Friday, 30 October 2009

The Jack O'Lantern and Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin

The Jack O'Lantern originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavoury figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips, swedes ore mangelwurzels and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.

Pumpkin is a favourite food of the French with many recipes originating from the 1500s. However I have chosen one that combines the cuisine of the Maghreb (Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria) with France's penchant for pumpkin. Maghreb cuisine is as ensconced in France as spaghetti and pizza are in the United States, This love of North African food commenced with France’s foray into North Africa in 1830. The exodus of the “pieds noirs,” or French residents of Algeria, to France in the early 1960s, when the North African colonies became independent brought with them recipes laced with orange flower water, dried fruits, cilantro, mint, cumin, ginger and other exotic ingredients. In Paris you can find restaurants serving ethnic specialities such as couscous royal, tagines, pastilla and chorba. Maghreb pastry shops are also sprinkled throughout every neighbourhood, their windows piled high with colourful sugar-dusted, nutty sweets, typically enjoyed with mint tea.

Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin is a traditional North African recipe for a classic tagine recipe of lamb cooked with pumpkin in a tomato, turmeric and onion sauce. A tagine is a type of dish which is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of a heavy clay which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts; a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. Recently, European manufacturers have created tagines with heavy cast iron bottoms that can be fired on a stove top at high heat. Whilst similar to a casserole dish which cooks most efficiently in the oven, the tagine cooks best on the stove top.

Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin

900g stewing lamb, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small onions, coarsely chopped
salt to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp turmeric
9 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and diced
2 hot red chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp raisins
450g pumpkin peeled and coarsely chopped
900g green beans, halved
juice of 1 lemon

Combine the meat, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, oil, turmeric, tomatoes and chillies in a tagine. Mix well by stirring then place on the hob. When bubbling add the lid and reduce to a low simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes then add the raisins and cook for a further 15 minutes before adding the pumpkin, green beans and lemon juice then cook for a further 90 minutes until the meat is very tender. Serve on a bed of couscous or saffron rice.

I would recommend Carruades de Lafite (£56 - £145 dependant on the vintage) as a great wine to pair with the tagine. Carruades is the second wine of the First Growth Château Lafite Rothschild and takes its name from the Carruades Plateau - a group of plots adjacent to the château's best vineyards, purchased in 1845 by Château Lafite. The wines of Carruades de Lafite feature characteristics similar to those of the Grand Vin, but with their own personality linked to a higher percentage of Merlot in its composition, and plots of land that are clearly identified as producing Carruades. The wines are fine, deep and intense with notes of ripe black currants and plums, chocolate, black olives and toffee. They are supple, well balanced and aromatic.

Château Grand Puy Lacoste (£48 - £22) is another good choice. The Château was once owned by Raymond Dupin, one of Bordeaux's greatest gourmets. In 1978 Dupin sold the Château to Jean Eugene Borie, owner of Château Ducru Beaucaillou. The Château has been run since then by Jean Eugene's son Xavier. Grand Puy Lacoste has reputation for consistently making big, durable, full bodied Pauillacs which should be in a higher classification. These wines have a wonderful perfume of cinnamon, ripe redcurrants, blackberries,wood and tobacco. They are creamily smooth, age well and represent a top class Pauillac.

I would also choose Château Haut Bages Libéral (£14 - £15). Haut Bages Libéral sits high on top of the Bages plateau with Châteaux Pichon Baron, Lalande, Lynch Bages and Latour at its feet. It is named after the village of Bages and its one time owners the Libéral family in the 18th century. Haut Bages Libéral's wines are a dark crimson with spicy ,raspberry, toasted notes, leather and wild aromas. They have a good balance between tannin and fruit and are full bodied and silky. They can have an almost toffee cream taste and age well.

