p3: Cheesy White Loaf Bread

#23, Cheese-ish White Loaf

Garlic-Cheese-BreadI was requested to do some bread baking this past weekend to go with a Chicken Dumpling Soup family dinner. Didn’t feel like doing anything special, just a simple fresh baked, hot loaf Milk Bread would be AWESOME, so I never even thought I’d do a blog post on it. But then the idea got in my head to make it a bit different, try a little experiment if you will. See what happens if I add some cheese in the bread, both directly and sprinkled in before rolling. Sounds tasty, still fits the occasion, and IF it works out well enough then I have an excuse to do some writing. Clearly it didn’t backfire so immensely, so here I am. Didn’t use any special cheese, just some mass-produced shredded ‘monterey-like’ thing we keep in the fridge on hand, but it worked for now.

Recipe
2 tsp/0.22oz Yeast
1 5/8 cups/13oz Milk, Lukewarm
4¾ cup/21.5oz Bread Flour
1½ tsp/0.38oz Salt
¼ cup/1.33oz Powdered Milk
3¼ Tb/1.66oz Sugar
2 large Eggs
3¼ Tb/1.66oz Butter, room temp or melted
½-1 cup Shredded Cheese

Directions

  1. Bloom Yeast in the Milk at least 5 minutes, until soft a starting to lightly foam/bubble20160124_123020
  2. In a stand mixing bowl, mix together the Flour, Salt, Powdered Milk, and Sugar, followed by the yeasted milk, 1 Egg, and Butter20160124_123141
  3. With a paddle attachment, stir on low speed [may want to pulse initially] until it all comes together in a ball
  4. Switch to dough hook, increasing mixing speed to medium, letting it go for about 4-5 minutes until almost completely kneaded, adding any extra flour to make sure the dough clears the sides while sticking just slightly to the bottom of the bowl20160124_123718
  5. When it ALMOST clears the windowpane test, add in about half or more of your shredded cheese, letting it go until fully incorporated20160124_123947
  6. Transfer to lightly-oiled bowl, covering tight with plastic wrap and leaving to ferment 1½-2 hours, or until doubled in size20160124_141918
  7. Remove and shape into a nice, tight, smooth Boule. Mist lightly with spray oil, loosely cover, and let rest on the counter 20 minutes for glutens to relax and more fermentation20160124_142130
  8. Start to shape this into a loaf by pressing and pushing into a large, rectangular shape, pressing down with fingers to de-gas as one does so. Sprinkle thoroughly with most of the rest of your cheese20160124_144303
  9. Roll up, pressing the edge tightly with each turn to stretch the dough taught. Once rolled completely and tightly sealed, transfer to your loaf pan. Spray with oil, loosely cover, and proof one to one and a half hours or until doubled once more20160124_144502
  10. Preheat oven to 350F
  11. Vigorously beat your other egg with a teaspoon of water to make an Egg Wash. Brush this over the top of your risen dough, sprinkling with some more cheese to top20160124_154916
  12. Transfer to oven, baking about 35-45 minutes, turning halfway through, or until deep golden brown all around and gives a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom20160124_163605
  13. Leave to cool for an hour or more on a rack before slicing and serving as desired
  14. Enjoy

20160124_164145What Have I Learned This Time?

That my prediction of what would happen with the cheese-sprinkled-before-rolling technique was spot on; I figured there was a good chance it would create a little gap, so I’m glad I controlled the final amount like I did. That said, MORE CHEESE needed; it sadly didn’t come out as much as I wanted, so I need to add more INTO the dough. It seems like it could easily take more, as the final result even with the ¼-½  cup I had in there didn’t really affect the texture. Obviously a better, stronger flavored cheese would work better too.

There ARE notable results to forgetting the salt… which yes, I accidentally did here. Structure and quality wise it’s just as good, the same. But I did notice that the dough seemed to be ready with its fermenting/proofing periods earlier than stated. Not to mention the bread TASTED rather plain and ‘underseasoned.’ Still good of course, especially with butter and while warm.

20160124_163540Found a decent way to keep the bread warm for an extended period if needed [such as waiting for dinner]. Loose aluminum foil wrapping and inside the warm oven, actually didn’t negatively affect the product, at least not in any significant way that I noticed.

And finally, there actually IS such as a thing as too much dough in these recipes for my loaf pan; I probably should have cut a bit off for a separate bake like I usually do. Clearly one can see the overextending sides, which still baked up nice and well, but interestingly enough I found issues removing it from the pan for the first time. Some of it stuck to the sides and bottom, thus I didn’t care as much about cutting into it while still hot as the solidity was already ‘compromised,’ though questions still about as to how much this issue had to do with the cheese inside. Either way, good to know that I SHOULD ensure it keeps to the similar limit as I’ve randomly done before.

Any Thoughts?

The crust was awesome. Even after sitting it out for a while it stayed nice and crunchy. And the cheese sprinkled on top! Truthfully it was sort of right at the edge of ‘too much,’ and certainly wasn’t like ‘extra cheese’ and more like ‘cheezit/baked cheese cracker’ flavors, which is fun as a crust.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

Seems to prefer the comfortable ‘safe zone’ in this relationship and isn’t quite ready for kinky experimentation… YET.

p3: Hoagie Buns

#20, Hoagie Bun

Hoagie-RollsSo this particular installment of the ‘bread battling project’ had an interesting inspiration and twist. Had a plan for a Sunday night dinner+shows evening with sis and friend, to which she shared the idea of this ‘philly cheesesteak lasagna’ recipe beforehand with notes saying how we should make this for our night of fun! So, in figuring out what I could make that would go along with it, and while keeping to one of my project needs, I came along what I still think is a rather brilliant idea. Why not make garlic bread… out of Hoagie Buns/Rolls!? Still have the cheesesteak theme, but it’s also a typical side with lasagna, win-win!

