Oyster, my new friend… at Le Bouchon Breton

WHEN I was a kid, my first choice as a starter for Christmas was always salmon and foie gras, leaving the grown-ups dealing with this viscous and unflavoured thing that they called oyster.

Things were pretty easy: children on one side on the table with the easy stuff and adults on the other side chatting and laughing while slurping up this mollusk.

Time passes, the family grows up and seats slowly move to the other side of the table, getting closer to the oyster plate while salmon and foie gras get harder to reach.

Still being unmarried gives you the privilege to enjoy both and pick at the kids’ plates while still filling your glass with wine. I have tried oysters, numerous times, but I just couldn’t see the point. See, my palate needs crunchiness, chunkiness, strong flavours and …well…oysters are not the most appropriate dish for that.

When I got the luck to attend one of the now legendary Dine with Dos Hermanos dinners which took place at Bentley’s, I decided to give this seafood a second chance. Because what is the point of going to an oyster bar if it’s to not try the beast? I was positively surprised and after a few ones, I was starting to understand all the buzz around it.

A few months later, a plate of 24 native Oyster from Falmouth Bay were standing in front of @dewilded and me as the starter of our extravagant meal at Racine. The occasion was so rare that it had to be enjoyed. And I loved it. The oyster was meaty, fresh and not too salty.

A real pleasure but I felt the need to improve my knowledge about this new taste for my palate, to learn more about the shell that everybody brings out for the big occasions. I needed to understand.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by Donald, the manager of Le Bouchon Breton, to attend one of their oyster Master classes. Their noble idea is to give people a good first understanding of the different oysters available and to define the type of oyster they like the most. Perfect timing!

A table, a knife, and a towel in front of me, I was ready!
First, a few things about oysters:

There are 2 types of oysters:
– The Crassostrea gigas, also known as the Pacific or Japanese oyster has the shape of a rock. They are grown in the outflow of mariculture ponds and farmers feed them with blue seaweed to give them a nutty taste.
– The Ostrea Edulis, also called the European flat oyster or Colchester native oyster the flat ones. The season starts in September and runs until December. This species used to dominate the European oyster production but disease, pollution, and overfishing have sharply reduced the harvest.

Today the Crassostrea gigas account for more than 75 percent of Europe’s oyster production.

– The appreciation of an oyster depends on three components: its salinity, its texture and its sweetness. Once you have opened an oyster, it is very important to smell it. It will immediately tell you if it’s good to be consumed….trust me. The smell can be VERY strong…

We sampled different oysters through the class. Please pardon my beginner’s description about each of them, I’m learning here!

Crassostrea gigas

Jersey: Known to be in the cleaniest water in Europe. It is a class A oyster, which means that you can eat it as it’s fished

Creuse de Normandie: Not too salty with a good fleshiness

Maldon: This one still had a strong salty taste but the flesh was good and meaty

Dorset: Very meaty with a sweet aftertaste

Special bretonne: A full sea oyster with strong saltiness and a nutty flavour

After a few oysters, the palate starts feeling an overdose of salt and to refresh it, it is important to get the acidity provided by the traditional vinegar and shallot dressing. But it should only be eaten between oysters and not together.

Ostrea Edulis

Cancale: Very nice sweet aftertaste that comes on very strongly

Belon Plate: A sweet oyster without a strong salty taste

Loch Ryan: A wonderful meaty texture with a good sweetness but yet still quite salty.

The masterclass ended with a cooking demonstration by our teacher who cooked a Rockefeller oyster, with watercress or spinach, cream and butter cooked with shallots and topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. Un délice !

If you fancy more in-depth information (and descriptions!) about oysters, I highly recommend Ostrea Edulis, a blog written by Patrick Carpenter, a real oyster foodie!

I will leave you with the words of Caesar, who during a stay in Brittany declared:

The only thing I love about this country it’s oysters.

It was the first thing ever said about it.

Oyster Rockefeller – Served 2
25g of minced shallots
50g of blanch spinach
50 ml of Ricard
50 ml of  creme fraiche
25g of grated cheese (Best would be Comte, or Gruyere
but also work well with Cheddar)
20g of bread crumbs

Melt the butter in a small frying pan.
Fry the shallots until softened.
Add salt and pepper.
Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
When ready, flambe with Ricard.
Add the cream and cooked until it’s reduced.
Open the oyster shells with a shucker. Discard the top and loosen each oyster from the base of its shell.
Place a teaspoon of the spinach mixture onto each half oyster shell to cover the oyster, add the cheese and bread crumbs and place a small lump of butter on top of each.
Place the oysters onto a baking tray and transfer to the grill to cook until golden-brown.

