Steak Tartare,  Mayonnaise, and Bouillabaisse !

When himself went to Berlin to University ( a life time ago), he spoke no German, whatsoever. Arriving at the Hauptbahnhof, near midnight, the station restaurant was still open. Looking at the menu he recognised Nothing! But wait a moment Steak Americain! STEAK, that will do! So he chose that but to his great surprise, it was raw meat!

Times have changed, and steak Americain, or steak tartare, is one of our favourites. Of course it got a bad rap after the various BSE scares, but honestly we find it a delight, especially when it is prepared in front of you, at your table. One restaurant in London that I like and which has recently been re vamped is The Ivy in Covent Garden . I have checked and it still serves Steak Tartare either as a starter of as a main course. We were in Montreux Switzerland recently, and ate at the Jazz Cafe ( it was the Montreux Jazz festival) . On the menu we found Steak Tartare and of course we both chose it. Our friends newly arrived from Houston Texas, where they like their steaks ( big and cooked) were not so keen but JB did choose the duck and asked for it rare, and then he had food envy when he saw ours!   

 It easy to make yourself, but especially easy here in France, as the butcher will mince top quality steak for you. However, in the UK I would recommend either you mince the meat yourself, or chop it by hand but make sure it is chopped finely.

To make your own Steak Tartare you will need:-

500g of beef fillet, diced or minced.          25g of shallot or red onion finely chopped

40g of cornichons, chopped.                       40g of baby capers, rinsed

20g of Dijon mustard.                                   90g of mayonnaise

5 drops of Tabasco.                                        14ml of brandy

1 pinch of parsley, chopped.                          Salt and pepper to taste

To serve:-

4 egg yolks.       4 slices of sourdough bread And or Double cooked French ( Belgian ) fries.    100g of rocket 


the ingredients for Steak Tartare


the Chef mixing the ingredients

The finished product!

Michaël Torfs reports that the Belgian government is working on a new law which determines the composition of mayonnaise. You might think that this is a bit weird, however, Mayo is an important part of “Frites et Mayo” “frieten met mayonaise” (chips with mayonnaise). De Morgen and Het Laatste Nieuws, Belgian newspapers, and this has been picked up by The Times and the Guardian of London. The current law (1955 ), decrees that real Mayo should contain 80% fat and 7.7% egg yolk. But in times of food consciousness many manufacturers make a healthier options, which puts the Belgian producers at a disadvantage.  Actually not sure why someone would choose a lighter Mayo with the French fries after all they themselves are highly calorific, especially as in Belgium French fries are always double cooked and the best triple cooked. By the way, French fries were not apparently invented by the French but by the Belgians in the 17 th century, which strikes me as odd, as Belgium as a country did not come into being until after the Napoleonic wars! Ah Well!

Himself, when asked the other night “what would you like for dinner?” came up with the idea of Boulliabaisse. Great idea, I thought, but we had to compromise as if you read French cook books, One can not make a true Boulliabaisse, without  Racasse, ( a fish of the Scorpion Family) and alternative in the UK is Gurnard, or possibly monkfish. Acording to the orginal doyenne of cookery, Elizabeth David, said there are as many “Authentic” Boulliabaisse recipes as there are cooks!

So lacking Racasse. or anything similar, we connocted our own recipe, using that which was available, so I guess it could be called a fish stew along the lines of Boulliabaisse. The whole principle of this dinner was that himself would cook dinner. And he did.

So for our version of Bouillabaisse, he used.

  1. about 200 grms each of white fish, salmon, wth the skin removed and cut into chunks. 200 grms each of Shrimp( large ones, de-veined and heads off) Squid, cleaned and cut into slices.12 od so mussels.
  2. 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 onions chopped, 2 sticks celery chopped, 1 fennel bulb, chopped, 6 cloves garlic, chopped.
  3. 2Tbsp tomato puree, 1 can chopped tomatoes 
  4. a bouquet garni composed of thyme, bay leaves and fennel sprigs
  5. 1/2 bottle white wine. plus some Rouille for eating.( see later)
  6. a splash of lemon juice
  7. a splash of pernod ( optional of course)
  1. Boil together the oil and the wine. Add the vegetables and cook until soft. Add the canned tomatoes and the tomato purée. Add the  bouquet Garni,  along with the lemon juice andPernod.
  2. add each type of fish  separately , and cook gently, when cooked remove and put to one side, and then cook the next, until you reach the the shrimp and  mussels.. return all the fish to the stew, taste and season, add more wine of stock to create enough liquid to be able to add the shrimp and mussels. Simmer, and the shrimp and shell fish will only take a few minutes to cook.

