To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.
~François de La Rochefoucauld

Yes, I have written about tuna more extensively in a post entitled Ahi “Nicoise” dated May 13, 2010 — look at the search box.  But, please abstain in devouring blue fin tuna as it appears low in numbers.

Then again, earlier (February 7, 2009) there existed here a post about ubiquitous steak tartare — although sublime, but with the firm texture of this finfish, tuna tartare is sapid, damn near nympholeptic.  This does not imply that steak tartare is equally divine, as both are toe curlers.  But, it is a cooling, light, dainty often app repast with tuna diced into chunks and fluidly soothed by Asian flavors (as below) in a chilled vessel, a dish which really did not emerge until recently about 3-4 or so decades ago…perhaps in Paris by a Japanese born, yet French trained, chef by the name of Tachibe — who knows?

A chilled dry white (preferably one that is French oriented or sauvignon blanc) or rosé is essential as quaff.

1/4 C canola oil
2 t grated fresh ginger, with some small chunks retained

1 – 1 1/3 lb sashimi (perhaps sushi) grade tuna, diced into 1/4″ pieces

1 t jalapeño, minced with seeds and veins removed
1 1/2 t wasabi powder
1/2 t mirin
1/2 t saké
1 t sesame seeds
1 T scallion, finely chopped
1 1/2 T lime juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Non-pareil capers, rinsed
Caviar

In a bowl, add the ginger and chunks for a few hours to allow to marinate some in the frig.

In a large glass chilled bowl, add tuna to ginger oil as well as small ginger chunks, the cilantro, jalapeño, wasabi, mirin, saké, sesame seeds, scallions, lime juice, then mix well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Using fingers, very slightly strew over the tuna tartare with capers and then caviar.

Serve on chilled shallow glass salad bowl(s) over some flared avocado slices or cilantro or watercress, something like that or those kith and kin.

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I rebel, therefore we exist.
~Albert Camus

Another resplendent sweet, sort of, well really, actually — a Middle Eastern snack made with phyllo and nuts and drenched throughout with a honey glaze. The textures and tastes are flat supreme.  It is opined by many that Baklava was first savored around the 8th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, when Assyrians layered thin pieces of dough with nuts, baked the pastries in wood burning ovens, and added honey for sweetness.

But, first let us briefly digress to World War I (1914-1918) الجزائر, Algeria, vast, diverse, luxuriant, and often stark lands in what is known as the Maghreb region of North Africa, somewhat west of today’s Egypt. For baklava has been and is relished in Algeria as well.

The French viewed Algeria (Algérie) as just another “decadent state,” given to sins such as slavery, piracy and tribal anarchy. So, the Code de l’indigénat was a “lawful” scheme creating an inferior legal status for natives of French colonies from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century – making discrimination legitimate and actually legally dispossessing natives. Denizens were never afforded rights as citizens of overseas departments and were assimilated so to create in the colonies integral parts of France.

The Code de l’indigénat has been at the center of now revised thinking about French policies — colonial “indirect” rule.

The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure on the French government to make new land available in Algeria for thousands of Alsatian-Lorraine “refugees” or colons who were resettled there.  Pied noirs (“black foots”) they were called and later slaughtered likewise.

The colonial regime imposed greater taxes on Muslims than on Europeans yet the colons controlled the revenues which would be spent. As a result, colon towns had graceful buildings, paved avenues lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little. For an example, take a gander at Le Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger which towers over Algiers.

The school curricula were entirely French and afforded zero places for Arabic studies, which were deliberately downgraded even in Muslim schools. Within that generation, educated, gallicized Muslims, les évolués (the evolved ones), were created.

The colons who ran Algeria maintained a condescending dialogue only with the beni-oui-ouis (“yes men”). Later, they deliberately thwarted contact between the évolués and Muslim traditionalists on the one hand and between évolués and official circles in France on the other.  So, no genuine communication existed between the communities — probably only underlying, then direct enmity prevailed.

The first Code de l’indigénat was implemented by the Algerian senate on July 14, 1865 (on Juillet quatorze? in 1865?  Perhaps no one knew, right?). The first article stated:

The Muslim indigenous is French, however, he will continue to be subjected to Muslim law. He may be admitted to serve in the terrestrial and marine Army. He may be called to function and civil employment in Algeria. He may, on his demand, be admitted to enjoy the rights of a French citizen; in this case, he is subjected to the political and civil laws of France.

