Read Deep France Online

Authors: Celia Brayfield

Deep France (9 page)

Glynn was enraptured, so there was nothing for it but to find a seat, order a round of the pink aperitif called
and watch the spectacle. Even the discovery that
tastes even more like cough-mixture than Campari could not spoil the magic of the hour. Just as well the daube in the oven, intended for our dinner, would only improve with longer


Beef Daube

, hearty casseroles, are typical winter dishes all over the south of France and in previous centuries would have been cooked slowly for hours over the embers in
the fireplace. In the Béarn, they used a special pot-bellied earthenware casserole with a well-fitting lid, called a

The Béarnais daube is one of the simplest, and traditionally has pork rind among the ingredients. The rind makes the juice exceptionally rich, and can either be used in one piece at the
bottom of the casserole or cut into pieces with the meat. Most people now would prefer their casseroled beef in reasonably hearty chunks, but in past times the daube was made with small slices of
meat about 5 mm (¼ in) thick.

One old trick which is worth trying, however, is to make the daube the day before you need it, without cutting off the fat attached to the meat. Chill the daube overnight, and before reheating
it you will be able to render the dish fat-free easily by lifting off the dripping that has risen to the top and congealed.

A Béarnais daube is slightly spicy, flavoured with a mixture called
quatre épices
. It’s a blend of common spices which is used all over Gascony, especially in pates
and casseroles. Coming from a region where nothing succeeds like excess, it naturally combines more than four spices, and most cooks make up their own mixture to suit their own taste, choosing from
black or white pepper, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg or mace. The spices are, of course, a Moorish legacy, imported by the invaders from North Africa who overran Aquitaine
and got as far north as Poitiers in the eighth century.

Serves 8

1.5kg (3½ lb) beef – shin, stewing beef, topside or silverside

6 shallots or 3 medium onions

500g (18oz) belly pork, salted or fresh, with the rind – if you are blessed with a real butcher, you can ask him to slice off the rind in one piece for you

1 bay leaf

several sprigs of thyme

6 cloves of garlic

1 tsp powdered quatre épices, or whole spices tied in a piece of muslin

1 tbsp chopped parsley or small bunch of parsley stalks

a pinch of salt

1 bottle of red wine

Preheat the oven to 130°C/ 275°F/ Gas 1.

Cut the beef into pieces of your preferred size. Peel and slice the shallots or onions. Cut the pork into small chunks; if you have been able to buy the pork with its rind, put the rind in the
bottom of the casserole, fat-side down because the skin side will stick. Put the bay leaf and a sprig of thyme on top of it. Crush the garlic.

Put a layer of shallots or onions in the casserole, then a layer of meat. Sprinkle with the
quatre épices
, or add the whole spices tied in muslin, and the salt, garlic and herbs.
Add a second layer of shallots or onions, a second layer of meat, then more herbs, and repeat until all these ingredients, including all the thyme and the salt, are in the casserole. Finally, heat
the wine in a small saucepan, let it boil for about 5 minutes to reduce it, then pour over the meat and flavourings.

Put the lid on the casserole, with a piece of foil or a damp cloth if it does not fit tightly, and cook in the centre of the oven for 5 hours. If you want to serve the daube
immediately, simply take it out of the oven and pick out the bay leaf, thyme stalks and any whole spices – carefully, because the meat will be meltingly tender. Then serve with mashed or
baked potato, or polenta.

If you’re making the dish the day before you need it, you can then leave it to cool in the oven with the heat turned off, and transfer it to the refrigerator. The next day, pick off the
surface fat and reheat for an hour at the same oven setting.

Hot St Clement’s Cake with Jurançon

This is not a classic recipe, but my own take, with Béarnais flavours, on the light dessert cake found all around the Mediterranean, and wherever the Moors traded
almonds. Jurançon wine, from the vineyards near Pau, comes in sweet and dry versions. The dry is a favourite aperitif, while the sweet Jurançon, chilled, is the proper accompaniment
foie gras
. It is a delicate, fresh dessert wine, incapable of cloying, neither as complex as Sauternes nor as perfumed as Beaumes de Venise, though you could use either as a substitute
in this recipe.

For the cake

175g (6oz) unsalted butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

1 medium orange

3 large eggs, separated

90g (3oz) self-raising flour

85 ml (3½ fl oz) Jurançon wine

90 g (3oz) ground almonds

For the sauce

1 medium orange

1 lemon

30g (1 oz) granulated sugar

a pinch of
or chilli powder

3 tbsp Jurançon wine

Allow the butter to soften to room temperature. Preheat the oven to l60°C/ 325°F/ Gas 3. Grease a 20cm (8 in) cake tin. The sort with a loose base are almost

Tempting as it will be to make the cake in a mixer, it would not be as light as it will be if you start it off with a wooden spoon and elbow-grease. By this method, cream together the butter and
caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Grate the orange zest and fold into the mixture, then gradually beat in the egg yolks, followed by 2 tbsp of flour and the Jurançon wine. Next, take a
metal spoon and lightly fold in half the almonds, then half the remaining flour, then the rest of the almonds, and finally the last of the flour.