Finally Le Roc du Chateau Pellebouc (£8.57) would be super. Le Roc du Château Pellebouc comes from the Entre deux Mers, just a few miles away from the Saint Emilion appellation. Château Pellebouc is owned by Pascale and Baudouin Thienpont – members of the famous wine making family who own Le Pin and manage several other top flight châteaux. The wine is a Gold Medal winner and it's a superb wine. It has a deep, intense purple colour, with a scent of red fruits and spicier notes. In the mouth, it is quite powerful in terms of both roundness and balance. It will delight the palates of wine-lovers looking for a heavy, balanced, fruity wine.


Thursday, 29 October 2009

Pumpkins in France

France is the home of the Cinderella” Pumpkin - “C. maxima “Rouge Vif D’Etampes” (c 1800) – which has impressive flattened, dark orange-red fruit. The word "pumpkin" appeared in the 17th century shortly before Perrault wrote his tale of Cinderella but originally they were called Pompion in France which seems to have derived from "pepon", the Greek word for “sun ripened”.

Pumpkins have been in cultivation for thousands of years. Nine thousand year old seeds found in caves in north east Mexico indicate that pumpkins originated in Central America. Paleobotanists from the Smithsonian have identified it as the first vegetable cultivated by humans- grown over 10,000 years ago. There is evidence that edible squashes were grown in Africa, India and China from the 6th century AD, but they didn't make it to Europe until the 16th century, when they were brought back from the first journeys to the New World. Exotic and sweet tasting, pumpkins became very fashionable in Europe. They were stuffed with apples and sweet herbs, and then baked. An early incarnation of pumpkin pie was made by frying the flesh with apples and herbs, mixing it with sugar and egg, and then baking it with a crust topping.

The story of pumpkins is not complete, of course, without a mention of their starring rôle in Halloween celebrations. Early Irish immigrants to America found the pumpkin to be superior lantern making material to their traditional swede or beetroot, and the pumpkin has been a defining symbol of Halloween since the 1800s.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

All Saints Day, La Toussaint and Chrysanthemums

Halloween in France is overshadowed by All Saints Day (November 1st) which is part of a National holiday known as La Toussaint. La Toussaint is a 2 day festival during which the French celebrate two holidays together: All Saints Day, the day for remembering Catholic saints, and All Souls Day (November 2nd), the day for praying for the souls of the deceased.

The day, which is a legal holiday in France, dates back to the 7th century and was derived from a much earlier feast. The first All Saints' Day occurred on May 13, 609 when Pope Boniface IV accepted the Pantheon as a gift from the Emperor Phocas. Boniface dedicated it as the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda in honour of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. During Pope Gregory III's reign (731-741), the festival was expanded to include all saints and a chapel in St. Peter's church was dedicated accordingly. Pope Gregory IV officially designated the day in 837.

Many people visit the graves of their loved ones at this time to decorate them with flowers or candles. In Brittany legends speak of evil coming to those who disturb the bones of the dead so children attempt to frighten visitors to graveyards on All Saints Day. The Chrysanthemum is the ‘official’ flower for La Toussaint – which is important for non-French people to know, because it is considered a terrible social 'faux pas' to give chrysanthemums at any time other than La Toussaint.

The Chrysanthemum (from the Greek “khrousos anthemon” – flower of gold) is a symbol of immortality in France, as it resists the frosts and takes little looking after. It is said that the chrysanthemum never flowers before the autumnal equinox (21st September) and their petals are seen as a light of hope in the midst of the autumnal mists and fogs.

In 1789 a French merchant from Marseilles named Pierre Louis Blancard brought three cultivars home from China, only one of these survived and was named Old Purple, the first named cultivar to grow in the western world. Eventually this cultivar reached Kew Gardens and its description was featured in the Botanical Magazine of 1796. In 1827, seed was successfully produced in Europe by a retired French officer, Captain Bernet and as many previous attempts by both English and French gardeners had failed, this date is of great historical importance in the Chrysanthemum world.