But of course the steaky-cheesy-pasta casserole didn’t get made, apparently it was an idea for ‘some potential weekend’ and not THAT one, so I had leftover hoagie buns that needed to be used before all going stale. Which is fine though, because we made sandwiches with them anyways… some pretty damn good quiznos-style griddled ones too.

It’s always nice playing with simpler bread styles every now and then I find, don’t have to think about making sure that I add in a new ingredient properly, worry over degassing too much in some intense shaping process, or all the hassle of trying to hearth bake perfectly in my home oven setup. Just yeasted water, flour, other stuff, knead it right and make sure I shape it to what it should look like and don’t over bake. Lets you get more used to basic techniques and also see where you REALLY may need work, and where you’re doing well so far.

As for the hoagie recipe itself, there’s not much to say. There are various ones which shift in proportions back and forth, as practically all bread recipes tend to do depending on who’s making them. But what stood out to me was the addition of sugar and butter; nowhere near enough as a fully qualifying ‘enriched dough,’ but still more than other bread can be. The sugar itself really seems to play a role here, with enough to kick that yeast into high gear, definitely a one-day bread designed for the quick and easy requirements needed by sandwich makers everywhere. Also, this particular recipe was listed officially as “Soft and Chewy Hoagie,” which I’m not sure if that’s supposed to distinguish it from OTHER hoagie recipes out there or if that’s simply the natural aspect to the bread. What I CAN say is that it’s basically the same as a white dinner roll… in all the best ways.

Recipe
1 Tb Dry Yeast
2 Tb Sugar
1 3/8 cups Warm Water
4 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt
3 Tb Butter, cubed and soft

Directions

  1. Mix Yeast, Sugar, and 3/8 cup Water in stand mixing bowl, leave for about 5-10 minutes to bloom20151018_101206
  2. Once bubbled up noticeably, add in Flour, Salt, and remaining water20151018_101708
  3. Using dough hook, mix on low a few minutes, until everything mostly comes together20151018_102029
  4. Increase speed to medium, whipping and mixing for at least 5 minutes, adding any further butter or water as needed to get a soft, smooth dough, working until it can pass the windowpane test20151018_103649
  5. Add Butter a bit at a time, mixing until it’s fully incorporated and dough comes back together20151018_103938
  6. Transfer to oiled bowl, covering tightly with plastic wrap20151018_104014
  7. Leave to bulk ferment 30-60 minutes, or until doubled in size20151018_114303
  8. Remove, kneading or pocking down to de-gas, and divide into 8 pieces, or more/less depending on desired final size20151018_114426
  9. Shape into Batards as described Here20151018_115605
  10. Transfer to sprayed, parchment-lined tray, mist top with spray oil and cover lightly with plastic20151018_145408
  11. Proof for 30-45 minutes, or until about doubled in size
  12. Heat oven to 375F and when ready, uncover buns and move inside, cooking on tray 20-30 minutes, or until browned nicely from end-to-end and sounds hollow when bottom is thumped20151018_160822
  13. Remove, transferring bread to cooling rack, and let sit at least 20 minutes before use [or enjoy like hot rolls from the oven and slice immediately to drown in butter!]
  14. Slice horizontally down the middle and fill with whatever you desire!20151018_193642

What Have I Learned This Time?

Intensive de-gassing after the fermentation period won’t affect how much it proofs, so I should feel more confident in letting myself do this with other future breads in the hope of getting a more ideal structure.

Need to work more on my shaping skills for consistency, wish I knew some proper ‘tricks’ to it… maybe I’ll google it some on my next project. But more realistically, it’s probably going to have to come through repetition and practice. So whenever I start making more than one loaf of bread every week or so.

20151018_193942And finally, that these make the simplest, most satisfying and guilty-pleasure hoagie… spread bread in half, pile with desired meat, veggie, and sauce fillings. Cover it in cheese, making sure BOTH buns get a layer [or at least get butter and garlic on the other bare bread] and broil until… well… you see the picture. Tell me you don’t want to fold that and eat it, I dare you.

Any Thoughts?

Truthfully, I’m rather backed up on blog posts I have to get out, and I’m taking a nine-day-long vacation away from computer-access in a few days, so even if I COULD think of something to say here I’m not sure if I have the time! I swear I’m not trying to brag and sound snotty or anything!!

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It adores my appreciation to ‘what’s inside’ but still thinks I need a better fashion sense… ie it wants me to shape it better in the future.

p1: Baked Camembert

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-18653-1387650694-0When it comes to the dishes in this French list, my decision for when and why I make particular ones are usually just happenstance with how they fit that week/situation. But a few of them actually have plans built around them, fun ideas I got excited about soon after I began studying this collection of classic recipes. Some of it’s based on occasion/time of year, while others are purely on how I’d make it, or something else.

In particular I’ve been looking forward to a good period to go through with an idea I had for the highly simplistic, royally rustic meal that was ‘Baked Camembert.’ Grab a really good wheel that I’ve wanted to have for a while, put together a baking dish of it, then bring it to a wineI know which would bake it for me and enjoy with family, the people at the bar, all accompanied by their personal garnishments and some wine we’d order. So I finally found a good time to do that this weekend… and of course the place was unexpectedly closed with no warning or reason given. Well that’s my luck. But I still had the cheese, so might as well just put it together at home!

The cheese itself is a Normandy or Pays d’Auge creation, supposedly developed by farmer Marie Harel in the town of Camembert during 1791 after following advice from a priest from Brie who she had given refuge, it being the French Revolution and all. Though most of its origins, at least towards what we know of it today, came through the industrialization process of the 1800’s, like the creation of the signature round wooden box in 1890, the container ‘sponsored’ by Napolean III, used to help it ship and travel to different countries and continents like America, where popularity boomed. Though it really centered itself into French culture during WW1, when issued to troops as part of daily rations.