The Code distinguished two categories of citizens: French citizens (ethnic metropolitans) and French subjects, that is to say black Africans, Algerians, North Africans, et al., who lived there.

French subjects submitted to the Code de l’indigénat were deprived of much of their freedom and their political rights and only retained their personal statuses, religions or origins. As is too often the case, the colonialism practiced in Algeria resembled a kind of slavery of indigenous peoples as they were stripped of their identity.

The Code allowed Muslims to apply for full French citizenship, a measure that few took since it involved renouncing the right to be guided by sharia law in personal matters and was considered a kind of apostasy – a rejection of Islam. The Code de l’indigénat was a bitter anathema to Islamic tenets.

In a sense, World War I has never ended as many Arab peoples are still living its historical, religious, tribal and geographical consequences.  This is a short story, but there is some truth to it.  Blogs.

Baklava (Farsi for “many leaves”) consists of layers of phyllo filled with nuts and spices and drenched in a honey syrup.  Almost seems metaphorical.

BAKLAVA

2 C raw sugar
1 C honey
1 1/2 C water
2 T lemon juice
2 T light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves, whole
1 t cardamon, ground

1 lb pistachios and walnuts, in equal parts, finely chopped
1/4 C raw sugar
1 lb phyllo dough
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F

Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Halt stirring, then increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.  Allow to cool.

Combine all the nut and raw sugar ingredients.  Grease a 13″ x 9″ glass baking pan with a stick of butter.

Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with melted butter. Repeat the butter treatment with more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with more sheets, again brushing each with butter.  Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of several sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges. Ne pas oublier la beurre!

Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water to inhibit the pastry from curving upwards. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 300 F and bake until golden brown, for about 15 additional minutes.

Score to form diamond shapes, and then cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for several hours, if not overnight.  Try with some strong coffee.

 

The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.
~Gustave Flaubert

ParisLa Ville Lumière, le Paname…an eternal, perpetual place in many psyches (including mine).

A psychotically surreal Friday the 13th evening. I admit to feeling empty, melancholic, enraged, mournful, abhorrent, sorrowful all at the same time — no way to view a match at the Stade de France, savor a meal at lieux like Le Petit Cambodge, La Belle Équipe café, Le Carillon, Café Bonne Bière, Sushi Maki, La Cosa Nostra and La Petit Balona, or revel in a concert at the Théâtre de Bataclan.

Yet, I feel somehow staunch and resolute en même temps. A bewildering mélange of emotions…confused thoughts, but by no means nothing like the victims’ loved ones whose souls suffer and agonize. The outpouring of empathy has been overwhelming. My sincere condolences and thanks, that simple.

The etymology of the word “terror” is sadly and Frenchly ironic. Terror (n.): from the early 15 century late middle English “something that frightens, causes fear and dread” is derived directly from the Old French terreur (14 century), earlier from the Latin terrorem or “fear, fright, dread, alarm,” from the Latin verb terrere “to make fearful, frighten.”

The term “terrorism” itself was coined in Paris during the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter revolutionaries. The Reign of Terror also known as Le Régime de la Terreur, a ruthless movement begun after the execution of Robespierre by guillotine in the late 18th century, was meant to purge the country of enemies of the French Revolution. The Reign was incited by competing legislative bodies, the moderate Girondins, also called the Brissontins, and the militant Jacobins, and was marked by political repression and mass executions of purported rivals.

Now, one must perplex at what W (who held hands longingly with a theocratic “royal” Saudi prince), Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently wrought upon the world. Once a country piques or provokes a tribe what other tribes, caliphates or sub-tribes are created? There is little doubt that simple hypothesis was not lucidly thought through at high places.  If not or if so, for shame.

In any event, just wonder aloud, openly discuss, and consider the calamitous precedents before invading other countries with boots on the ground.  Forget not l’Arabie saoudite as have W and his friends, confidants so conveniently done.  Please do not overreact with bellicose language, saber rattling and hawkish behavior as was done after 9.11 and the “War(s) on Terror” which have destabilized the Middle East and have spawned the now thriving Daesh, Dai’sh, Islamic State, ISIS, and/or ISIL. Whatever their nomenclature du jour may be.

