Cooking for the press gang – how to prepare a real Norman meal.
When people came up to give us a hand to press the apples I always provided lunch for them. At first the younger boys accepted out of politeness but now they accept eagerly. I think it is because their mums are out working and do not have time to cook like their grannies and my cooking is old-fashioned country cooking in the tasty tradition of Elizabeth David who is as well-known in Britain as Julia Child is in North America.
I have to cook big lunches two days in a row so the menus have to be varied and hearty without being too heavy. We don’t want our lunch guests in a postprandial doze! Lunch is at least a three course affair – Starter, Main dish and Dessert. They usually like a green salad after the main course, then cheese and they finish with dessert. As we are in Normandy, we serve our own cider rather than wine.
On Saturday I am serving Homemade Celery Soup, Ox Tongue Braised in Red Wine with Lentils, salad, cheese — and for dessert I shall bake some quinces in the oven and serve them in foil with dollops of good honey and cream. Normally I would serve a Camembert or a Pont l’Eveque but Baptiste prefers hard cheeses and Baptiste is absolutely my favourite little helper as he has been coming for five years, since he was 13. He used to help me with the garden and has hands like shovels. He is an apprentice carpenter now and spends his time renovating old Norman houses – he loves it. If our regular helpers can’t come, Baptiste brings a friend from the village.
On Sunday I shall be serving a traditional Norman dish, Chicken Cooked in Cider with Cream accompanied by Apple Slices Fried in Butter. For it to be really good I should really use a whole farm-raised chicken covered with cider and cooked for 50 minutes. I shall do something fishy for a starter and a pear dessert.
Cidermakers’ Sunday Lunch Menu
Potted Shrimp – Rillettes de Crevettes
Chicken in Cider – Poulet au cidre
Pears in Perry
Shrimps are plentiful along the Normandy coast and are a great favourite served freshly cooked with Pain Brie and salted butter. Pain Brie is a very dense white bread, better when a little stale. It was invented for fishermen to take to sea and is traditionally eaten with shrimps or prawns. If I am not sure of my supply I buy ready cooked peeled shrimps and make Potted Shrimp. I then serve it with Pain Brie.
500grs/1 cup/ 1 pound prepared shrimps — frozen or canned will do.
250grs of butter or more as necessary.
Nutmeg, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste
If the shrimps are canned, drain them well and dry on kitchen paper. If they are defrosted and damp, do the same.
In a pan over a medium heat, melt half the butter and fry the shrimps in this.
Add in a good pinch of nutmeg and the same of ginger (you may prefer to grate a 1 inch piece of fresh ginger into it). If the shrimps give off too much water, drain this off, add some more butter, correct your seasoning and add a small amount of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Some people like a touch of cayenne too.
Place the mix in a blender and pulse briefly.
Divide the shrimp paste into 6 ramekins. Melt the rest of the butter, let the fat particles settle (so you now have clarified butter not essential but healthier) and pour this butter over the shrimp paste. If the paste is not completely covered, melt some more butter and cover them. This will keep in the fridge for several days so it can be prepared in advance.
Present the ramekins with a slice of lemon and some crusty bread
Makes 6-8 servings
Chicken in Cider
125grs (4oz) Unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil to stop the butter burning
6 plump chicken thighs (or one whole chicken you can cut into 6 after cooking)
1/3 cup (good shot) Calvados
Two bottles of dry Norman cider — open beforehand to let the gas out.
250 grs (one cup) crème fraiche (thick full sour Cream)
6 Granny apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 6-8 pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add oil.
Add chicken pieces and let colour slowly. Turn pieces until evenly golden.
Flame with Calvados/apple brandy/or whiskey. You can omit this step but the dish will not be as rich tasting
Add cider to cover and cook slowly for 30 minutes or until tender.
A whole chicken will take 45-50 minutes and will need turning.
Remove chicken and keep warm. Cut into pieces with cooking shears, if necessary.
Reduce the cider and then turn down heat.
Stir in the sour cream until smooth. Let the sauce simmer and thicken slightly but
Do not boil as the cream will separate. If your sauce is not thick enough, thicken with a little cornstarch. Add salt and pepper to taste.
While the chicken is keeping warm and the sauce is thickening, fry the apples quickly in hot melted butter and a bit of oil. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and place on serving dish.
Place chicken pieces on the layer of fried apples, spoon some of the sauce over pieces to glaze and serve remaining sauce in a sauceboat.
Makes 6 servings.
Salade Normande du Restaurant de Cobayes
Norman Salad from the Guinea Pig restaurant (My French friends called my house that because I was always serving things they had never eaten — like curry, lamb with mint sauce, hare in ale with saffron, saffron ice cream etc)
Make up a mixed green salad from the following ingredients:
1 fistful of the white firm part of an endive lettuce
1 fistful of curly endive
1 fistful of Rocket
1 fistful of dandelion leaves from your garden
1 fistful of ordinary lettuce torn up (not iceberg)
2 pieces of chicory cut into rounds
1 stick of celery cut into pieces
1 medium sized onion cut into cubes
A few broccoli flowerets raw
Sprinkle over the salad some chopped chervil, chives, flat parsley.
I have also occasionally put in a selection of sage leaves/ tarragon/ mint leaves just to give an extra country fresh flavour. You can put in fresh small spinach leaves or sorrel or nasturtium leaves and flowers and include chive flowers when in season
Dressing should only be poured over when the salad is to be eaten.
For this salad, I use ingredients which are very Norman; three parts hazelnut oil to one part cider vinegar
Cider Vinegar Dressing
1 cup hazelnut oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup of shelled hazelnuts, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the oil and vinegar together, add to your mixed salad greens and top with hazelnuts
Pears in Perry
Apples make cider and pears make perry. If you can’t find any, you can use the same recipe with cider or white wine or even red wine. I buy hard unripe pears.
1 pear per person
Perry or cider for poaching — about half a bottle and drink the rest while cooking!
Butter for frying
Nutmeg/Cinnamon/Star anise (or mint/rosemary if you prefer)
Peel the pears and cut in half
Remove the core
Place flat side down in a pan and fry gently in the butter
Turn and fry gently on rounded side
Turn them back on to the flat side and pour over enough Perry or cider to come half way up the pears.
Poach gently until soft adding the spice or herb you fancy most for your taste. I used rosemary this time.
Serve slightly warm with cream and biscuits. (I use Boudoir biscuits or ‘langue de chats’ or ‘tuiles’ – nothing too sweet.
Baptiste is coming back to help again in two weeks time so the lunch must have been worth it!
“The Press Gang” and “Chicken in Cider” © Phillipe Dupont
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