p1: Moules a la Mariniere

T224120856_8018e66351he Dish

I’ve been wanting to do a particular dish for a while now, but since apparently winter is the best time to do it for seasonality purposes, I’ve had to wait… and then wait again since other people kept pushing plans off (you know who you are!). But, I finally found a reason and time in this dreary winter to cook up a pot of French-style mussels, Moules á la Marinière.

There’s not much history I found in this dish, a very simple, quick-to-put-together pot recipe of mussels, wine, garlic/shallots and butter, finished with parsley, steamed together only a few minutes since, I mean, it’s mussels. Did find talk of an Irishman in the 1300’s who’s claimed to have invented the first methods of mussel farming (something about finding a whole bunch clinging to some shipwreck wood), though it’s semi debated as they usually are, and not the kind of history I care much about. But that’s fine; I got to go down to our awesome local seafood specialist shop, and with me starting a brief vegetarian diet soon it brought me to wandering some other fun markets nearby that I rarely get the chance to explore anymore. Oh, and still had to re-do the escargot for some family, so yet another boon (two great dishes to have side-by-side).

So yeah, think that’s all I gotta say on the matter. Let’s get to yummy mussels.

A Word On…

20150209_125952

Mussels: Whether there’s a way to figure out what French species is historically used in the northern part of the country, along with a way to obtain them, or not is out of my range of study at the moment. What I can tell you, however, is that one usually sticks with the common small-shelled, blue mussels you normally find en masse at restaurants and the seafood section. And it was this style I was going for, and would have had if I was able to do the dinner a few week back as planned… but of course this meal got pushed back so many times, and I was quite determined to do it while it’s still winter and thus proper shellfish season, that the final day I was ready to do it, they had absolutely none.

Now, I should pause to say that yes, I could have likely drove to a Whole Foods or other place of business and gotten some blue mussels there. But I would much rather get a notably different mussel type at a Seafood-focused shop that only gets in product that is good quality, highly fresh, sustainable and in-season, and as such a place that I know has great items and is one I want to support, than to go to a place that, though I’m sure is also quality, still leaves me wondering.

20150209_150121So instead of the classic Prince Edward (typical species of the blue/purple/black mussels we get in), I got the notably bigger Swan Island, at times known for having simpler and perhaps even earthier/muddier tastes to it. Which gets me into talking about cleaning mussels, cuz these guys are DIRTY!

Those who are somewhat familiar with, or have heard about, handling mussels know they always need a bit of cleaning. Unlike clams, probably want to avoid soaking though, with how wary one has to be to make sure they get the salt level content right (put simply, soaking could kill them). In which case, we need to rinse off all the mussels to get any dirty and grit from the surface; and in the case of the swan and other ‘wilder’ species, which often will still have spots of lichen or other growth on them, this also should be accompanied by a nice shell scrubbing, getting them nice, smooth, and pretty for the pot.

20150209_145540

20150209_145552After that we need to take care of the Beards; basically a hairy-looking tendon sticking out from the side, this normally helps them grip to surfaces, and is not only fully inedible but could also shed into the broth. They’re best removed by tugging off to the side and pulling down firmly; they are a bit tough let me tell you, I myself thought I could just do it with my fingers, as so:

20150209_150440Boy was I a moron! Pliers worked MUCH better, especially when only a little bit was sticking from the shell. After that they ripped out much quicker and cleaner, now leaving me with a nice bag of happy little bivalves. Don’t they look adorable!

20150209_152539

Now they just had to survive until cooking time. And I’m sure you’ve all heard by now: don’t cook any dead mussels or clams, which you can tell if they’re open and STAY open (a few raps on the counter will convince an alive one to re-close… though I did have quite a few cheeky bastards who kept laughing and mocking me while cleaning. I ate them last….), or ones that have broken shells. And they can turn rather quickly and fast, which is why we buy them on the same day, and the closer to cooking you can wait to buy and clean, the better. One can pick them up the day before, I heard, think there was a strategy of keeping alive with a bag of ice over the top, colander set over a bowl and such… but I’ll just keep it fresh. No risk, tastes better.

Wine: Ideally, one would use a French white wine for the broth, of a decent quality (doesn’t have to be great or pricey, but not horrible), which I probably would have looked to use myself. But I had this bottle of random Italian roero left in the fridge after a few weeks… it was convenient and good mainly for cooking now (still better than cheap cooking wine in stores). Don’t you judge me!!… I do enough of that myself.

Fat: One could say there are two types of moules mariniere; those finished with butter and those with cream. I’ve seen about equal showcasing of each, and can’t find any proof of one seeming more traditional than the other, so right of choice simply goes to personal preference. As my last dish, Coquilles St-Jacques, used a cream-finished sauce, I thought I’d go for the butter finishing, wherein one tosses in some cold butter into the broth at the end, whisking to emulsify.

Or, in this case, some Compound Butter; not for any particular reason of keeping to French culinary practices, but because I apparently forgot to buy fresh parsley on my gosh-darn shopping trip to sprinkle on at the end. Whoops! Good thing I still had leftover Escargot Butter, full of the garlic, shallots, and herbage, exactly the flavors I needed anyways. Though now that I think about it, seems I’m making slight substitutions and allowances for every part of the recipe tonight. Hey, what’d I just say about judging me?