Roast Chicken Noodle Soup with Chrysanthemum

3 whole star anise
3 cups water
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
6 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bunches chrysanthemum leaves, bottoms trimmed, upper stems and leaves cut into 2-inch strips
1 pack thin fresh or dried Chinese egg noodles
1 lb freshly roasted chicken (cubed)
1 onion, sliced paper-thin
3 red Thai bird chillis or 1 large red jalapeño chilli, sliced into thin rounds

Stir star anise in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant. Add 3 cups water and ginger; simmer for 15 minutes. Add broth, soy sauce, and sugar; simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir oil and garlic in small frying pan over low heat until garlic is crisp and golden. Set garlic oil aside.

Blanch the chrysanthemum leaves in a large pan of boiling salted water until just wilted (about 5 seconds). Using a strainer, transfer greens to colander. Rinse with cold water and drain. Return water in pot to boil. Add noodles and cook until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring often. Drain; transfer to large bowl. Let stand 2 minutes. Mix in 1 tablespoon garlic oil. Using kitchen shears, cut noodles crosswise in several places. Heat chicken in microwave in 10-second intervals at low setting until warmed through. Divide noodles among 4 soup bowls; top each with ¼ of chrysanthemum, chicken, and onion. Ladle 2 cups broth mixture into each bowl. Drizzle with some garlic oil. Serve, passing red chillis separately.

I would recommend a rich wine such as M De Malle (£11.73) to pair with this dish. It's a dry White Graves wine from the vineyards of Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience. It's a beautiful wine: bold, brilliant green tinted gold with hints of white blossoms, exotic fruits, spice and good lemon acidity. It has also been accoladed the Hachette des Vins 2007: Coup de Coeur and is superb value for money.

The Bordeaux Clairet du Chateau de Lisennes (£5.87) is also a great choice. This clairet is one of the best that Bordeaux offers and won the gold medal in Brussels in 2006. The fragrant wine is a deep raspberry pink with violet reflections. The aroma is complex; it has raspberry, peach and spice overtones. It is soft and full, and the fruity taste of blackberries, redcurrants and raspberries explodes in the mouth giving intense round flavours.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew from the port city of Marseille. It takes its name from the Provençal Occitan word bolhabaissa: bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to simmer). According to tradition, the origins of the dish date back to the time of the Phoacaeans, an Ancient Greek people who founded Marseille in 600 BC. Then, the population ate a simple fish stew known in Greek as 'kakavia.' Something similar to Bouillabaisse also appears in Roman mythology: it is the soup that Venus fed to Vulcan.

The dish known today as bouillabaisse was created by Marseille fishermen who wanted to make a meal when they returned to port. Rather than using the more expensive fish, they cooked the common rockfish and shellfish that they pulled up with their nets and lines, usually fish that were too bony to serve in restaurants, cooking them in a cauldron of sea water on a wood fire and seasoning them with garlic and fennel. Tomatoes were added to the recipe in the 17th century, after their introduction from America. In the 19th century, as Marseille became more prosperous, restaurants and hotels began to serve bouillabaisse to upper-class patrons. The recipe of bouillabaisse became more refined, with the substitution of fish stock for boiling water, and the addition of saffron.

In Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse. An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include rascasse (scorpionfish), a bony rockfish which lives in the reefs close to shore. It also usually contains conger eel and gurnard.

The broth is traditionally served with a rouille, a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper on grilled slices of bread. In Marseille, the broth is served first in a bowl containing the bread and rouille, with the seafood and vegetables served separately in another bowl or on a platter. Recipes for bouillabaisse vary from family to family in Marseille, and local restaurants dispute which versions are the most authentic. This is a traditional recipe that serves 8 people.


4 lbs red mullet
1 conger eel, in 4 slices
10 small crabs
3 lbs red scorpion fish
3 lbs monkfish
3 lbs red gurnard
3 lbs John Dory
2 lbs tomatoes, cut in 4
4 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 tbsp tomato purée
Olive oil
Bouquet of herbs: dill (2 sprigs); laurel (1 leaf); parsley (1 sprig); orange peel (1)
Salt, fresh pepper
2 tsp saffron

In a large pan slowly heat the onions with olive oil and garlic. Add tomatoes and tomato purée, raise the heat. Add 3 litres of water, bouquet of herbs, orange peel, mullet, eel, crabs, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered at moderate heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bouquet of herbs and the orange peel. Add the John Dory and the monkfish. Add saffron. Add red gurnard and scorpion fish. Boil again for 6 minutes.

