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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Don’t mess with Texas BBQ Brisket

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

* * *

After another disappointing crack at BBQ Brisket Texas style this weekend, I have come to the bad-tempered conclusion that the joy of discovering how to cook wonderful dishes from far-flung places is outweighed by the complications of reproducing them elsewhere.

My Brisket is a sort of Third-Culture Recipe. It was learned in Texas by Little Old English me, and most recently I have been trying to replicate it in an another location: France. As with so many other recipe “finds”, it is the cause of endless discontent as well as fruitless searches for must-have ingredients that have no place in the third culture markets in which I find myself. In short, my brisket woes have made me conclude that the answer to the perennial Brazilian vendor’s question “Importado or nacional?” is “nacional.”

Every time.

It will be cheaper, less time-consuming and, ultimately, a better experience of the place you are living in. Additionally, you will avoid being an embarrassment to expatdom: the kind that imports Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup to a country where Maple Syrup is freely available, or baked beans to the land of feijoada (Brazil).

Look deep into your heart and you will find that while your desire to reproduce exotic recipes is partly born of greedy nostalgia, it could well include an element of entertaining one-up-man-ship.

Guilty as charged.

The Great Texan Brisket Debate

But back to the Texan Brisket.  For those unlucky enough to have never sampled this delicacy, let me enlighten you. Texans take a brisket — a chest of beef which usually weighs in at about 12lbs — and then proceed to start the Great Brisket Debate. The Debate is as much a part of the process as the cooking and eating. Some “Pit Boys and Gals” choose to make a “rub” of various spices, which they massage into the meat before cooking. Others argue that the “mop” or basting liquid will just wash most of it off anyway and that the flavor of the beef itself should be able to stand alone. Those who use a rub are sub-divided into those who use it just before the barbecuing process begins and those who like to marinate the meat overnight. (Are you beginning to see the importance of brisket to Texans?) Some sort of liquid is required during the long, slow cooking process of eight hours plus. The mop acts to keep the temperature down so the meat comes as slowly as possible to a state of doneness, and it also moistens and adds flavor to the meat. The contents of rub, mop, and barbecue sauces are personal and, as with all great recipes, subject to much secrecy.

Your average brisket is a pretty tough cut. The chest is mainly muscle and connective tissue with little fat marbling. As a result, most experts recommend dry-hanging the meat for 30 to 45 days. This ageing process allows enzymes to tenderize the meat and flavor to develop. It is a vital element in the process of successfully barbecuing brisket.

A vital element that one is forced to forgo in France.

The Battle of Bastings — to hang or not to hang?

I’ve been in France for three years and I have been trying to replicate this recipe during all that time. To start the process, I  hang up the beef myself, because the French, clearly, will not.

I have had a lot of success with brisket in England but very little in France. British beef is great for those embarking on BBQ Brisket 101. English beef comes from animals that are raised to give meat, and not from knackered dairy cows past their productive best, as so often happens in France. In addition, British breeders concentrate on small, docile beasts, which yield well-marbled and thus easily break-downable meat. Not only that, but the English animal is infinitely better hung than its French counterpart. (What am I saying? Dare I slight France’s impeccable reputation for matters of an amorous nature?)

Independent British butchers rarely age their beef for less than 21 days, while specialist, higher end establishments aim for 35 days or more. Hanging is seldom done in France because leaner meat is now in vogue: you cannot successfully age meat which lacks fat marbling. A final factor is that British cows are generally grass fed, resulting in a better flavor than French cows which, largely coming from the hot dry SW, must take a corn- or maize-fed diet.

Forget haute cuisine: it’s all about the haute boucherie. French star butcher gives seal of approval to British beef.

Now, I’m aware that an English girl talking about French meat might cause anger and even some references to Mad Cow Disease (an unfortunate episode which caused France to unilaterally and illegally ban British beef imports for six years). For this reason, I bring in Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec as my big gun. In 2012, Le Bourdonnec, Parisian butcher extraordinaire and the recipient of many awards, opened Le Beef Club, where the meat is all British. The restaurant has its own hanging room where beef is aged for up to 60 days. Le Bourdonnec is happy to tell his compatriots a thing or two about their attitudes to British Beef and why France should copy English ways. Yet opinion is entrenched amongst French farmers and butchers, even to the extent of shamelessly trimming the “fat cap” I so badly needed to protect the meat from the barbecue’s heat. Healthier, maybe; drier, certainly.

Texan Brisket – nacional, every time

The French cow — and vache I truly believe it was — who died for my barbecue last weekend, died in vain. The combo of rub, mop, slow cooking, and basting, yielded brisket which, while tasty, lacked the unctuous melting texture of the real deal. The fibres of the meat remained stubbornly overlong and well-defined to the very end. It was the texture which denied authenticity. Most Texans serve their Brisket with BBQ sauce on the side, or so I have heard from several reliable sources.  It would suggest that the brisket was less than perfectly cooked to mix the sauce through the meat. The fact that I “mixed for moisture” tells you all I need to know about the suitability of the meat in France for this particular recipe.

From now on I will reserve the meat for French casseroles and wait until I am once again in Texas to have my brisket fix.

But you know what? Thinking about it, the pork here cooks well and is tender. I wonder if I would have a better chance of Third Culture Recipe success if I turn my attention to pulled pork barbecue. Just one more bash? I’ll keep you posted…….

