Tourin à l’ail (French Egg Drop Garlic Soup)

Tourin à l’ail

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The Dordogne is a department located in South-west France and is named after the river Dordogne that runs through it. This land that encompassed the Dordogne is the exact same land that was once known as the county of Périgord and is synonymous of course with France’s most luxurious ingredients, from the very highest quality goose foie gras to the elusive black truffle. Périgord is also famous for its duck products, from duck foie gras to confit de canard. The region is divided into four areas each named after a specific colour- Périgord Noir (Black), Périgord Blanc (White), Périgord Vert (Green) and Périgord Pourpre (Purple).

It is here in the Dordogne that the dish Tourin à l’ail (French Egg Drop Garlic Soup) was invented, and rose to fame due to the use of duck fat in the dish. Every February, there is a competition in Villeréal, south-east of Bergerac (the wine-producing region of Dordogne), to see who can produce the best tasting Tourin à l’ail. This soup is traditional made from a flour roux containing garlic and onions fried in duck fat. Chicken stock is then mixed in with the roux and the soup is then thickened with a mixture of egg yolks and vinegar. The final step of to complete the dish is to slowly drizzle in egg whites while whisking extremely rapidly to produce long strands of cooked egg whites suspended in the soup, similar to Chinese egg drop soup.

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Chateau Lafite, Pauillac, Bordeaux

 

The traditional story surrounding Tourin à l’ail is that the soup has the ability to cure hangovers and provide energy. Thus this soup is traditional served to newlyweds the night of their wedding as well as to vineyard pickers during grape harvest season. The soup is also eaten the day after parties and banquets with heavy drinking as a hangover cure.

An ancient tradition in South-west France surrounding drinking soups including Tourin à l’ail is faire chabrot or faire chabròl (to drink like a goat), which is the practice of adding a bit of red wine to your soup towards the end of the bowl of soup, before drinking the soup straight from the bowl. In the Périgord region, this practice is known as fà chabroù, while it is known as cabroù in Provence. Today this traditional is obsolete and is considered an old and rural gesture only performed by the older generation in France. Today however, chabrot is sometimes still performed in the spirit of connivance and friendliness.

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Tourin à l’ail

  • 20ml duck/goose fat (can be replaced with olive/vegetable oil)
  • 25 cloves of garlic + 5 cloves for garnish
  • 1 large onion
  • 30g flour
  • 3 duck eggs
  • 1500ml chicken stock/vegetable stock
  • 10ml of white vinegar (or vinegar of choice such as sherry or red wine vinegar)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Butter and sliced baguette
  1. Dice the onions and slice the garlic cloves. In a stock pot, melt the duck fat over medium heat and sweat the onions and garlic cloves. Do not brown them.
  2. Add in the flour to the pot and stir well so that the flour and fat combine to make a roux. (Stir for a minute without browning the roux)
  3. Add in the stock and a few springs of thyme. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the thyme before pureeing the soup with a hand blender.
  5. Separate the eggs and mix and egg yolks with the vinegar.
  6. Slowly add the egg yolk mixture to the soup while stirring the soup constantly to mix well.
  7. Bring the soup up to a boil, switch off the heat and slowly drizzle in the egg whites  into the soup while stirring gently to cause thin strands of cooked egg whites to be suspended in the soup.
  8. Fry the remaining garlic in butter a frying pan. Remove the garlic from the pan and toast the baguette slices in the frying pan with the remaining butter. Top the baguette slices with the garlic and remaining thyme leaves and serve with the soup.
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Freshly laid duck eggs

Notes:

  • Duck fat gives the soup its unique and traditional flavour but can always be replaced with any frying oil
  • Remember the cook the flour so that it is able to absorb more stock.
  • A roux is usually butter and flour whisked together to form a paste that serves as a base for many sauces such as béchamel sauce.
  • If you don’t remove the thyme stems before blending the soup, the soup will have bits of hard to bite thyme stems mixed into it which are rough on the tongue.
  • When adding the egg yolks to the soup, make sure the soup is not boiling if not you risk curdling the egg yolks.
  • The egg yolks and vinegar mixture are used to thicken the soup.

Wine Pairing:

The classic wine pairing advice that food and wine that originate from the same place go well together hold true here. A fine example of a true Périgourdine wines include white wine would be wines from Bergerac. The Bergerac wines represent 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) recorded in 1936, with only 2 of the AOCs producing white wines, namely Bergerac White and Montravel. Bergerac White is produced from the blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle, Ondec and Chenin Blanc, while Montravel is produced from Sémillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon. This combination of grape varieties is similar to Bordeaux whites (with the exception of Chenin Blanc) and the wines have high acidity, with aromas of white flowers and occasionally, have a herbaceous note to them. They are light bodied with moderate alcohol. This high acidity and fresh style of wine goes well with Tourin à l’ail as the high acidity pairs with the fat from the duck fat and egg yolks, while the herbaceous notes pair with the thyme and garlic. Alternative wine pairings include Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, France, or New Zealand.

Le Chat Noir
Le Chat Noir, Montmartre, Paris

With Éric Alfred Leslie Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 gently playing in the background whilst I write this post, I realise how this song pairs well the characteristics of this dish. The song’s enchanting slow-paced tune has the ability to bring you back to the the melancholic and romantic Paris of the early 1900s, interpreted through a impressionistic style of music. Satie moved from his father’s residence to lodgings in Montmartre in 1887, and was soon to start rubbing shoulders with the artistic clientele of the Le Chat Noir cabaret, which included the then not yet famous Claude Debussy. The Le Chat Noir was thought to be the first modern cabaret and was founded by Rodolphe Salis. A cabaret at that time was a somewhat precursor to the modern restaurant, where wine was only sold and served with a meal on a tablecloth. At Le Chat Noir, entertainment was also provided in the form of music and political satire, and it was here that Éric Satie composed his most famous pieces, his Gymnopédies.

Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest (Almond Choux Pastry with Crème Mousseline)

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The Paris-Brest-Paris was a long-distance cycling event (1200km) that was first organised in 1891 by a French Journalist by the name of Pierre Giffard in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, as a circulation aid for parisian newspapers. It was Pierre Giffard, who requested that Louis Durand, the pâtissier of Maisons-Laffitte in Yvelines, create a pastry to commemorate the start of the Paris-Brest-Paris race. This pastry was soon to become known as the Paris-Brest, and consisted of a circular choux pastry ring with an almond cream filling, topping with toasted almonds, which represented the wheel of a bicycle. The pastry gained popularity among cyclist very quickly due to its high calorific value and is now available all across France.

Paris-brest is made from Choux pastry (pâte à choux), which is a dough made with butter, water, flour and eggs. This is unusual compared to most french pastry dough as it does not contain sugar or any rising agents. Instead, it uses the high amount of moisture in the dough from water and eggs to cause to pastry to rise. During baking, the steam released from the dough is trapped inside the dough and causes the pastry to puff up, similar to yorkshire puddings. Choux pastry is the same pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs.

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View of Paris from the Sacré-Cœur, Paris

The main filling traditionally used in Paris-brest is crème mousseline, which is a derivative of pastry cream (crème pâtissière) made by the addition of butter and praline paste. Crème pâtissière is prepared by whisking hot milk with a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch, before cooking it on the stove top. The milk used in crème pâtissière is usually flavoured with cointreau or vanilla and can be flavoured to your personal taste (some people even add coffee). To make crème mousseline, butter and praline paste is then whisked hard into crème pâtissière until a fluffy smooth consistency is achieved. The crème mousseline is then chilled until it is ready to be piped.

Modern interpretations of Paris-brest include much smaller versions of it that no longer include the famous hole in the middle that symbolises a bicycle wheel. Furthermore, a version of Paris-brest made using hazelnut paste and topped with toasted hazelnuts have become increasingly popular (instead of the traditional almonds). All in all, the main appeal of the Paris brest has been the crunchy outer texture from the choux pastry and toasted nuts, paired with the rich nutty and creamy filling on the inside.

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Paris-Brest

Choux Pastry:

  • 150g flour
  • 140ml water
  • 90ml milk
  • 90g butter
  • 4g salt
  • 4-5 eggs
  • sliced almonds/nibbed hazelnuts (for topping)
  • Icing sugar (for dusting)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)
  2. Add the butter, water and salt into a pan and melt together on high heat.
  3. Once completely mixed together, add in all the flour in one go and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to form a thick paste (panada).
  4. Cook the panada on low heat for 2-3 minutes, constantly stirring.
  5. Take the panada off the heat and add a single whole egg to it. Mix very vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough becomes smooth.
  6. Continue adding eggs and mixing one at time until the pastry is slightly glossy and hangs down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon. The amount of eggs required is not fixed and serves more as a guide.
  7. Fill a piping bag equipped with a round nozzle with the choux pastry
  8. Draw a 20 cm circle on parchment paper on top of a baking trap and pipe the choux pastry following the 20cm ring.
  9. Pipe another ring inside the first ring, with both rings sticking to each other.
  10. Pipe a final ring resting on top and in between the bottom two rings.
  11. Brush the choux pastry with egg wash and sprinkle on the almonds/hazelnuts.
  12. Bake for 28-30 minutes (the pastry should be firm and golden).
  13. Immediately after baking, slice the ring horizontally into two layers before allowing it to cool.
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Louvre Museum, Paris

Pastry Cream (crème pâtissière):

  • 70g sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 25g flour
  • 25g cornstarch/cornflour (or replace with more flour)
  • 450ml milk
  • 1 vanilla bean/1 teaspoon of vanilla essence.
  1. Pour milk into a pan and add in the vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod by scraping out the seeds using a pairing knife. Bring the milk to boil.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar mixture until the egg yolks are pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Whisk in the flour and cornstarch into the egg mixture.
  4. While constantly whisking the egg mixture, pour in half the hot milk in, all the while mixing well.
  5. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk (all the whole mixing continuously).
  6. Turn on the heat and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken to your desired consistency. At this point, the pastry cream is done and should be refrigerated until cool enough to use.

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Mousseline Cream (crème mousseline):

  • Pastry Cream
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 150g praline paste
  1. If the butter comes straight from the fridge, cut the butter into small cubes and place into a pan.
  2. On medium heat, gently heat the butter until just under a quarter of the butter is melted.
  3. Immediately take off the heat and whisk the butter heavily so that the melted butter combines with the remaining unmelted butter to give you soft butter.
  4. Alternatively, use room temperature butter.
  5. Whisk the butter vigorously into the pastry cream, before adding the praline paste into the mixture and continue whisking.
  6. Once whisked until soft and fluffy, the mousseline cream is ready to be used and can be filled into a pastry bag equipped with a star-tipped nozzle.
  7. To assemble to Paris-Brest, pipe some mousseline cream into the bottom layer of the choux pastry before piping the cream in a uniform pattern all around the bottom layer of the choux pastry.
  8. Gently place the top layer of the choux pastry on top of the mousseline cream and dust the Paris-Brest with icing sugar. Chill before serving.