To serve: remove the large fish and put them on a serving platter. Prepare slices of bread. Pour in the Bouillabaisse over the bread. Traditionally Bouillabaisse is served with Rouille, a type of mayonnaise made with garlic and olive oil.

Concerning food and wine pairing I would choose Château Pape Clement (£50 - £107 a bottle dependant on the vintage) as a great accompaniment for Bouillabaisse. Pape Clement is the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux, harvesting its 700th vintage in 2006. The white wines of Pape Clement are elegant and have a purity of style. They are full bodied with undertones of honey, apricots and melons with a refreshing vibrancy.

I would also recommend Pavillon Blanc du Margaux (£59 - £77). Pavillon Blanc is the rare Third Wine of Château Margaux and is part of an age old tradition at the château. It was sold in the 19th century as 'vin blanc de sauvignon'. The 30 acre vineyard is made up exclusively of Sauvignon white grapes. It is located on a very old plot belonging to the estate and the Sauvignon grapes reach a level of ripeness which rids them of their vegetal characters and brings out floral and fruity notes. Pavillon Blanc is fresh, deep, complex and aromatic with lots of grassy, green pepper notes characteristic of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It's a yellow gold wine which is elegant and luscious with notes of melon, lemon, honey and hay with a hint of minerals.

You may be surprised but Bordeaux Clairet will also pair well with Bouillabaisse – Clairet du Chateau des Lisennes (£5.87) is one of the best that Bordeaux offers and won the gold medal in Brussels in 2006. Situated near Bordeaux this Chateau is family run and has been in the Soubie family for 4 generations. The fragrant wine is a deep raspberry pink with violet reflections. The aroma is complex; it has raspberry, peach and spice overtones. It is soft and full, and the fruity taste of blackberries, redcurrants and raspberries explodes in the mouth giving intense round flavours.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Ratatouille

Ratatouille has been made famous by the Disney Film about Remy the Rat - it's a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice and its full name is Ratatouille Niçoise. The word ratatouille comes from the Occitan ratatolha and the French word touiller which means to toss food.

Ratatouille is usually served as a side dish, but also may be served as a meal on its own (accompanied by rice or bread). Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with garlic, onions, courgettes, aubergine, bell peppers, marjoram and basil, or bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs like herbes de Provence. There is much debate on how to make a traditional ratatouille. One method is to simply sauté all of the vegetables together. Some cooks insist on a layering approach, where the aubergine and the courgettes are sautéed separately, while the tomatoes, onion, garlic and bell peppers are made into a sauce. The ratatouille is then layered in a casserole – aubergine, courgettes, tomato/pepper mixture – then baked in an oven.

If one tries to trace back its origins by examining the availability of the vegetables locally in the Provencale area, we can deduce that the meal Ratatouille cannot be earlier than the 16th century. For example, the aubergine only arrived in France around the 16th century, from India. At that time it was considered to be a poisonous decorative plant!


olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic, or to taste
1 aubergine
1 green, red, yellow or a combination, bell pepper
2 courgettes
6 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
salt and pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence to taste

Put a large casserole on the stove on medium heat. When the casserole is hot, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Cut the courgettes and aubergine into ½ inch slices. Sauté the slices until light brown. Chop the onions and garlic. Cut the green pepper into strips or dice, as preferred. Add the onions and peppers and cook slowly for about 10 minutes until tender but not brown. Stir in the garlic. Peel and seed the tomatoes. Dice them or cut them into quarters, add to the casserole. Five minutes later, check to see if the tomatoes have made enough juice to almost cover the vegetables - if so, perfect. If not, add water as needed (not too much). Add salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence to taste.

Cover the casserole and let simmer on low heat until the vegetables are tender but still intact, 10 to 20 minutes, or to taste. Remove the lid, raise the heat a little and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes, basting frequently until the liquids have mostly evaporated, leaving a small amount of juice and olive oil.

