, and Jean-Claude is one of them (at least he seems like it, this particular glass was quite num). The glass came out nice and crisp, cutting through the butter, followed by a certain Burgundian chardonnay-reminiscent fullness that makes me think it either had a small amount of Malolactic Fermentation applied (the process that makes those really Buttery chards) or had spent time in old oak barrels before bottling. Amazing, no probably not, but it went great alongside the garlicky-herb food, crunchy bread, and as glass to gulp down after the meal. So if you find yourself in Haskell’s like me and they only have 2-4 bottles, none of them from Bouzeron, I can safely say that THIS bottle is very satisfying and works well. If they don’t have it, then… good luck!

207025_bout_DomaineGuillotBroux_FineDeBourgogne2001_500Secondary Pairing – Fine de Bourgogne

Did you know there’s more sparkling wine in France outside of Champagne? Though since they can’t call it Champagne, the French had to settle on a different designation, and the lusciously tempting name of Cremant was born, to be attached to all other region’s name for their bubbly (Cremant d’Alsace is particularly well made).

The same concept is applied to their Brandy. Though we all, of course, are much familiar with Cognac and its sister region Armagnac, but only distilled and aged grape alcohol made in these regions can use the names. And there are so many other wineries throughout the country that make interesting Brandies, often out of “leftover” grapes that aren’t suited for their regular wine (and who wants them to be when you can make this?). These brandies are referred to as “Fine,” a suitable name consideration the levels of succulence and playful creativity one can find in these not-as-restricted brandies.

I love pairing fun and quality spirits with food, especially such simple and strong-flavored dishes like the escargot. A younger Fine, with some grainy oak flavor, that hint of maderization via the distilling action, and strong but simple flavors (usually some sort of cooked stone fruit or something) would pair nicely with this garlicky goodness, served in a small aperitif glass to sip and savor.

Give it a try, Fine de Bourgogne if you can (Burgundy particularly makes good ones), or any other non-Cog/Armagnac Brandies.

p2: Coconut Blancmange

20140419_183610The Sweet

The first time I ever heard of “blancmange” was in watching a British “mini-series” following super-chef Heston Blumenthal and these special “Feasts” he did (if you’ve never heard of him, look him up and some of the shows he’s done, it’s amazing!). The particular dish in question was a “frog blancmange,” served as an early course in a Middle-Ages-themed dinner as a pseudo-dessert, Englanders at the time often eating puddings and other savory versions of sweet dishes as “appetizers.” Soon as I saw it I wanted to make it, doing some brief research to try and figure out what it was and what the little “tricks” were to making it… well, “it.” Suffice to say my recipe and history digging back then wasn’t quite as thorough (well, that words makes it sound like I’m not lazy, and I still am… “refined” maybe?) as it is now.

Dishes of similar name are found throughout the European continent, all of them translating similarly to “white food” or “white mush.” Which country was first to offer the original version is currently up in the air, though it’s said it started through the introduction of rice and almonds via Turkish or other Arab travelers. Grimod de La Reyniere said it originated in Languedoc, a likely candidate due to its closeness towards Mediterranean trading routes.

It was the Europeans’ use of these ingredients that brought up the road to today’s blancmange, and its Caribbean Coconuty version. The first iterations simmered milk with the rice, almonds, and shredded chicken or other such white meats, often flavored with just a bit of anise and caraway (a separate legacy of the Turks). Despite the use of proteins, these “meat jellies” would still be served as sweet dishes, though other puddings based on honey, milk and almonds also emerged to influence blancmange’s history.

Coconut_Flan_1Sooner or later the rice pudding refined itself, taking away the particular starch in place of other thickening substances such as powdered stag’s horn or concentrated, jellied stock. These were mixed with thoroughly ground and steeped almonds (aka almond milk), dairy, and any very subtle flavorings and sweeteners desired. Once set, they yielded a delicately tender, subtle flavored jelly fit for French royalty, at early times being referred to as “blandmange” not as an insult but a testament to its beautifully light flavors.