 

 

Notes:

  • Remember to mix the flour/cornstarch into the pastry cream and choux pastry well and vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Similarly, whisk the choux pastry well when cooking it on the stove top to prevent the bottom from burning. Boiling the milk for pastry cream also runs to risk of the bottom of the pot scorching so remember to mix well.
  • Pastry cream can be flavoured with chocolate or coffee if you don’t like the taste of praline.
  • If you’re mousseline cream is lumpy after the addition of the butter, it means that the butter was too cold when you added it in. You can fix this by letting the mixture warm up a bit, or even slightly heating it up over a bain-marie.
  • A wooden spoon for mixing the choux pastry is better than using a whisk as the mixture is extremely sticky.
  • The panada for the choux pastry is cooked in order to allow it to better absorb the eggs.
  • A lot of mixing is required to incorporate the eggs into the panada so don’t give up if the dough looks split.
  • Adding eggs one at a time allows you to control the final texture of the choux pastry, remember- the pastry should be glossy and hang down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon.
  • The choux pastry ring should be cut immediately after baking as it is the easiest to cut whist it is still hot. Cutting it immediately also releases steam and allows it to cool down faster.
  • After adding the vanilla seeds to the milk, don’t throw away the pod! You can boil the pod with the milk or add the pod to you sugar jar to make vanilla sugar.
  • The pastry cream recipe can be used already after chilled if you do not intend to make mousseline cream.
  • You can gentle soften the butter for mousseline cream in a microwave as well.
  • The mousseline cream can also be chilled in the fridge before use but should be clingfilmed to prevent a skin from forming on it.
  • Remember to whisk the mousseline cream again before use if making the day before.

Milanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Watermarked Risotto

Risotto alla Milanese is a rendition of risotto which is just flavoured with saffron, and is arguably the most famous dish that originates from the Lombardy region of Italy. The Lombardy region of Italy is the richest of the twenty administrative regions of Italy and encompasses Milan, the second biggest city in Italy. It was here in Milan, that the Risotto alla Milanese was invented. The exact origin of this dish is unknown and is surrounded by many stories, some which contradict each other. The first known recorded instances of this recipe started appearing in books around the 1800s. Prior to this, recipes for cooking rice in Italy usually consisted for the rice being boiled, compared to the risotto we know nowadays, where rice is first cooked in a soffritto of onions and butter in order to coat each grain in a film of fat (known as tostatura), before deglazing the pan with white wine. From the recipes from the 1800s, we know that Risotto alla Milanese back then was cooked with stock slowly being mixed in, with the gradual addition of cervellata (a beef and veal sausage stuffed with cheese), and coloured with saffron. The dish today however, is made without the traditional sausage and is instead enriched with bone marrow.

The widely told story of how Risotto alla Milanese was invented begins with the construction of the Milan cathedral, now the third biggest cathedral in the world. In the 1700s, the daughter of Valerio della Fiandraleads (the painter of the great glass windows of the Milan cathedral), was getting married. During that time, saffron was widely used to colour stained glass gold as a symbol of prosperity. The story goes on to attribute one of Valerio della Fiandraleads’ assistants decided to surprise him by adding saffron to the risotto served at his daughter’s wedding, and the rest is history. This story is likely to be a folklore than has been spread by word of mouth over many generations and is unlikely to be true as records of the dish only appeared during the 1800s.

Watermarked Collections flowers

Rice first entered Italian cuisine in the early 1200s when the Moors (the muslim inhabitants of southern Italy), settled in Sicily. From here, the cultivation of rice spread northwards to the Po Valley river, which provided enough water for semi-aquatic rice to grow all year around. This spread northwards was made possible by the strong political connections between the two powerful royal families that ruled at that time, the House of Sforza in Milan and the House of Trastámara (Aragon) in Naples. As rice dishes evolved into risotto as we know it today, risotto started to be served as a first course (il primo). Risotto alla millanese however, is usually served together with ossobuco alla milanese (a dish of braised cross-cut veal shank) as a second course (il secondo).  

As this dish is relatively plain, the quality of ingredients used in the dish matters even more in making a truly exceptional dish. The most common variety of rice used to cook risotto is Arborio rice, while Carnaroli rice on the other hand is usually considered more superior as it has a higher starch content which is vital in making a creamy risotto. Of all the different estates that produce Carnaroli rice, the most sought after Carnaroli rice is made by the Acquerello farm in the Piedmont region. The Acquerello rice farm was first started in 1935 by Cesare Rondolino and rose to fame due to its use of aging and heating techniques to produce rice of superior quality. During production, harvested grains are aged under temperature control for 1.5 years, with 1% of the grains being aged up to 7 years. This aging process allows the rice to develop a deeper and richer flavour similar to aging wine. After aging, the rice is unhusked and polished down in a process similar to polishing japanese rice for sake. In a process unique to Acquerello, the germ layer removed from the rice is not thrown away, but instead slowly heated up and gently mixed back into the rice grains, combining the nutrients contained inside the germ with the white rice. This produces a white rice that has the nutrition of brown rice, while also being enrobed with a layer of starch. This mean that when cooking Acquerello rice in risotto, one does not need to constantly stir while adding stock. The stock can actually be added all at once, with the vigorous mixing due to boiling motion of the stock being enough agitation to create a rich and creamy risotto.

