14 Jul

Francs for dinner! Le tour of our best Australiens cooks

Bikes and Bastille – it must be July. Mais oui, today is when the world’s attention turns to France and those Bastille Day celebrations of parades, parties and overflowing glasses of wine and Champagne. And as anyone who pays any inkling to Aussie sports, our cycling faithful are also following 200 superhuman athletes as they ride thousands of kilometres across France. Viva le Cadel.

To celebrate Bastille Day and Le Tour, The Melting Pot thought it the perfect opportunity to do some travelling of our own, so we scoured the country for expat French cooks to share their favourite regional recipes from their hometowns. Bon appétit!

Normandy (Normandie)

Want to understand why the French are so food crazy? Just ask Rafaele Yon, owner of hole-in-the-wall Le Petit Café in Sydney’s Coogee Beach. She says it’s all due to proximity.

“Every country has its own food culture,” she says, “but the French are obsessed because if you drive 20 kilometres and you cross the border into a new area, the food will be completely different from what it was like 20 kilometres before.”

Rafaele grew up in Normandy in France’s northwest, an area renowned for its seafood and dairy produce. “Normandy produces the best butter in France, there is no argument about that,” she says, noting that cream, butter and cheese feature heavily in the local cuisine.

Camembert cheese also hails from Normandy. Rafaele says that nobody in France would serve guests Camembert from anywhere but Normandy, lest the be accused of “cheating”. The area’s additionally famous for its apples, which are represented in various desserts, ciders and that prized apple brandy, Calvados.

“My dad goes through four or five kilograms of apples every week,” says Rafaele. “He grew up in Normandy in the country there, and he’s got it in his blood. He has to have two apples: uncooked, crisp and cut up every day at the end of his meal.”

Seafood is also beloved by locals. “The seafood is unbelievable,” says Rafaele. “I used to go fishing with my grandma when the tide was out, with these funny little nets at the end of a long stick. You’d scrape the bottom of the sea [at] low tide and bring up a net full of prawns and sea snails or little crabs,” she says. “We’d just boil them and serve them with a nice aioli. It’s very simple. It’s just about the quality of the ingredients.” – story by Kim Kind

From left, Estelle Gaffric and Romain Riesi (with biz partner Gaspard Toulouse).

Brittany (Bretagne)

Osteopath and blogger, Estelle Gaffric (www.craftedfromscratch.com) lives just south of Torquay in Jan Juc, Victoria, but grew up in Versailles. Her family is from Brittany, which borders Normandy, and she too has fond memories of feasting on fresh local seafood, crabs and mussels.

“We would serve a bowl of mussels still in the shell, cooked in white wine with onions and herbs, with a plate of chips,” she says. “It’s like a French version of [Australian] fish and chips. We’d have it with a nice glass of white wine and that’s a very typical meal of that region.”

Estelle is a vegetarian and has learnt to adapt many traditional recipes to a vegetarian diet. She has become so well known for her French vegetarian cooking that she now teaches classes for others. One of her most loved dishes are crepes, the signature dish of Brittany.

“My granddad’s sister had a crepe restaurant, which was next door to their house. Each time we would go to my grandparents’ house for holidays the first thing we would do would be knock on the window and she would give us a crepe.”

Savoury crepes made with buckwheat would be eaten for lunch or dinner and filled with ham and eggs, sausages or cheese or seafood. Sweet crepes would be eaten for dessert.

Estelle’s grandmother, 87, still lives in Brittany in the summertime and loves cooking for her family when they are together. Her specialty is lobster with a secret sauce, but Estelle doesn’t know the recipe. “She kicks everybody out of the kitchen because her lobster recipe is a secret. She says, ‘You can get it when I’m dead.’”

Lyons (Lyon)

Passing recipes to the next generation is a great French tradition, and one of the reasons why the home cooking in France is so good, says Romain Riesi, who is from Lyon, the “gastronomic capital” of France.

“Your mum will teach you recipes from her mum and you will pass it on to your children,” he says. “People cook old-style recipes, and usually they are the best ones, because a lot of people have improved the recipe,” he says.

Lyon is famous for its charcuterie, salamis and sausages filled with truffles, chestnuts or “mountain food”, such as cheese fondue, raclette, or melted cheese on potatoes with charcuterie.

For Romain, who’s soon to open his Little French Deli in Melbourne, the foundation of French cooking is fresh, seasonal ingredients untainted by chemicals or preservatives. He is so passionate about this food philosophy, he abandoned his career as an engineer to create The French Smokehouse, producing French-style smoked salmon, which he smokes and slices by hand. French smoked salmon is a delicacy, and he was unable to find anything like it in Australia.

“We eat salmon a lot in France, especially at Christmas and in the winter time. It is a great treat. We eat it with toasted bread and some very salty butter and lemon and a little bit of dill. It’s just wonderful.”

So to kick off the Bastille Day celebrations, Romain shares his simple recipe for salmon tartar, as well as a classic beef bourguignon. And to keep the party going, check out Estelle’s crepe and prune flan dishes and Rafaele’s Normandy’s style veal schnitzel recipe that follow.

Romain’s Salmon Tartar
Serves 4

500g sashimi-grade salmon or quality smoked salmon
2 avocados

100ml olive oil
1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
Juice of 3 lemons
Coriander, to garnish

1) Simply dice the salmon and avocado, and mix together gently. Present on a plate or in a nice glass.