And as the French took over Martinique and Guadeloupe, as mentioned with my post on Cod Accras, the dish followed, mixing and intermingling with the culture for them to twist into their own version. A Coconut milk heavy dish, thickened with what’s popular at the time (nowadays we just used gelatin) and served alongside tropical fruits. Thus is the long but seemingly quick and simple evolution of this dish from the Middle-Aged-Arab pudding to today’s Coconut Jelly.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Picking a recipe for this, I found I had to take quite a few things into consideration. First and foremost being the base which I was to later thicken and gelatinize. Intriguingly, there are quite a few recipes which, along with their coconut milk flavoring, also add milk, cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated, etc. At first it made me quite anxious in picking the “right” combination, only to quickly turn around as I remembered “Hey, they didn’t use some of this crap back in the day.” You gotta keep it simple if you wanna stay traditional, that and maximize coconut flavor. As such, my ‘favorite’ recipe was the one that was almost all coconut milk with a little addition that allowed for other milk products. With a nod towards blancmange’s origins and usual non-coconut composition, I used Almond Milk for this particular mix percentage (sadly, not homemade… too much work if it’s not the main player).

Second consideration was the Gelatin. As it was, quite old recipes, if they wanted to turn this into that particular jelly/pudding, would either cook the lactic mixture down with rice (that was before refinement), or later on mix it with a very concentrated stock (as stocks made from bones often contain a large amounts of collagen, they can become quite gelatinized when cooked down a certain amount) or the powdered stag’s horn thingy, which I’m just not doing, sorry. Though this stock method may work quite well, and be something I’d very much like to do to get the proper and traditional texture and flavor of a regular blancmange, the delicate and sweet coconut version probably won’t wanna taste that good with fish or chicken flavoring.

So what do we do? The main methods nowadays for the simple cook-at-home revolve around the use of gelatin (either powdered or sheet) or cooking with cornstarch and possibly eggs. However, this latter actually involves, again, cooking the mixture on high heat, risking a broken ‘custard,’ plus the texture afterwards looks like it’s somewhat odd. Furthermore, I’ve found most of the recipes that use the technique are “Brazilian” coconut blancmange. Thus, we stick with gelatin, which is the closest thing to the natural pectin medium as we can find anyhow. I suggest using sheet, but powdered is all I had on hand, and is usually the easiest for most people to get, so no shame in using it.20140417_155115

There are a couple things needed to know, though, if one is using powdered gelatin, especially if this is your first time (jello doesn’t count, we’re getting the base unflavored version). We can’t just add it in, first we need to “bloom” the gelatin in the liquid of choice, COLD (believe me, it won’t happen if the liquid is hot, I’ve tried). It should be sprinkled into the liquid slowly, gently from high up, bit by bit… much like trying to thicken a sauce with flour, one doesn’t just dump it in. It needs to be carefully added in so nothing bunches up. If you’re adding a high proportion of gelatin-to-liquid, much like in this recipe, it helps to mix and swirl the setting top in every now and then. Once everything is added and the grains thicken and bloom up, we transfer to heat and it melts fast.

Don’t need any fancy molds either. I ended up using a small round Tupperware for a big personal serving and a funnel cake pan for a fun centerpiece; the jelly comes out pretty easily from any mold one chooses, though the cake pan needed just a bit of “persuasion” beforehand. Oh, and I decided to add a bit of lime zest to the original recipe for an added flavor, sorta like using vanilla in most French pastry such, but for the Caribbean!20140417_161347

Coconut Blancmange
400ml (1.7 cups) Coconut Milk
100ml (.42 cups) Almond or other Milk
2/3 cups Sugar
Zest of 1 Lime
2 Tb/Packets Gelatin Powder
1 tsp Vanilla

