Oui … I’m Not French

Words and images by Fiona Hugues

Au contraire! But after 25 years (or so) cohabitating with a bona fide, born and raised in a small village outside of Paris Frenchman, I think I have endured the right to share my stylist’s version of what is in fact, Frenchy and chic.

To condense this gourmand saga, my Parisian husband swept me off my Antipodean feet over two decades ago and we’ve battled on the multicultural marital fields of taste ever since. Initially, I wouldn’t hesitate to crawl over hot coals to get to a piece of Vogel’s bread slathered in Vegemite whilst abroad, while he would rather burst into flames. He would happily devour cheese that smelt like the rancid nether regions of my childhood stud angora goat than get anywhere near a block of cheddar, all whilst I politely tried not to gag. Beloved spaghetti in a tin and celebratory iced fruit cakes were an apparent scourge on cuisine and became definite no-go areas.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and he’ll say he’s educated me out of my naïve palate, and I’m pleased to say, quite possibly so. Through apparent cross-cultural coupling osmosis, I now happily eat all manner of offal led kitchen creations, prefer my steaks medium rare than leathered and well dead, and surprisingly hanker for savoury fromage at the end of a meal, including said cheeses that can summon blowflies from a mile away. (A French tip – A small vase of fresh mint on your table will help keep insects at bay.)

All this said, I’ve learned and conjured some tricks masquerading as a good French wife and have received a fair few pleasingly raised eyebrows from sceptical Parisian in-laws seated at my table as they greedily devoured my versions of their beloved dishes.

These are my simplified renditions of some traditional French winter recipes that I make often, easy to prepare but still fancy as a French ‘ahem’, so you too, like me, can have a little dining je ne c’est quoi.

Petit Roasted Beets with Herby Crème Fraîche

This bright, earthy concoction isn’t particularly historically French but it’s definitely posh. I like it at this time of year as it’s great as a simple seasonal dish on its own with a sliced baguette or as a side to a main meal. It looks fabulously frivolous on a winter table and the sweet roasted beets and crunchy hazelnuts team beautifully with the tart zingy cream.

8–10 small/med chioggia and golden baby beets, some sliced and some wedged

2 tbsp Champagne or good white wine vinegar (available from La Cave or Vetro)

1 tsp runny honey

1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

½ clove garlic, crushed

½ cup thick Greek yoghurt

½ cup crème fraîche

a decent handful of dill, chopped

¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped/crushed.

 

Make a rough vinaigrette by mixing together the honey, Champagne/vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Season to taste. Set aside so the flavours get to know each other.

Preheat your oven to 180°C and lay the cut beets on a lined baking tray. Toss to coat in a little olive oil, season and roast until tender, around 35–40 minutes.

Mix together the garlic, crème fraîche, yoghurt and dill. Taste to check seasoning. Spread this herbed cream on a platter. Place the warm beets in a bowl and pour over the vinaigrette. Thoroughly toss to coat.

Arrange the dressed roasted beets on top of the herbed cream.

Sprinkle over more chopped dill and the crushed hazelnuts. Finish with a decent drizzle of olive oil.

Poulet Vallée D’Auge (Fancy Baked Chicken Legs with Apply Cream Sauce)

In winter I adore cooking chooks with apples, it makes up for the lack of abundant summer fruit in my salads. This is my high rotation creamy chicken dish, a knock off of a Normandy classic: boozy, rich and decadent, simple to make but still très très chic.

6–8 large free range chicken legs

6 apples, two sliced into 2mm thick rounds, two chopped into fine dice, two left whole.

100ml cider, brandy or cognac

olive oil

25g butter

2 medium brown onions, sliced

1 tbsp flour

1 cup good chicken stock

200g crème fraîche
salt & pepper

The night before, season the chicken legs and place in a zip lock bag with the cider/brandy/cognac. Refrigerate.

Reserving the liquid, pat the chicken dry and lay the marinated chicken pieces on a lined tray.

Place the two whole apples in between them. Drizzle the lot with a little olive oil, season and bake at 180C for 30–35 mins.

While the chicken is roasting, fry all the apple slices in a little olive oil until golden and set aside.

In the same pan, add the butter and fry the onions and diced apple until softened.

Sprinkle over the flour, stir to combine then add the boozy chicken liquid and the stock. Simmer until the sauce is reduced. Stir through the crème fraîche to make a rich creamy sauce.