2) To make the dressing, mix together the olive oil, ginger and lemon juice.

3) Dress the salmon, garnish with coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Romain’s Beef Bourguignon
Start this recipe the day before.

1.8kg topside beef, cut into large pieces
2 large onions, chopped
200g chopped carrots
1L Burgundy or other medium-bodied red wine
100ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves
Bouquet garni (sprigs of thyme, a few parsley stalks and a few bay leaves tied together with kitchen string)
1 tablespoon butter
200g spring onions, quartered if large
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
200g streaky bacon or pancetta
200g button mushrooms, sliced
150ml beef stock
100g flour

1) Place beef in a container with the onion, carrot and wine. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours.

2) Preheat oven to 200C. The next day, drain out the wine, reserving it separately from the meat and vegetables. In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil and when very hot, brown the meat and season with salt and pepper. Add the marinated carrots and onions and cook, stirring for 4 minutes, then cover with the wine. Add garlic and bouquet garni. Cover the pot with a heatproof lid and cook in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is fall-apart tender. If the wine reduces too much, add a little water.

3) Remove dish from oven. Remove and reserve meat, then pass the remaining liquid and vegetables through a fine colander into a bowl and set each aside.

4) Melt butter in a separate pan over medium heat and add the spring onions. Add the sugar and enough water to just cover the onions. Let liquid reduce until onions become caramelised, then add the balsamic vinegar. When liquid is reduced totally, remove from pan and set aside.

5) In the same pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Add a little more butter to the pan, if necessary, and cook the mushrooms, stirring until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

6) Take the wine liquid and place it in a heavy based saucepan over low heat. Add beef stock and simmer, allowing the sauce to reduce. Thicken with the flour, mixed with a little oil if necessary. Add the beef, bacon, spring onions and mushrooms and cook until warm. Serve with steamed potatoes or rice.

Estelle’s Savoury Buckwheat Crepes (Galettes de Sarrazin)
Serves 4

These savoury buckwheat crepes are the traditional meal from Brittany. You would usually have 2 or 3 galettes with various fillings, and then a few sweet crepes to finish off your meal, accompanied with a glass or two of local apple cider.

These crepes are usually filled with seafood, cheese or ham and cheese or other savory combinations. The most popular one is la complete, consisting of ham, a fried egg and cheese.

250g buckwheat flour
1 egg, yolk and white separated
2 cups (500ml) water
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Butter, to grease pan
Fillings: slices of ham, grated cheese (gruyere) or goats’ cheese, eggs, seafood in béchamel sauce, mushrooms or anything you like!

1) Whisk together the buckwheat flour, egg yolk and water in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form, then fold in the flour and the oil.

2) Gently combine the egg white mixture with the buckwheat mixture. The consistency should be like thin cream. If needed, add a little bit more water. Rest for 2 hours.

3) Cook the galettes in a medium-hot crepe pan or frying-pan, slightly greased with a little oil. Fill a 1/4 cup measure with batter and pour it into the pan. Immediately pick up the pan and tilt and swirl it so that the batter covers the entire bottom. Once it starts to bubble and the edges lift up, flip it over and cook the other side until lightly brown (usually less than a minute), then slide it out onto a plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

4) Your galettes are now ready to be filled with the filling of your choice. Heat a little butter in your pan over medium-low heat, place a galette in the centre and cover with the filling of your choice. Fold over the edges of the galette to enclose the filling, then flip it over to cook the other side. Serve immediately.

Estelle’s Far Breton (Prune Flan)
Serves 4

This is a traditional dessert from Brittany. I prefer to use non-pitted prunes as they keep their shape better, the flavour is stronger, and it forces people to eat slower too!

125g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
125g sugar
2 eggs
2 cups (500ml) milk
Dash of rum (optional)
Butter, to grease
250g prunes

1) Preheat oven to 200C. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs and start whisking. Add the milk gradually, whisking until the batter is smooth. Add rum if using, mix well.

2) Generously butter a baking dish. Arrange the prunes at the bottom of the dish and pour batter on top.

3) Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then lower to 150C and bake for 1 hour. It’s delicious warm out of the oven and even better cold the next day…if there’s any left!

Rafaele’s Normandy Veal Schnitzel with Mushrooms & Cream
Serves 4 

This delicious dish, which in French is called escalope de veau a la Normande, was served regularly in Rafaele’s home when she was growing up in Normandy. It is a traditional favourite of the region.

Flour, to coat
4 pieces veal schnitzel
100g butter
2 onions, chopped
4 large handfuls of sliced button mushrooms
200ml white wine
200ml cream

1) Place flour in a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, then lightly coat veal pieces in flour.

2) Melt half the butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat and quickly cook the veal for about one minute on each side. Set aside.

3) Add the rest of the butter to the pan and, when melted, add the onions. Cook, stirring until they begin to go soft, then add the mushrooms. Cook until soft. If the pan is too wet, turn up the heat to dry it out. Remove onions and mushrooms from the pan.

4) Remove frying pan from the heat and deglaze very well with the white wine. Make sure you scrape all of the sticky bits from the bottom. Return pan to a low heat and add cream. Mix well, and continue stirring for about two minutes so the sauce thickens a little. Return meat and mushroom mixture to the pan to warm up. Serve with fresh pasta or green beans if you want to be very French!

Photos: Tour de France, courtesy of Geert Schneider; Salmon Tartar by Patrick at Knightbefore_99.