Hake Mornay

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Hake with Mornay sauce

My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland was in Sligo, in 1995, a very different island then now I get to think about it. The Peace Process had been engaged by all parties the previous August and even if the fires of “The Troubles” had been finally put out, the cinders of a violent conflict were still red hot. I remember that day well, got up that morning to walk around the town, said hello to “The Hero” in the Silver Swan Hotel now known as The Glass House, my first gig in a professional kitchen too! It was hanging over the Garavogue River that crosses the town, all the way to Lough Gill to the East, beautiful Yeats County…

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Fragile Peace Process, John Street, Sligo
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“The Hero” in the Silver Swan Hotel

My friend had to cover the service for Paddy’s Day’s lunch but he would be available for a few pints afterwards. We agreed to meet across the road on Wine Street in a pub that no longer exists, Walter Carrolls I think its name was. The owner used to serve the pints of stout at the end of a Hurley stick, not an easy task is you must ask where steady hands were required. I enjoyed the parade, the music and all the clichés that comes with, including those two guys in front of me who had decided to go and slap each other in the privacy of Stephen Street.

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The Garavogue River leading to Stephen’s Street.

“The Hero” finally arrived and he ordered two “half and half” pints of Guinness sat down on the chair next to the musicians and the welcoming fire in this cold March afternoon. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket that seemed to be bothering his comfort. It was a copy of the lunchtime menu and as I was looking through the classics of the times, a fish dish caught my eye and I asked my friend:

” – What is Cod Mornay?

– It’s like a béchamel sauce with cheese in it, it’s quite nice!

– Fish with cheese?” I asked amused. A few short months later, I was sitting in a pub restaurant in Barna, co. Galway and it was on the menu and I went for it, served in an all in one baked dish, with potatoes and broccoli. It was quite nice, and it became my favourite when I stopped in Donnelly’s for a lunchtime treat. Funny enough, I have never recreated this dish or at least not with fish ( I have made plenty of cheesy béchamel since though). I often thought about it, from time to time, and my innocent days in Sligo town on a cold March afternoon…

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Benbulben Co. Sligo

I created this dish with a bit of fun in mind, but I wanted it to also make sense for the taste pods if you know what I mean. I also wanted to say thank you to Vincenzo La Manna who is a sheep farmer and cheese maker in Cork. He kindly sent me some of his Pecorino the other week, and I really wanted to make something cool with it. Chef Ray Mc Ardle from the Forge Restaurant next door provided me with a nice piece of hake, the fun was about to begin.

Ingredients:

  • Piece of Hake, boned and with skin on
  • 1 celeriac
  • 1 handful of baby spinach
  • 2 cloves of Garlic
  • 1 whole carrot
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 tsp of Rayu (White Masu)
  • salt, pepper and olive oil at the ready

For The Mornay sauce:

  • 50 g of butter
  • 50 g of flour
  • milk until thick ( 15 cl)
  • 100-150 g of Pecorino

First, start with the celeriac and spinach mash… I peeled and chopped the root vegetable, cut it into cubes and brought it to the boil with a clove of garlic until soft. It is quite a quick operation so don’t go too far!

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Celeriac to the boil

Let it cool down and then blend it with the handful of baby spinach. I wanted the delicate flavours to come through so I didn’t interfered with it too much. For the carrot and rayu pesto, I grated one large organic carrot ( I use organic in all my food, as much as I possibly can), added two tsp of Rayu, which is a condiment made of peanuts, sesame, oil and chillies. Used in cooking from Korea, china and Japan. Everyone is going nuts about it here ( haha, I know!) and I didn’t know what it was until three days ago. Since we are now stocking it at work, I decided to use it in my pesto and it worked really well. Blend the lot with olive oil and the juice of half a blood orange and half a lemon…

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Carrot and Rayu pesto
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Carrot and Rayu Pesto
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Rayu – The stuff everyone is nuts about!

Time to get the sauce on its way; melt the butter then add the flour on a very low heat and keep stirring… Keep adding some milk little by little until thick but not too thick. Add the grated Pecorino and keep stirring. If you feel that it is too lumpy, you can always give it a blitz in the blender…

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Pecorino Vincenzo
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Grated Pecorino

For fun and presentation, you can make little cheese crisps by simply putting some of the grated cheese on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Let them dry and gently lift with the tip of a knife onto some kitchen paper…

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Pecorino Crisps

For the fish, get a non stick pan with olive oil and start frying on the skin side until the fish is fully but not over cooked. You can put the lid of a pan on top to accelerate the process…

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Scored Hake

Poor the sauce on the plate, scoop the celeriac and spinach mash, the hake on top skin up, and a small tbsp of carrot and rayu pesto for zing and contrast. Et voilá, enjoy with a nice glass of Malvasia or a Gavi di Gavi!