Moules a la Mariniere
2 lbs Prince Edward or other Blue Mussel
4 oz Butter, Chilled
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
3 Shallots, Minced
¼-1/2 cup White Wine (by personal preference)
2 Tb Chopped Parsley
Salt and Pepper

-OR-

2 Tb Butter
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Shallots, minced
¼-1/2 cup white wine
3 oz Herb-Garlic-Shallot Compound Butter

Directions

  1. Clean mussel shells under rinsing water, set aside. 20150209_174506
  2. Heat pot on stove to Medium. Throw in 1 oz of butter, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 minced shallots, and sweat until softened and translucent.20150209_175031
  3. Add one, letting it come to a strong simmer before turning to the mussels.20150209_175403
  4. Check mussels, throwing away any dead bivalves (opened and will refuse to close, the snobby bastards), and throw into the pot along with any remaining garlic and shallots. Cover and let simmer 3-5 minutes, as needed, until all or almost all have opened and cooked.20150209_180131
  5. Remove from heat and add chilled regular or compound butter, mixing and swirling quickly to emulsify into the broth (Note: may be best to remove mussels before finishing the sauce).20150209_180252
  6. Season with salt and pepper, garnish and toss with chopped parsley, and transfer to serving bowl.20150209_180405
  7. Enjoy along with a good chunk of crusty baguette.

The Verdict

20150209_180847It’s hard to give a total verdict when I wasn’t able to use the ideal mussel varieties, but I found some pleasant results in the ones utilized. Firstly, the big size meant a lot LESS shells I had to clean (though there’s a possibility I wouldn’t have needed to scrub the other ones…); secondly, the flavor perhaps wasn’t the same, but I found nothing unappealing about the swan meat at all. In fact, it was big, plump, and had this fatty richness to it that I can’t quite decide. With the butter and wine sauce and bread, it was a delightfully scrumptious experience; the almost raw garlic/shallot flavors of the compound butter cutting through and brightening the deeper see and fat flavors nicely, while the subtle cooked flavors bolstered the base. Obviously the best part is dipping the mussel, still in shell, into the broth to get all the juicy, rich, wet flavors at once. And of course who can argue the delights of taking leftover baguette and just dunking it in pure mussel-wine-butter broth at the end of the meal? It’s just sinful…

Points of change? I think I may have added more wine that desired, I probably did at LEAST ½ a cup. Probably should have taken the mussels out before adding the butter, it didn’t really emulsify like I wanted. And of course I would have rather had fresh parsley to do this the simpler, more classic way that I initially desired. But still love the outcome nonetheless.

20150209_175653Primary Pairing – Sancerre or Pouilly Fume

A white wine based off of Sauvignon Blanc made in the far eastern edge of the Loire River, just north of France’s center (and NW of Chablis), this somewhat chilly continental climate area produces a clean, refreshing version of this intensely aromatic grape varietal, often foregoing a lot of the pungent fruit, grassy, and richer flavors seen in good Marlborough and California styles for something that usually focuses purely on minerals, green berries, a grapefruit or other citrus. Strong with character and acid, but with leaner body style from the shorter ripening periods, it’s often a great wine to cut through delicate dishes that also contain rich fats, much like seafood with a good presence of cream and/or butter. The tightened, raw green flavors often compliment the herbs and other aromatics, the noted mineral notes (the twin regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume often characterizing a certain extra quality from the unique silex, flinty soils their grapes are planted in, sometimes almost like light gunpowder), and a bit of fleshiness that one can rarely get rid of from sauvignon that I just love with that extra bit of meatiness from mussels and clams.

If you can get a bottle it’s definitely worth it; both a great wine on its own or with food, even pairs well with cheese. However they can be pricey, but if you find the right store, there are a few sub regions within Eastern Loire close by that also offer similarly styled white wine at much better prices (it’s been a while since my studies so I forget specifically which, just ask one of the employees and they should be able to help).

20150209_175606My Bottle: Pierre Prieur & Fils, 2011 Sancerre

Something I got at a better price, and by now maybe a year after when I’d look to drink it myself (though the great thing about Sancerre, so much acid it’s a notably longer-lasting white wine), it came with an even richer, sort of more fleshy/viscous mouthfeel than what I normally come to expect. Which I think turned out to my benefit with the larger Swan Island mussels I grabbed; with that soft, almost fatty texture to the meat, the wine blended and heightened this happy experience even further when mixed on the palate. And of course it still had plenty of acid to stand up to and cut the richly tart broth, alongside certain herbal-ground notes that complimented the compound butter and garlic flavors. A very pleasant companion for the evening.

Secondary Pairing – Lager

I’m not sure when the last time I offered a lager for one of my dishes was, it could have been really recent, but February in cold regions deserves cold-fermented beer. And opposite to the nights where mussels are treated as a fine, delicate course in a romantic evening, it also contains the personality of just being attacked in large bowls while enjoying a relaxing afternoon at a café. At those situations, sometimes you just want a cold, frothy, creamy light beverage to gulp down along with the salty-rich flavors. Especially if eating this with their truly classic partner, the fried potato strip (moules-frites anyone?).

p1: Coquilles St-Jacques

7-SAV150-69_Scallops-750x750The Dish

As fun and interesting it is to delve into realms of history and legend that so many of these classic French preparations have seemed to garner, it’s almost ever more intriguing to find one that has little to say for itself. Thus is my experience with the preparation of Coquille St. Jacques, a term which has been says translates to “Saint James’s Scallops,” deriving an interesting little tale to the origin. The story goes that the holy Saint James, in his travels, saved a night who had fallen into the river; upon emerging, the night was covered in scallop shells (there is also a story of a knight’s horse that fell in and emerged with scallops). As such, Saint James’ emblem became that of the scallop shell, which on its own is a true fact, and thus lending itself to the name of the dish.