Proper camembert, traditionally and legally speaking, is always made with UNpasteurized milk, which is remarkedly seen to always taste better than the convenient and ‘safer’ (damn US laws, literally making it illegal to obtain any proper, delicious form of fresh milk unless you’re squeezing the cow yourself) pasteurized versions.

Ok, done with the textbook description, let’s get to baking the stuff!

A W20151004_160142ord On…

The Cheese: Well, I’ve already talked about the cheese itself, and finding it shouldn’t be too difficult for any proper artisan cheese section/shop; I’m sure you have a favorite to get the good stuff from. I’ve actually been dreaming about doing this dish for a while though, because there’s a local farm that makes a camembert-style cheese that I’ve had on my mind ever since I saw this on my list of must-makes. So I had to finally get a whole wheel to bake into melted hot cheesy goodness.

Accompaniments: baked rind cheeses are always good with some garlic and onions, that’s how we do our brie, but I want to stick to something more countryside, so garlic and rosemary on top like one of the recipes I glanced at. As for what to eat it WITH, besides bread of course, I’m not sure what all is traditional, if anything. Usually freshly minced shallots, some capers, cornichon pickles, and other similar items are seen on the side for a variety of simple French dishes like tartar, fondue, and that dish of Raclette I made a while ago. I personally had this ripe tomato from my own pot that begged to be used soon, so I just had to use it, cut through the funky-creamy fat of the cheese with some natural umami-assisted acidity. Plus it’s classic; melted cheese, crunchy bread, and tomatoes, sound familiar? But you can always use whatever you fancy and have lying around, if not just eat it plain with bread! That IS the wonder of meals like this.

Recipe
1 Wheel Camembert
1 Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp Fresh Rosemary, very briefly chopped
1-2 Tb Olive Oil
Tsp Sea Salt
French Bread, for service
Ripe Tomato, for service (optional)

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F
  2. Lightly score top of the Camembert and place in ovenproof ramekin/casserole/bowl20151004_160916
  3. Cover with Garlic and Rosemary, lightly rubbing in20151004_163134
  4. Pour over Olive Oil, making sure to evenly spread along the top and sides, followed by sprinkles of Sea Salt
  5. Place in oven, cooking until top is crusty and inside is warmed through, 15-25 minutes at most20151005_135730
  6. Move loaf of French bread in oven about 5-8 minutes before service to toast and crisp up20151005_141241
  7. Remove from oven, let cool on counter about 5 minutes while you slice bread and any other additional accompaniments20151005_141357
  8. Place in center of table, and enjoy! Best eaten spooned over warm, crusty bread

20151005_141200The Verdict

Okay, so I just looked at the Buzzfeed recipe to double-check procedures, I’m quite used to simply baking brie ya know so there’s nothing in-depth I should need, and that’s when I saw the directions for scoring the cheese. They also have you remove the top lid for service. Well you know what? That recipe creator can go screw himself, cuz you can see the result. And yes I probably overdid it a little bit, but that was well after it turned into a cheese pool; if my guess is correct and their ‘ideal’ is to bake until just warmed throughout, then that’s just plain stupid. If you’re going to bake cheese, then you need to BAKE it; that means a hot, gooey center, rind that has gotten that crispy golden look to it, something really sinful, and that needs time. It should thus be scored very LIGHTLY on top, probably just in the center (did some research, apparently it is important so as to let the air/steam out while cooking), but that should be it.

20151005_141543Now I simply know that I need to leave the cheese completely untouched so as to ensure it stays in one piece during this process. Not that it really changed the experience in the slightest. Because it was just soooo good… like brie but with more of that fatty cream flavor, and surprisingly enough a little more subtle on the funk and knutty-herb-farmhouse flavors, a ‘fresher’ cheese flavor that had yet to get to that really ‘aged’ feel. It took me and my mom quite some effort to make sure we left even a bit for dad, because once that cheese got on bread, especially with a piece of just-ripened tomato from my pot, that just ended up an almost perfect afternoon treat. Everything I love about baked brie dinners but a little more concentrated.

Primary Pairing – Mead

Camembert and honey are certainly a match made in heaven, though so is honey and most cheeses if you get down to it. The distinctively cloying fat and somewhat salty properties of cheese get balanced beautifully with anything sweet, thus its often inclusion in or close to the last course of a proper French meal. So why not take advantage of this affinity to highlight a nice bottle of classic Honey Wine, letting its usually rather simple flavor, aroma, and body contrast the camembert’s properties while letting its own complexities shine through. But one needs to ensure they get one of the lighter, slightly sweet and refreshing meads; avoid ones 20151005_140917like that which I used for Raclette, which was rather thick and heavy and would be too heavy for any but the rich and more pungent cheese.

My Bottle: Winehaven Stinger Honey Wine

So far, probably my favorite Minnesota winery, Winehaven celebrates the colder Northern US history of fruit wine, made long before we found ways to grow decent wine grapes or developed hybrids for the right areas, with a small selection of bottles like raspberry, rhubarb, and of course Honey Wine. They’ve got a lot of reds and whites made from California and Minnesota-exclusive varietals too, and not done too badly either, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I got this bottle as a Christmas gift from the Sis, not too exciting as I’ve had it before, but have been saving it for the right occasion nonetheless. And here I was, being forced to bake the camembert at home instead of these other plans I had, with no bottle pre-picked out at my disposal… and yet one of the almost perfect combos are right at my feet! Chilled, it was a little lighter, still sort of medium-bodied with the thickness, which was just within the edge of acceptable when eaten alongside a big, hot glob of cheese on bread. And I love the expression it has with that musky, spicy-floral side of honey that comes through, a sign of decent honey and clean, quality attention to the winemaking. Was it the greatest thing ever? No, probably not, but for Mead it was rather good and refreshing, and didn’t clash with the cheese when the two combined on the palate.