Directions20140417_154931

  1. Mix Half of the Coconut and Almond Milk with Sugar and Lime in a pot. Heat on Medium-Low, stirring often, until sugar dissolves.20140417_160808
  2. While this is happening, gently sprinkle Gelatin over remaining, COLD milks, allowing it to “bloom” and thicken.20140417_161502
  3. Transfer bloomed milk into the pot with the rest, stirring together until the gentle warmth melts/dissolves the gelatin.20140417_162341
  4. Remove from stove, stirring in the Vanilla, and strain liquid into the prepared “moulds.”20140417_162539
  5. Cover and move to fridge or other cold area, leaving to set for a couple hours or more.20140419_183240
  6. Carefully unmold, running a rubber spatula around the edge, or if needed heating up the bottom in a warm water bath (or, you know, maybe a blowtorch…).20140419_183427
  7. Portion and serve with desired fruit garnish, such as Mango Coulis, Rum-soaked Mango Cubes, and Pan-fried Banana Bread.20140419_184438

My Thoughts

Tasty, a fun dessert to use as a flavor base and build a palette through various garnishes, especially if you’re just coming off wisdom teeth surgery! (that was an interesting weekend)

When eating it as-is, though, there are a couple things I think I’d like to change for the next batch. Firstly, the coconut aspect isn’t quite AS strong as I’d like when cold; when warm it comes out, but cold I feel the almond milk flavors become more forefront despite its minimal use. Thus I would suggest pulling the amount of it back and replacing it, and some of the other coconut milk, with coconut CREAM, which should give a nicely thicker consistency and more flavor. Speaking of consistency, also am I not too satisfied about how firm it was; it really did feel like Jello, a little too much “bite.” If I were to properly keep this to the idea of blancmange I have in my head, I’d like it a little looser, tender and svelt. Thus, maybe I’ll try 1.5 Tb (well, I did a double batch myself, so 3 packets instead of 4) of gelatin. I’m curious about trying the use of those condensed and evaporated milks too, so those might help!

Finally, didn’t get the entire lime flavor I wanted, so either up the anty, let them steep longer, or no straining them out.

That said, I still really liked this fun Caribbean version of a French dessert, it tasted delicious at the end of the meal (especially with all the garnishes), and have grown quite the interest towards the art and idea of “blancmange.” I hope to be able to play with the recipes at some other point, maybe even make my own almond milk from scratch!

20140419_185402Possible Pairings

Much like the Cod Accras, it’s the Caribbean, so Rum Cocktails galore! Maybe a creamy, coconut-heavy Pina Colada, or just some straight shots of Coconut flavored Rum. Not much more to say there.

It’s hard for me to figure what other drink I’d want to enjoy with this besides the rum, but I’ll give it a shot. Certain Fruit Wines could do well, so long as they still have a bit of sweetness, are well balanced, and compliment the chosen fruit garnish. We have quite a few wineries here in Minnesota that still maintain a strong focus on this non-grape alcohol, and I find it can be fun to get into.

Thinking of islands, my mind also wanders towards Madeira and Marsala, two very historical Fortified wines based on islands off of Italy and Africa. They’re sadly not as appreciated today as they were in the far past; most places only sell the cheap cooking versions, even the decent wine shops can only get what are the more “basic” of styles, the upper crust of what used to be a set of very deep and intricate layers. With their foray out of the limelight, navigating even these simple bottle selections can be somewhat daunting. So the ones I would suggest buying, which should be light enough in power and flavor concentration while still containing some sugar, are as such.

For Madeira_WineMadeira: Rainwater, anything with Sercial or, even better, Verdlho on the labels.

For Marsala: The decent ones usually have multiple things on the label (like going through German wines, though thankfully not as insane). Good keywords are Secco or Semisecco, Ambra or Oro (preferred), and Fine.

Other Island pairings could be fun too. There are plenty of Italian islands that make tasty regular and fortified sweet wines with moscato; they’ll usually have Muscat on the label/regional name somewhere, so they’re easy to spot in the dessert section.

Oh, and Grappa might not do too badly either; same with Kirschwasser and other distilled fruit brandies (again, so long as they match any fruit pairings used).Minchilli_grappa_5-6_post

p1: Cod Accra

My folks headed out on a Caribbean trip a little while back, which gave me the perfect excuse to make the only two Martinique items on my French 44 list. The dessert post should be up pretty quickly.