Whisk the egg whites until firm and peaky, then, with the metal spoon, fold them into the mixture. Spoon it into the cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until
you can stick a skewer in the centre and pull it out unsmeared.

While the cake cooks, make the sauce which will turn it into a wickedly sticky dessert. Pare off the peel from the orange and lemon and slice into fine strips. Put the peel, the sugar, the
or chilli powder and 100 ml (4 fl oz) of water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 10 minutes, then leave to work up more

Squeeze the juice of the orange and the lemon. When the cake is ready, turn it out of its tin and place on a wire rack to allow the bottom to cool a little without getting soggy. Take
the strips of peel out of the sauce, add the fruit juice and the Jurançon wine, turn on the heat and simmer until reduced by half. Carefully transfer the still-warm cake on its
serving plate, make some tiny holes all over it with the skewer, and drizzle the sauce over the cake until it is all absorbed. Make a pile of the candied peel in the centre, and allow to cool
before serving. An orange sorbet, ice cream or creme fraiche is a good accompaniment.


Alexandre Dumas, Béarnais at heart

Happy New Beret

Glynn needed to buy a beret. This was to go with his corduroy suit, which he had made by a tailor in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, and wore with co-respondent shoes, into whose
origins I have never enquired, and a tweed over­coat outdoors. Whereas the proper topping for this rig in England would be a flat cap, Glynn asserted his Francophilia with a beret, and could be
seen bustling round his home turf of Fitzrovia, the former Bloomsbury territory in central London, gazing keenly about from under the overhang of his favourite accessory.

A good beret is a vulnerable piece of headgear. Many a moth had got a good start in life from one of Glynn’s berets during the summer break, stuffing itself into a pupa on the high-quality
wool and leaving large holes to be discovered with howls of anguish round about the beginning of October. Glynn’s last beret was stolen on a TGV somewhere, the price you pay for only buying
the best.

He had come to the right place, because the French beret certainly originated round here, and was adopted by the Basques as a symbol of their nationalism about a hundred and fifty years ago.
Therefore, I suggested, the best place to look for a beret shop would be in Bayonne, the capital of the Basque Country in France.

Bayonne was in a festive frenzy, which is its preferred
state. Architecturally, it is a dignified and prosperous city built on the rising ground around two majestic rivers,
the Adour and its tributary, the Nive. The river embankments and behind are terraced with handsome half-timbered Basque townhouses, their exposed beams painted blue, green or the signature colour
of Euskadi, ox-blood red. The shady cobbled streets rise steeply to the walls of the double-spired cathedral.

You don’t expect a city of such obvious eminence to grab any excuse for a party, and if there is no real excuse, to have a party anyway, but this is Bayonne’s philosophy. If you find
the narrow streets below the cathedral frequented by less than three marching bands on any given Saturday, something must have gone wrong. I’ve stood in the old town, on the cobbled
crossroads outside the exquisite pale-blue shopfront of the posh linen emporium, and watched a different marching band jollying towards me down each one of the five roads
which meet there, my ears bombarded simultaneously with jazz, Souza, salsa,
songs and African drums.

We arrived at lunch time, a common fault of sluggardly foreigners in this deeply traditional region, where everything stops dead at 12.30 and you will be stared at as a potential hooligan if you
are still walking the streets at 12.35. After heated argument, bordering on a tantrum from Glynn, we crushed ourselves around the last remaining table in an unprepossessing caff where the
day’s special was off and a tantrum in earnest threatened.

Three musicians then shoehorned themselves into a space by the bar, and played some Basque songs. One had a small drum, another a
and the third was a young man with an
astonishingly strong but light tenor voice who sent long ribbons of song unfurling in the smoky air over the bowed heads of the diners.

Glynn’s tantrum turned instantly to rapture. It was agreed that Bayonne was the most gorgeous town south of Paris, that the half-timbered town houses were simply
glorious, that the cafe was a perfect dream, that there was no steak and chips in the world more delicious than the cafe standard of
. Henrietta — so handy to be
travelling with an expert gastronome — wondered why we in England had never learned the trick of slicing what we call skirt steak across the grain this way, thus turning a cheap, tough cut
into something tender and extremely good value.

In due time, we proceeded down one of the cobbled alleys and, leaving Chloe to try makeup in the Sephora store, found what could only be called a draper’s shop. With its plain dark wood
doors, long glass windows and generally dusty air it promised more authentic stock than the glamorous emporium at the crossroads. Behind the counter, a traditionally fey male assistant was fussing
about unpacking a delivery of Basque table linen.

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