Friday, October 14, 2011

Cooking experiment

Last Saturday, my daughter took me to a wonderful restaurant in Tain-l'Hermitage, Le Quai, on the banks of the Rhône.

That was the view from our table. The old suspension bridge enables pedestrians to stroll across the river to the neighboring right-bank town of Tournon. In doing so, you move from the Drôme department into Ardèche. These two communes—Tain l'Hermitage and Tournon—are located at the heart of an exceptional viticultural territory, whose wines are labeled Côtes du Rhône.

Emmanuelle and I order the same main dish: carré d'agneaux (lamb cutlets) and gratin dauphinois (sliced potatoes roasted in cream). It was delicious. Amazingly, although that celebrated potato dish bears the name of the ancient French province in which I've settled down, the Dauphiné, I realized (with shame) that I had never actually cooked it at Gamone. So, I had to make amends for that laxity.

Inevitably, by the time I got around to preparing a dinner of lamb cutlets and potatoes at Gamone, my daughter had returned to her busy existence in Paris. So, she'll have to evaluate my culinary achievements solely from the following photos. For the lamb cutlets, I adopted a recipe based upon breadcrumbs, mustard, olive oil and aromatic herbs.

The authentic recipe for gratin dauphinois is surprisingly simple. The essential ingredient is Charlotte potatoes, which are particularly firm. (I must admit that I don't know if this ideal licensed variety exists outside France… and, if so, under what name.) And you need half-liquid cream of the kind sold in plastic bottles.

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. In an ovenware dish, place a layer of sliced potatoes, apply salt and pepper, and cover with cream. Repeat this to obtain four or five layers. Roast slowly: an hour at 150°. So, if you're cooking the lamb and the potatoes in a single kitchen oven, you'll need to insert the potatoes well before the lamb.

The sauce is obtained by the usual technique of déglaçage (deglazing). This consists of scraping up everything from the ovenware dish in which the lamb was roasted, transferring it to a frypan, applying heat for a few minutes in order to get rid of grease, and finally adding a bouillon concocted with a vegetable cube of the Maggi or Knorr kind.

My cooking experiment was totally positive. But, at Gamone, two elements were missing: the company of my wonderful daughter, and the view of the Rhône. On the other hand, Sophia and Fitzroy each got a bone and a bit of sauce.

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