Secondary Pairing – Bordeaux Blancbb

What I was HOPING to have this evening by sharing the dish with family at a friend’s restaurant, but alas had to rely on what was in house! But something young, clean, without any particularly ‘distinguishing’ features like chardonnay and Riesling can carry, a pure white wine with enough body to match the cheese and a refreshing nature to cleanse the palate. For me I think a decent Bordeaux Blanc would fill those qualities, along with some little green, white fruit notes from the sauvignon used that would cut nicely through the subtle funk of the rinded cheese to compliment its grassy qualities, without being too strong and overpowering. It may not be a proper regional pairing, but right now it peaks my cravings; though on that note, a nice snifter of Normandy Calvados wouldn’t be too bad either…

p1: Soup a L’Oignon (French Onion Soup)

enhanced-buzz-29096-1385768472-0The Dish

For such a relatively simple and rustic-style dish, the obsession over French Onion Soup is quite palpable; in mentioning it to just a few people, the enthusiasm over me doing THIS recipe was notably high. Truly it proves that this must be one of France’s categorical foodson line with Poutine, Apple Pie, and other soul foods. I mean, it IS just a pile of cooked onion, bread, and broth covered in thick cheese.

For such an all-encompassing, highly simple-minded dish (I mean it’s basically onion broth and cheese, how does one record the official ‘creation’ of this?), I didn’t really expect to read any proper origin story. But to my little surprise I actually found a couple interesting things. First up being a ‘story’ of King Louis the XV (sooooooo probably fake, but amusing) and his hunting party looking for food in their cabin, only to find onions, butter, and champagne. Then in the 19th century people started actually seasoning with salt n pepper, using flour to thicken slightly, and topping with cheese (and also likely when the bread, normally served on the side, was moved under the cheese).

Apparently the real origin likely lies in the Lyonregion, this dish’s proper name being Soup A L’Oignan A La Lyonnaise. There’s a good chance this originated with the ‘canuts,’ the backbone workers of Lyon’s silk industry, working 18 hrs a day weaving and screening. Forced to make dishes that will sustain them for the long day, but with very little actual resources to work with, they had to be creative. At this time, and really every one thereafter, onions were a very cheap and readily-acquired, easy-to-grow food source. Combine that with the ease and soul-restoring properties of making soup, and it’s no difficult feat to see these workers taking mounds of these guys, cooking it hard for extra flavor, and stewing it over long hours before consuming in big bowls.

However it started, and evolved from the humble onion-soup origins centuries past, having since elevated to one of the cultural favorites featured in high-class, traditional French restaurants alongside the rustic taverns and cafes. I can’t wait to get into crafting this caramelly-sweet masterpiece.

A Word On…

Caramelizing Onions: I do love caramelized onions, though truth be told I don’t think I’ve ever made some that I’ve been fully satisfying with. I mean how often have I seen them make it on tv, doing practically nothing (once saw Paula Dean just slice them thick and put them in a covered pot for most of an hour) and come out perfect deep golden throughout? So for this one I decided to officially research for some more tips, and here’s some nice things to know, for this dish or any.

Don’t cut TOO thin, having a bit of width helps to stick and sear/caramelize on the bottom of the pan.

Go for general Nonstick pans or Cast Iron to help the most with controlling and moving the onions about as they caramelize well, creating SOME pan fond but not too much.

Speaking of too much fond (crusty stuff on the pan), I’ve always run into the issue, as you go later on, of the pan bottom getting dangerously crusty. I always worry about it actually burning. Then I ran across this tip to add a few tablespoons of water at that point. It doesn’t sound proper, but hey it actually works; the bottom clears out, the water evaporates and you can go back to cooking, and best of all (two things actually) the fond gets distributed among the onions, making them more caramelly, and it allows us to cook them at higher temperatures. A very risky thing to do without burning, but the water helps to relegate this, so you can caramelize it more and cook it faster.

If you don’t know by now, you need a LOT of onions for this. They do shrink down quite a bit after cooking, and I plan on making a big pot. Soooo, the question then becomes… is there an official volume and weight for ‘shitload’ of onions like this?

20150503_135000Finally, as for the soup, what onions to use? Do you do one for capitalize on a single trait, or a blend of different for rounding purposes? I say first stick with one, since that’s generally how it’s done… and I doubt the original laborers had the luxury of choice. Then, do you choose the typically assumed Sweet Onion varieties (like Vidalia) or Yellow? One would think the first, but apparently there are people online saying otherwise… mainly based on flavor. The sweet onions ARE sweeter, but though the yellow are more pungent (at first), after cooking apparently they develop more of these deeper flavors to enjoy. I myself am still going for the Sweet, because I want to ensure those sugars and caramelly qualities this time, but I would certainly try the yellow at some point in the future.

20150430_225717Broth: it is certainly true one can use chicken broth or –shudders- ‘water’ to make this, but beef broth has been the readily accepted stock for decades, so that’s what I’ll use. Though I’ve read plenty of complaints about the store-bought beef broths, so why not just make my own? So I just grab some beef neck bones (and a cow foot… yes a cow foot. I wanted to see what it tasted like afterwards okay?), roasted them with big chunks of onion, carrot, and celery, and into the pot it went.

Let simmer all day and all night, and that’s a lovely pot of beef-flavored water. Oh you should see it after it’s strained, skimmed (this puppy generates a LOT of fat on top that needs removal), and put in the fridge; it turns into JELLY. Now that’s the sign of a good stock.