Watermarked Aquarello rice
Acquerello Rice aged for 7 years

Saffron, which is the key ingredient in Risotto alla Milanese, is the world’s most expensive spice, costing up to 7000 British Pounds per kilo, with Vanilla coming in as the second most expensive spice, costing up to 500 British Pounds per kilo. This can be explained by the amount of labour required to obtain saffron combined with its extremely low yield. Saffron is derived from the stigma (female part) and styles (male part) in the flower of Crocus sativus. The stigmas and styles are carefully removed from the flower and dried before being sold. As each flower contains 3 stigmas or styles, it takes as much as 300000 in order to produce a kilo of saffron. Thus making an extremely labour intensive spice to produce. This in turn has generated an underground industry of fake-saffron, using strands from turmeric flowers or bits of hay in an attempt to dilute genuine saffron in an attempt to increase yield. This is especially common in Iran, which is responsible for 90% of the world’s saffron production. Saffron production in Iran is made possible due to the low-cost of mainly female labourers, combined with a suitable sunny climate. Saffron itself grows best in the sun, with flowers grown in the sun producing lower quality saffron. However, saffron needs to be harvested in the early morning in order to protect the harvest from the heat and therefore workers start their days as early as 3 or 4 in the morning. 

The taste of saffron is like hay-ish iodine caused by its two main chemical compounds, picrocrocin and safranal. Some people describe it as floral and honey like but in my opinion the flavour of saffron is hard to describe, with nothing that taste close to it. If you want to taste true authenticity in your Risotto alla Milanese, there really isn’t a substitute. Saffron of course, is more famous for the bright yellowish-gold colour that it impart in food due to the high concentration of the carotenoid pigment, crocin, it contains. Not all saffron is of the same quality, with the highest quality saffron being grown in the Navelli Valley in Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila, as it as the high concentration of safranal and crocin. To get the most out of your saffron, it should not be added directly to a dish, but instead soaked in luke warm water in order to extract the flavour and colour from the strains before adding it to the dish.

My take on Risotto alla Milanese is the same base recipe you find everywhere, including the addition of bone marrow into the risotto itself, with the difference being the addition of additional bone marrow served as it is (not mixed into the risotto). This allows you to enjoy the flavour of bone marrow on its own and makes the dish more substantial to eat on its own without other dishes such as osso bucco. I also add some ikura (salmon eggs) on the side, as the burst of salty acidicness from the ikura helps balance out the bone marrow.

Watermarked Saffron
Spanish Saffron sold in 1g packets

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

  • Ikura
  • 50g Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 700ml Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock
  • 1 medium sized shallot
  • 250g 7 Years aged Acquerello Rice (or normal Carnoli/Arborio Rice)
  • 30g Unsalted Butter
  • A dash of olive oil
  • 100ml White wine
  • 2 pinches Saffron
  • Bone marrow still in bone (beef or veal)
  • Red Amaranth as garnish
  1. First, add the saffron to warm chicken stock to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. While the saffron is steeping, Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the bone marrow in a tray and salt with salt and pepper before covering each bone marrow with tin foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Reserve some bone marrow in bone for plating the dish.
  4. To start the risotto, scoop out the bone marrow from the bones and add this to the butter in some olive oil, heat the mixture before adding the minced shallots to sweat.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Acquerello Rice and toss in the butter for around a minute until well coated. (A process known as tostatura)
  6. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and continue to cook until all the alcohol has evaporated (when you can no longer smell alcohol).
  7. If using Acquerello rice, pour in 600ml of stock (including saffron strands) into the pot and set to a rolling boil. Once most of the stock has evaporated, use a spatula to stir the rice to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Taste the risotto and add more stock if it is not cooked enough for your taste.
  8. If using any other rice, add in the stock (including saffron strands) one ladle at a time, only adding another ladle once the previous ladle has been absorbed into the rice. Remember to always stir the rice constantly. You do not have to add all the stock into the pot.
  9. Taste the risotto once in a while to see if it is cooked to you’re taste. If not, continue to add stock to the pot and cook until soft enough for your taste.
  10. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it. 
  11. Just before the risotto is done, add in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mix till melted.
  12. Plate and serve the risotto with a tablespoon of ikura and a bone marrow still in bone at the centre. Garnish with red amaranth.

 

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Street Performer, Milan

Notes:

  • Making your own stock at home can be incredibly time-consuming so feel free to use stock cubes at home. Some of the best chefs I know use stock cubes at home themselves.
  • If you’re in Asia and can’t find risotto rice, sushi rice is a possible substitute for risotto rice.
  • The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  • You do not have to stir the rice constantly if you’re using Acquerello rice as the agitation from the boiling is enough to cause the rice to release its starch.
  • We cover each piece of bone marrow in tin foil the prevent the bone marrow from burning.
  • The goal of cooking the shallots in the fat is to reduce the water content in the shallots and concentrate its flavour. We are not trying to caramalise the shallots so try not to brown them.

 

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Elio Altare’s Barolo

Wine Pairing:

As Risotto alla Milanese is quite a rich and fatty dish, I would pair this dish with wines of high acidity that are lighter in style in order to balance out the weight of the dish. Wines without new oak would also be preferable to not drown out the taste of saffron. Sticking with regional wine pairings, for white wines I would suggest a Pinot Bianco with the not overtly fruity nature but high enough acidity to match the dish and bring out the flavour of the saffron. 

For red wines, I would suggest a good Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Nebbiolo tends to be in a very light style similar to Pinot Noir from burgundy, with similiar notes of undergrowth and red cherries. The main difference however is that Pinot Noir has relatively low tannins while the tannins in Nebbiolo tend to be overpowering. However, with such a rich dish full of cheese, the tannins in the Nebbiolo would definitely pair well. When considering a Barolo vs a Barbaresco, I would go for the Barbaresco, which is typically harvested a fortnight earlier and thus would be slightly lighter in style. Old style producers of Barolo would also be recommended over new style producers who tend to use new french oak barrels compared to the traditional large oak botti which impart less oak flavour over many years of use. The strong oak flavour will overpower the taste of saffron. A Valpolicella from the Veneto region might just work with this dish as it can be light and fruity but I would advise against choosing a Ripasso or Amarone to pair with this dish. 