The Dish

Martinique and Guadeloupe certainly aren’t the first regions we think about when France comes into conversation, their culture still being heavily Caribbean in nature, though French customs do come into play. But it remains that Rum is the productive drink of choice as opposed to wine, with bananas and other uniquely Caribbean food products serving as the base of their economy, truly anything even resembling French ingredients needing to be shipped overseas. “Martiniquan Creole” is the main language, a heavy conflagration of French, Carib, African, English, Portuguese and Spanish, and something traditional French people refuse to try and understand due to its intense differences. Though I hear its syntax and other such things are slowly transverting closer to Standard French.

Both of these islands were originally acquired in 1635, after Columbus’ discovery and passing on (Spain wasn’t too interested in this either place). The French Company of American Islands told two of their men, Jean and Charles (their last names are too long for me to want to bother… though not as long as this little sideswipe, huh), to colonize any of the isles of Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Dominica. They chose the first, apparently due to “Martinique’s inhospitable nature,” yet oddly enough a Mr. Belain d’Esnambuc landed in the same year and claimed Martinique for the French King. Then again, he was driven off his own island of St. Kitts by the British, so he probably didn’t have much choice.

And from there, both islands swapped back and forth between the French and British due to various wars and whatnot. The two were finally traded back and settled as French owned at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (though they lost Canada… darn), and here we are. Okay, some more stuff probably happened before and after that, but I’m getting bored of history, food now!

enhanced-buzz-5151-1385795528-5I would have very much enjoyed writing something on the history of Salt Cod or the Fritters known as Accras, or Acra, or Akra, or… whatever, it’s got lots of name that all sound like the same damn thing. But for the life of me I couldn’t find ANYTHING in my books, online, my searches yielded nothing but recipes on the matter. Maybe it’s hard to quantify the proper path that fried batter dough has taken through various cultures, either that or most inland French people are too snooty to ever consider this Caribbean dish important enough to ever affect them enough or be apart of any interesting cultural event/situation.

Which is a shame, no matter the reason, for they are awesome and delicious and crispy and oh god I want to make more right now. But I have lawn work to do soon, so I should finish this up and get to it. Let’s start with the Fish!

A Word On…

Salt Cod:Heavily salted, air dried, this ingredient has held itself as one of the most important in history, at least for Europe, for its ability to keep over winter (and probably year round too) and over travel. I’ve been wanting to play with it for quite a while, but had yet to find the excuse to go to one of the good seafood/meat markets to grab the frozen pine wood box of goodness (frozen too, really? There must really be almost no one buying it if most places that have it need to freeze this as well… I mean I’ve seen videos of it sitting in open-air markets with no problem). Obviously I need to make more sopa verde.20140415_223843

Luckily it’s not that difficult to find outside of the most basic stores and markets (though no luck in Whole Foods or certain Co-ops either, depending). It’s preparing it that comes the trouble. There’s a reason it’s called Salt Cod… it tastes like salt. It practically is salt, with a bit of fish to hold it in. But when you get it out… one has a bundle of firm, nicely chewy cod fish that’s great for cooking in whatever. The task to turning it into this stage is simple, but long, taking at LEAST 24 hours to soak in cold water, which should be changed multiple times. After 24 hours, it should be ready for fritters, since we’ll be cooking it in a separate liquid bath before using, though if using for soups I would suggest lending it out another full day.

As a Minnesotan, I can’t help but be reminded of Lutefisk… only more of a firm texture instead of fish jelly.

What it is:Unlike other fritters, I’ve found the more traditional recipes for this in fact do NOT revolve around just mixing every ingredient together in a large bowl. Instead, a simple batter of flour and liquid (maybe eggs) is made on the side, mixed into the fillings, and then one folds in some heavily beaten egg whites, sorta like making a mousse or soufflé.

Now, there seems to be no real consensus on the use of other fillings; I’ve seen a simplified fritter of purely cod and green onion, and ones loaded with herbs, spices and strong aromatic veggies. I like using the cultural flavors to flesh it out, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in excess, so the question became what do we keep?

