The solution to knowing exactly what is in your hamburger is to make your own. It’s neither hard, nor very expensive, as you only need about 100–125 g meat per head.
Unexpected though it may seem, a good recipe appears in the first volume of Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published back in 1966. It only needs slight modification for the lactose- or egg-intolerant, and I would say for the better!
In France, butchers mince the best cuts of beef. Elsewhere, since this is a dish calling for a top cut, it is advisable to buy lean steak and grind it at home, in a mincer or food-processor.
Serve with, say, baked or sauté potatoes and a green vegetable, such as cabbage with garlic and fennel seeds (see the Book), unless you want the traditional hamburger garniture, in which case dispense with deglazing the pan at the end.
- 1 lge onion
- olive oil
- 400–500 g fresh minced beef, without fat
- 2–3 sprigs or ½ tsp dried thyme
- salt and freshly milled pepper
- 12.5 ml wine, red, white, or rosé
Chop the onion finely and soften it in a tablespoonful of olive oil in a frying pan in which the burgers can eventually be cooked.
Mix the onion and its oil into the mince – if it has all been absorbed, add 2–3 tsp fresh olive oil to the meat to hold the mixture together – and season with thyme leaves and salt and black pepper to taste. Work the mince into a homogeneous ball.
Flour a plate and your hands and shape your patties one by one, pressing them firmly together. Personally I prefer to make them with a diameter of about 5 cm which is smaller than the typical industrial size, but means that they are easier to handle and cook.
Fry the patties in hot oil, about 2–3 min a side if you like them well done on the outside and pink in the middle, otherwise longer, and turning the heat down once the meat is sealed.
Transfer them to a warm serving dish. Deglaze the pan with the wine, pouring it over the meat as soon as it has reduced by at least half and thickened.
This is a nice, and flexible, dish. You have only to remember that the fish needs to sit in its spicy coating for an hour or so if it’s going to be really flavourful. Should you not have one of the seasonings, it won’t be a disaster.
In the original recipe (from Meera Taneja’s The Indian Epicure), the fish is fried, but, in my experience, baking gives very tasty and also more presentable results, as the fish doesn’t stick to the pan.
You can use any firm white fillets, fresh or frozen: coley, haddock, hake, ling, pollack, sea bass, or cod, are some of the possibilities.
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 med onion
- 1.5 cm piece of fresh ginger
- 1 green chilli
- 1 tbsp fresh coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 750 g fish fillets
- olive oil
- garam masala
- 1–2 lemons
The easiest way to make the coating is to whizz the following ingredients to a paste in a food processor: the coriander seeds, the cumin seeds, the roughly chopped garlic, onion, ginger, green chilli, and coriander leaves, the turmeric, and salt to taste. Add a drop of water only if necessary.
If however you are working by hand, heat the seeds to make them easier to pound, and grind them in a pestle and mortar, along with the garlic; grate the onion and ginger; and chop the chilli and coriander leaves finely. Mix all these ingredients together, adding the turmeric and salt.
Rinse and dry the fillets. Arrange them flat in a single layer in a baking dish greased with olive oil. Make two or three diagonal slashes in each fillet and spread the spice mixture all over, pushing it down into the slits. Leave in a cool place for at least an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5/190°C, and sprinkle the fillets with olive oil before placing them in the centre of the oven for 20–25 min.
When the fish is ready, it can be served directly from the baking dish, lightly peppered with garam masala, and with quarters of lemon and accompanying dishes on the side.
I’ve got several posts backing up for lack of pictures, but this elegant dish, which well deserves its Basque description ‘gachucha’ or ‘gracious’ and which can bring a bit of summer and spice into winter, without too much trouble or expense, has already attracted the photographer’s eye!
The recipe is given in Cuisine du Terroir, by the Master-Chefs of France. It needs nothing grander than short-grained or pudding rice, which they recommend you don’t wash, to prevent it going sludgy.
Romano peppers are, incidentally, what would be used locally.