20150501_214540

Booze: It’s not an onion soup without at least a little bit of alcohol. The first requirement is the hard stuff; if there’s anything that seems to make its way into almost every recipe, it’s some kind of Brandy. Cognac is one of the ideals, but being well-focused along the Parisian, Loire, and Normandy area, where apples grow abundant in the cool climate, Apple Brandy has been used just as traditionally. And it’s delicious. Regular brandy works too, but if you really want the experience it’s always fun to go to a proper Cognac (still stick with the cheaper stuff, you are cooking afterall) or Calvados. Being unable to choose myself, I used a combination of some rather high quality Cognac and aged Calvados… don’t ask me how I got it, I can’t answer that question publicly.

Wine becomes debatable, though when used it’s in notably higher quantities than the spirit. Also one can use Red or White, I think the latter may be more traditional (having now looked up the King Louis story with champagne), but the ultimate decision is likely depended upon whether one is going for a deeper, darker onion soup or something lighter (not so intensely caramelized and with chicken stock).

C20150503_140954heese: Gruyere, pure and simple. Now how it goes on may have debate… there are those that like having the bread and cheese basically plugging the top, even just using a thick slice of the fromage over the bowl so that it forms a fully melted seal, goes messily over the side and all that. Then there are those that stick with shredding and using a small bread piece so that more of the cheese melts INTO the soup while broiling. I’ve even seen a recipe that puts a layer of bread and cheese in the middle before ladling more soup and then a final cover on top to fully integrate it. I wanna try shredding, but seeing if I can get a decent amount on top for a full seal (can’t say I’ll be successful in my ideals), as I still want the soup mostly separated from it initially.

Cooking Vessel: I’m sure many of us are familiar with the classic ‘French onion soup bowl,’ we’ve seen this brown and white oven proof miniature chamber pot on plenty of tv shows, in recipes/pictures, and possibly in person. Whether or not we have bowls that are of this same design is dependent upon what’s shoved in the back of our pantry, but I don’t imagine most people do. Though I will say I actually happen to have a similar dish that used to belong to my grandmother (only it’s very notably bright teal color… you’ll see). But no worries, any oven-proof ceramic-type bowl or large ramekin will work. If all else fails, one could even broil off the soup en-masse in a casserole dish, top covered in bread and slices of cheese. That’s what I did (well I only had the ONE bowl, and the others were quite ornery about wanting food…), spooned them each some of the topping and soup beneath, and it worked out rather well.

Soupe a L’Oignon (a la Lyonnaise… sorta)
2 Tb Butter
2½ – 3lbs Sweet Onions
2-3 Bay Leaves
2 Tb Flour
¾ cup Red (or white if preferred) Wine
3/8 cup quality Brandy of choice (Cognac, Calvados, and/or other)
6-8 cups Beef Broth
6 Thyme Sprigs
Salt and Pepper
Baguette
½ lb Gruyere, shredded

Directions

  1. Halve, peel, and slice Onions about 1/8” thick on the vertical20150503_140624
  2. Heat up a wide, large, ideally cast-iron pot on just over medium heat20150503_140701
  3. Throw in Butter and onions, stirring to coat20150503_142331
  4. Cook, stirring occasionally, as the onions slowly caramelize. As they sweat and reduce in size, stir more often, scraping them up and around as the bottom of the pile browns over and over again.20150503_143314
  5. Add bay leaves when it’s mostly golden, now most likely stirring constantly. If and whenever the pan bottom gets really crusty from the fond, add 3-4 Tb of Water to pan, deglazing and stirring the brown bits evenly among the onions. Repeat whenever it gets crusty.20150503_144122
  6. After about 45 minutes of total cook time, onions should be an even caramelly dark brown. Stir in Flour, keep stirring for about a minute (should smell very lightly nutty)20150503_144727
  7. Add in Wine and half of the Brandy, briefly deglazing and letting bubble.20150503_144818
  8. Pour in Beef Stock and Thyme, bringing to a boil and cooking about 15 minutes for flavors to come together.20150503_145058
  9. Add remaining Brandy, season Salt and Pepper, and turn down heat to low, keeping warm for service.20150503_150300
  10. Turn oven to 400F or Toasting setting and prepare Baguette. Slice into thick segments, butter if desired, and bake in the oven until top is brown and crusty.20150503_174049
  11. Adjusting oven to Broil setting and start transferring soup (bay leaves and thyme removed) to deep oven-proof bowls or casserole pots, stopping 1 inch under the lip.20150503_174355
  12. Top with baguette slices to take up most of the space and generously pile with Gruyere to make a thick, even layer.20150503_174516
  13. Broil for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and potentially lightly golden.20150503_175045
  14. Carefully remove, transfer to plate, and dig in.

The Verdict

I swear, visually at least (didn’t taste them at the time), this is the best batch of caramelized onions I’ve done so far. I really think the combo of their size, cast iron pot, and the water trick really did the trick. So for that at least I am VERY glad and grateful that I went through this recipe. Oh, and for the chance to make my own beef stock (haven’t done that since college).

20150503_175338Overall, the final result was most deeply satisfying, especially to my dinner guests. Rather deep, tender caramelly onions, and with that awesome gooey swiss cheese aspect. Bread was a bit annoying to spoon through, I either should have cut them thinner or had a not so tight/dense product. Some sort of country loaf maybe? In regards of the flavor, though, I did find there to be this notable bitter aspect that I couldn’t shake… at least in the soup on its own, eaten with everything else it actually wasn’t so bad, and almost worked alright. Though I don’t blame that on the recipe, probably something to do with my treatement of the onions, the brandy, or maybe an effect of our pot (it IS old and I know for a fact that it wasn’t seasoned properly once or twice, did NOT smell so good… but we fixed that a while back).