Whether these tales are true, or if they really has any forbearance on the dish’s name, is up to debate. What we can say is that Saint Jacques has become the accepted name for a certain French scallop, and that the term “coquille” is culinary used for a number of recipes that are baked or broiled inside a scallop shell, which when cleaned has made a very durable and trusty cooking utensil for hundreds of years (there’s an interesting anecdote to begging poor or monks who would travel with one tied around their neck and use to scoop food). These dishes are oft composed of the main ingredient chopped up and covered in a creamy wine sauce, thickened much like gravy, and then broiled with cheese as-is or on top of a bed of other ingredients. Methods for coquille st-jacques has found the scallops cooked alone or on top of duxelle (a blend of shallots, garlic, and mushroom sautéed into a paste), diced or whole, until golden and bubbly.

A Word On…

Scallops: Here is the question on how one puts this dish together; do we do the classic, rustic coquille which consists of a mass of goeey cheese sauce mixed with chopped up shellfish meat, or do we leave large rounded disks with an elegant garnish to display in a more refined manner, thus highlighting the meaty seafood? If one goes for the former, tiny Bay Scallops are likely your game, much sweeter and more flavor without having to worry about the structure. However, after my few months away from the blog game, I feel like I want to present the more sophisticated style of my first dish in a while; not to mention, if I’m going to cook with a good quality scallop, I want it to be able to shine properly, so bigger Sea Scallops it is.

I buy them fresh from a good distributor, not frozen and definitely not the ‘wet packed’ scallops that many people warn about. To make sure it doesn’t have any of that extra moisture that could ruin its structure when cooking, I pat and let them sit on some paper towels before the poaching. The results… well let’s see.

Of course, die hard recipe reproducers would look to get true St. Jacques Scallops from France; of which I have no clue how to do in the States besides shipping in frozen, so I’ll stick to some decent fresh ones instead.

20141219_214553

Mushrooms: though their inclusion is fully optional, every recipe I’ve found that uses them points almost exclusively to white buttons, which I was want to follow. Giving myself a few extra seconds at the store, in front of the bins, I could not help but think that if this was made in the French countryside, around the Loire, from ingredients on hand, would it have been a ‘white button’ or some available brown-topped, perhaps wild mushroom? Some version of the latter feels more sincere, so at the very least I decided to buy some Criminis to get more flavor in.

20141221_133939Sauce: The sauce used for this is somewhat intriguing compared to other ones I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a roux-thickened recipe, much like with three of the classic mother sauces and gravy, but it uses no stock, no milk as its base, some cream yes but that’s more for fortification at the end (like butter); the liquid component is entirely based on wine that the scallops are poached in before baking. Flavor wise it ends up similar to a classic beurre blanc, but oh what a different texture.

That ramble out of the way, the poaching liquid itself offers another choice to us, as I’ve seen in my searchings: Wine or Vermouth. Many have used either or, or combinations of the two, thus leading us to debate; my own curiosity has me wondering what the vermouth would taste like, and why it’s included, however contrary to that I don’t think I’d want to create an all-vermouth sauce and poaching liquid unless I had some good quality alcohol, as opposed to the terrible mass-produced crap that’s usually in my bar simply be destined for thinning out in cocktails. Thus I settled for an almost equal portioned blend of the two, so that I could add just that little bit of complexity, botanical depth, and richness vermouth contributes. Though, I would suggest that, unlike me, you use a proper WHITE vermouth in your own experiments (sadly we ran out, so red it is).

Cheese: Not too much of a commonality in recipes, I’ve seen people use Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyere, mixes, you name it. Some sprinkle just on top, some melt into the sauce, if not both; which is where I start, as I feel like the sauce should stay a simple gravy of the thickened cooking liquid, only using cream to bolster the texture. Cheese is made to be gratineed over the top, and though there seems to not be anything SPECIFICALLY required, gruyere just seems to fit the bill best, both in its melting properties and the common use in French cuisine where cheese is concerned.

Coquille: Very likely, you probably don’t have a scallop shell you can use for cooking at home. Ramekins work well, though, or any other similar small baking dish that can be stuck in a super-hot oven and broiled with.