- 150 g green and/or black olives
- 2 med to lge onions
- 1/2–1 (lactose-free) chorizo sausage, hot or mild
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 250 g short-grained rice
- 100 g homemade smooth tomato sauce (see the Book) or 1–2 tbsp tomato paste
- a lge pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
- 150 g smoked streaky bacon
- 500 g green and/or red peppers
If you have olives seasoned with herbs or garlic, say, you can skip the blanching. Should you have plain olives in brine, bring a small pan of water to the boil, drop the olives in, and drain as soon as the water comes back to the boil. In either case, stone and chop them roughly.
Slice the onions finely, and skin and slice the chorizo.
Heat all but 1 tbsp of the oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan or casserole and soften the onion slowly for 7–8 min. Add the rice (unwashed) and stir it in the oil until the grains become translucent. Mix in the tomato sauce or paste and pour over enough boiling water to come about 2 cm above the rice. Without stirring, add two-thirds of the olives, two-thirds of the chorizo, a little salt, and the cayenne pepper or chilli powder.
Cover tightly and cook very gently without stirring for 25 min.
Meanwhile, cut the bacon into lardons, and wash, tail, seed, and cut the peppers into strips. In the last spoonful of oil, crisp the lardons, set them aside with a slotted spoon, and soften the pepper strips in the same oil.
In a ring mould (or, failing that, a pudding basin or soufflé dish), arrange the remaining chorizo slices and olives and all the lardons around the bottom. Fill it with the cooked rice mixture and press it down evenly. Unmould on to a platter and pile up the peppers in the middle or around the rice, according to the shape of the mould.
Nothing else is required as an accompaniment.
Can you ever have too many chicken recipes? This one’s rich and delicious. It’s a simplified version of a standard North African dish, that can be found in David Scott’s Traditional Arab Cookery, a book so much used in our kitchen that our copy’s yellowed by turmeric. If you have a whole chicken and can make a stock from the carcass, it will be all the nicer. Rice or couscous (except for the gluten-intolerant) will go perfectly – for recipes, see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley.
- 100 g almonds (shelled)
- 1 chicken (approx 1.5 kg), jointed, or 4 joints, leg or breast
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2–4 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp parsley
- 100 ml olive oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 275 ml chicken stock (for a homemade one, see a recipe in Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley) or water
Blanch and peel the almonds by dropping them into boiling water for a couple of minutes and removing the skins, which come off satisfyingly easily.
Skin the chicken pieces as far as possible and season generously with salt and pepper.
Crush the garlic and chop the parsley finely.
Let the garlic take colour in about three-quarters of the olive oil, heated in a thick-bottomed frying or sauté pan (with a lid). Stir in the turmeric before adding the chicken pieces and browning these all over.
Meanwhile, bring the stock, or an equivalent amount of water, to the boil and pour over the chicken to cover. Stir in the chopped parsley, seal with a lid, and simmer for about 1 h, turning the chicken over 2–3 times, and adding more stock or water if necessary.
Towards the end of the cooking time, fry the almonds in the last quarter of the oil, drain on kitchen paper, and scatter over the chicken just before serving.
This lovely recipe comes from a French blog called A Taste of My Life, which is full of good things. It can be made with fresh or frozen fillets. We enriched the dish by making a stock from prawn heads and shells, cooked for 15 min with a bay leaf, dried celery, salt, and 1 l water. Rice is an excellent accompaniment. For the gluten-tolerant, couscous grain (with a few raisins – see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley, the book, for a method) is also nice. Any left-over ragoût can be re-heated successfully.
- 1 lge onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2.5 cm fresh ginger
- 2 lge tomatoes or 400 g tinned tomatoes
- 500 g firm white fish fillets (hake, ling, cod)
- 400 g tin chick peas
- a handful of dried almonds
- ½ bunch of fresh coriander
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lge pinch of chilli powder or cayenne pepper
- ½–1 l fish stock
- 2 tbsp honey
- freshly-ground pepper
First prepare all the ingredients as the cooking steps follow each other fairly fast and furiously. Slice the onion, crush the garlic, and grate the ginger; chop the tomatoes, if using fresh.
Cut up the fish fillets into chunky pieces and drain the chick peas.
Put the almonds in a small pan of water and bring to the boil. Let them bubble for a few seconds before skinning/peeling them.
Wash and dry the coriander.
Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed sauté pan and soften the onion on a low heat for 5 min, turning it over occasionally.