If I ever do this again, I really wanna try using a whole slice of cheese over the soup instead of grated, go for that thick, draping-layer cheese effect. Maybe see what happens with that lighter caramelized onions (see pic with the bay leaves) with white wine for a different style. I’d also like to try the basic yellow onion base instead, see if they actually create more, and a better, flavor. But that’s for the future.

20150503_175333

Primary Pairing – Dark Belgian Beer

20150503_174713First off let me say; not a Stout, or Porter, or similar black styles. I’m thinking more of those nice dark brown, rich, almost tavern beers, but better. As much as this recipe can be made as a finessed, high-end dish, I still feel it really connects more with a rustic bowl of comforting soul food. Definitely the kind that at times makes me want a nice satisfying pint of beer to chug down alongside it. Especially something with similar dark, malty flavors to compliment the caramelly onions and broth and a rich body.

With a quality Belgian, we shouldn’t have to worry about large levels of hops to interfere with things, not to mention we can bring in special flavors and complexity to the overall experience. A dear lesson I learned when dealing with ‘special food and wine’ pairings; where it’s clear to see that the better quality food one has, one should try to match with a similar quality drink. But the COMPLEXITY depends on the dish, and not in the way one might think; put simply, if the food is simple but nice, say a really good filet mignon with potatoes, one can have a deeply complex wine to enjoy, and vice versa. Simple and simple works well too, but complex food and complex wine is a definite NO, as the flavors can so easily get all mixed up and muddled; it’s possible to find ones that pair perfectly, but insanely difficult. Better to let one of them shine in its developed and special flavors while the other acts as a supporting base, allowing you to fully enjoy each part. And with a very simple, rustic, but really good quality French onion soup, a beer with extra aspects is definitely acceptable; and I like the idea of Belgians.

Oh, and I also didn’t have any wine prepared to go with this, so I just used a beer I had in the basement instead, so yeah.

20150503_174920

My Bottle: St Stefanus Biere d’Abbaye Belge Grand Cru Dubel (or Tripel? Can’t remember)

Certainly a classic Belgian multi-grain abbey ale, St Stefanus delivers a smooth, delectable and refreshing malty craft beer. A golden draft of medium-bodied, frothy creation leads to light notes of fruit, barrel, and some other yummy things. Truly an enjoyable, quality beverage that I would love to sit back and enjoy on a sunny deck day afternoon.

But, here’s the thing: it didn’t go well with the soup. I admit it, I made a mistake and didn’t create a proper pairing between these two. I did end up creating this awesome feeling of being in an old, run down pub/tavern, hot and bready onion-cheese soup and what tasted like rough, malty beer next to it that was reminiscent of something drunk out of a wooden tankard. But the soup completely overshadowed all those delicious delicate flavors and aspects I just mentioned, the beer wasn’t as heavy, dark, and deep as it should have been to stand a chance. It’s an unacceptable result in my book, and I hope it doesn’t repeat anytime soon.

Secondary Pairing – Loire/Coteaux du Layon Blanc (White Table Wine level)

Two_Chenin_Blanc_wines_in_glassThere’s no actual meat or anything with proper chew or texture here, all soft, so there is no need or desire (in fact, you’ll ideally want to avoid) for any red wine. If absolutely desiring, maybe something from Beaujolais, a super light red of Cab Franc and/or Gamay in the Loire, or a Rose. But whites are desired here, especially to help cut through the fatty cheese. Loire whites being often Chenin Blanc based, which brings a solid acidity for this, a richer medium-ish body and thicker mouthfeel to match the soup’s own, and often even a bit of sweetness which could go nicely with that of the onions (and help with the cheese). Sometimes they’ll even have a bit of toasty barrel, or something reminiscent of malo-lactic buttery effects, all things which could make a tasty pair alongside our soup.

p1: Tartiflette

The Dish

tartSpring is back upon us, but with a couple snowfalls in March, and my days off set back to culinary-based explorations in local food and home experiments, a need and craving for something more winter-ish came to craving. I still have quite a lot of dishes to work on in my list (I know I know, I had a rough period, I’m getting back into the foodie stuff again now!), including a notable amount of the heavy, soul-satisfying stuff, but it didn’t take too long to narrow my options down to Tartiflette for this occasion. I only had a day to plan this time, so something simple like this Provencial Potato Gratin fit the bill quite perfectly, not to mention I’ve been wanting to do something ooey and cheesy from this list for a good while now.

Originally based on the old potato dish ‘Pela,’ its adjustment into the now-famously-named version of Tartiflette was, if all stories are to be believed, actually a much more recent one. Though as the orginal dish Pela, a simple potato casserole with onions and bacon cooked in a long-handled pan called a ‘pelagic’ (meaning ‘shovel’), the recent twist into tartiflette didn’t occur until the 1980’s! The Union Interprofessional Reblochon, at that time, decided to develop a recipe using their famous cheese so as to promote the product, which they named after the Savoyard/Franco-Provencal word for potato, ‘tartifles/a,’ and apparently it worked. After only thirty years people seemed to have completely forgotten the original dish in favor of this adjusted, cheesy variety; only proof that history and food culture is still being made every day.

Though I wonder if there’s not some twist to the real story in this. Firstly, there’s supposedly an account of the term tartiflette being mentioned in a 1705 book called Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois. Secondly, I find it interesting that every recipe for regular Pela I looked up actually does include the use of reblochon… so either the ‘inclusion’ wasn’t as novel as the Union thought it was, or was SO strong that it’s affect all recent online-added recipes.

Oh, I haven’t gone into the full composition yet. Potatoes, cut thick, with the traditional bacon-onion duo of the French alpine regions (this IS a mountainy-Savoy dish afterall), wine for cooking, cheese, baked until crispy-gooey and served with some sort of pickles on the side. Now, onto the long, intense breakdown I’m sure most of you will skip over (I don’t blame you).