There are a range of wines which will pair well with Ratatouille: Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux (£25 - £47) is the Second Wine of Château Margaux and is a good choice. It was was first made in 1908 and is full bodied, supple and velvety. The wine is powerful and concentrated yet well balanced. The flavours are of blackcurrant and cherry with a long finish and a creamy mouth feel. It's an opulent wine and resembles Second Growth status.

Château Clerc Milon (£20 - £40) is owned by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and sits just between the First Growths Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild. The wines of Clerc Milon are firm, dense and well structured due to the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon used to make them. They have nutty, fruity oak on the nose and palate with hints of cranberry and black currant.

Château du Tertre (£13) would accompany this dish very well indeed and since the year 2000 the château has shown a stunning revival and the château's profile is rising amongst wine connoisseurs. The deep ruby wines are rich in style, creamy and well balanced. They are aromatic and the bouquet is of chocolate, cherries, blackberries, smoke and plums. The oak lends the flavour of vanilla to the wine and sometimes toffee.

Chateau Chadeuil (£4.75) is a wine made with food in mind and has been receiving high praise from the wine press. The wine shows a nice dark ruby colour and reveals beautiful aromas of blackberries with a hint of vanilla. It is medium bodied with dark berry flavours, well balanced tannins with a long smooth finish and at £4.75 is a real bargain.


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Carbonade

Carbonade takes its name from the Latin carbo meaning coal and refers to the stew being cooked over coals in times long past. Les Carbonades Flamandes is a traditional Flemish sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with beer, and seasoned with thyme and bay.

The type of beer used is important, here in the UK I tend to use Newcastle Brown Ale and in addition to this and to enhance the sweet-sour flavour, just before serving, it has a small amount of cider or wine vinegar and either brown sugar or red currant jelly stirred in. Carbonade can also refer to beef stews cooked with red wine in the south of France, but is more commonly associated with the Flemish dish.

Les Carbonades Flamandes

4 lbs brisket, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
3 large onions, thinly sliced
2 bottles Newcastle Brown Ale
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 tbsp red currant jelly (or brown sugar)
1 tbsp cider or red wine vinegar

Season the beef with the salt and pepper and dredge with the flour. Shake off any excess.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan over high heat, add the beef cubes and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer to a casserole dish. Add the remaining butter to the frying pan and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally, until browned. Combine the onions with the meat in the casserole dish.
Deglaze the frying pan with the Newcastle Brown and bring to a boil. Pour the beer over the meat. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Simmer, covered, over low heat until the meat is very tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Before serving, stir in the red currant jelly and vinegar; simmer for 5 minutes.

Château Clinet (£24 - £58 a bottle dependant on the vintage) would pair very well with this dish. Clinet is a small estate which has dramatically risen in popularity over the past decade, receiving the highest possible scores from wine critics. The château is located at the highest point of the Pomerol Plateau on the famous Günz gravel terrace and the wines are a radiant dark crimson and are aromatic. The bouquet is of sweet ripe blackcurrants and raspberries, truffles and smokey toast and wood.

Clos René (£20) is another excellent Pomerol that I would recommend. The chateau dates back to 1734, when it was known simply as 'Reney'. Clos René lies to the west of the major chateaux in Pomerol, just south of the appellation Lalande de Pomerol, in the hamlet of Grand Moulinet. Clos René has belonged to the Lasserre family for 6 generations and today it is run by Pierre Lasserre and his grandson Jean-Marie Garde with Michel Rolland as consulting oenologist. It is not one of the best known Pomerols and as such is reasonably priced wine at superb quality. The wines are rich and complex with notes of coffee, caramel, smoke, violets and black currants.

Mathilde (£11 - £13) would be great with your Carbonade – it the second wine of Château La Fleur Morange and is produced from the same 100 year old vines and terroir as the Grand Vin. Château La Fleur Morange is a boutique wine in Saint-Pey-D'Armens that is receiving high acclaim from wine critics across the globe. Mathilde is made from 100% Merlot and is opulent, well structured and rich. The wine has notes of cherries, blueberries, chocolate, plum and earth.

