Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Rillettes de Canard (Duck Pâté)

One of the wonderful traditions in French cuisine is the making of pâté. This is normally carried out in the autumn in preparation for winter food supplies. It's not just pâté of course but a whole host of food preparation from blanching haricot beans to smoking sausages and hams up the chimmney!

We have tasted local (St Gilles de Mene) rabbit pâté which was simply awsome! Thank you Maryline Presse and your Mother! That secret traditional recipe will follow another day. Here I am going to give you the recipe we use for making duck pâté. It is a simple procedure which takes about 45 minutes in preparation time and 3 hours to cook. Given that this recipe will easily serve up to 8 persons I think it is well worth the effort!

You will need

1 oven ready duckling around 2kg

30 shelled hazelnuts

300g barding fat cut into small dice

100g of pork fillet cut into 4 pieces

1 clove garlic unpeeled

1 medium carrot cut in half lengthways

1 medium onion halved horizontally

1 small bouquet garni containing 10g fresh sage

salt & pepper

275ml dry white wine

1 teaspoon soft green peppercorns

to serve

2 grapefruit, segmented


Remove the skin from the flesh of the duck. Cut 150g from the fattest part of the skin and store in a cool place. Discard the rest of the skin. Remove all meat from the bones and cut into strips about 3 cm long. Keep in a cool place. Toast the hazlenuts under the grill until the skin is slightly burnt. Remove the nuts from the heat and rub with a cloth to remove the skins. Cut each hazlenut in half and leave to one side.

Place the barding fat along with the duck fat into a casserole dish. Add enough water to just cover the fat. Place over a medium heat and cook slowly (with the lid on) for 30 minutes stirring occasionally until all the water has evaporated. The duck fat should have melted. Add the pork fillet, duck flesh, clove of garlic, carrot, onion and sage. Season with salt and add two thirds of the white wine. Bring to the boil. Cover the casserole and set over a gentle heat for simmering. Mix occasionally to ensure nothing sticks at the bottom of the pan! Leave to cook for two and a half hours and then remove from heat.

Remove the garlic clove, carrot, onion and bouquet garni of sage. Add the remaining white wine and green peppercorns to the casserole and cover with a damp cloth. Place the casseroe in a cool place to rest.

When the duck and fat mixture is lukewarm, mix well together using your fingertips. Check for seasoning and add sale and pepper as required. Add the halved hazlenuts. Place the rillettes into an earthenware terrine and cover with clingfilm. Store in a refridgerator for at least 2 days before eating.

To serve

With two large tablespoons, place three quenelles of rillettes on each plate. Arrange three segments of grapefruit next to the rillettes. Serve with toasted home made bread. Add salad
should you wish this to be a main course.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Apple Cookies with Buttermilk

In Brittany it is still possible to find buttermilk in most of the shops. The locals love to pour it over their galettes for breakfast. I have another receipe to share with you. Brittany is one of the best apple growing areas in the world! It makes a lot of sense to make buttermilk apple cookies!

You will need:

3 cooking apples

1 lb plain flour

1 ts bread soda

pinch of salt

pinch of cinnamon

2 ts castor sugar

half pint buttermilk

4 oz butter

1 egg (beaten)

Peel, core and stew (no water) 3 cooking apples. Add a pinch of ground cinnamon and let cool.

Sift together 1 lb of plain flour, 1 ts of bread soda, a pinch of salt. Add 2 tablespoons of castor sugar. Grate in 4 ozs of butter and rub into the ingredients until like breadcrumbs. Fold in the apple and bind with the beaten egg mixed with half pint of the buttermilk to make a light non sticky dough. On a floured base/board roll out the dough to 3/4 " thick and cut into 3" diameter rounds. Place on a greased baking tray and bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. Dust with castor sugar and serve hot and buttered!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Mussel Soup

One of our favorite soups is Soupe aux Moules which is a very popular dish here in Brittany. While every home has its own special way of preparing this you can't go far wrong by following the recipe below:

You will need:

1 kg mussels
150ml white wine
2 potatoes chopped
2 shallots chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 leek chopped
handful sorrel or spinach leaves
3 lettuce leaves
1 sprig of parsley
1 sprig of chervil
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
pinch of sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
fried bread croutons

Wash the mussels well. Put the washed mussels with the wine into a large saucepan and put over a strong heat. As soon as the shells open, remove the mussels with a slotted spoon. Strain the cooking liquid to remove any particles of sand and remove to the pot. Add the potatoes, shallots garlic, leek sorrel, lettuce leaves sprigs of parsley and chervil and the tomato purée. Add 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil, season with pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile shell the mussels and set then aside. Purée the soup. Add the mussels and heat through. Check the seasoning, adding a little more if deemed necessary. Stir in the butter. Serve the croûtons separately.

While this is a wonderful soup in its own right, we find that if you add 50g of rochefort cheese, before you purée the soup, it will be transformed into a deliciously tasty and sophisticated dish! If you do this go easy on the sea salt as the rochefort itself is surprisingly salty in the soup. Once you have become accustomed to this try other variations by adding lemon grass or curry or tarragon with cream.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Cooking with Seaweed

Seaweed has been part of the staple diet of the western Irish for centuries. My Grandad from Donegal also used it on his farm as a great natural fertilizer. Even better is the fact that slugs hate it!!

Here are some seaweed recipes to try if you can get the seaweed required. Try a health food shop if you are unsure of the quality and safety of your local seaside resort. Remember some habitates are protected and some are polluted with algae so make sure you check with your local council before taking your horse and cart to the strand!!