Coquilles St-Jacques
4 Tb Butter
3 Shallots, Chopped
4 cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 cup Chopped White Button or Crimini Mushrooms
¼ bunch Parsley
12 Sea Scallops
¾ cup Dry White Wine (French preferred)
½ – ¾ cup Dry White Vermouth
2 Tb Flour
3 Tb Cream
¼ cup Grated Gruyere
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a sauté pan to medium/med-high, tossing in 2 Tb of Butter and 2 of the Shallots.20141221_134934
  2. Cook 1-2 minutes until it begins to soften, adding in the Garlic and chopped Mushrooms.20141221_140736
  3. Heat, stirring often, until browned nicely throughout and broken down. Season with salt, pepper, and most of the Parsley Leaves, minced. Reserve.20141221_142013
  4. Gently prepare your Scallops, slicing carefully in half to produce two thin disks.20141221_143341
  5. In a separate, wide pan, combine the Wine, Vermouth, Parsley Stems, and the rest of the Shallots, heating until just barely at a simmer.20141221_142446
  6. Arrange the scallops in the pan so that the liquid only just covers them (or gets close to the top), letting them sit in the warm but not boiling poaching liquid 2-3 minutes. You may need to flip them halfway through to ensure even cooking.
  7. Remove scallops, reserve on the side, and strain the resulting wine and scallop Stock.20141221_143442
  8. In the pan one cooked mushrooms in, add the rest of the butter with the heat on medium. Once melted, whisk in the Flour.
  9. Let sit on hit, whisking often, until it lightens slightly in color, 1-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the still-warm wine stock, mixing constantly to incorporate.20141221_143742
  10. Let heat for a minute or two until thickened slightly; if notable too thick, add in more wine to thin into a proper sauce. Season salt and pepper, finish with the Cream.
  11. Heat oven to 475F.20141221_171344
  12. Start arranging your ingredients on the Coquille or other ramekin-like serving vessel, starting with a mound of the sautéed mushroom duxelle and some of the sauce.20141221_171738
  13. Carefully layer the poached scallop coins on top in a pleasing array, spooning the rest of the sauce overhead. Garnish with Gruyere and move to the oven.
  14. Roast until the sauce is melty and the top has bruleed to a beautiful golden edge, about 5-15 minutes depending on cooking vessel and other factors.20141221_182958
  15. Remove, garnish with freshly chopped parsley, and serve alongside toasted baguette.

The Verdict

20141221_183344There’s a very intriguing ‘rule’ in French and Italian cooking that states one should never plate seafood with cheese; there are of course exceptions to every rule, but it’s usually seen with subtle manipulations, here most often using only the lightest hints of parmesan to bolster a bit of richness in a white fish or scallop dip. Which is why, when eating, I found this particular dish so intriguing, in light of not only this rule but of what I know of France’s culinary distinctions. Here we’re taking a scallop, an ingredient that needs gentle treatment and is most commonly partnered with delicate flavors so as to highlight its veil of sweetness and easy-to-dismiss flavors of the sea, and completely smothering it in garlicky mushrooms, a thick and tart cream sauce, and the strong European cheddar that is Gruyere.

And the damn thing works. For despite this rich, gut warming bowl of goodness, the scallop’s flavors are never fully covered, and the portions leave its meat in the strong point, allowing us to enjoy its well-cooked texture, the sweetness coming to underlay against the creamy cheese and sauce, with mushrooms dancing in behind to say hello and make our taste buds happy. Though they might not be a requirement, I am happy I went for the version with the duxelle, as well as keeping big pieces of scallop vs chopped, though I’m sure that would have been its own scrumchy delight. It does need to be eaten with bread or something else though, for a complete course, too bad I forgot to get a baguette (had some English muffins though, so it worked out!).

 

20141221_182559Primary Pairing – Gingo Sake

It’s not hard to reason that sake goes very well with fish and seafood, considering the well famed Japanese cuisine. Though one might not think it, considering most sake’s very earth-bound flavors of woods, fungus, and earth mixed with the rice’s sweetness. But when we get into the more aromatic and refined styles of Gingo and Daigingo, where the rice grain has more of its heavier outer layers polished down, we find notably lighter-bodied ‘wines’ with those characteristic flavors of the sea mixed with fruit and floral yeasts. If we were to choose a bottle that was only halfway up this sake totem pole of refinement, mainly Gingos, then we would still hold onto some of those earthy flavors, which in my opinion make it quite the appealing pair to enjoy alongside this medium-lightweight, mushroomy seafood dish.

20141221_180421My Bottle: Sho Chiku Bai’s Junmai Gingo Sake

I’ll admit a noted disappointment on first sip, as I had hoped for it to reveal more flavors of fleshy fruit, or perhaps some zesty aromatics, but nonetheless it shone itself as a proper, standard Junmai Gingo. The ‘weight’ of the drink was a noted step down from regular Junmai sake (which is an interesting thing to taste one next to the other; unlike other drinks, where shifts in style happen more smoothly and gradually, one can very easily feel a drop in aromatic strength and body weight between the different sake styles), and contained the smooth flavors of barley and mushrooms to play with the palette without overpowering the light scallops. The flavors and weights ended up meshing quite nicely, with just a bit of that creamy rice flavor that blended into the creamy white scallop. Overall, much like my last sake pairing with the duck, a surprisingly successful match after opening.

vouvSecondary Pairing – Vouvray

Sticking to the NW region, along the river Loire and close to the sea, I so much want to use a Sancerre or Muscadet, but the body’s just too light and flavors too crisp for my liking in this case. A Vouvray, however, based on the Chenin Blanc, brings a bit more weight to combat the slightly heavier sauce and mushrooms, a bit more of a richer background, while still holding notable acid (as Chenin and Rieslings are like to do) to cut through the cream and brighten the seafood. Not to mention many Vouvray (note I’m sticking with the generic as opposed to choosing a specific style, regional or otherwise) contain a bit of sweetness which I think would combat the saltiness of the cheese and scallops beautifully, if done right of course.

p1: Quiche Lorraine

msliving_quichelorraine_vertThe Dish

I don’t really have that many stories from college; never was great at the whole social thing and getting into adventures (but I won’t bore you with details of my depressing alone-ness); but one of the few amusing moments I had in culinary classes involved the ‘baked Quiche.’  Can’t remember too many details nowadays, whether I or my partner had put the quiche together, popped it in the oven, or whether my frantic  sprint to check on it was due to accidentally leaving it in for who knows how many hours, realizing it was in at a temperature WAY too high, or a combination of them both.