The few ingredients I keep seeing used in most fritter and Caribbean recipes are green onions, some scotch bonnets, a big thing of parsley, shallot or garlic, and of course limes. Spices vary, but the main flavor I’ve found in use is Coriander, aka dried Cilantro seeds. It’s so popular some recipes switch out the Parsley for the herb version instead, which I debated doing… but I stuck with both spice and parsley. As always, those making this should make it however they want, but I think the mix I got is pretty darn close to traditional flavors and balance.

Scotch Bonnets:Basically, Habaneros. One of THE staple ingredients in Caribbean cooking, you can find them used in many a recipe. As such I found that, if I were to mix various greens and aromatics and such into the fritters as I did, some habanero was a must; it gives an interesting fruity tart spice that I love with the green onions and other things. I definitely suggest playing with it in some form, at least in the side sauce.

20140417_164301The main note when doing so, though, is to be sparing and handle it carefully. If you haven’t heard the lecture about hot peppers yet, wear a damn pair of gloves. Or, if you can’t find any (I swear I had some, but… disappeared…) do everything possible to avoid touching the peppers directly; some plastic wrap or other item to hold the habanero while you carefully de-seed (some may argue the flavor loss with other peppers, but you really don’t wanna risk it with habanero and hotter level peppers) and slice. Oh, and don’t bite into it directly… ask Alton Brown, this is not a lollipop!

20140417_153620Milk and Water: One of my weirdest quandaries in figuring out the recipe I was to use for my fritters was the debate in using milk or water, for both poaching the fish and as the liquid in the batter. On the one hand, using the fatty milk does seem like quite the French go-to, but then again my main French book reference details a light poaching in a water steeped with bay leaf and other aromatics, also a pretty typical cultural technique and great expression of gentle cookery. Similarly with the batter, I couldn’t quite figure if a French milk enrichment or water purety was the better for structure.

Whatever decision you make is up to you, I guess on any old day I’d just stick with milk and maybe some cream too. But for this I decided to compromise; a typical stock-reminiscent water bath and some creamy milk batter.

Sauce:Well they’re little fried balls of fish dough, can’t eat it without lubrication! From what I can tell, there’s nothing particularly typical so long as it suits the Caribbean theme. Mojos, Jerk Sauce, Papaya coulis-thingy, a bottle of tasty hot sauce, whatever; though I’d say anything that’s nicely tart, a bit spicy, and not really “heavy” would work best. I decided to stick with the sauce recipe attached to the French 44’s Acras link, “Dog Sauce.” The ingredients and flavors matched the ones in my fritter, so it worked.

Cod Accra
½ lb Salt Cod
2 Bay leaves
3 Garlic Cloves
Salt and Pepper
2 Shallots
½ or 1 small Habanero
3 Green Onions
2 Tb Parsley or Cilantro
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
1 tsp Coriander Spice
3 Eggs
1 cup Flour
¼-3/4 cup milk

Directions

  1. Soak Salt Cod in Cold Water at least 24 hours in advance, changing it a minimum 2-3 times throughout.20140415_224117
  2. Drain and lightly simmer in water bath with Bay Leaves, crushed Garlic, Salt and Peppercorns until fully cooked, about 10 minutes.20140417_151624
  3. Remove, shred with fork and/or fingers.20140417_160711
  4. Finely chop Shallots, Habanero, Green Onion, and Parsley, mixing with cooked cod alongside the Lime (juice+zest), Coriander, and seasonings.
  5. Separate the Egg Yolks from the Whites, reserving both. Mix two of the yolks with Flour and enough milk to make a THICK Batter.20140419_164015
  6. Heat oil for frying up to 375F, or 385-390F if using a smaller pot (it’ll drop fast anyways).
  7. While heating, mix the cod in with the batter.20140419_164339
  8. Beat all the egg whites, electric works easiest, to soft peaks. Fold into the fritter batter.20140419_170456
  9. Drop a few large spoonfuls of batter into the oil at a time, cooking until deep brown and crispy, 5-10 minutes depending. Turn halfway through cooking.
  10. Move to paper towels to drain oil, transfer to serving platter and serve alongside Dog Sauce (recipe follows) or other tart and/or spicy condiment.20140419_172246