Lapin à la Moutarde

Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce

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This dish is a classic provincial French dish that consists of a rabbit leg and loin served with a vibrant mustard cream sauce. The rabbit can be done two ways, the first using a sous vide machine and the second by simply pan frying it and finishing it in an oven. As the main component of the dish is the delicate taste of rabbit combined with a fresh mustard sauce, it is important to use an excellent mustard when making the sauce, preferably one from Dijon. Furthermore, the mustard should be added to the cream base just before serving as to preserve the volatile compounds in mustard that gives it its classic spicy bite. A fine balance needs to be achieved between the amount of mustard in the sauce and the creaminess of the sauce to ensure the acidity and spiciness of the mustard is able to cut through the cream without being overpowering.

In terms of choosing a rabbit, a trade-off needs to be made between using wild rabbit or farmed rabbit for this dish. Farmed rabbit is easier to obtain and larger in size, but it is considerably less complex in flavour and can sometimes be so lacking in flavour that it can “taste like chicken”. On the upside, farmed rabbit is more tender and is available all year round. Conversely, wild rabbit, also known as lapin de garenne, has very low natural fats and can tend to be on the tough and chewy side if not cooked properly. The flavour of wild rabbit is more gamey but is still light enough to be considered a white meat. Because of this, I prefer to sous vide wild rabbit for long periods of time, which not only preserves the tenderness of the meat by trapping moisture inside it, but also slowly breaks down the meat proteins.

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Rabbit stock in the making

Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce:

  • 1 Whole Rabbit which will yield 4 Legs, Loin, Innards and Bones
  • Rabbit Stock:
    • Dried Bay Leaves
    • Fresh Thyme
    • Salt
    • Whole black and red peppercorns
    • Rabbit Bones
  • Sauce:
    • Cream
    • A small amount of Dijon mustard
    • White Wine
    • Garlic
    • Butter
    • Shallots
    • Rabbit Stock
  • Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. To start off, we need to breakdown the rabbit into its individual components. Reach into the cavity of the rabbit and pull out the liver and 2 kidneys which are usually left behind by the butcher when you buy rabbit. Reserve on one side.
  2. Remove the hind legs and front arms of the rabbit by first cutting around the base of the joints connecting the legs and arms to the body, following the muscle all the way round. Use one hand to hold the body and another to hold the arm/leg.
  3. Bend the joint against its natural movement direction to break the joint, allowing a clean removal.
  4. Once complete, cut through the meat between the second and third rib of the rabbit on both sides before snapping the backbone in half to break the body in two. Reserve the ribcage for the rabbit stock.
  5. The remaining half of the rabbit is called the saddle, and it includes the rabbit loin, which can be removed from the bone by gently running a knife along one side of the backbone against the meat, and working downwards in long continuous slices, allowing the bones to guide you as you separate the meat from the bone.
  6. Repeat with the other side of the backbone.
  7. After removing the loins, reserve the bones for stock. Roll the loin up lengthwise before clingwrapping and refrigerating.

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    Autumn in University Parks, Oxford
  8. As the loin is very tender and easy to overcook, sear it on a frying pan for a few minutes before allowing it to rest. It is not necessary to finish it in the oven which would risk overcooking it. If you intend to sous vide the legs, sous vide-ing the loin as well would be a waste of time.
  9. The liver and kidneys can be poached and eaten along with the dish in the cream sauce, or just pan-fried with a little salt and eaten by itself.
  10. To make the stock, start by boiling the rabbit bones for several minutes before pouring out the water and cleaning the bones thoroughly under running water. This helps remove all the blood and dirt from the bones, saving you the trouble from constantly needing to skim the stock.
  11. Return the cleaned bones to the pot, add the fresh thyme and bay leaves to the pot, along with some whole peppercorns, before filling with water until the bones are just covered. Bring the stock up to a gentle simmer and leave for 3 hours, removing any impurities that rise to the surface.
  12. Because we intend to use the stock as a base for the sauce, it is important to keep it as clear as possible. Thus bringing the stock to a boil while the bones are still in the pot will agitate the contents, making the stock cloudy. For the same reason, we use whole peppercorns and entire sprigs of thyme to ensure that when we have finished cooking the stock, we can pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the herbs and bones.
  13. Once we have strained the stock, bring it up to a boil and reduce it down to around a cup of stock.
  14. To make the sauce, start off by melting the butter in a saucepan before sweating the minced shallots and garlic in it. At this point we don’t want to brown the garlic or shallots as we want to preserve the lightness of the sauce as remember, the taste of rabbit meat is light and we want to accentuate that.
  15. Add in a splash of white wine and cook off the alcohol before pouring in the stock. When the stock has reduced to a slightly salty taste, whisk in the cream and set aside.
  16. Do not bring the cream to a boil as there is a chance of the cream curdling and the sauce becoming lumpy. The chances of this happening increases if the cream you are using is below 30% fat, or if the sauce is fairly acidic, which is this case the sauce is slightly acidic due to the addition of wine. Do not add the mustard to the sauce yet.37934954172_381da3dbe3_o
  17. To cook the rabbit loin, remove the rabbit loin from the clingwrap and season well with salt and pepper. Sear briefly all around on a cast iron pan before allowing to rest.
  18. For the rabbit legs, season well with salt and pepper before also searing in a cast iron pan. At this point, a little butter may be added to the pan with the remaining oil before inserting the pan along with the rabbit legs into the oven for around 10 minutes at 180°C.
  19. Once cooked, plate the dish by placing the rabbit loin first, followed by the rabbit leg.
  20. Whisk in the mustard into the warm reheated cream sauce before pouring over the rabbit.

