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.
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.
This tart brings out all the latent flavour of even sun-starved tomatoes. And the contrast in texture between the crunchy pastry and the deep soft filling makes it quite different from a pizza. The colours are a pleasing reminder of summer. Those inclined to vegetarian cuisine can use vegetable fat for the pastry and leave out the bacon, though it does add a little crispy something.
- shortcrust pastry dough, using 250 g flour, 80 g lard or vegetable fat, ¼ tsp salt (for a method of making pastry and rolling it out, see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley – the book, otherwise use your own)
- 1–1.5 kg ripe tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 250 g onions
- olive oil
- 2–4 sprigs or ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 pinch of sugar (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1–2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1–2 tsp harissa or ¼ tsp chilli powder or 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 3–4 rashers of streaky bacon
- black olives
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6/200°C.
Roll out the pastry dough, make a tart shell, and bake it blind (i.e., prick the pastry base with a fork and cover the whole tart mould with greaseproof paper weighted down with dried or ceramic beans) for 10 min. Set it to one side.
Skin and chop the tomatoes. Finely chop the garlic and, separately, the onion, and soften the latter slowly in a generous tablespoon of olive oil.
If the oven is not already alight from baking the pastry, put it on at this point (gas mark 6/200°C).
With a draining spoon, so as to leave as much liquid behind as possible, add the chopped tomato to the onion in the pan, followed by the thyme, sugar, if you judge the tomatoes need a flavour-enhancer, salt and pepper, and the chopped garlic. Cover, and cook down gently for 5–10 min. Stir in the tomato paste and harissa, chilli powder, or cayenne pepper, and cook another 3–4 min.
While the tomato is cooking, cut the bacon into small strips and brown in their own fat, before spreading them over the partially cooked pastry shell. Cover with the tomato mixture and arrange some olives on top.
Bake for 25–30 min in the middle of the oven. Serve hot or cold.
Frying fish, said Elizabeth David, is something best left to restaurants. However, whitebait (in the UK, the small fry of herring and sprats, according to Jane Grigson), should you be able to get hold of some, can easily and successfully be cooked at home. How do you deal with them?
The first thing (once de-frosted, if bought frozen) is to rinse them in cold water, and turn them over in the process, as you may find bits of seaweed here and there, particularly if they are fresh. Then either leave them to drain, or pat them dry with a clean tea-towel. Coat lightly and evenly with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Chop some parsley.
Heat some olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan or skillet. You do not need lots of oil, just enough (about a millimetre in depth all over) to avoid it all being absorbed by the whitebait.
Once the oil is hot enough to be almost smoking, carefully (and it may well spit from residual water) put the whitebait in the pan so the fish are all separate, and fry quickly (around 2–3 minutes) until browned, turning them over once in the process (very delicately as they become fragile and break up very easily). Once they look done – as in the picture below – they need to be served straight to warmed plates, parsley-adorned, and eaten immediately: being small and individual, they cool very quickly.
Serve with either lemon juice or white-wine or cider vinegar.
Fish in the Mediterranean is not plentiful, lots of minnows and small fry, respectable-sized grey mullet at some times of year, and notoriously over-fished tuna. However, you can almost always buy, and apparently without a guilty conscience, coley (lieu noir) or pollack (lieu jaune). When British fishmongers’ slabs buckled under the weight of catches, coley and pollack were somewhat despised, the former being known as cat fish. Nowadays they are still around but better appreciated: supermarkets promote them, and they are used for fish & chips in place of cod.
Both have an agreeable texture and taste and provide steaks and fillets of useful proportions, hence great versatility. Fish and potatoes have no need to prove themselves as a winning combination but this recipe for the two baked together has several virtues: it is easy, quick to prepare (though needs a bit of time in the oven), delicious while not demanding many ingredients, and can provide left-overs (they sound more elegant in French – les restes) that make for delightful fishcakes.
The main recipe is as follows:
Baked fish and (new) potatoes
- 400–500 g (new) potatoes
- 2–3 cloves of garlic
- 1–2 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 400 g fish fillets (e.g. coley or pollack or other white fish)
- ½–1 preserved lemon (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7/220°C.
Scrape or peel the potatoes and cut them into small wedges. Spread these over an oiled ovenproof dish and lightly coat with further olive oil. Add the garlic cloves, peeled but whole, half the rosemary, the fennel seeds, if included, and salt and pepper.
Bake, uncovered, in the centre of the hot oven for 25–30 min, turning the potato over a few times. Now turn the oven down to gas mark 5/190°C and place the fish on top of the potato. Season it with the remaining rosemary, more salt and pepper, and, highly recommended if you can get it, preserved lemon, chopped small. Splash a little oil over the fish, and the potato if necessary. Cook for about 20 min, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve from the dish. Baked tomatoes go well and can be cooked at the same time as the fish (see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley – the book).
For fishcakes next day:
Mash whatever is left over and, if there is not quite enough, boil and add some potatoes. Optionally, half to a whole chopped onion can be worked in as a further binder and enlivener of flavour.
Flouring your hands liberally, press two to three tablespoons’ worth of the mixture into a round flat firm evenly dusted cake, flour your hands again and repeat. Alternatively you can work them together with spatulas.
Brown the fishcakes in hot olive oil, making sure they don’t stick to the pan or you’ll lose the crispy coating that will form.
Serve straightaway, possibly with a sauce rouille and a crunchy salad, green beans with bacon, say, or vegetable, such as carrots with capers (see Olive Oil, Garlic & Parsley – the book).