This is dire reality not a time for spewing knee jerk, xenophobic and visceral, wrong headed, rash polemic and panic.

You know the drill well, Parigots — stay steady, resolute and resilient, do not deny your lifestyle or rituals, embrace your senses and those about you, rebound however maimed, cherish the ephemeral nature of life, and remain quietly vigilant yet defiant of the malefactors.  No doubt it may prove cursive to feel vulnerable and doubtful, but please keep all in perspective. Please do not allow delirium to trump reason and forever remember those words:  liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

The word “terrorism” has a somehow slightly different, peculiar sense but still maintains the same hues, although the meaning stays insidious. It usually means the “use of violence to human life, fear, coercion or intimidation in pursuit of political or religious aims.” It often is an abhorrent, indiscriminate act of violence against innocent humankind, against society. But, the word still retains its blurred vernacular and semantic ambiguities — for instance, is it mere lunacy?  Who terrorizes, intimidates, displaces another? What constitutes such an act?  While no one definition of “terrorism” has gained universal acceptance or precise use, it does remain an emerging combined military and political-religious word and applies to varied circumstances.

But, the “definition” and “history” of terrorism aside, there remains zero doubt about who should take responsibility for the deaths of blameless victims this Parisian weekend.  The same arcane, cruel and oppressive jihadist bunch that has an apocalyptic black flag and severed head for emblems. Non-believers? Really?

And enough of your false and deceptive misnomer, allahu akbar, bros, as you ruthlessly carve off kidnapped heads with bound hands and fanatically kill and maim innocents with AK-47 assault rifles at close range.   In no way can this horrific carnage be affirmed by any contorted interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or any other known sacred scriptures.

Bistro fare often comforts on dark days. Please slowly dine on this sauté + ragoût with family and friends, preferably with bare feet.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE + LENTILS

2 lbs local chicken wings, legs, thighs (perhaps more goodies, like gizzards)
Some chicken stock, a couple tabs of unsalted butter & extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 medium turnip, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
4-5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 t dried herbes de provence
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 t dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves

1 lb dried lentilles du puy
3 C water and chicken stock, combined in equal parts (1 1/2 C each)

Splash of apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated parmiggiano-reggianno & tarragon

Put the wings, legs, thighs, etc. into a large, heavy, Dutch oven or sauté pan with some chicken stock, butter and olive oil. Cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is browned.

Add the carrots, onion, turnip, garlic, oregano, thyme sprigs, herbes de provence, and bay leaves to the Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook for about a minute or two.  Do not burn anything.

Then, add the lentils du puy, water, salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat but still boil gently, covered, for some 30 minutes. Assure that the lentils are quite tender and, of course, most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.  Serve in shallow soup bowls with chicken atop, and finish with fresh tarragon leaves and a fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano.

…a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Or is the proper spelling high falootin’?

Either way, calling these birds rock Cornish game hens just sounds rather pretentious, so hoity-toity. Not a game bird, it is simply an immature (barely a month old) breed of bantam, hybrid chicken which the French often label poussin which is either female or male, under two pounds, usually one plus. Tender, moist and amatory fare, though.

Given my leanings (I stay in the States, but my soul resides in France), this is somewhat of a French take.

CORNISH GAME HENS OR POUSSINS

2 (1+ lb) Cornish game hens or poussins

3-4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
Thyme sprigs
Rosemary sprigs
Dried prunes or apricots (optional)

1 head fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely

2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1⁄2 lb mushrooms (cèpes, crimini, et al.), bottoms trimmed and quartered

3-4 T cognac or brandy
3-4 T chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Allow the game hens (after unfreezing) to rest at room temperature for at least one hour. Pat birds totally dry, thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried herbes de Provence. Place rosemary and thyme sprigs inside the cavities as well as the optional dried fruit. Then, truss the birds and place them in the roasting pan breast side down. Strew each cut garlic half around them and cook them about 15 minutes. Baste throughout.

Reduce heat to 375 F.

Turn the hens breast side up for a total cooking time of around 50 minutes. As the birds roast, strew shallots and mushrooms onto the roasting pan around the chicks. Baste throughout.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the game hens so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the hens to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. Cut the trussing string free and remove.

