The Basque take on the chicken challenge

What’s with the menu planning this week, if it ain’t an ocean of fish, we get a farmyard of birds, and chickens anywhere we look to eat. This time though we’d left the meal to our host, naturally, of a delightful dinner that, as usual in her hands, managed to be serious scoff and wine without any of the social drawbacks of pompous, patronising guests or attempts at country house posh service. So, just great company and perfect food.
Starter – which vanished in a trice I noticed – was a decorous plate of salami, Parmesan and slow roasted tomatoes of unctuous sweetness and moorishness. It really was a little platter of such simplicity – although the tomatoes no doubt took hours of slow cooking – that got the taste buds slavering in anticipation and the food notes – all Mediterranean – should have given us a clue to the next course.
The one dish meal, in the ubiquitous Le Crueset (passim) – turned out to be Basque chicken. I don’t know the recipe, but it seemed like a chicken paella ie the rice was slow cooked in the pan in the oven, with brown long grain rice still with a bite and yet wonderfully moist from the sauce. The chicken had been carefully portioned – no bones I think judging from the other plates – and the whole cooked with chorizo, peppers, olives, tomatoes and whole segments of orange, complete with peel. I suspect the blessed Delia at work here.
Seconds for the greedy, then attempts to eat the Gorgonzola that went wonderfully with the wine, brought back from its chateau just a few weeks ago by other guests.
Real pudding – well a cake of such denseness and taste that a slice needed the fresh orange and grapefruit slices to meliorate its richness, and the blob of creme fraiche went down well too.
Perfect then on every count? You bet.

Lazy food days

It started Friday because sister in law needed birthday pub lunch and The Halfway is a few yards from the office and home. A perfectly competent fish and chips did the job, but why the bullet sized peas? They’re one thing that freezes well so either buy decent ones or make them mushy. Supper reduced to bread and cheese to compensate.
Saturday got off to a flying start with a Big Breakfast (poached eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes with Sunflower seeded toast) so lunch was off the agenda. However, a surprise find at Ogmore Castle and the nearby farm tea rooms meant a slice of ‘Judith’s’ white chocolate cake with a dark chocolate granache: one between two mind you. Quite the most amazing view and a cake to go back for.
So, again some bought stuffed pasta for supper and early to bed.

Eating in Brussels classical style

Those who know me, know that I like food. I had always intended to keep a food log – but in its absence (do I hear a sigh of relief out there?) I will at least review some of the meals I’ve had. Being in Brussels means there’s lots of choice to eat and as usual on a RIMSAT review visit the happy team went out together. This time it was the ultra elegant L’Alban Chambon Restaurant that is part of the Hotel Metropole.

The high ceilinged room, morning-suited staff and huge and elegantly set out table should have been a clue or three: this is French/Belgian classical approach to food. Our printed RIMSAT menu promised four courses – with a choice in the middle. But first, a plate of three amuses: an anchovy curled on a tomato resting on a caviar sauce; a tiny quennelle of white crab meat (where did all the brown meat go?); and a perfect miniature tureen of tomato cream. Three big hits of taste and we hadn’t really started.

The fish course was a terrine of sea bass and baby leeks wrapped in more leeks, the whole resting on a jus of  vegetable/leek stock and fromage frais topped with more deep fried leek ribbons. It was delicate and served in a most generous, main course sized portion. Next choices: soupe de poissons de roch with croutons and rouille (mine) or gigantic trees of white asparagus with sauce mousseline. The soup was no petite tureen this time – a hungry person sized plateful. Getting full.

The main course meant the death of several small piglets – or conchon de lait as they are called here abouts. A fist sized loin complete with its crackling and a bed of courgettes. All accompanied by a little (relative word at this point) dish of haricots. The suckling pig was perfectly cooked, plainly delivered so that the meat’s taste could come through. I just managed ….

Then the pudding: a carpaccio of pineapple and roasted figs with a sorbet of limes. Knockout tastes. Defeated after half. I managed a few sips of chamomile tea. The others told me the coffee and sweeties were v good.

So another RIMSAT review survived, another exceptional dinner. (Don’t get the idea that all this European gallivanting is fun – only the meals relieve the grinding work. That’s my story.) This meal was proof for me that classic traditions, carefully updated can still deliver powerful food. Big tastes, big portions, big surroundings. Big result. Dominique Michou and his team deserve their toques.