Le Bouchon Breton
Old spitalfield market
8 Horners square
London E1 6EW
0800 019 1704

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Croque Monsieur, the ultimate culinary equation

HAM, cheese and bread. What, at first, may appear to be three of the most basic ingredients in culinary equations has transformed many a foodie and chef into obsessive mad scientists, in search for their ultimate combination.

While scientists may spend hours in front of their blackboards, trying to solve problems which will finally see them awarded the Nobel Prize, our tireless food fanatics are searching far and wide for the perfect balance to the ever-elusive the HCB conjecture. Mathematics may be complex, but when it comes to ham, cheese and bread, you may be stretching into a branch of algebra which makes even the Millennium Prize Problems look like a walk in the park.

With ever-changing variables, based on the smallest adjustments, the HCB is a convoluted equation. Should B2 automatically be solved as H2C2 or does in require the inclusion of Lettuce and Tomato for equilibrium? Are Ketchup and Mayonnaise variables or absolutes? Can Mayonnaise be wholly disregarded and replaced with Mustard, no matter what the assumption or must they be combined for a truly balanced solution?

B2/(TLH2C2) or B2/(LTH2C2)?

B2/(THCLHC) or B2/(HLTC)?

Where does the K fit in this? Or the M? And then which one, or both?

A new school of thought eschews the H2C2 altogether and redefines B to propose a BLT conjecture! Is this the realm of genius or heresy?

Above and far beyond the realm of the HCB conjecture, comes an ultimately more multifaceted conjecture, though. Only discussed in hushed tones and well away from the chalk and pencil marks of more staid researchers, exists The Croque. Adding both masculine and feminine gender-differentiators, a much-debated addition of intricate fluid mechanics – known only as Be – and energy modifiers as an overall catalyst, the Croque is the granddaddy of all HCB variations.

And yet, word was going round that one had cracked the problem.  In a moment of enlightenment, not only did he overlay the HCB with the contested Be, he managed to integrate it within the original equation as well, creating unforeseen effects of stability. As a finishing flourish, he included one more variable; a distinctive variation of M, elaborated by French scientist in 1856. A final coup de grace to all those that had battled the Croque conjecture in the past or a personal folly that would bring the whole equation crashing down?

One Sunday morning, a group of aspiring HCB researchers, also known as the Croque Police Tastings (Click to sign up), composed of @Garlicconfit, my dear D. and I, embarked on an expedition to investigate, assess and analyse the fruits of their travails. The culinary community was rife with commentary, ranging from scientific speculation to playful mockery, but it did not detract the from the team’s concentration and diligence.

Our goal: To verify that the most complex HCB conjecture variant, had been irrevocably solved.

Our target: The Draft House where Charlie Mc Veigh and his team took on the challenge to find the right equation.

Our findings? Ladies and gentleman, here it is, I give you the perfect Croque Monsieur!


Two slices of Bread, Béchamel inside and outside the Croque Monsieur, Ham and the ultimate touch: some Dijon Mustard. What a clever idea!

The toasted bread was crunchy, and not too soggy. The béchamel and the cheese combined together created a good texture. The ham added a very enjoyable meaty taste and the Dijon Mustard gave a great kick to the dish.

Well done to the Draft House for their hard work!

The Draft House Northcote
94 Northcote Road
London SW11 6QW
020 7924 1814

The Draft House on Urbanspoon

Mac ‘n’ Cheese, a comfortable food

MACARONI and cheese, or macaroni cheese, or Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of the most popular quick ‘n’ easy dishes in the States and the British people are making it one of their favourites as well. But did you know that its popularity has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson serving it at a White House dinner in 1802 (according to Wikipedia, of course)?

It may not be the finest or most exquisite meal the culinary world has ever created but it contains heaps of that wonderful feeling that makes up the best of “Comfort food”.

With two words, food becomes an instant grandma’s recipe, curing any ailment and putting a silver lining through even the darkest cloud, giving you the strength you need to face the rest of the day.

