Monday, July 27, 2009

Pomander Saveur Is In France...Again!

I arrived in France last week and my father treated to me to a three day blitz of fine dining Parisian style. Little can be said about French cooking and the superb quality of life to be had in the city of lights that has not been said by others so it will suffice to say that I am thrilled to be here. Thursday morning we drove to our country house in the Loire to enjoy a relaxing weekend and of course cook up a storm. Our house La Touche is an unbelievable place and I relish the opportunity to cook mostly from the local ingredients characteristic of the region as well as the bounty of foods we produce. In addition to the chanterelles that run wild around the woods surrounding the house we grow a number of fruits and vegetables as well as raising chickens and ducks. The Sologne region in the Loire is mainly dense woodland, a popular destination for hunters and fishermen. We are often given large cuts of wild boar, deer, and fresh water fish by our friends and neighbors which allow us to keep the freezer packed. The Loire is also Chateau country that draws countless tourists a year, particularly to the massive royal residences of Chambord and Cheverny, two gems of the ancien regime. La Touche is an ideal place for me to celebrate and deepen my love for cuisine, French culture, and wine, three pre-requisites of the bonne vivant.

My father and I arrived in the late afternoon after a two hour drive from the capital rife with traffic due to fellow summer vacationers and settled down to a glass of Chablis with my father’s best friend and housemate Jean-Claude. After catching up over an aperatif the three of us started to casually prepare a dinner of vegetables and steamed fish. I was excited to show off some of the recent inspiration garnered by my three days of eating and drinking in Paris so I made a cold appetizer to wet the palate. Cauliflower is one of the many vegetables that gets shafted in the produce section, a lesser cousin of broccoli that does not get the respect it deserves. The florets were steamed and tossed lightly with sesame oil before I sprinkled shaved raw florets blended with green tea on top as a garnish. It sounds crazy but the Asian touch and contrasting cooking techniques complimented each other nicely. It was strange, unique, and tasty all at once which is exactly what I was going for, kicking off an excellent first meal in La Touche.

One of the highlights of my first meal at La Touche was steamed zucchini dressed simply with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh basil. The zucchini came from the garden and was no ordinary variety. Courgette de nice hail from the south of France and have a sweet taste and buttery texture that puts ordinary zucchini to shame. The light green color and spotted skin look lovely on the plate and should be cooked, dressed, and eaten as minimally as possible to really savor its unique flavor. Jean-Claude was born and raised in Nice and as a result is a firm believer that these particular zucchini are the best species. I tend to agree especially after eating them all weekend in a variety of different ways showcasing their delicate flavor. The main course, which we ate along with assorted vegetables including the delicious courgettes before passing onto cheese was steamed carrelet with ponzu.

Carrelet is a delicate white fish resembling cod or haddock fished in the Atlantic that has a rather bland flavor demanding a bold finishing sauce or aggressive seasoning. My father steamed the fish in a wild Asian mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, five spice, cilantro, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and garlic. It was a powerful cooking liquid that flavored the otherwise dull white fish nicely. He then dressed the plated fillets with ground Sumac, a North American spice used primarily in Middle-Eastern cuisine that often replaces lemon in seafood dishes because of its peppery taste, decorative yellow color, and slight acidity. In addition to Sumac, my father garnished the fish with chopped cilantro and ponzu sauce, a Japanese finishing sauce traditionally accompanying sashimi that is both tart and sweet. The fish was very good and had a deep, complex series of Asian flavors running throughout making the dinner a sort of east meets west experience. The fresh garden vegetables and salad served in typical Mediterranean French fashion contrasted culturally with the Asian inspired fish and my cauliflower concoction. It was a tasty meal that welcomed me to La Touche and I am sure glad to be here able to share my experiences both in and out of the kitchen. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

1 comment:

Nathan said...

That sounds like a truly memorable meal, and what an absolutely ideal setting. Simply stunning. Cheers,