To cook the rabbit leg sous vide, season the rabbit legs with salt and pepper before vacuum packing the legs and sous vide-ing for 12 hours at 75°C. I do not recommend adding oil to the bag as it dilutes the flavour of the rabbit. While seasoning the rabbit before sous vide-ing it does draw out the moisture from the rabbit, 12 hours is long enough for the moisture to be absorbed back in. There is also the option to add herbs to the sous vide bag, but I prefer the taste of the rabbit up front and forward. To finish off the rabbit legs, remove from sous vide back, pat dry with paper towels before searing on a cast iron pan with a knob of butter. Serve the same way as before.

It is understandable that rabbit can be hard to find in many countries, so a viable alternative to rabbit legs is chicken thighs- but of course it won’t taste the same.

In term of wine parings, I feel that rabbit meat is one of these dishes that is delicate enough to go with a white wine. Due to the spiciness of the mustard, along with the fat from the cream, I would recommend a dry to off dry riesling, with its floral notes and crisp acidity to cut the fat. Maybe one from the Mosel in Germany. For red wines, I would recommend a light red with not too much tannins such as Beaujolais Cru or if the you’re up for a splurge, a good red Burgundy. I would recommend against basic Beaujolais as the taste of bubblegum imparted on the wine from carbonic maceration would not match the dish. A light red with low acidity (such as a Southern Rhone Grenache) would also not pair well with the dish as the fatty feeling from the cream sauce would be overwhelming.

Irish Lamb Shank Stew

Irish Lamb Shank Stew

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England is famous around the world for its gloomy weather, with little sunshine and miserable rain. Even in spring, England can sometimes be chilly, with downpours that make you want to stay at home and snuggle under a warm blanket. On days like this, nothing beats coming home to the aromas of a good stew on the stove top wafting through the house. To pair with this, what better way to enjoy a good stew than with a freshly baked loaf of bread just out of the oven to soak up all the delicious stew?

Spring in England is the season for spring lamb. British lamb is famous around the world, on par with New Zealand lamb. Furthermore, lamb is also highly sustainable and ecologically friendly, with little water intake compared to cows. And if it sounds too good to be true, almost all lambs in England are free range and grass-fed.

Lambs are sheep that are less than one year old. After being weaned off their mother’s milk, most lambs in England spend their time on the english country side running up and down hills and pastures. Spring lamb is the most sought after lamb in England because of their sweet and tender characteristics. This is because spring-lamb were traditionally born in the late winter, so that after they finish feeding on their mom’s milk, they were able to easily switch over to the newly grown grass. Lamb is also a cheaper red meat alternative to beef as they mainly feed on grass and clover, and not need to be fed on expensive feed.

I for one, absolutely adore stew cuts. While tough, they are packed with flavour and if cooked slowly for a couple of hours, will become extremely tender and juicy. Lamb shanks are one of those cuts. The shank of a lamb is the meat and bone from below the knee. Lamb shanks are usually cooked whole, with the usual serving size being one shank per person. This lamb shank recipe is fairly simple, with a paprika, oregano and garlic base to it.

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Irish Lamb Stew

  • Ground Paprika
  • Dried Oregano
  • Salt
  • Minced garlic or garlic powder
  • Red Wine
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Red Onions
  • Lamb Shanks
  • Olive Oil
  1. First, combine the minced garlic, oregano, salt and paprika with some olive oil to make a paste. Using your hands, rub the paste onto the lamb shanks, making sure they are well coated.
  2. Leave the lamb shanks in a container to marinade overnight.
  3. The next day, scrap off the excess marinade into a bowl before searing the lamb shanks in a pot.
  4. When searing the lamb shanks, make sure to get all sides of the shanks well coloured. Remember, no colour means no flavour. You don’t have to cook the lamb shanks through, just browned all around.
  5. After that, remove the lamb shanks from the pot and pour in a dash of red wine just to deglaze the pot, not more than a cup. Once deglazed, pour in the rest of the marinade and replace the lamb shanks.
  6. Cut the vegetables up into smaller pieces and place the vegetables in between the lamb shanks.
  7. Pour in enough water to cover the lamb shanks and stew for 3 hours (covered) until the meat is falling off the bone. After this, remove the cover and reduce the stew to your desired thickness.
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View of the Wrekin, Shropshire, England

Deglazing the pot is the act of adding liquid (usually wine) to a pot that was used to cook vegetables or meat in order to scrap off the bits and pieces that have stuck to the pot. This step is important as this residual food contains the most flavour, and is prone to burn if not scraped off. I prefer to place the vegetables in between the lamb shanks and the pot instead of placing the vegetables below and the lamb shanks on top. This allows us to use less water to cover the lamb shanks, meaning that the final stew will be more concentrated, and less time will be needed to reduce the stew. From my experience, 3 hours is about the minimum that you can stew this dish for, any less and the lamb shanks will still be chewy. Many people say that the longer you let a stew cook for the better it gets. I actually disagree with this. If this dish is let to cook longer than 4 hours, all the fat in the lamb shank is melted off, and what remains is just the lamb meat which will not be cushioned by fat when eaten, giving it a rather stringy texture. This being said, as with all stews and soups, they taste better the day after and this stew is no exception. In fact, if left to cool in the fridge and reheated the day after, this presents the opportunity to skim off the lamb fat that would have gelled together in the cold. In order to speed up the cooking process, it’s completely possible to cook this dish in a pressure cooker, which can reduce the cooking time from 3 hours to 30 minutes, thus saving time and energy. However, the stew will probably still need to be reduced down to your desired thickness before serving. While it is possible to thicken the stew with flour or corn starch, I prefer not to as it doesn’t increase the flavour concentration of the stew. If you however decided to use this method, remember to whisk the corn starch or flour with hot water first before pouring into your stew to get rid of lumps which risk sinking to the bottom of the pot and burning, thus ruining your stew.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