Two words, but so powerful. And that’s exactly what food is all about: to bring you the pleasure you’re looking for.

The lovely, cheese-loving Fiona Beckett came back from a trip to the States where she hoped to find the ultimate Mac’n’Cheese. Her quest proved harder than she imagined, though, as nothing seemed to live up to her expectations.  Naturally, then, it was time to step things up and call upon that most trustworthy found of inspiration and creativity, the UK Food Blogger, and challenge them to the Ultimate Macaroni Cheese.

Coming from France, I couldn’t resist giving this American/British meal a unique French touch inspired by the pinnacle of Alpine Comfort Food.  For those who have spent some time in the Alps during winter, they will always remember their first experience of Fondue.

With that idea in hand, two artisanal French cheeses, a baguette, some white wine and some mushrooms later, the Mac ‘n’ Cheese à la française recipe was born!

Mac ‘n’ Cheese à  la française – Serves 6/8
120g butter plus more for the gratin dish
A de-crusted baguette, diced into small cubes
200g of oyster mushrooms
100g of chesnut mushrooms
20cl crisp, dry Chasselas (Fendant from Valais – Switzerland) or Sauvignon Blanc
1.3 liter milk
125g flour
2 tsp salt, plus more for the macaroni water
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
350g of grated Comte
150g of grated Mimolette
225g grated Gruyère
500g elbow macaroni

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Butter a large gratin dish. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the diced bread. Cook until golden. Set aside.

In a saucepan over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the mushrooms. Once the juice has evaporated, pour 10cl of white wine and stir for a couple of minutes. Set aside.

Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat.  Melt the remaining butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour.  Cook and stir for 1 minute.

While whisking, add 10cl of white wine and let it cook for 2 minutes. Then, add the hot milk a little at a time to keep the mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, for 8 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, peppers, 300g of the Comté/Mimolette mix and 100g of gruyere. Set the cheese sauce aside.

Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold water and drain well.  Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.

Pour mixture into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the remaining Comté/Mimolette mix and gruyère and bread crumbs over top. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

Let sit 5 minutes on a wire rack.

French Cuisine

Eiffel TowerHow to define French cuisine?

Well, maybe…
The best traditional wines and the most refined cheeses?
The diversity of regional specialities?
Two hours for a three-course lunch break?
A 500-m queue on a Sunday morning outside a bakery for a fresh croissant?
A piece of baguette at every meal?
The most recognised gastronomic restaurants?
The Michelin guide?
A multitude of awards to celebrate the best ingredients?
A title for the best artisan in cultivating or creating specific food products?

French Cuisine… Don’t we do a bit too much?!
Most probably, but that’s what French Cuisine is all about after all! Santé!

Gougères Bourguignonnes – 6 persons

100g of unsalted butter
150g of flour
150g of grated cheese
4 eggs
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven over 180°C / Gas 6
Butter and flour a pastry pan.
Boil 25 cl of water with the butter in a non-stick pot with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Take the pot off the fire and the flour in one go and stir vigourously.
Replace the pot on the fire and continue to stir until the dough becomes one big bowl.
Take the pot off the fire and add the eggs one after the other while continuing to mix.
Add the grated cheese and mix again.
Using a tablespoon, form small balls of dough and place them on the pastry pan for 20 mn (the balls will double in size).Gougères

Road Trip

Travel Kit

The sun and the heat have finally decided to say Hello.

Dresses and skirts are ready for a journey away from the cupboard where they’ve hibernated all winter.

Sunglasses are back, happy to show off their myriad of shapes and sizes.

All is set to make the best of the summer holiday.

It’s now time to start your engines and get ready to enjoy a food speciality road trip of France.

In Normandy, give a ‘l’Omelette de la mère Poulard‘ or ‘Camembert‘ a go.
In Brittany, you can’t escape the ‘crêpes‘ and ‘kouign amann‘.
Along the Atlantic ocean, you wouldn’t resist either the ‘foie gras‘ or ‘confit de canard‘.
Further south, don’t miss the ‘Poulet basquaise‘ or a few ‘boles de Picolat’.
The beautiful south east will tempt you with a ‘ratatouille‘ and a refreshing ‘Salade niçoise‘.
Spend an afternoon hiking through the Alps to prepare yourself for a ‘Gratin dauphinois‘ or a ‘fondue savoyarde‘.
Swinging by the Massif Central, experience the ‘lentilles du Puy‘ or ‘escargots de Bourgogne‘.
Heading back north east, it’s time for a ‘Quiche Lorraine‘ with a glass of ‘Champagne‘.
Finally, make your last stop in the north to enjoy a ‘gratin d’endives‘ or a very tasty ‘tarte au maroilles‘.
For those who are ready for a little overseas travel to the French Islands, a ‘colombo‘ or ‘acras de morue‘ will bring you the sun you miss.