A Word On… 20150323_160832

Potatoes: recipes HAVE varied, from red to brown to mix, sliced thin or kept chunky. I’ve already tried the mix thing with my Gratin Dauphinoise, so thought I’d go for the full potato on this occasion. And as I’ve mentioned (I think) in past scenarios, or at least seen, the red potato seems to be more indicative to French preferences. So I found a bag of nice organic ones at my local co-op (cuz it was on my way home and I was too lazy to go somewhere else for them, yay me?).

Plus I just kept getting a craving on thinking about the recipes that cut it chunky, roasted fully… instead of the super-soft russets. Speaking of chunky, yes that is indeed where I’m going with it; what’s the point of slicing it thin like any other random gratin? We’re making TARTIFLETTE here people, this is MOUNTAIN food, the kind you eat in a cabin during a deep snow. It’s big, chunky, sits in the stomach like a gooey potato brick. And it has BACON. My reasoning is sound this time.

Skins: Now, do we leave the skins on or not? Is it actually an issue? Apparently, I’ve read many recipes, for this and other French potato dishes, that stress using peeled potatoes for service, while many blogger make the noted statement of leaving them on with purpose for the flavor. Which, if I were making any random potato dish (besides super smooth mashers or the crispiest, crunchiest roasts), I fully agree. I love the flavor of the skins.

That said, the true experience with many of these gratins is skin-off before going into the oven. Reasons? Probably to keep the potatoes soft, not having pieces of skin break off and float around (finesse aspect)/visual appeal, refined flavors, better chance of getting that golden crust on top, who knows. Either way, this is where I went.

But that’s not important, as is most of the things I say. What IS important is to make sure to leave the skins on while boiling (and yes, you’ll want to stick with boiling as the main cooking method before the overall bake), peel after. This actually helps the potatoes to retain moisture and other things so they don’t ‘dry out’ after cooking (believe me, I’ve done peeled potatoes before, served simply cut afterwards, they can get all tacky and odd if not done absolutely perfect).

20150323_145253Cheese: Reblochon is of course still the most desired, and apparently easy enough for OTHER bloggers to get their hands on, but one may need to find substitutes… like me.

Those needing this substitute need ask their local cheese shop purveyor about their Washed Rind selection, particularly the soft, runnier varieties with a bit of that pungent nose, similar to Taleggio (though I would NOT go for that cheese. I love it, but not here). They should have at least one or two options from the Alps (ask for cheese from Jura or Savoie) or Burgundy, such as Epoisses, Le Delice de Jura, or St. Soleil. Though I don’t know what reblochon tastes like exactly, I suggest going for a cheese with a lighter pungency, with more of that creamy fresh dairy flavors (I was tempted by that Delice, fit great, but it also has these odd extra grassy and other flavors to it that felt like it wouldn’t mesh how I wanted); but don’t go for a brie, please, that’s more moldy than funk, it’s just not right. Whatever you do though, try to get a whole wheel, the more attractive top the better; you’ll see why in a bit. 20150323_145319

Another note on the cheese focused on how it’s based; there’s a reason to use a whole (small) wheel of it for the dish. Whereas the middle layer of this stacked potato, bacon, and cheese casserole can be sliced or scooped on however, the TOP layer is very often applied in one particular fashion (except by those deviating from the norm, bastards!). Sliced horizontally in half, the whole top of the cheese circle is placed right in the middle of the potatoes, skin up, left to seep down below, the skin getting crusty as the exposed potatoes around it also brown; which is why I got one with such a pretty cross-hatch pattern!

Oh, yeah, one LAST thing; chill the cheese before slicing. My god this thing got so much softer and runnier than I ever imagined it would, looked like an idiot trying to slice it! Ended up having to spoon half of it into the middle layer (since the top is in the very middle, I kept THAT cheese on the outer edges, keeping it even).

Bacon: During some of my brief readings this time, I came to find a post that made mention that proper French ‘lardon’ bacon is actually only cured, not smoked. Whether this is true or not I can’t ascertain 100% at this time (too lazy for extra research), but I couldn’t find any proper substitute in stores, besides maybe trying prosciutto, speck, or other similarly cured pork product (try to find ones based off the SIDE of the pig, not the ham/leg like Serrano). But even those aren’t perfect, since they’re also air-dried. So I just stuck with bacon, the good home-made kind from my local deli. They keep it in slabs so I was able to get a single thick-ass piece! Now I can finally cut them into actual big chunks to get some proper fried pieces like we keep seeing in restaurants… so num. 20150323_164854

Wine: since we’re cooking with it, most white wine will do, however I decided to actually use the same wine I was drinking with the meal that night to keep the flavors clean. 20150324_121156

Garniture: Traditionally, this sort of dish IS served with tart sides, like cornichon and other pickled, maybe some fresh onions or who knows what. Of course, I had some ready, and forgot to serve them once out of the oven…. Durnit. Well I tried some with leftovers the next day, was tasty.

