Cosy, comforting and all with a French twist – Rick Stein’s Secret France recipes are perfect for long autumn evenings.
I had a similar dish to this at a fish restaurant in Port-Vendres near the French border with Spain. In fact in the 1980s I used to have a version of this dish on the menu every day at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. I’ve improved it since by adding breadcrumbs and emmental cheese.
This dish comes from a restaurant in Dieppe called Le Newhaven. I wonder if there are any restaurants called Le Dieppe in Newhaven! I thought the accompanying sautéed apple might be a bit too ‘Normande’ for foreign consumption but it was actually really nice.
In Sainte-Christophe-en-Brionnais, in the Bourgogne region of eastern France, at a place called Restaurant du Midi in the high street, I found steak frites that almost matched the ideal I remember from a weekend in Paris in 1970. The steak was a large thin sirloin which was, I thought, unusual because I had been led to believe that rump was always used. It was accompanied by the crispiest thin chips imaginable and, almost as important, soft lettuce, which used to be the only kind you could get before iceberg swept the board. Don’t try to cook more than two steaks in a pan or they will stew and not fry and brown.
I’ve acquired a love of North African food after visiting Tunisia and Morocco a few times, so when I was at Le Palmier restaurant in Marseille I ordered both the couscous and the chicken and fig tagine, though traditionally they’re not supposed to go together. Hence this pairing!
This recipe came from a market stall in the Catalan area of France, where these meatballs were being cooked in a huge paella pan. Fabulous they were, flavoured with cinnamon and piment d’Espelette in an exquisite sauce with green olives, haricots and bacon. I thought there might be too much meat in the dish, but not at all.
‘Salades composées’ are an important part of a French restaurant menu. This recipe is a melange of the kind of things I like to find in such a salad.
For me, this dish seems to be the very heart of French cuisine. It also happens to be a wonderful partner to a nice white burgundy. There are many versions of this dish – my own preference for the cooking wine is Noilly Prat but sherry would be a good substitute.
This incorporates the idea of a tarte flambée (usually savoury) with a French tarte fine (apple tart) but adding a topping of much-loved crumble. It is, dare I say it myself, remarkably good. This is the sort of thing I will often resort to if I’ve got a few people round. You can have it all prepped, ready to bake when your guests arrive.
As served to the vineyard workers during the grape harvest by Aude Bonnetain and her family who make excellent Burgundy in Auxey-Duresses. The feasts – prepared by Aude’s mother – are exceptional and this dish in particular is a standout.
Alsace’s answer to coq au vin. In fact, I’ve never been entirely happy with coq au vin because the red wine sauce is never quite as deep and red as I think it should be. Coq au Riesling, on the other hand, works much better because white wine with some cream and lots of parsley looks much more appetising.
Is there anything more gorgeous than lots of onions cooked with butter for up to an hour? In this recipe, they’re simply combined in a shortcrust pastry case with egg yolks and cream then baked. This is the sort of tart the French do so well. Go easy with the nutmeg – a soupçon is enough but still makes a difference.
You might think these are from Brittany and Normandy, but those from the Auvergne also claim ownership. This recipe comes from the town of Salers, famous for its cheese which is similar to Cantal.
In France, particularly in Provence, they craftily put sliced potatoes underneath a roasting chicken, which produces an unforgettable type of pommes boulangère. Sometimes they season it just with salt and pepper, sometimes they add spices, onions, garlic and red peppers. Whichever way, this is simply chicken, slow-roasted with the vegetables underneath.
The type of cheese and ham toastie served up in motorway service stations as a croque monsieur I would simply class as a stomach filler. This, on the other hand, is a pleasure – from the crisp toast to the hint of bay leaf and nutmeg in the béchamel, and the Gruyère cheese and good ham inside.
I was first introduced to tarte flambée, which comes from Alsace, with the explanation that it’s France’s answer to pizza. In fact, though, it’s not much like pizza at all – apart from being very thin and savoury. As it is made with unleavened dough it bakes very crisply indeed, which is its great quality. Why it isn’t as famous as pizza escapes me. It comes in rounds or rectangles but I find rectangles are more convenient, as you can fit two on a standard domestic oven baking sheet.
A chorba is a North African stew flavoured with ras-el-hanout, which is a mixture of whatever spices are popular in the particular area of Algeria or Tunisia that the dish comes from. I was introduced to it by an Algerian fisherman while we were filming the TV series. I added some harissa to mine for a bit of extra oomph.
Get Rick’s book with 20 per cent off
Rick Stein’s Secret France by Rick Stein will be published on Thursday 31 October by BBC Books, price £26. To pre-order a copy with free p&p for £20.80 until 10 November, visit mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155.