Quiche Lorraine – 6 persons
1 shortcrust pastryQuiche Lorraine
350g of smoked bacon, diced
200g of grated cheese
4 eggs
40 cl of ‘creme fraiche’
2 pinches of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas 6
Stretch the pastry into a tart form and put it into the fridge.
Place the bacon in a pot of boiling water for one minute and drain.
In a non-stick pan, fry the bacon for 5 mn at medium heat without oil or butter.
Drain the bacon on absorbent paper.
In a salad bowl, mix the eggs with the cream, the nutmeg, the salt and the pepper.
Add the bacon and the pieces of ham.
Pour the mixture on the pastry in the tart form and cover with grated cheese (preferably gruyere).
Place in the oven for 40 mn.
Serve with lettuce.

You can also find this recipe on a foodie friend’s blog – http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.comhttp://bit.ly/eC9e2


According to Wikipedia, fount of all modern knowledge, evolution is the product of two opposing forces: processes that constantly introduce variation and processes that make variants become more common or rare.
So, just like species of life been affected by variation and evolution over time, recipes can evolve in time as well, passing from one generation to another, to be adapted and altered through the progress of eras and civilizations .
But, despite what some purists may say, that traditional recipes  are made to evolve, to be improved upon  and, sometimes,  even transgress the established rules.
Just like every person with a passion, foodies can’t help but add their personal variation to a traditional recipe, keeping it fashionable and ready for the ever evolving palates of its connoisseurs.

Mushroom Burger – 2 persons
The full-mushroom variation of the traditional burger…
4 flat portobello mushrooms
100g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
2 beef burger patties
4 tomatoes, chopped
2 slices of cheese
Balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic
10 cl of crème fraiche
A handful of rocket

In a pan at medium heat, cook the chestnut mushrooms for 10 minutes.
Add the cream and stir for a couple of minutes before setting aside to cool.
Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil with the chopped garlic in a large pan and sauté the large flat mushrooms. Set aside.
Heat frying pan until very hot, then turn the heat down to medium.
Cook the burger patties for 2 or 3 minutes on each side before
covering each with a slice of cheese and let it melt.
Place one large flat mushroom in the middle of a plate and top it with two tomato slices, some rocket, the chestnut mushrooms cream, the meat with the cheese and cover with another flat mushroom.
Your mushroom burger is ready!


Pass it on

Recipes should have a long and active life, passed from hand to hand, to be shared with the people we like, people we want to please or people we want to impress when they come for dinner for the first time.

Whether it is a recipe from your grandmother, your colleague or a website you saw the day before recipes are made to travel around the world. You don’t know where it starts and you will never go how far it can go. France, England, Malaysia, South America… Recipes can become incredible globe-trotters and teach us a lot about the taste of the world.
And thanks, Mr. Oliver for what you’re doing to get people back in their kitchen!

Last evening, we had our first couch-surfer at home from Ohio. As a French person living in the UK, I  made the following recipe, given to me by a colleague of mine, leaving in England. Pass it on and make it live. That is what sharing a recipe is all about, just as couch-surfing is all about sharing experiences.

Mozzarella Pasta Penne – 4 persons
250g pennePasta
1 can of plum tomatoes
1 can of chopped tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons of sundried tomato paste
150g of mozzarella
A good hand of chopped fresh basil
125g of grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven at 200°c.
Cook the pasta in boiling water until just tender.
Meanwhile heat the plum tomatoes and oil in a pan, breaking down the tomatoes gently with a wooden spoon.
While mixing, add the fresh tomatoes, the sundried tomato pasta, the diced mozzarella, half the parmesan, basil and seasoning to taste.
Bring to the boil and remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta and place in an ovenproof dish, pour the mixture over it and put it in the oven with remaining parmesan until the cheese is golden.
Serve with some chopped fresh tomatoes and lettuce.