Risotto ai funghi morel con scaglie di parmigiano

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Ask any mushroom lover what their favourite season is and they’ll tell you autumn. Autumn brings with it all the tastes of earthy and umami rich mushrooms. From Porcini mushrooms all the way to the extremely sought after white truffles of Alba. These truffles, also known as trifola d’Alba Madonna, are sometimes called white gold due to the price that accompanies them. This post however, is not about Chanterelles or Puff Balls, it’s about Morels. The sight of a morel’s pine cone-shaped head poking out of the forest detritus can bring joy even to the most seasoned mushroom foragers and it is a sure sign that spring has come.

Morel mushrooms are not only unique in the fact that they are in season during spring, they also possess a unique shape and taste. Like any other mushrooms, morel mushrooms are prone to rotting and have a short lifespan. Because of this, morel mushrooms are sometimes dried or preserved in oil. Some chefs even prize dried morels even more than fresh ones as they claim that dried morels have a more concentrated flavour. In a way I actually agree with them, dried mushrooms in general have so many more uses. For example, they can be reconstituted into mushroom stock or added to soup as an umami booster and even after that, you still can eat the mushroom itself!

Morels have a very uniquely earthy and soy sauce-like taste, with the best examples being so concentrated that it’s as if they have chocolate undertones accompanied by the scent of a damp forest floor. Putting your nose into a basket of dried morels makes you feel as though you’re back in the forest. Fresh morels also have a firm sponge-like texture, with their unique pine cone shape and lattice structure. Outside of the wild, they are impossible to cultivate, making their supply limited geographically to where they grow naturally. All these traits combine to give them an eye-watering price, with the largest and most prized morels costing as much as black truffles.33136451132_07afe43c62_k.jpg

If you aren’t able to go mushroom hunting, fresh morels are occasionally sold in high- end farmer’s markets, though at a very high price. Dried morels are also available from stores online, but are so expensive that they’re almost not worth buying. Because of this, if given the chance to buy dried morels at a reasonable price, I highly recommend stocking up on them. Because of their irregular shape, morel mushrooms are very hard to clean. Luckily enough, morel mushrooms in general do not require much cleaning. occasionally though, it is possible to see a white substance filling a pore of the morel mushroom, indicating that a worm is probably residing underneath. Fresh morel mushrooms should be firm and dry to the touch. If you find someone trying to sell you morels which are soft and damp at a cheaper price, walk away. If you’re going to pay so much for morels, you shouldn’t lower your standard and end up being disappointed in their taste due to the condition which the mushrooms are in.

When cleaning fresh morels, never ever soak or wash them in water. Most of the compounds which give morels their unique taste are water soluble, which explains why reconstituting dried morels make such fantastic stock. This however, has its downside. Due to their hydrophilic nature, even briefly soaking the mushrooms in water causes them to lose their flavour. They also easily absorb water, making them hard to sauté after washing as they release the water they absorbed when heated.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

  • Dried Morel Mushrooms (to make Vegetable Stock)
  • Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Shallots
  • Risotto Rice (Carnoli or Arborio Rice, I use Arborio in this recipe)
  • Unsalted Butter + Olive Oil
  • White wine
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Morel Mushrooms (Optional)
  1. First, to make the morel stock, reconstitute the dried morel Mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 5 minutes, until the vegetable stock is fragrant and dark brown in colour.
  2. Reserve the rehydrated mushrooms to add into the risotto later.
  3. Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  4. To start the risotto, melt the butter in some olive oil and before sweating the shallots.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Arborio Rice and toss in the oil for around a minute until well coated.
  6. Pour in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in ladle by ladle of morel stock, stirring in the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, before allowing it to cook the rice. The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  7. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it.
  8. Just before the risotto is done, pour in the fresh morel mushrooms and finely chopped parsley, before adding in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mixing till melted.

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As the trait of a good quality risotto is one that is creamy but still with a bite to it, the rice we use needs to have a high starch content like Arborio and Carnoli rice, which are the two classic risotto rices. If you really are unable to find these types of rices, sushi rice is also a possible substitution. Carnoli rice is the more traditionally used rice for risotto, and it originates from the village of Carnoli in the Po Valley. It is generally thought to be the best rice for risotto, and thus usually has a higher price than Arborio rice. This being said, the taste and texture of Arborio rice is comparable to it. When learning how to make a good risotto, I feel that the technique used to cook the risotto to perfection, not undercooked or overcooked, is more important than the type of rice you buy. Therefore I recommend learning the basics of making a risotto before investing in expensive risotto rice.