Meanwhile with a wooden spatula, scrape bits stuck to the surface of the roasting pan. When the pan is hot, add brandy to deglaze and, then stock, bringing to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until thickened, when it coats the spatula.

Loosely tent the poussins with foil and let rest on the incline around 10 minutes. It will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat. (The birds are cooked when the juices run yellowish when pierced.)

Serve each bird on or over a plate with couscous, Israeli couscous, rice pilaf, basmati or jasmine rice, wild + white rice, new potatoes, pasta, a baguette, asparagus, peas, green beans, chinese peas, snow peas or a funky salad — with sauce and companions spooned atop.

No carving required.

In Paris, they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.
~Mark Twain

The peloton is now squarely in Bretagne. The narrow, winding 4th stage began in the sportive town of Lorient and finished on the summit of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, at the end of a challenging 2 km straightaway ascent. This so-called L’Alpe-d’Huez of Bretagne will sow the seeds of many helmeted doubts.

The Tour began with 198 riders on 22 teams. Unfortunately, some 20-25% of the riders are forced to abandon the race before the finish often due to injury or illness (and banned substances).

The three time defending Tour champion, and a narrow second in today’s stage, Alberto Contador, has been riding amid controversy. Apparently, he tested positive for the banned muscle enhancer clenbuterol during the Tour last year, but has denied any wrongdoing. Contador claims that the lab findings were miniscule, and that the clenbuterol found in his blood was the result of innocently ingesting tainted meat.Even though the Spanish cycling federation cleared Contador and allowed him to compete this year, he could still be stripped of his latest crown if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him next month. So, even if Contador ascends the podium in Paris, he still may be ordered to disgorge his titles for the past two years.

Language and culture are so tightly interlaced. In the early 20th century, France remained a pastiche of isolated pays, autonomous tribes, clans and hamlets. Each valley was a little world which often differed from its neighbors by language, custom, governance and opinion. Cultures and dialects were distinctly separated by mountains, rivers, gorges, plateaus and forests. While French was the language of civilized Europe, it was spoken by a minority at home. When the Third Republic (1870-1940) was formed, Parisian politicians amassed legions to wage war against local languages, attempting to colonially eradicate those which least resembled the homeland tongue, e.g., Breton, Provençale, Flemish, Basque, Catalonian, Corsican. Linguisitic homogeneity was in full swing.

The Breton (Ar Brezhoneg) language, closely related to Irish and Welsh and reflecting the deep rooted Celtic heritage in Bretagne, was one such cultural target. Bretons were labelled as remote and romantic separatists, prone to cultural rebellion against the state. Patois was banned and standard French was strictly imposed in schools, railways, newspapers, magazines and even popular tunes. Children were force fed approved French and told to discard their cradle language under threat of punishment and humiliation. It was a complicated social conscription as are many drafts. But, some even assert that the life of this provincial dialect was prolonged by promoting “proper French”…and many now say that without Breton, the identity of Bretagne would be lost.

On to a Breton fave, pommes de terres primeurs. Symbolic of the vegetable rich coastal areas and gentle climate of Bretagne, these hand harvested new potatoes have thin, delicate skins. They owe their subtly sweet flavor and melt in your mouth texture to very early harvesting and immediate marketing. This preserves the sugars before they are converted into starch.

It is unlikely that you will find these Breton gems around town, so just forage for new potatoes from locals at farmers’ markets. While this presentation may seem overly primitive, fine new potatoes need little embellishing. Kalon digor!

NEW POTATOES & HERBS

25 or so smaller new potatoes
Cold water and whole milk, in equal parts
Sea salt

3-4 T unsalted butter
2 T combined fresh thyme, parsley and sage leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently wash, scrub potatoes so as not to mar the skins. Place in a heavy pot, add water and milk to cover and season generously with salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat to a gentle roll and cook, partially covered, until tender. Cooking time varies depending on potato diameter, so be poised with fork nearby to pierce for doneness.

Using the cover, carefully drain well and return pot to burner over low heat. Gently shake pot just until the remaining liquid has evaporated. Then add the butter to lightly coat potatoes, again swirling the pot some. In stages, add fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste in so that the potatoes are nicely coated.

