02 February 2009

a hand-me-down souvenir

Even the best vacation has a definite drawback - eventually, you'll have to get back home.

Sure, there are vacations where going home is the best part. But, right now I am talking about good holidays, those trips far away where you lose the track of time and everything seems somehow enchanted.

And yet even those vacations end eventually, leaving nothing but memories.

Though, of course, we can always bring some physical proof that we had been there, some trinket that'll remind us when our memories start to fade.

We can bring souvenirs.
(Which, incidentally, is the french word for 'memories'...)

I love going on vacations. But I really cannot stand stuff that clutters up my place, being of no use until one day it is forgotten along with the original memory and yet can still be found.
(Alright, even I keep a tiny stone that I found at the Cape of Good Hope. It's just to nice a thing to throw away and not really cluttering up my place.)

So usually, I try quite hard not to buy some trinket that hangs around. Instead, as a reminder, I try to learn things. New skills, new recipes, things that are immaterial but innately useful.

Like the way I learned to flip crepes in the pan without touching them. Like the 'moules a la creme' that my wife found at the Mont St. Michel. Like learning how to make mayonnaise from scratch when I was in Portugal with 60 hungry boyscouts.

Those skills are 'things' in terms of not really being memories of events. They are part of me like breathing, I don't have to remember them. And yet, each time I make mayonnaise, I can recall the scent of the pine needles on the camping site north of Porto where I first made some. Those skills all have the added benefit of reminding me of vacations, and they can't gather dust.

Best of all - they work with second-hand vacations, too!

This week's recipe has been brought back home by my mother, after a vacation my parents spent sailing with some of their friends. I don't even remember where exactly they were, and I hardly know the friends they were with, but I am so sure I can recall it was a vacation with great food. That's what I call a hand-me-down souvenir!

This is a rather simple ragout, with only a few ingredients. But the flavours are astonishingly well matched, with a tablespoon of mustard working some serious magic in the background without ever being prominent enough to be noticed by anyone who didn't see me putting it in. It looks rather unassuming but is quite a stunner, trust me on that.

(And if you close your eyes, and chew carefully, I bet you too will be able to feel the yacht gently rocking in the evening breeze...)

Ragout Ashkelon
(serves four)

800g chicken breast (deboned)
2 bundles of scallions
1 tablespoon butter, clarified
0,5 l chicken stock
0,5 l cream
1 generous tablespoon mustard
flour to thicken
salt, pepper

Clean the meat, if necessary. Cut into nicely bite-sized pieces.

Clean the scallions of dry parts, discard the roots. Roughly half the batches so you have one part predominantly white, the other one predominantly green. Separately chop into rings.
Actually, look at the picture below. This was what greeted me when I came home from work, all clean and chopped and neatly 'mise en place'.
I am married to the best commis in the world.

In a high-rimmed, heavy pan, heat the clarified butter and sear the meat.
At this step, turn up the heat as high as your stove can give you. Even try to get a nice, hazel color on the chicken and even some crisp corners. No need to actually have the meat thoroughly done right now, it'll get enough time later on. Right now, this is about color and getting some inportant taste.

Once the meat is nicely browned, reduce to medium heat and add the white part of the scallions. Gently fry together for a minute, until the scallions turn glassy.
Now it is important not to have the pan too hot, cause once the scallions burn even ever so slightly, you'll never get that taste out of the dish again.

Add the stock, returning to full heat. Bring to a boil and leave to deglaze for a moment. Meanwhile, whisk the flour into the cold cream until well dissolved.
As you can see, this will give quite a lot of sauce, which I love. Usually this amount calls for about two tablespoons flour, but you can always take the shortcut and use some commercial thickener.
Or you can go the long way and take the time to prepare a proper roux, of course, adding a perfect silken texture to this already luxurious dish.
Whatever your time management allows for.

Add the floured cream to the pan and bring to a soft boil, stirring gently.

Season with the mustard, salt and pepper.
Usually, I take mustard 'a l'ancienne', with coarsly ground grains for this dish as it looks much better. But half of my eaters that evening weren't too fond of mustard in general and so I took the smoothly ground one and didn't tell them.

Right before serving, stir in the green parts of the scallions.
Not really cooking the greens will give a lovely crunch to the dish and a nice, lively flavour.

Serve with rice and a cool, dry white wine.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

This looks divine!