Finally I would recommend Château Pessan (£12.72) which hails from Graves – often considered to be the birthplace of claret. The château is owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience. It is a deliciously velvety wine, deep and dense, perfectly balanced with hints of black fruits, spice, coffee, smoke, eucalyptus, pepper and oak. The wine is a superb buy and is starting to attract attention on the world market.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Ragout

Over the centuries, the word ragout (which in 17th-century France meant anything that stimulated appetite) has come to signify a highly seasoned stew. A Ragout can be a stew of any simmered food, be it meat, vegetable, fish or fowl - although in France, the main ingredients are diced into quite small pieces. The Italian equivalent of a ragout is a dense meat sauce known as a ragu, which most of us have sampled on Bolognese-style pastas.

Le Ragoût de Queue de Boeuf (Ragoût of Oxtail with Chestnuts)

1 oxtail, cut up
2 oz goose or pork fat
4 oz carrots, finely chopped
6 oz onion, finely chopped
1 ½ oz flour
1 ¾ pt dry white wine
bouquet garni
salt and pepper
½ lb salted belly pork, cubed
½ lb Toulouse sausage cut into thick slices
1 1lb peeled chestnuts
1 stick celery
croûtons of pain de seigle (rye bread)
2 oz goose or pork fat

Brown the pieces of oxtail in a heavy casserole dish in the goose fat. Add the carrots and onions and when fairly browned sprinkle with the flour, stir well and cook together for a few minutes allowing the mixture to take on some colour. Add the wine little by little stirring to amalgamate the gravy, add the bouquet garni and seasonings and allow the mixture to simmer, covered, over a low heat for 3 hours or so.
Meanwhile fry the pieces of salt pork and sausage very gent;y in their own fat for 20 mins. Cook the chestnuts in lightly salted water with the celery for 20 mins and strain. When the oxtail pieces are cooked put them in a serving dish with the chestnuts, salt pork and sausage. Remove what fat you can from the liquor in which the oxtail has cooked and pour the remaining juice over all. Serve with hot croutons of rye bread fried in goose fat.

Château la Fleur Morange (£30 -£67) would pair very well with this dish. It's a boutique wine in Saint-Pey-D'Armens made by Véronique and Jean-François Julien that is receiving high acclaim from wine critics across the globe. The wines are full bodied and fruit driven, impressively structured and sophisticated. They are a deep dark crimson purple with notes of raspberries, liquorice, blackcurrants, smoke and earth.

Château Sociando Mallet (£17 - £22) is another good choice – it's in the unusual situation of not being a classed growth when it should be. It was never entered into the Classification despite turning out wines of such quality that it out performs many that are produced by its neighbours. The inky purple wines have an unusual capacity for longevity and are one of the longest lived wines made in the Médoc. They are powerful, full bodied, tannic and rich. They are fragrant and have notes of blackberries, raspberries, blossom blueberries and wood.

Château Chasse Spleen (£14) is also a great buy – it's one of the leading Moulis estates and is held in high esteem – being ranked as high as many Third Growths by some critics. The château's name means to “chase the blues away” and hails from a literary background – Lord Byron visited the château in 1822 and was so entranced by the vineyards that he remarked “Quel remède pour chasser le spleen”. It is also thought to have been inspired Baudelaire's poem “Spleen” after he had visited the property. The wines of Chasse Spleen are charming, full bodied, fruit driven and rich. They have good depth and concentration with notes of blackberries, cherries, plums, charcoal, liquorice and violets.

Chateau Les Tonnelles (£7.82) from Fronsac would pair well with the rich flavours of your Ragout - largely ignored until the mid 80's the producers from this area are benefiting from much interest in their rich, full and darkly coloured wines. 100% Merlot this lovely full bodied wine is rich in colour. It has been aged in oak for around 15 months and is smooth in the mouth and full of black fruits.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France - Matelote

Matelote is a French fish stew made with red wine. It takes its name from the old French word for sailor or bunkmate matenot, which has its roots in the Latin matte meaning bed or from the Old Norse word mötunautr, meaning messmate.