Tartiflette
2 ½ lb Potatoes of Choice
½ lb Slab Bacon
1 medium-sized Onion
1 Tb Butter
½ cup White Wine, French
1 clove Garlic
8oz/1 small wheel Reblochon Cheese or Substitute, chilled
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Separate potatoes into those of similar size, only cutting in half those that one absolutely needs to
  2. Place in pot with generous helping of salt, covering with 1” cold water
  3. Move to stove and heat, covered, until it reaches boil. Turn heat down to low, letting simmer 20-30 minutes or until MOSTLY cooked (a toothpick will go in easily but meet resistance mostly through)20150323_185017
  4. Drain and peel by hand before cutting into large chunks20150323_165341
  5. On the side, dice Bacon and Onion into big cubes20150323_182836
  6. Heat pan to Medi-Hi, add Butter and bacon, sautéing until golden and crispy all over20150323_183348
  7. Transfer bacon, pouring out (and reserving) all but 1-2 Tb of rendered fat. Toss in onions, stirring often while they cook20150323_183558
  8. When soft and golden-brown colored, add Wine, letting simmer 1 minute before taking off heat, stir in bacon20150323_184309
  9. Turn oven to 400F
  10. Crush garlic clove, rubbing it around a casserole dish20150323_185500
  11. Pile half of the potatoes inside, topping with half the bacon-onion-wine mix20150323_185219
  12. Slice cheese horizontally, so one still has two discs, arranging slices or sections of one half as evenly over the first layer as possible. Sprinkle with pepper20150323_190238
  13. Top with the latter half of potatoes, bacon, and onions. Carefully place the whole other circle of cheese directly in the center20150323_191239
  14. Brush the cheese and potatoes with reserved bacon and move into oven
  15. Bake 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted, the sides bubble, and the potatoes and reblochon ‘skin’ is turning golden20150323_195640
  16. Remove, let sit at least 5-10 minutes
  17. Scoop into big bowl, serve with homemade pickles and other garniture as desired20150323_200139

The Verdict 20150323_200258

So, I’ve been trying to eat better nowadays, mostly based off of portion control and all that (obviously I still eat ‘splurge foods’, like hell I’m keeping myself away from the food I want to eat, just not often), that night in particular I knew I needed to hold back… and I went back to the dish. I mean, for the love of god, it’s baked potatoes, with cheese, and bacon and other goodness, and I’m from MINNESOTA. This is the good stuff, and it’s no wonder it has become so loved as mountain food. And it was really fun having a cliché potato-bacon-cheese dish using something besides cheddar or gruyere; the funkiness and quality of this cheese is what really made it different and stand out in the aching bites. Not to mention the thrill of sneaking myself as much of that crusty skin whenever I got the chance…

That said, there are some notable things that stood out on the not-so-amazing side. First off, as much as I do love red potatoes, and big chunks of starchy deliciousness, I DO wish I had chosen russets instead, or at least done a mix of the two. Waxy is certainly great for good roasts and mashers, but in this use their notable firmness (even when fully cooked) was not what I desired most; maybe if cut smaller, but again I don’t want small pieces in this particular gratin. Secondly, I did love the bacon, finally I got the kind of big caramelized chunks I desire, but I feel the particular strength of the funky cheese I grabbed ended up JUST covering up their flavor; so note, really keep to reblochon or substitutes that are LIGHTLY pungent. Oh, and unlike my recipe suggest, I did NOT wait five minutes after taking from the oven, haha; oh well, a shame for me, not being able to see that stringy cheese, instead getting more of the saucy element. Still nummy though.

Primary Pairing – Southern French/Provence White

The dish may hail from Savoie, and they have some AMAZINGLY fun and refreshing options to go with it, but I only have one bottle of them on my shelf and I’m saving it for Fondue. So then, looking a little further abroad, it’s nice to explore the hotter regions of the south of France. And, if you can find one crafted well enough (stay away from the cheap-cheap ‘bargain wines’), this originally mass-producing region of the country has started putting out some nicely balanced wines that can easily be appreciated in their own ways. 20150323_195844In terms of going with cheesy potato casserole, they’re almost perfect. The warmer climate makes for whites with MUCH bigger bodies than normally found in some of the finer areas, which is a necessity for such a big-bodied, chunky potato dish such as this. Though bacon and cheese are noted elements, their overall effect here isn’t TOO imposing, so finding any white with at least an average quality acidity can work to balance that out. And finally, there’s little need to drink something super deep and complex; it should be tasty, maybe a little fleshy, have some character in the mouth-feel and some strong aspects to stick through the pungent flavors in the food, but this is not a dish to REALLY sit down and think about every little flavor molecule. Drink the wine, eat the food, be happy and nommy as you ignore the snow outside, and you’re good; and that’s what a lot of whites from this region can happily fulfill (like a nice Vinho Verde, only bigger and bolder instead of tart and refreshing).

Some Mulled White Wine might not be out of the question either…

20150323_183645My Bottle: Chateau Miraval 2009 Clara Lua, Coteaux Varois en Provence

Okay, I’ll admit, the empty bottle has already been tossed and I forgot what actual grapes went into this blend! I think Grenache Blanc was one of them, maybe rolle or something else with an r… who knows. What I do know is that I’m glad I grabbed this guy from the shelf as my last-minute go-to. The alcohol content got to 14.5%, high for a white and perfectly balancing the heavy potatoes. It was floral, pear-y, with an almost nutty/yeasty uniqueness in flavor that went absolutely awesome with this hot cheesy, onion-y mess. Sipping found a few nice delights while gulping refreshed and washed down the rich food beautifully, making what to me at least was a great complementary experience. Of course they tasted well in mouth together.

Secondary Pairing – Bourbon

Beer feels too easy (and I already did it with the other Gratin), sake and cider don’t really pull at me in this situation, though of course one could easily find some amazing options to accompany this food in each category. But right now, thinking about eating this guy in deep snow, maybe in a log cabin or something, I simply feel like I want a nice glass of delicious, soul-firing spirit. Something to help digest and break down all that heavy food sitting in the gut, not to mention an intense flavor and alcohol content to cut through the rich, fatty bacon and cheese. So a lot of them will do, now we just pick the kind of booze, and bourbon seems to taunt my palate ever more right now. Just thinking of the intense smoky, toasty barrel and sweet corn flavors matched with the bacon and pungent cheese… and those sorta caramel-oxidative notes from a GOOD aged Bourbon along with the crusty potatoes… I’m not the only one salivating here right? tart1

On second thought, a Marc (French Grappa) from Burgundy could be a really tasty regional match too…

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.

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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.