Nevertheless, the first thing I see after opening the gateway of hell is what looked to be a landscape of black, punctuated only by the yellow of the eggy center, which pushed itself about two inches upwards and above the crust. It’s reminiscence to a certain other dish was simply too amusing for me at the moment, as I called out to the rest of the class: “We’ve got a soufflé over here!!!”

Ohhhh, ‘dem schooling days, filled with us feisty rapscallions (please don’t comment on my sad college high notes, it’s all I have!!); thankfully it was one of the many lessons learned early, but my experience with the French custard afterwards was painfully minimal, besides some breakfasts at home using those extremely shallow pre-bought frozen pie crusts (actually inspired by watching an episode of Good Eats). Then I was able to delight in one of the dish’s best qualities: flexibility. For, as I’ve come to learn, one could say that there really are two kinds of quiche. First, there is the delicately measured, finely seasoned and tender custard that’s filled carefully with select ingredients and featured in history and restaurants, something one can properly term “Quiche.” And then there’s “Refrigerator Pie,” as I (and I think Alton too) like to call it; that’s basically when one just puts in whatever they have on hand, mix the eggs with enough of whichever dairy they prefer to what looks good, and pops in the oven. It’s always how I’ve enjoyed practicing at home or in the kitchen, but today’s foray into this egg-centric recipe is truly that of the former as we study proper Quiche Lorraine.

Quiche itself really did originate in Lorraine… only at the time it was called Lothringen, when it was under Medieval German rule, who also provided the origins of its current name, “Kuchen/Kueche,” meaning ‘cake.’ Which certainly isn’t too accurate even by their standards, as the base used to be made from bread dough, then baked with the savory egg and cream filling.

As the bread evolved to a flaky, tender short pastry crust, so has those ingredients that we put in it. Quiches elsewhere have of course changed and fluctuated the traditional veggie, meat, and cheese additions throughout the centuries (there are some interesting classic recipes, like one using rillettes and another based on pumpkin), but the base of Lorraine has and always will be Bacon. 20140916_165853Only this was sometimes just lain in long strips on the bottom before custardizing; even my Larousse Gastronomique features this old habit. Cheese wasn’t added until much later, perhaps when they started to actually chop the meat, officially turning it into quiche vosgienne if using gruyere (cooks have often also used Swiss or Emmental). When onions become involved, fulfilling the classic trio with cream and cured pork, it then becomes the quiche alsacienne version of Lorraine, which I really believe to be most indicative of how we view and treat it today. Many may debate its trueness to lie back in the extreme simplicity it was before, while others then take this and add more things such as herbs, but a dish’s evolution and changes through time help culminate its identity to what we know today. As such, the Alsatian version, bereft of any other additions, will be what I base my meal on today.

A Word On…

Crust: Tart dough experimentations continue, though there do seem to be a few styles particularly intuitive with quiche. In fact, I ended up following a specific recipe that came along with the Larousse Gastronomique’s section on Quiche Lorraine, which is basically what I based most of my prep and recipe specifications around (it seemed very classic, old-school, and proper). This iteration’s baking formulation is that of a classic French Shortcrust, in particular one very much like Pate Sable but without sugar, in which one folds in SOFT butter instead of cold (oh the horror, how does such a tart dough exist!?), along with egg.

It was also one of my first attempts in a long while in mixing all the ingredients together on the counter instead of a bowl! Attempts at pasta making sorta ruined the practice for me, but I think I’ve found some fun and purpose in it again.

Also important to note that all quiche crust should be pre-baked before adding the fillings; if one tries baking both together, the bottom simply won’t cook (learned that watching Cutthroat Kitchen!). Oh, and I might suggest really curling the dough around the edge of your desired baking pan (again, springform is best and practically required) to prevent it from shrinking a large amount; either that or have a LOT of baking beans to fill the ENTIRE pan. Pricking the dough will only do so much.

Bacon: I’ll admit, I didn’t go the full mile in finding super-quality bacon, I was a bit more concerned with crust and custard on this experiment. Not to mention I was trying a new technique, also mentioned in Larousse, where one blanches their bacon in boiling water before frying in butter. Offers a great way to crisp and golden it up quickly without shriveling, losing too much fat, and keeping that nice meaty texture. I will say I think it worked out quite well, so feel free to get yourself a big chunk of uncut cured pork belly, make some thick slices, and then dice up some sizeable cubes after blanching for that REAL Bacon Experience.

20140916_163134Oh, and instead of transferring the cooked bacon to paper towels, why not put it in your pre-cooked tart shell!? Get eeeevvvveerrryyyyyyy bit of bacon fat and flavor soaked into the dish.

Onion: Generally speaking, recipes call for using Raw onions; sliced or diced simply dependant on preference. Though I do want to stay true, at the same time I just never like using so much raw onion in something; it’s not gonna cook and get soft inside, you know that. But a little bit of raw crunch and delicate flavor is nice when handled delicately; thus, I sautéed half of my available onion (in the leftover bacon fat of course) and left the other half raw for the best combo of flavor with just enough texture.