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Hake Mornay

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall

Franck

 

 

 

Mash Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce

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Mash Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce

When I was a kid, we had something at school called the “Cantine”, a self service refectory, subsidized by the State and for a mere £1 or 10 Francs at the time, you could get a three course meal. We didn’t realise then how lucky we were, just more interesting by what was on the menu. Yes, every Monday morning, during the 10 O’clock recess, a sheet of paper would be stapled on the notice board under the giant wooden porch. We gathered around, impatient with the excitement of youth, full of false expectations, a reminder that we were in here for the long haul, most of us against our will. So the menu, knowing what we were going to eat that week, was a little ray of sunshine, our way to cope with the long days ahead even if the week was broken in half, Wednesdays off but a long way to the Saturday’s lunchtime bell, the relieving sound of a long awaited short weekend…

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Vagabondage, a Roasties Story

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Lamb and Sheep on a morning walk

For some reason, and despite what radio desperately try to sell us as being the most depressing time of year, I quite like January. I know we are now in February, yes, I am aware of that and this is just my point! I have been busy. You see, in the kind of job I do – and like a lot of other people like me- food retail is a challenging and trying business in December. Don’t get me wrong, it has its rewards, but since we start talking and working on it since at least September in order to deliver the best service, it is important to manage oneself physically and psychologically; laughing you may, but this is the truth. So when the new year finally comes, it is imperative not to let others tell you the way you should feel, act or behave. For me, I keep on going, most of the time relying on my own entertainment as most other friends and acquaintances ( even customers) tend to hide for a bit, and I understand that. No New Year’s resolutions, or at least not for another while, too soon for any types of challenges apart from a wish to have the best of my stories and recipes made into a wee book, just for me, and maybe to print some of my best pictures for a little exhibition maybe? We’ll see. So when January came, I decided to keep on indulging on my morning walks, let my spirit roam free around the surrounding Townlands, take it all in, rewarding my soul….

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A Noël Tale

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“A Noël Tale”

My last Christmas in France was 25 years ago, having since dedicated my life to my new found love: food and wine; from the kitchen first to specialized retail adventures. My point is, in the world of fine dining (I am trying real hard not to use the word “Gourmet” here), when the last few days before the climax of Christmas reach its peak, it’s all hands on deck to advise, suggest and supply the goods for all the gentle folks of a well tuned-in modern Ireland. Rushing to Dublin airport on the 24th to head back to France for a couple of days wasn’t somewhat appealing to me so I didn’t bother. And since I don’t fly and the Ferries are off duty, the choice was somewhat simple…

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Potato and Mont d’Or Vacherin Tart

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Mont d’Or and Potato Tart

My Aunt is a very beautiful woman; she married a beautiful man and they had three beautiful children. This is the perfect start to a Fairy Tale and I am going to leave it like that, as all I have from them are just good memories. One day, we got invited ( or we invited ourselves, not sure) in the remote parts of “La Creuse”, an unfortunately named region of France wedged between Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand, near the Auvergne. Translated in English, it basically means “The Dig”. They unsuccessfully tried to change the name of the the “County” or department as we call them in the hexagon, but with no luck. Yes, we got invited by Mrs Gillet, the old lady on the right of the picture, mother of Bernard, father of my beautiful cousins who always smelled nice of some softener and after shave. She invited us to spend a bit of time, us Bretons – because we loved her son like our own. She made a local recipe that day, while my sister, my cousins and I  entertained the soon to be dinner rabbits in the cage outside; a potato tart! What? It was so good that my mother spoke about it on a regular basis for at least 20 years after that!!! But never tried to recreate it… I craved for many years, this simple and humble recipe. So today, as the fairy tale of December is on its way, I decided to make my own version… My December recipe perfect for this rainy week!

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Veggie Shawarma

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Veggie Shawarma

This little recipe is just a follow up of my awesome story “The Con Artist”. I hope you read it, because the following recipe is going to make a lot of sense; well, at least, I hope so. You see, when we grew up in the unforgiving world of Rock’n’Roll fueled, penny less like many in the city of Rennes, administrative Capital of Brittany ( we all know Quimper is the real one!), we young Bretons had to treat each other once in a while. As I am writing these words, I noticed that a little red zig-zag appeared underneath the noun; this aggravates me greatly! Anyhow, it also appear to happen for the word “Zigzag” … Sigh! We drank bear during concerts and gigs and yet, we didn’t go to the temptation of “Mr Mc”… If we were lucky enough to have a few credits left, we went to the Lebanese, the Turks or even the Greeks for a soaking Shawarma. There was many different names for it, especially on St Anne’s square, our hunting ground, but we didn’t care… Our left wing upbringing made us all friends… 22 Francs for a Shawarma or a Djeros? Big money then for the poor, but we valued what was good to us!

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The Con Artist

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Young Hungry Breton in fashion mode

You know, when you have to survive, one has to do some pretty crazy things. Well, when I mean survive, I really mean having enough money to have a bite to eat and most importantly, a few bob for a beer or two with your friends. It was in November 1991, and the autumnal air was brisk in Rennes, the Breton Capital. I had recently joined my comrades from secondary school and their rogue theater company called “The Smoking Dogs”, a “troop” made of former students from the college (Lycée) Alain-Renée Lesage, conveniently named after the Breton born playwright from the 17th/18th century. Funny really, the irony, knowing that he was born in Sarzeau, the birth place of our theatrical mutiny, where the father of my friend “ The Hero” had a country restaurant, HQ of our young lucubration. We moved to Rennes, Breton Mecca for students of all kinds: Law, psychology, history of art to just name a few and an absolute magnet for late teenagers and young adults who had a thirst for identity, music and art in general. The City allowed us to be us, yet to feed the need to be unknown again. We were broke but we managed with our few gigs here and there, chipping in when the going was good. I wasn’t an actor in the company, but a musician; Tom, our friend and director had had a vision and he wanted the dark concept of our plays to mix circus themes and live music on stage. I was happy to get the job, accompanying the talented Ronan on guitar with my tin whistles and sometimes playing riffs of bass to the performing actors. “The Hero” and Sergio were in charge of the lights, especially the pursuit projector following the every moves of the comedians, not an easy task!

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