Dog Sauce
2 Green Onions20140417_165201
1 Clove Garlic
1 Habinero
2 Tb Parsely
Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
¼ cup Water
2 Tb Olive Oil
Salt n Pepper

Directions

  1. Finely chop Onions, Garlic, Habinero, and Parsley, mixing with the Lime Zest.
  2. Boil water, pour over the veggies, mixing around and letting steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Add Lime Juice, Oil, and seasoning. Mix and serve, or chill overnight.20140417_170041

The Verdict

Surprisingly eggy, but in a good way; it wasn’t like the rubbery or other overcooked/otherwise too much egg flavor. It was noted, but small, adding a different flavor and texture than I normally think about with fried foods; a French flavor. It’s weird to say, but it’s actually my favorite aspect of the whole thing.

Though it’s a close 1st place, with the gloriously strong and complex Caribbean flavors of onion, scotch bonnet, and cilantro accompanying the tender and firm cod fish. It was glorious, and once again another dish to come in and make me debate it as my favorite so far. Then you add the tart and poignant “sauce” and we go to happy land.

20140419_173617The only downside is that I was unable to get that perfect crispy texture on all of them, or all over the ones I did for that matter. Always one of the issues when having to fry in a small pot while conserving oil… and trying to change batches quickly to cook them all (was serving them for a party, so had to make a whole platter of the fritters). Wasn’t able to hit the high oil temperature all the time sadly. Well, just take it as a lesson; there are consequences to not being able to hold that high temperature.

Not that they still didn’t taste amazing.20140419_173902

Primary Pairing Vinho Verde

Since the “region” of Acras’ origin is quite a ways off from mainland France, I think I’m definitely free enough to use non-French wines in the pairing. In particular, I like the idea of going off Spain and Portugal, what with their large historical trade importance and history with Salt Cod. That said, I just had to grab something from either Vinho Verde(in the North of Portugal) or Txacolina(an interesting set of regions in northern Spain). Though neither is known for any sweetness to battle the hot habinero notes, the razor-sharp and intense acidity of a high quality Vinho Verde more than makes up for it, dealing with both the fat while dancing with the spicy notes in an interesting fashion. With a naturally lower body, simple and singular flavors, and a bare and bright little fizz of effervescence (bringing a nice bit of tannin to go with the light fish texture), Vinho Verde has become well known as one of the perfect food wines. It’s a shame we rarely if ever get any of their Reds in (though I did see a rose at a tasting recently).

20140419_170655My Bottle:2011 Broadbent Vinho Verde

Most of the vinho verde one finds in liquor stores is really cheap, somewhat generic crap version that hasn’t helped to build it any reputation in the US. If one goes to any decent wine store, though, you should be able to find at least one really good quality. The great thing is even though good ones, like this Broadbent, clock around only $11-$14, depending (sota like the Greek Retsina, which also wouldn’t be too bad a pairing with accras).

Broadbent is just what I was craving; limey, strong and acidic wine that goes down easy, an almost gulpable affair to drink with the crispy, eggy cod fritters. I didn’t have to think about much, there was fun little frizz, and a bare bitterness also quite characteristic of the region, all the aspects contrasting the hot pepper-oniony-lime flavor in the food. Either way, it made me happy.

20140419_172859Secondary Pairing – Rum Cocktail

Cuz it’s the Caribbean! Need I say more?

Okay fine. Rum, besides being the distilled beverage of the islands, has a natural sweetness which counters the hot qualities nicely. And the caramelly notes in the darker and/or spiced rums goes well with the fried brown crust. Mix it with some ginger ale, coconut, pineapple, or other typical mixers, and you calm it down for easier pairing while increasing the “Caribbean feel” of the meal. Oh, don’t forget the lime!