Custard: I’ve seen, and applied, many quiche recipes that use milk and half-n-half mixed in with their eggs. If I was discussing any general quiche home cooking, actually, ANY source of dairy would do; I’ve seen mini-quiches made with just the eggs and blue cheese. Hell, I’ve made salmon quiches while mostly using sour cream. However, as we’re considering a very traditional, very French Lorraine where the goal is to get that perfectly set custard, there’s really only one option: Cream (some hardcore French fanatics go a step further and use stiff crème fraiche). And lots of it, with a relatively high ratio of the fatty dairy to the eggs (see following recipe).

Quiche Lorraine
½ lb Bacon, in strips
Tb Butter
½ of an Onion, minced
2-3 oz Gruyere
4 Eggs
1 ¼ cup Cream
1 tsp or so each Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F20140916_154223
  2. Blanch Bacon in simmering water for about 5 minutes, remove and let cool.20140916_160640
  3. Chop into large, square pieces.20140916_160940
  4. Heat pan to medium-high heat and toss in Butter and Bacon, cooking until lightly and evenly browned.20140916_161221
  5. Remove, placing directly into the empty Tart Shell, and re-fill pan with half of the Minced Onion.20140916_161818
  6. Sweat in the butter-fat mixture until soft and transfer into tart shell with bacon and Raw Onion.20140916_172045
  7. When onion and bacon are cooled enough, grate the Gruyere on top until the tart is almost fully filled with ingredients, mixing them together to evenly distribute.20140916_173800
  8. In separate bowl, whisk Eggs, Cream, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg until fully combined.20140916_174621
  9. Slowly pour into shell until mixture just reaches under the top of the crust (make sure to give it time to let settle into air spaces before adding more).20140916_183455
  10. Move into oven, on a baking sheet, and cook for at least 30 minutes, until the middle is set but still shakes and jiggles when moved.20140916_184134
  11. Remove, transfer to cutting board (or cooling rack), leaving a minute or so until cool enough to handle.20140916_184443
  12. Carefully undo springform pan sides (if using), and/or start slicing servings.
  13. Serve with side of light salad and enjoy.20140916_184428

Savory Pate Sable
250g Flour
Pinch Salt
125g Butter, softened
1 Egg
3 Tb Ice-Cold Water

Directions

  1. Sift Flour and Salt onto clean counter20140915_160127
  2. Quickly and gently, mix the Butter into flour until mixture is almost sandy, well combined.
  3. Pile this into a mound and make a deep well in the center, to which it will be filled with the Egg and Water.20140915_160451
  4. Carefully swirl liquids, mixing into the flour until fully incorporated, kneading briefly with fingers and palms until a smooth dough forms (may need more flour on the board)20140915_161009
  5. Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F and flour your countertop in preparation.20140915_170826
  7. Once chilled enough, roll out dough to 1/8” thickness, ish, and as large and round of a shape as you can get.20140915_170856
  8. Fold in quarters and move into a Springform or other Tart/baking pan, buttering and flouring the surface if non-stick.20140915_171014
  9. Unfold, lift-and-tucking the corners, press into the sides, and cut off dough at the top or whichever height is desired, noting it will shrink after cooking.20140915_171617
  10. Prick bottoms and sides with fork and cover with parchment paper laden from beans or other pie dough weights.20140915_192751
  11. Move to oven and cook 20 minutes, checking often near the end, or until dough is lightly browned and cooked on bottom.20140915_192909
  12. Remove and reserve until needed.

The Verdict

20140916_184456Truth be told I was much worried about the crust; having made it ahead of time, leaving it sit for a day, and also worried there was too much water as well as some kneading, it felt potentially bready and chewy. Once finished with the filling, though, I found it indeed had a nice crunch and thick flakiness to it; to my surprise, it actually reminded me of the crusts used in those frozen mini-quiches, in a good way!

And the filling… I’ve come to accept that I have a deep addiction to custards, especially those of the cheese variety. This really was just the perfect example; smooth, tender, creamy, that richness from the egg carrying through without that eggy, thick flavor and texture that just makes you think of fritattas. Almost felt like it was one step away from flan consistency, and I loved it. Then we add in bacon, onion, and that cooked tart dough and we see why quiche Lorraine has become the staple example of its group.

20140916_183932Primary Pairing – Chablis or Alsace Gewurztraminer

So, to explain why I didn’t focus my primary down to a single selection, I actually wanted to pair this particular meal with a Gewurztraminer I had picked up. Then I went looking on the morning of and, egads, couldn’t find the thing! At one point I decided that, in fact, I never bought the bottle in question and just thought I had, so my plans had to quickly change to a bottle I had planned for something else (and of course, one day later, I spot the bottle located on a shelf across the room from the others, in an area it WAN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN. Thanks for moving yet another thing without telling me person-who-knows-who-they-are). It would have been so nice, having that interplay of the thickly oiled texture of the famed Alsatian wine with the mouth-filling fattiness of the custard, the spicy grape adding another dimension of flavor to quiche’s blank canvas while also complimenting the meat and onions.

But, Chablis and other Chardonnays (that are GOOD and FRESH and not overoaked or super-cheap-crap… seriously) work too. The nice acid structure holds up through the richness, flavors are often gentle and should mingle with the subtle depth which egg and dairy can so create. And it is close by, many a simpler/non-pungent Alsatian dish can be paired with Chablis, that chardonnay-centric region in the north of Burgundy that creates such minerally, refreshing versions of the grape. One doesn’t have to get the really expense bottles from the Petites and Grand Crus, there are some well-priced options that work just fine when eating with classic fare, when one just needs those certain additions of flavors and taste bud-interactions to complete a dinner.