The only thing that will make a soufflé fall is if it knows you are afraid of it.
~James Beard

The word soufflé is nothing more than the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to blow up” or even more loosely “puff up” — an apt description of what is created by this heavenly marriage of egg whites and Béchamel sauce (savory) or custard (sweet). According to most food historians, soufflés were a product of 18th century French cuisine with the first written recipe purportedly appearing in the 1742 edition of Vincent La Chapelle’s, Le Cuisinier Moderne.

CHEESE SOUFFLE

2 T finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Unsalted butter

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
1 C whole milk
1 bay leaf

1/4 t paprika
1/2 t sea salt
Nutmeg, a small grating
White pepper, a healthy pinch, preferably freshly ground
Cayenne pepper, a minute pinch

4 large organic, free range egg yolks
5 large organic, free range egg whites
1 C gruyère cheese, grated

Gruyère cheese, grated, for topping

Preheat oven to 375 F, with the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Butter the surface of an 6-cup soufflé dish. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and roll around the dish to cover the sides and bottom, knocking out the excess.

Heat the milk with bay leaf. Once hot, discard bay leaf and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter, then blend in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a smooth loose paste. Stir over medium heat until the butter and flour come together without coloring more that a light yellow, about 2 minutes—a blond roux. Remove from heat.

Let stand a few seconds and then pour in all of the hot milk, whisking vigorously to blend. Return to medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon; bring to a gentle boil for 3 minutes or until the sauce is quite thick. Whisk in the paprika, salt, nutmeg and peppers and remove from heat again.

While off the heat, add egg yolks one by one into the sauce, all the while whisking.

In a separate bowl, using a hand or stand up mixer, whip the egg whites until glossy and peaked. Stir in a quarter of the egg whites into the sauce with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once they are assumed in the sauce, fold in the remaining egg whites and the gruyère cheese. Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be about three quarters full. Sprinkle a small amount grated gruyère on top.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown, and the soufflé has puffed about 2″ over the rim of the mold. (Do not open oven door for 20 minutes.) Once done, remove and serve at once with frisée or salad or asparagus spears with a vinaigrette of choice and a chilled, crisp sauvignon blanc.

Pourboire: Gently and briefly sauté 1/3 C shelled, roughly chopped lobster or crab in unsalted butter until warm. After completing the white (Béchamel) sauce, stir in the shellfish and then complete the remainder of the recipe. And always consider chopped fresh herbs and other melting cheeses such as fontina, et al. Or give thought to roquefort for a pungent change of pace.

CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE

2 T unsalted butter
1/4 granulated sugar

7 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened, with a high cocoa content)
1/3 cup espresso or strong coffee

1/3 C flour
2 C milk
3 T unsalted butter, cut in pieces
Pinch of sea salt
1 T vanilla extract
4 organic, free range egg yolks

6 organic, free range egg whites
1/2 C granulated sugar
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F

Butter an 8″ diameter soufflé dish and roll the sugar around in it to cover the bottom and sides, knocking out the excess.

In a heavy saucepan, smoothly melt the chocolate and coffee.

Whisk the flour and milk together and boil slowly while whisking for 2 minutes until thick. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, salt and vanilla. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one, and then the melted chocolate and coffee mixture.

In a separate bowl, using a hand or stand up mixer, while gradually adding the sugar, whip the egg whites until glossy and peaked. Slowly and gently fold the chocolate sauce into the egg whites, and once done, turn into the soufflé dish.

Bake until soufflé has puffed up just over the rim of the dish and browned some, about 20 minutes. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar and return to the oven to bake for a couple more minutes until the soufflé has puffed up an inch or so—but do not overcook. Serve over the ever luscious crème anglaise.

CREME ANGLAISE

6 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
2/3 C sugar
1 C whole milk
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
2 vanilla beans split lengthwise
3 T unsalted butter

Combine the milk, cream and vanilla bean in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let the bean steep for 15 minutes. With a paring knife, scrape the beans from the pod into the milk and cream. Whisk the egg yolks in a small heavy saucepan, adding the sugar by spoonfuls, until pale yellow and thick. In a very slow stream, stir in the hot milk/cream/vanilla mixture.

Place the sauce pan over medium low heat, slowly stirring the mixture until it almost reaches a simmer. Take care not to overcook as it will curdle, but heat enough so it thickens. The sauce is done when it coats a wooden spoon. Finish by whisking in the butter. Crème anglaise may be served warm or cold.