Sea lettuce seasoning

Collect sea lettuce fronds and rinse several times in fresh water. The fronds may be dried slowly by spreading them on newspaper and placing them in the sun or in a warm room for about a week. Alternatively, they may be dried for several hours in a warm oven—but the odor of seaweed will permeate the air, and it is not particularly pleasant! After drying, the fronds will be reduced in size and blackened. Crumble them finely and use as a seasoning with rice, soups, and main dishes.

Blanc mange

½ cup packed Irish moss
1 quart buttermilk
½ cup sugar pinch of salt
fruit or flavoring as desired

Wash Irish moss several times in fresh water. Heat buttermilk and seaweed in a double boiler. Cook over boiling water for about 30 minutes (no more), stirring occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth and discard the Irish moss. Add sugar and salt to the milk and allow to partially cool. Add fruit or flavoring as blanc mange begins to thicken. (Suggested additions: blueberries, raspberries, almond flavoring, or honey. ) Pour into molds and chill in the refrigerator for several hours. May be served with icecream or sorbets.

Irish moss salad

Irish moss
3 lemons
lettuce leaves
1¼ cups celery , finely diced 2 apples
3 tbsp. Mayonnaise
chopped walnuts

Wash some picked-over Irish moss in hot water. Place in a pan or bowl and cover with the juice of three lemons. After several hours the moss will have dissolved, hardening everything into a yellow jelly. Place this in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours.

Arrange a few lettuce leaves on four chilled salad plates. Cut the moss mixture into cubes and place them in the center of the lettuce. Cut the apples into cubes and mix these with finely diced celery and mayonnaise. Distribute apple mixture among the four salads and top with walnuts.

Seaweed soup stock

Edible kelp, Irish moss, and dulse can all be used in this recipe. The resulting soup is clear and can be used as a base. Clean seaweed by rinsing with fresh water. If edible kelp is used, remove its olive-colored membrane. In a pot, cover seaweed with water and boil for 30 minutes. Serve hot as a soup with added seasonings, or cooled as a jelly.

Seaweed bread

Thoroughly rinsed and dried seaweed
Bread recipe

Use a regular bread recipe like Irish soda bread. Grind or powder dried seaweed into a flour and substitute this seaweed flour for half the amount of flour called for by the recipe. Follow the recipe with these changes: Substitute water for buttermilk; add an extra tablespoon of butter; and omit salt. Experiment with different seasonings.

You can buy dry seaweed from a good health shop.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Eat More Fish!

Apparently we are not eating enough fresh fish. There is absolutely no excuse for that if you live in Brittany or Ireland or indeed even in the UK. I think many people are afraid of fish, all those scales and bones and what on earth to do if the head is still attached!!

Scientists now realise that fish oil contains invaluable food for the brain (it contains the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), precursors to eicosanoids that reduce inflammation throughout the body). This is so important for everyone, young and old alike. What people don't often realise too is that greasy fish oil is wonderful for the complexion! So you can have beauty as well as brians!

When I lived in London's Covent Garden one of my neighbours got up every morning to fish for his breakfast! I was so impressed by his catch of conger eels from the River Thames - a river now so clean that it is full of life! You only have to look at the commorants fishing all day under Waterloo Bridge to realise the resources below. ....The Danes have some lovely recipes for eels and I will come to that later. Now I just want to give you three very simple fish recipes to get you started:

Cold Bream with Anchovy Sauce

Clean off the scales, dry well and fry gently both sides in olive oil. Serve cold with this sauce:
6 anchovy fillets pounded in a pot with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of port wine. Add 4 ozs melted butter and a sprinkle of black pepper. Serve with potatoe cakes.

Perch in white wine sauce

Clean the perch then plunge it into boiling water for a minute which makes it easier to descale. Once the scales are removed, boil in a pan for 15 minutes and add chives salt and pepper. Serve with a white sauce, chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon of white wine and a dash of lemon juice. This is lovely when accompanied with new potatoes and fresh garden peas.

Pan Fried Roach

Clean the roach, then wash and dredge with normal white flour. Deep fry till the flesh is about to leave the bone. Serve with parsley and lemon. I like roach served on a bed of shredded white cabbage.

Now back to those eels! We appear to have lost our interest in eels. In Cambridgeshire along the fens and in the little islands making up Denmark you can still see the traces of eel traps and eel tanks which are a legacy of when eels were a popular dish. As with all food the secret is in the preparation and if you have a good recipe for eel, it is hard to beat! Here is a good simple healthy recipe to get you going:

Smoked Eel Risotto


  • 600ml fish stock
  • 100g smoked eel fillets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 150g risotto rice
  • 125ml dry white wine*
  • Finely grated zest of ¼ unwaxed organic lemon
  • 2 sprigs of finely chopped parsley
  • 1 finely grated fingertip piece of horseradish
  • Salt and black pepper
  1. Put the stock in a small saucepan and slowly bring to simmering point. Meanwhile, trim any skin from the smoked eel. Run your fingers along the fillet to feel for stray bones and cut them away. Chop the fillets into 1cm (½ in) pieces and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until the rice is shiny and fragrant.
  3. Add the wine and lemon zest and simmer, stirring, until evaporated. Add a ladle of hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and continue stirring and cooking until it too has been absorbed. Repeat this process until all or most of the stock has been used and the rice is just cooked, about 17 minutes from the first addition of hot stock to the rice.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the smoked eel, parsley and horseradish. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
* If you prefer you can use elderflower cordial instead of white wine.

This is a wonderful starter on its own or serve with salad for a delightful healthy main course.