To plate, smear a little of the oniony sauce on your platter and place the chicken legs on top. Arrange the cooked apples and slices around them.

Spoon over the rest of the oniony apple sauce. Serve with plenty of baguette to mop up the juices.

 

Petit Gâteau Aux Pommes De Terre (My Bougie Spuds)

If you’re looking to impress your guests, these little potato cakes will definitely get you a few ooh la la’s. Again, a super simple recipe but stylishly put together, much like a cashmere sweater knotted across one’s shoulders whilst meandering the Seine on a chilly Paris day. I make mine in 10cm springform cake tins you can find at K-Mart, but large muffin tins work too. These can easily be made the day before and heated up the next day.

To make 6 little cakes

small waxy potatoes, sliced thinly (I use a mandolin)

1 clove garlic, crushed

fresh thyme sprigs

150–200g butter, melted

 

Grease and line the bases of your tins with discs of baking paper.

Melt the butter and stir in the crushed garlic and a little black pepper. Brush a little garlicky butter on the inside of your tins and place a couple of thyme sprigs in the base of each one. Layer the thinly sliced potatoes in a circular pattern to cover the bottom. Brush with a little more butter every couple of layers. Continue layering until you’ve filled your tins 4cm deep. Press down gently, cover the tops with tinfoil and bake in a 170°C oven for around 30 minutes or until soft when tested with a knife.

Remove the foil and when cool enough to handle flip the little potato cakes out of their tins onto a lined baking tray, so the thyme sprigs are now on the top.

You can cover and put these aside until the next day or heat in a 190°C oven until crisp and golden on the top to serve.

Epinards A La Crème (Spinach Puree)

After a while eating French food, you’ll work out that pretty much all the classic winter vegetable dishes taste divine because they’re either A. full of butter or B. full of cream. This one, my friends, is full of both, but once you’ve tried it you’ll not give a care and like me just be pleased you’re getting your daily dose of iron.

500g bag of frozen chopped spinach

a good handful of fresh baby spinach

2 tbsp butter

½ cup or more crème fraîche

salt & pepper

 

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low heat and add the frozen spinach. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and stir until the spinach has thawed and it is bubbling hot. Add the crème fraîche and stir to combine. Throw in the fresh spinach leaves and stir to wilt. Taste, add more crem fraîche if needed (don’t be shy here) and season again.

 

 

My Frenchman’s Fairly Good Leeks

In the past I’ve never really rated leeks, putting them down to only being good for fart-inducing dowdy soup recipes. My husband changed all that with this sneaky little dish which transforms this seemingly dull veg into something rather smashing, especially when nonchalantly nestled next to a perfectly cooked steak.

2 medium leeks with the white and light green parts cut into 5 cm pieces (don’t use the thick dark green bits)

3 tbsp butter

⅓ cup vermouth, white wine or vincotto

a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan

a sprig of fresh chervil, roughly chopped (or use chopped chives or parsley)

salt & pepper

 

In a fry pan over medium heat melt the butter. Nestle in the cut leeks so they stand up. Slosh in the booze you’ve chosen, season with salt and pepper and place on the lid. Turn down the heat and cook for 15 minutes. Using tongs carefully turn the leeks over and continue to cook until they are tender (around a further 15 minutes). Take the lid off to further reduce the liquid if necessary. Gently lift the cooked leeks onto a plate, pour over the buttery cooking liquid and sprinkle with Parmesan and herbs while still hot.

 

Mum’s Puree of Parnsip & Carrot

My mum made this regularly in the winter for us when I was a kid, perhaps as a guiding premonition to my future nuptials and my impending culinary challenges. The honest truth is I think she was just hiding unliked parsnips in with loved carrots, so we actually ate them, but damn even now it’s still a lovely thing on a winter’s night.

 

3 large carrots, roughly chopped into 4cm chunks

2 medium parsnips, roughly chopped into 4cm chunks

2 tbsp crème fraîche, plus extra to serve

3 tbsp butter

salt & pepper

a small bunch chopped Italian parsley or chopped chives (optional)

 

Boil the carrots and parsnips in lightly salted water until tender (25–30 minutes). Drain well. I like to mash mine by hand to keep them textured, but if you prefer them smoother and creamed just whizz in a food processor.

Stir through the butter and a little crème fraîche to taste. Add parsley or chives, if using. Serve with a little extra crème fraîche and a good grind of pepper.

 

 

 

 

 

Share This Post