To try and be a little more authentic this should be served in large bowls, along with some  slices of French bread toasted with some garlic butter, AND Rouille stirred into your bowl. Rouille is a fiery sauce, from theMediterranean, It is made by whizzing together, several cloves of garlic  along with 2 small red chili peppers and 1 red pepper. Take a thick slice of bread, remove the crust and soak in a little of your fish soup. Squeeze it and add to the garlic etc., Whizz in little by little an egg yolk and then add bit by bit up to 4 Fl Oz of Olive oil ( as if you were making Mayonnaise. If you think this is a bit of a faf, which I can understand, then you can by it ready made in many supermarkets. 





Wasabi, Truffle Oil and Single Clove Garlic.

I am pretty sure most of you know of Wasabi, that green hot paste type Japanese condiment that is used with Sushi and other Japanese  meals. However did you also know that Wasabi is difficult to cultivate, and that makes it quite expensive. Outside of Japan it is rare to find wasabi plants and therefore, due  to its high cost, what one buys is usually a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring. Often packages are labeled as wasabi, but the ingredients do not actually include any or little real Wasabi. I believe that high end Japanese restaurant do use real wasabi and will grate it for you at the table ( have to admit to having not seen this being done in London). Looking at my box  of “hot and spicy grated horseradish ” it contains  24% horseradish,  and only 1.6% wasabi. It also contains various E numbers, colorants and Soy ( in case you are allergic to soy.! 

 Another product, that I have had an ongoing gripe about is, truffle oil! Celebrity chefs, wax lyrical about the stuff, TV cooks both amatuer and professional use it and so the home cook, thinks, I can do that as well. I too was fooled by what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. 

Despite the name, almost all truffle oil does not contain even trace amounts of truffle; it is olive oil mixed with 2,4-dithiapentane, a compound that makes up part of the smell of truffles, is artificial and is made in a laboratory ! Essentially, truffle oil is olive oil plus truffles’  rather unpleasant  smell. Looking up  food sites you can find Truffle oil from about £5.50 for 250Mls, ( waitrose)   ( ingredients stated as olive oil and flavouring) to Carluccio’s Oilio al Tartufo,     ( ingredients, olive oil 99.9% and white truffle 0.1%) a Bit of a rip off! Even more outrageous in my opinion, is the TRUFFLE HUNTER, who claims they have a superior concentated Black Truffle oil, when looking at the ingredients, it states, Extra Virgin Olive oil, Olive oil ( I assume that is Bog standard olive oil) , black truffles( I think that it should read a smidgin of black truffle, as you can see a tiny bit floating around) and black truffle flavouring. They do not elaborate on the flavouring but I can assure you it is nothing more thatn Cheap as Chips, 2.4 dithiapentane, and if Himself  still had a laboratory, I am sure he could conjure me up some.  

 One of the leading brands is Urbani, from Italy ( $25 for 250 mls ) and as you can see from the lable, it pretends to be White truffle oil, BUT look at the lable. One American blog, states that he finds the smell of Truffle oil to be a real Aphrodisiac, but he too was fooled, by this scam. Wikepedia, tells the obvious with top American foodies, declaring it should be outlawed. 

