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…
Last Friday was my mother’s anniversary, and after 19 years of absence, I still like to make a little something special to mark the occasion. I was on my own, and since we were reaching the end of the week, my fridge and food press (cupboard) looked like a Russian supermarket in the 80’s. I closed the shop and called in to my Friends next door, owners of The Forge restaurant. I knew what I had at home, and wanted to use it before getting my usual Saturday shopping. I fancied a bit of fish, and I know that they have a great supplier. Pauric gave me a nice piece of monkfish for one, we have helped each other for years now, and like a friend of mine said when I was telling her the story: “you know you have great neighbours when you can do things like that”, and she is right, even if I don’t really make a habit of it to be honest. Driving back home, I started to chuckle and thought of a great one liner: “You know when you have socializing issues, when you go to the restaurant next door to get your ingredients and cook your own dinner at home”. There is a bit of truth there, for sure!
Well, this is a classic of French cuisine. Great on a plate of crudity ( with grated carrots in an olive oil and lemon dressing and cooked beetroots with an orange and yogurt dressing). First operation, you need to peel the celeriac, then start cutting it in very small strips…
For the mayonnaise:
- 1 egg yolk
- 1tsp of english mustard ( or dijon)
- Olive oil added little by little
- salt and pepper
- a drizzle of lemon juice
- Whisk until thickened in a large bowl drizzle of lemon at the end…
Put the celeriac thinly sliced in the mayonnaise and fold gently, ready to serve with cold meats, slices of sourdough, pan fried white fish or with other crudities.
I used to know that French chef; arrogant, aggravating, a “je ne sais quoi” of rudeness and a pinch of sarcasm. The whole package. No country and no town were ever good for him, so his judgemental ways forced him to be of the nomadic kind. He rang me one day with the news I have been dreading: “Hello, how are you? Guess what, I am in Ireland!”… Great. Thankfully, I never had to work with him but we did share an interest for food and we met the odd times in the local pub. It wasn’t long before he started criticising the local cuisine. He had developed a particular hatred for Coleslaw, something that was alien to most French people then, but like bacon and cabbage, we had incredibly similar things! I pointed out that “Macedoine” was one of them, a medley of cooked carrots, peas and beans, mixed with lots of mayonnaise and served rolled inside a slice of ham ( now I think about it, it was pretty gross…). The other one, much closer was “remoulade”, thinly sliced strips of raw celeriac, served as a crudity starter; it delivered quite a punch of flavours. He shrugged his shoulders in dismissal and finished his pint.
This amusing anecdote came back to me the other day as I was visiting my organic vegetable guy in Mullingar. He had some lovely Irish celeriac, so it gave me an idea for a little bit of fun. First – and for old time sake – I decided to make a remoulade, which brought me back to my school days, a popular starter in our canteen! Well, popular with the intendant in charge of writing the menu that was…
What I love though, is cream of celeriac, so comforting and full of flavours, ideal as a side order, with lamb or beef. Since I am less and less fond of lamb (don’t ask, I don’t really know myself), I went to the Flood Brothers, butcher shop and social magnet of my village. They gave me a nice piece of filet, local… Aged nicely. For the cream of celeriac, it couldn’t be easier; peel the root and wash the dirt off. Slice it into tranches and then into cubes. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil add the cubed celeriac as well as two cloves of garlic in and cook until soft (about 15 minutes, keep checking with the tip of a knife after that). Drain the water off and put it in a recipient suitable for blending. Add a bit of black pepper, a tsp of mustard and a splash of fresh cream (not too much, you can still add more later, 10cl should do).
I served my filet steak with it, and some honey roasted raw beetroot wedges. A simple seasonal feast. As I was enjoying my late lunch in the kitchen, my mind went on a rambling, thinking about my rude French chef acquaintance. I realised that I haven’t heard of him in nearly 14 years, how time flies! The last time I saw him, he was packing to go to work as a chef for a petroleum company, far, far inside the wilderness of Siberia. Never heard of him since. Like an old friend used to say: “ The good Lord doesn’t pay out every Friday, but when he pays, he pays well…”