Tag Archives: Gascony

Yvette’s choux fritters and the French ‘paradox’

Yvette is our nearest neighbour; a traditional Landaise farmer’s wife and testament to the so-called French ‘paradox’* (the Gascons consume more fat than anywhere else in the world, but have one of the longest life expectancies). Almost everything she eats she has either grown or nutured herself and she has no qualms about cutting off a chicken’s head to make her Sunday roast (unlike yours truly wimply here 😉 ) What’s even more amazing is that she’s still speaking to us, despite being woken up on a fairly regular basis by the thundering of our escaped horses’ hooves, churning up her land.

These little delicacies are light, airy, crisp and moreish – or so I’m told – this version contains wheat flour so I can’t eat them, but I shall be trying out a wheat-free version soon.

Ingredients (makes about 20 fritters)

125 ml cold water

50g butter, cut into small cubes

100g self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon of rum

1 litre of vegetable oil (grapeseed)

Sugar for decoration

Put the cold water in a medium-sized saucepan together with the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Place the saucepan over a moderate heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted and the mixture comes up to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately and throw in the flour, whisking well until you obtain a smooth ball of paste that leaves the sides of the saucepan clean (this will probably take about a minute).

Next beat the eggs well, then add them into the mixture, little by little, mixing well. Beat until you have a smooth glossy paste, which you should then leave to cool for about 30 minutes.

Just before cooking, add the rum to the paste and heat a litre of grapeseed oil to 180°C. Cook tablespoon-size balls of paste until they flip themselves in the oil and are golden-brown all over. Toss in the sugar and serve hot or cold.

* I put the word paradox in inverted commas because I don’t believe it to be a paradox at all. It became known as such simply because it went against the grain when trying to prove a link between high-fat consumption, cholesterol and heart disease. See here.

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Duck breast

This is a typical Gascon dish, and one that we enjoy quite frequently.  In the winter it’s lovely served with potatoes fried in duck fat and green beans. In the summer it’s delicious finely sliced and served lukewarm on a green salad with orange slices and mint. It should not be overcooked  – the meat should be pink.  The aim of a good magret de canard is a crisp skin on the outside and liberation of all the fat between the skin and the meat (which is why the fat should be drained off several times).

Everyone benefits from this dish; we eat the meat and the dog eats the fat, which is often slung across the table at him (not by me I hasten to add). Not that he actually sits at the table with us, obviously. It’s funny though how his ‘catch on the fly’ reflexes are spot-on when it comes to catching airborne duck fat, far more so than for catching common or garden morsels.

One last thing. Please remember if asking for this in a restaurant in France that it is ‘magret de canard’ and not, as a friend of my once ordered, ‘magret de connard’; the former is duck breast, the latter roughly translated means ‘breast of arsehole’…

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 duck breasts

rock salt, pepper

1 tablespoon of honey

star anise

Preheat the oven to very hot (220°C). Score the duck breasts on the fatty side using a very sharp knife, cutting in a parallel lines. Generously Season both sides of each breast with the rock salt and pepper and then the honey.  Put the two breasts together, fat side out. Bind with colourless string.  Cook for 15 minutes on one side, remove from oven and drain the fat. Then 15 minutes on the other side, remove and drain. Put back for another 15 minutes or until the skin is golden brown.

Slice into slices of just under a centimetre and serve.