 However , we have already understood that truffles are fairly rare and expensive, they can cost  as much as €10,000 per kilo, so why am I suprised that we are fobbed off with something that contains almost NO truffles.
So what else is new on the food scene. Well the younger himself, as previously stated, wondered why on earth I was taking so much stuff to France, including Garlic, I might add. BUT have you seen or tried this ( to me) new type of garlic. it is single bulb garlic, easy to peel, easy to squash with a knife, or in a garlic press. I love it! It also known as  monobulb garlic, single bulb garlic, or pearl garlic, is a variety of Allium sativium and the single clove is about 25-40 mm in diameter. It tatses like garlic though maybe a bit milder. It originates in Yunnan province in Southern China.  In the Uk one of the retailers is Lidl, the German discount supermarket.  


Chinese lunch,Vitelotte potatoes and French Supermarkets!

Whilst I love coming to France for the summer I have to admit to getting extremely frustrated in the Supermarkets. Firstly, customer service does not seem to exist, they will close the door on you as you are about to enter, as it is l’heure du repas ( lunch time), or’ Vous n’avez pas pesez les bananes, Madam” ( you forgot to weigh the bananas ) and so now you can forget about the bananas, and the banana bread you were about to bake, or lose your place in the queue and go back and weigh them, no-one else is going to weigh them for you! Or, what about picking up a head of celery, only to be told you have to weigh it, and yes you can buy just one stalk,hence the reason that what is normally left on the shelf are  the tatty outer stalks, as everyone has taken the choice bits from the middle!

My other complaint is the lack of products that I take for granted ( and I realise that I am spoilt by living in central London , But!) The younger Himself accused me the other day of taking Coals to Newcastle, as I was packing the car for our annual pilgrimage to the French Alps. No wasabi, no Sesame Oil, no Sweet chili sauce, no jumbo oats for porridge, no Ghee, no Panko Breadcrumbs,no horseradish sauce, even though the word for horseradish, does exist (Raifort). And, despite the shelves being jammed packed with teas of every type imaginable, no Lemon and Ginger. But on the other hand 10 different types of Lettuce and up to 400 different types of cheese and a 1000 if you count the sub divisions, so some you win and some you lose!  

Recently at a lunch, we were served, what was described erronously on the menu as Violet potatoes. I would assume that most English speakers would call them violet potatoes, as that is their colour, however, they are of french origin and are called VITELOTTE. According to Wikepedia  they are a gourmet  french potato and have been cultivated in France since the 19th Century. However the translation of Vitelotte, again according to Wikepedia, is the word Vit means Penis, and prehaps that is because of the shape of the potato.. As potato Crisps/Chips they look just fine, but as mashed potatoes, they did nothing for me not in colour, texture nor appearance, I compared it to either a dead mouse or a giant slug, that is about as appealing it can get! As my willowy brunette has been known to remark, they have to be something wonderful to justify those  calories. I was not impressed.   


violet potato chips
 Also recently we were treated to a special lunch by our dear friend Annie, who hails from the beautiful island of Taiwan. For those of you who have never been, put it on your Bucket List. Taipei, as you might imagine, is not the most beautiful city in the world, but does have the most amazing Museum housing Chinese Artifacts, which Chiang Kai Shek Stole? or rescued from Mao just after the 2nd world war, thank goodness he did so , otherwise they would all have been destroyed during the cultural revolution . There are so many  wonderful articles, that there are just too many for them all to be on display at any one time. Also in Taipai there is an enormous Multi-Storey restaurant that serves nothing but Dim Sum, the best I have ever had, but it is possible to eat good dimesum , almost anywhere in the city so now you have at least three reasons to visit Taiwan., not to mention it as being a beautiful island. After all, it used to be called Formosa, the translation of which is Beautiful!
But on to Annie, she cooked us her version of a chinese meal, which I assume is influenced by Taiwanese cooking.  We started with fish cakes and  Taiwan influenced marianted chicken wings. this was followed by Dim Sum and then fine asparagus with shrimp,noodles with small onions and chicken,sautéed asian aubergines and peking duck, All was absolutly delicious and toppd off with homemade mango ice cream and fresh mangos.All in the name of Charity “The Alexander Devine Hospice”. Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice Service was founded in 2007 with the aim of providing a dedicated children’s hospice service for all children with life limiting and life threatening illnesses in Berkshire and beyond. 


prawns and asparagus
peking duck
mango ice cream with freh mangos