Some people might feel that just adding the fresh morel mushrooms directly to the risotto to cook wasteful of such a fine ingredient, and I myself personally prefer cutting the morels length wise, before frying with some butter, shallots and parsley, before pouring over the risotto at the end. I also like to add my parsley midway through the cooking process, as I find adding the parsley at the end slightly overpowering. The white wine in this dish serves to add acidity to the risotto, which helps balance out the thick creamy texture from the rice and cheese. If using homemade vegetable stock/morel stock for this recipe that you did not preseason, the amount of cheese that you add to this recipe is very important as that will act as the main source of salt in this dish. If the dish becomes too cheesy before it tastes salty enough, you can always add a pinch of salt to the dish.

Other ways of making risotto creamy includes adding cream/milk to the risotto. Other than being considered sacrilegious by many chefs, there is also the risk of adding too much cream to the risotto, which raises the fat content so high that the risotto starts to stick, ruining its delicate texture. A well made risotto itself must be served hot, if the risotto cools before serving, the starch in the sauce will start to gel, creating a coat on top of the risotto.

Tagliatelle di basilico al pomodoro

Tagliatelle with a Basil Tomato Sauce topped with Buratta

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This is one of the simplest classic Italian pasta dishes to make. The sauce consists of a garlic infused olive oil, mixed with a tomato base, before being seasoned with a bit of oregano and basil. The use of fresh basil is highly recommended as dried basil is unable to preserve the true flavour of a freshly picked basil leaf. Oregano however is different. Oregano being a plant that has adapted to a Mediterranean environment, is accustomed to desiccation and thus preserves it flavour well. Dried oregano may arguably be even better than fresh oregano. Besides having a longer shelf life, dried oregano has a more subtle and balanced flavour compared to the sometimes overtly pungent fresh oregano.

A good dish consists of its many components being cooked to perfection before being assembled together. In my opinion, the pasta in this dish is just as important as the sauce.  I feel that tagliatelle works better with this dish as its larger surface area provides more area for the sauce to cling onto. When cooking pasta, it is important to remember to always add salt and oil to your pasta water. The salt helps season the pasta, while the oil prevents the pasta from sticking together. The duration which you cook your pasta for depends on how soft you like your pasta and the best method to use is to just periodically take some pasta out of the water and bite it to see if it has reached your desired doneness. Pasta should be cooked in a shallow pan with just enough water to cover the pasta so as not to waste energy.

Salt, when used properly, plays an important part in cooking, bringing out the flavours of the various ingredients. When used improperly however, it can ruin a dish. A skilled cook is able to use salt to layer on different tastes on each other, emphasising the uniqueness of each taste. The same goes for this dish. It is not sufficient to just add salt to the final dish. The right technique to use is to add a little salt to each component of the dish. If this is not done, the contrast in salt levels between the different components of the dish will make the dish taste unbalanced. For example, if the pasta water is not salted when cooking the tagliatelle but the sauce is perfectly seasoned, the taster of the dish will first taste the delicious sauce, but will bite into a horribly bland tagliatalle, making the sauce seem overtly salty and acidic.

Tagliatelle di basilico al pomodoro

  • olive oil
  • Minced Cloves of Garlic
  • Tomato Sauce (Tomato Puree, Tomato Pasatta and Fresh Chopped Tomatoes)
  • Dried Oregano
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh or Dried Tagliatelle
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Burrata or Mozerella Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Before mincing the garlic, remove the skins by crushing the garlic between your palm and the chopping board or alternatively using a knife to crush the garlic.
  2. Fry the minced garlic in olive oil until golden brown and fragrant.
  3. Add in a little tomato puree to the mixture and fry for a minute or two before adding the tomato pasata.
  4. Let it reduce for a few minutes before adding half the fresh basil and the dried oregano.
  5. Finally, add the freshly chopped tomatoes into the mixture, squeezing the tomatoes against the side of the pot to release its juices.
  6. Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon or until desired thickness before mixing with the cooked tagliatelle.
  7. Top the mixture with the remaining fresh basil, burrata cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Grind fresh black pepper onto the cheese before serving warm, allowing the heat from the pasta and sauce to melt the cheese naturally.

21278149108_fe44ba4697_k.jpgThe point of frying the garlic in oil until golden brown is to caramelise the garlic while also infusing the olive oil with the taste of the garlic. It is important to first crush (bruise) the garlic before mincing it as it releases the garlic’s aromatic compounds better. You could also just use plain olive oil and season the pasta dish with garlic powder. Garlic infused olive oil can also be added to enhance the taste of garlic in the dish. Half the fresh basil is added to the dish to impart the taste of basil into the dish as a layered underlying flavour, while the remaining fresh basil is added at the end not only to make the dish visually appealing, but also to allow the fragrance of the basil to be smelt before the dish is even consumed.

Burrata cheese in this recipe can be substituted with fresh mozzarella cheese as burrata cheese in itself is a mozzarella skin stuffed with mozerella cheese mixed with cream. I personally prefer burrata cheese as it is creamier and it gives the dish a unique characteristic.

When making the tomato sauce, the various desirable traits of a good tomato sauce are sadly inversely related to each other. To achieve the thick savory and umami rich flavour of tomatoes, one needs to stew tomatoes for a long period of time. In contrast to this, the act of cooking down tomatoes removes the refreshing taste of acidity of freshly picked tomatoes. To balance this, I recommend the addition of tomato puree to the sauce, which removes the need to stew fresh tomatoes for at least an hour, before adding fresh tomatoes right at the end to give your sauce its refreshing bite.

In the end, you yourself ultimately get to decide how complicated a dish you want it to be, ranging from simply frying some garlic and adding canned tomato sauce before serving with pasta and some grated cheddar cheese, or going all out and adding a touch of  basil oil at the end along with taking the effort to source burrata cheese.