20140916_183742My Bottle: – 2011 William Fevre Chablis AOC

Point in question, Fevre made a really decent, balanced product that provided a well-structured compliment to the simple meal for a great price compared to others. If you’re one of those who enjoys a decent non-oaky or buttery chardonnay, without exploring too high in the price listings, the style is a good option to try when you have the chance.

Secondary Pairing – Cider

I use it as a pairing for a lot of Northern French dishes, but it works; not too heavy, freshness and acidity cuts through, with light flavors to let the not-so-strong flavors in Quiche and other dishes shine through. If one wants a little changeup, they could always try a nice, pub-reminiscent English Cider; notably fuller and more fulfilling to match the custard.

p1, Pissaladiere

enhanced-buzz-29835-1385791378-15The Dish

This particular little flatbread comes from Provence, along the southern coast, in particular focused in the town of Nice. Though I’m not quite sure why or how its regional identity gravitated to that specific city, Pisssaladiere’s origins are not surprisingly shared with the close neighbor of Italia. Supposedly the “day of creation,” much like with Ceasar and his Coq au Vin (just switch the countries), a French Pope named Clement (those who’ve studied Chateneauf du Pape are familiar with him) travelled to Rome for business (his Chateau and office were still in France), upon which the local cooks had to scramble to make something with the new ingredients he had brought over. After taking some salted fish that was brought over, they turned it into a paste and spread it over a local flatbread, likely foccacia, finishing with cooked onions and sliced olives (local or French is unsure, likely local). The new dish was a hit, and the rest is history, with families making versions of the dish on both sides of the border. Nowadays, at least in France, the anchovies are used whole, often criss-crossed like one of our own pies, instead of sauced on.

What I find most interesting, and amusing, is the name. One’s first thought when reading it, and seeing the thin flatbread-with-toppings, is its obvious connection to “pizza.” Which, apparently, there is none. Absolutely none. I know right? I mean it’s got it in the name, just s instead of z.

Well, the name actually comes from the Latin (once more some Italian origins, and yet still no technical relation to pizza evolution) pissalat, “salted fish,” as well as pissala which is similarly “salted fish/anchovy paste.” And though the true origins of the term “pizza” is in debate, there being multiple words that it’s thought to evolve from, my research has turned up that not ONE of the theories links to Pissaladiere. So I guess we’ll just have to settle with a boring, non-pizza related French history of a salty flatbread that technically originated in Italy.

A Word On…

20140625_155844Anchovies:It’s not much of an anchovy dish unless one can find the GOOD anchovies. Though I can’t say much for ordering specialty French-caught and hand-preserved fishies, I know any decent quality store or market (Italian ones too) should stock some good options. Got this little jar at my local seafood place, and god they were delicious; the ‘chovies were HUGE, and actually sorta thick (not those steamrolled strips of salty paper) and meaty… so good. Did NOT get as much from the container as I thought, though, so the resulting pie was a bit lacking in toppings. Which is fine, the flavor’s quite noticeable.

Olives:I just love a good, tasty, cured olive. Whenever I find myself in a certain Italian shop, sooner or later my mouth ends up hanging over the giant buckets filled with the whole fruit in their oil/brine to sample. So when I was at a local wine and cheese shop, and saw similar quality Italian Green olives in their case, I couldn’t help buying some ahead of time for the unique dish I knew I was soon to create.

Then I actually did some research and found out that pissaladiere usually uses Black French Olives… oops. Probably could have found some too, or at least a better substitute. Oh well, at the end of the day, as far as I care with any olive dish, all one needs is a delicious, good quality variety that you love. Pretty easy to find, just don’t do it from those long buffet-trays in the nearby supermarket.

20140625_163101If you’re not familiar with preparing un-seeded olives, it’s easy, but depends on how attached the seed is to the flesh. Usually it’s pretty simple to smash them under the flat of your knife and pop one out, then cut your thick, not-so-perfect rings. Some will NOT cooperate, so you will have to cut around.2014-05-08 18.45.39-2

Onions:Looking through recipes, I’ve seen two main ways to cook the onions (white or yellow), without any real highlight on which is properly classic. There’s sautéing with herbs and garlic until soft, then getting those edges nice and golden; and then there’s just caramelizing it to the max. Due to my unsurety, and the ability to work with a whole round, I thought I’d just go ahead and do a half-and-half, see what I prefer. I mean all I needed to do was separate half the onions partway through cooking; capers, instead of heating through like the soft onions, should just be sprinkled on top of the caramelized before cooking.

Dough:Like the Flammekeuche, most recipes out there focus on some form of bread dough as the base. It’s not the only kind used though; quite a few sources list this dish as made with either Bread or Shortcrust dough (basically pie dough). In fact, when debating which style I should use, I ran across an article mentioning the commonality between French and Italian pissaladiere. Seems the only difference seen between the two, other than potential inclusions of red veggies across the border, is the French’s use of Shortcrust. Thus my decision was made; though the origins of any topping’d flatbread would begin with simple bread dough, the shortcrust makes a fun differentiation that’s still classic with the culinary interests and trends of the last couple centuries. If you want to go with a bread dough, then I suggest any decent looking recipe that uses olive oil (yeasted or not, it seems to be the one commonality).