The ingredients for Matelote vary all over France: the Alsace version is made with freshwater fish, Riesling wine, and thickened with cream and egg yolks and the Normandy version includes seafood and is flavoured with cider and Calvados. These stews are normally embellished with pearl onions and mushrooms.

The classic Bordeaux version is Matelote d'Anguille (Eel Stew) and uses red wine with mushrooms, onion, leeks, prunes and mushrooms.

Matelote d'Anguille

900g eel, skinned and cut into chunks (about 3cm thick)
3 tbsp brandy
8 prunes, pitted and chopped
4 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
1 bottle of red wine
30g butter
1 dessert spoon plain flour
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large leek, finely chopped
100g button mushrooms, quartered
1 bouquet garni (bayleaf, parsley, chervil, thyme)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
watercress, to garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and when foaming add the eel pieces and fry until golden. Add the red wine and the prunes along with the bouquet garni then bring the mixture to a boil. Flame the brandy in a ladle then pour over the boiling liquid. As soon as the flames die down add a lid and reduce to a simmer then cook gently for 25 minutes.

In the meantime, add the remaining oil to a frying pan and use to fry the onion, garlic and leeks until soft (about 6 minutes). Stir in the mushrooms at this point and fry for about 6 minutes more, or until just golden. Take the lid off the pan with the eels then mix the butter and flour into a smooth paste before whisking into the wine stock until smooth. Ad the onion and mushroom mix to the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Turn the stew into a warmed dish and garnish with a little watercress.

I would recommend two Rothschild wines from Pauillac to accompany Matelote d'Anguille. The first being the Second Wine of Château Mouton Rothschild: Le Petit Mouton (£43 - £110 dependant on the vintage). Le Petit Mouton is generally made from a selection of wines from the illustrious First growth Mouton Rothschild and is harvested, vinified and bottled with the same painstaking care. Le Petit Mouton has a special family connection as it is the home of Baroness Philippine and is centred right at the heart of the estate. Le Petit Mouton's ruby red wines are deep and concentrated with a nose of cherry jam, liquorice and spice with the toast and vanilla of oak. They are elegant and lush with a palate of peach, caramel and pepper. The wines are rich and well balanced and only a few thousand bottles are produced.

The second Pauillac is Château d'Armailhac (£18) which adjoins Château Pontet Canet to the west and south and Château Mouton Rothschild to the north and east. d'Armailhac dates back to the 1680s and one famous member of the d'Armailhac family – Armand - wrote a learned treatise on vine growing and wine making in the Médoc. He was an instrumental figure in improving quality at d'Armailhac, and across Bordeaux in general. He advocated the use of Cabernet Sauvignon above the other varietals and pushed for modern practices to be implemented. d'Armailhac's wines are full, firm and expressive with aromas of smoky redcurrant, cherries and cranberry. It's a medium bodied wine with a mineral character , is deep ruby in colour – almost purple and develops a blackcurrant, coffee and liquorice flavours with age. It's a classic wine and has much potential.

If you prefer white wine an excellent choice is Domaine De Ricaud Blanc (£5.37) which has the character and the richness to stand up to the strong flavours in this dish. It's produced from the Entre deux Mers region not far away from Cadillac - south east of Bordeaux. The aromas from this slightly pale, golden coloured, slightly pearlante, easy drinking white, are all of ripe soft fruits and summer blossoms. It has complex flavours of juicy apricots and exotic fruits. Bold and long on the palate, balanced and harmonious in the mouth it has well balanced acidity and is incredibly moreish!

I would also recommend the Spanish Brissonnet Rouge (£3.08) which has a very pronounced nose with good ripe fruit. It's a very powerful fruity wine on the front palate and is concentrated with no acidity, its cherry red colour with violet bloom are typical of its youth.