Work in the crushed garlic, grated ginger, cumin, turmeric, and the cinnamon stick for a couple of minutes before adding the chilli powder or cayenne pepper, the tomato, a large pinch of salt, and fish stock to cover, and simmering for 10 min with frequent stirring.
Add the fish to the sauté pan and simmer for another 5 min or until the fish is almost cooked. At the same time, grill the almonds lightly.
Mix the drained chick peas and the honey in to the fish and cook another 2–3 min. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Snip in the coriander, scatter over the almonds, and serve.
Even in Provence it gets cold, especially in the evening, and the idea of a beef and beer casserole has had particular appeal this winter, to warm the kitchen and ourselves. Finally, one got made.
Carbonade de boeuf is traditional in Northern France and Belgium, what might be termed Flanders, an area famous for its bleak weather – and its beers. You don’t need a special beer to cook this, though one might wash it down a treat. For myself, I’d rather have a robust red wine.
Along with the brown sugar, vinegar, black peppercorns, and onion, the beer and long slow cooking make for beef that melts in the mouth while diffusing wonderful hints of all those flavours – it’s a far cry indeed from leathery, tasteless fried steak.
Lard is the traditional cooking medium, olive oil less authentic but arguably nicer. The stale bread acts as a primitive thickener, but can be omitted without problems. If you have time, cook the carbonade for as long as 3–4 hours, in a lower oven.
Baked potatoes go well especially as there should be lots of sauce. Other possible accompaniments are red cabbage and apple, or a potato, chicory, and bacon salad – for recipes for these see the Book.
- 300–400 g onions
- lard or olive oil
- 800 g – 1 kg lean braising steak, in thin slices, cut on the bias, if possible
- 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar
- 2–3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 heaped tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
- 500 ml light beer or lager
- 1 slice of stale bread, optional
- 1 tbsp strong Dijon mustard
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C.
Slice the onions thinly.
On top of the stove, heat enough lard or olive oil to cover the base of a heavy casserole, and brown the beef on both sides, a couple of pieces at a time, adding more fat or oil as necessary between batches.
When all the meat is done, toss the onion in the same pot, having reduced the heat and added more lard or oil, until they are soft (about 8–10 min), then stir in the brown sugar and the vinegar and cook a further 1–2 minutes, not more.
Return the beef to the pot, layering it alternately with the onion. Place the thyme and bay leaf in the middle and season with salt and the crushed peppercorns. Pour in enough beer to cover by just under 1 cm and crumble in the bread.
Cover, place in the oven, and cook for a minimum of 1½ h.
Away from the heat, work the mustard into the sauce, taste, and serve from the casserole, or, if you prefer, transfer the meat to a hot dish and keep it warm while you blend in the mustard and adjust the seasoning. Pour the finished sauce over the meat having removed the thyme and bay leaf.
This is heavenly food, and healthy too, involving nothing more than dark chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts (it is taken, with minor changes, from Food for Think, a source of good things).
The fruit and nuts may be varied as you please, for example, with candied peel or chopped almonds or something more radical such as salted cashew nuts. High-quality dark chocolate is essential – ensure it doesn’t contain lactose or skimmed milk. For another idea, try Orangettes in our book.
- 60 g dried apricots
- 60 g hazelnuts, shelled
- 60 g walnuts, shelled
- 60 g sultanas or raisins – or a mixture
- 200 g dark chocolate (e.g., Lindt 70%)
Chop the dried apricots and the nuts and mix together along with the other dried fruit.
Soften the chocolate gently in a bain-marie, that is, one saucepan, containing the chocolate roughly broken into shards, sitting in a larger pan containing water that is kept simmering over a low flame.
Meanwhile, line a baking tray with non-stick greaseproof paper. As soon as the chocolate has melted, pour it carefully on to the centre of the paper (it has a natural tendency to spread in a neat circle if you keep pouring in the same place). Starting in the middle, spoon the fruit and nut mixture evenly over the chocolate, pressing it down lightly both to embed it and to spread the chocolate out more.
Refrigerate just until the chocolate has hardened. Cut or break off wedges as required. It keeps well – if you are strong-minded.