Pissaladiere
1 Stick/4oz Butter, chilled
7oz Flour
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Tb Water and/or Anchovy liquid
3-4 Yellow Onions
1 Tb Olive Oil
1-2 Bay Leaves
Thyme Sprig
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Tb Capers
3-4 oz Quality Olives
1 Jar/Tin Anchovies, however much needed/desired
Black Pepper

Directions

  1. To make the dough, chop the cold dough small and rub, with fingertips, into the flour until mostly “cornmeal” texture, leaving some larger lumps for flake purposes (can also do this in a food processor).20140625_155858
  2. Mix in enough of the Egg, Water, and Anchovy Oil/Liquid to bind everything together. Reserve remaining egg to the side.20140625_160347
  3. Press into a firm, flat round, chill in fridge for at least an hour.20140625_160921
  4. While this is cooling, chop onions into the desired size (I like large chunks, thin slices cook up very well though).20140625_161049
  5. Heat a pan up to Med/Med-High heat, while at the same time preheating the oven to 400F, with baking stone.20140625_162331
  6. Add Olive Oil, Onions, Bay Leaves, and Thyme, cooking until soft, 5-8 minutes depending.20140625_162555
  7. Add in Garlic and continue cooking until edges are nicely golden and caramelized. Chop capers fine, mix in, and continue to cook about 2 minutes more or until flavor is well incorporated. Turn off and let chill.20140625_163937
  8. Prep other ingredients, slicing Olives as needed and draining Anchovy Filets on paper towels.20140625_163525
  9. Remove Shortcrust dough from fridge, transfer to floured countertop, and roll to ¼” thickness. Trim to a large rectangle or circle, rolling up the edges to form a rim (one could also roll the leftover dough into thin strips and attach).20140625_172759
  10. Move to a well floured and cornmealed paddle/baking sheet to start filling.20140625_174306
  11. Fill the bottom with a thick layer of the soft onions (herb stalks removed), sprinkling the desired amount/concentration of olives on top. Arrange anchovies over in a cross-hatch pattern.20140625_182350
  12. Wash the edges with the remaining egg and transfer to baking stone in oven, cook 20-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crust is set and flaky.20140625_182428
  13. Remove, let cool a couple minutes, slice and enjoy.

The Verdict

I can’t say I was able to reach the ideal of what this dish should be, I mean obviously I needed WAY more anchovies (I swear it looked like there was a lot more in that jar), but the elements were still very satisfactory. I officially prefer the golden, not-completely-caramelized onion base in terms of bringing that overall Provencal flavor; plus it’s still soft without hiding the beautiful onion flavors under pure caramel. The nice, pickled and salty garnishes come out even more and make for a nice appetizer, particular with that super-flaky pie crust base. Speaking of which, I wonder if the result I got was still “traditional;” if anything I feel like I wanna go for dough more reminiscent of what’s used in many of the dessert Tartes, crispy and semi-flaky but nice and firm. If I have any leftover from one of the desserts I am sure to make in the future, I might go ahead and use it to make another pissaladiere. Because it’s delicious.

20140625_181648Primary Pairing – Muscadet a Sevre et Maine

If I were to pair this dish Regionally, I might have gone with something like a Rose, as Buzzfeed well suggests, or potentially find a random white wine from the oft-unseen, not-well-known little regions that rarely meet our market to much acclaim. But I only have one rose at the moment, which I already have a specific dish in mind for, and the latter would be a giant pain to research, and even then I wouldn’t have enough confidence in my palette expectations of these wines which I’ve had no experience with.

Besides, at the end of the day I found myself craving a certain little region on the western coast of the Loire River known as Muscadet. Using the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the wines of this region are known for a particularly unique identity, especially those of the Sevre et Maine AOC. Made near the sea, using a method known as “sur lie” where the wine is allowed to rest on the settled yeasts and other particulates, it develops trace amounts of both salty and yeasty notes, along with an almost imperceptible fizz or effervescence; aspects which make it great to match the briny anchovy-olive pizza and buttery pie crust. Followed with a light body and refreshingly crisp acidity, a good Muscadet would be able to stand through any hints of richness and pungently preserved flavors without overpowering, a perfect aperitif choice.

20140625_181344My Bottle: 2012 Selection des Cognettes Muscadet S-et-M, Sur Lie

Always a great, readily available and affordable bottle from this region, the Cognette vineyard is able to keep flavors clean, with nice notes of elderflower and pears alongside the typical yeastiness, without getting too much of that “fatty” skin feeling I find in most low-end white wines (it’s hard to describe really). Made for a nummy accompaniment to the flaky tartlette. I coulda sworn I took a picture of the glass with the sliced triangles of the pissaladiere too, but somehow it’s disappeared…

Secondary Pairing – Fino/Manzanilla Sherry

What better drink to pair with a light, super salty, coastal dish made in a hot southern region than a Fino Sherry, made in the white albariza hills of Southwest Spain, the sea breezes wafting over the stockpiles of sherry casks in the giant Solera system. Such versatile fortified wines they produce, and the completely uncolored, notably salty and acetaldehyde notes (unique yeasty, nutty, creamy notes subject almost solely to Flor-affected products, like sherry) go amazingly with a myriad of dishes, especially this anchovy-laden tarte. The body may be a bit high, but its acidity and pure, clean flavors can cut through to make one reminisce of a lighter experience. Taken in sips, like a fine brandy, a chilled Fino or Manzanilla mixes with Pissaladiere to make a stimulating start to any day of leisure.220px-CatavinoEnMano

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.