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Summer in a bottle…we’re jammin’

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

* * *

“I heard that wine makers in the Napa Valley have found that picking grapes at night yields better wine,” I said to my husband as we walked the dog around our little neighbourhood.

He followed my line of vision to an apricot tree, which, every June, heaves with the luscious yellow fruit.

“I still think it would be a stretch for that snippet of hearsay to justify nicking the neighbour’s apricots to make jam,” he said.

“As if I would think of it,” I snapped.

But of course, I have thought of it, and often. After three years of living in France, I realize that I have entered into the kind of seasonal cooking that would make the hearts of certain editors of food magazines sing. Preserving has become a huge part of my life. Whenever I see a tree bursting with fruit, I am mentally pulling my preserving pan out of the pantry. Indeed, no tree is safe. My own cherry tree has been stripped bare of its rich dark cherries, which are now satisfyingly preserved in jars with wide red and white checked lids and little fruit decorated labels. Kitsch? Twee? Call it what you will.

Preserving the past

Seasonal preserving not only makes me feel smugly capable, it also provides a connection with a past where preserving was a necessity and not a lifestyle choice. In France the changing seasons are very clear and marked by the varieties of available produce. This is not always the case in other countries where I have lived. Sometimes seasons are blurred due to imports for those able to pay, while in others there is a shortage of actual seasons.  I have always thought we should be grateful Vivaldi was not born in Malaysia.

Jo's strawberrys and raspberrys

At the market

Here in Aix I buy my fruit and vegetables in a large farm shop. As the year progresses, the produce changes. Strawberries come in around April or May and I watch the prices drop and drop until 4 Euros buys you 2 kilos and you are happy to macerate and preserve to your heart’s content. As the supply of strawberries peaks and peters out, in come the apricots, at jaw-droppingly low prices. In England I would feel guilty to pay that much and make jam, preferring instead to use fewer and to put them where they are visible. So the season goes on with harvests of figs, walnuts, grapes and avocados. Even after years of living overseas, it still amazes me that something as special to a Brit as artichokes or avocados can be displayed in barrels as if they were as common as potatoes in Ireland.

I hope I never lose the delight in this aspect of expat life.

Gorgeous Cheddar, where seasonal quality trumps year-round quantity

I can get quite upset thinking of the English strawberry. The best of the best, produced in the county of my birth, Somerset, in the little village of Cheddar. Poor Cheddar, famous for its wonderful cheese, which has been knocked off and plasticized the world over until most people outside the UK don’t even know what real Cheddar is. On top of this, the reduction of its strawberry industry too. The problem was that for all its well-drained and optimal facing slopes, the season was only weeks long. It couldn’t produce enough fruit to satisfy the appetite of the nation which stamped its foot and demanded more and cheaper strawberries, and a longer season to boot.

The nation should be careful what it wishes for. Fruit varieties have been tampered with and grown under plastic so that we can enjoy strawberries for longer than the two weeks of Wimbledon. Flavor has been compromised — of that there can be no doubt. But you can still buy the real thing in Cheddar, or grow your own, and it’s well worth doing if only to see what this fruit should actually taste like: strawberry, if you are interested, and not water.

Then there are the imports. I am all for world travel, but not for soft fruit on which an indefinite travel ban should be imposed. The waxy Spanish strawberry is not only nearly devoid of the flavor of strawberry, but its texture is decidedly unappealing, being as coarse and waxy as an ageing fruit-pickers cheeks.

How much do I love a good strawberry? A bushel and a peck and some in a gourd.

Having said all that, I am (somewhat surprisingly) delighted to see the vast quantities of Spanish strawberries in my French market. There are two points in my rather shifty defense. Firstly, they are cheap, which justifies their use in jam. Turning a perfectly grown, traditional Cheddar strawberry into jam would be a crime, but boiling the heck out of the Spanish and adding sugar can only act to improve the flavor they lack. Secondly, the presence of the Carpentras strawberry gives a taste of how things should be.

The village of Carpentras, in the Vaucluse region of Southern France, hosts a strawberry festival in April each year. I like to think of this village as Soft Fruit Soul Sister to Cheddar. Yet, unlike Cheddar, Carpentras has been successful, in that typically French way, of protecting its strawberry: as fiercely as Champagne growers have protected their name under a registered trademark since 1987. We have much to learn from them.

Several varieties are grown. 90% of production is given over to the parajo, while its posher cousins, the ciflorette and the garriguette, are favored respectively by patissieres and those who like their fruit as it comes. These elite strawberries have retained their, well, strawberrishness with a deeper, fuller flavor. Price is higher but it is a price that locals and fancy restaurants alike are willing to pay for flavor. My favorite is the garriguette which, at 3.90 Euros this morning for 250g (16 strawberries), is nearly double the price of the regular Carpentras, but so well worth it.

This is the taste of the homegrown strawberries I remember from my youth, complete with that rich, almost caramel-like flavour. Heaven, and worth every centime.

Joanna's jam

Joanna’s jam

Bottling summer sunshine for winter days ahead

So here in France I can enjoy quality in my tarts and quantity for my preserves, and that, I think, is a perfect combination. In England it is less of a clear cut and easy situation. Most of my local Pick Your Own farms have closed in recent years and, outside of two or three beloved greengrocers, everything is plastic punneted mediocrity. Not awful, but not good and definitely not strawberry.

Back in France, as the year progresses, so my level of stress rises. Two batches of strawberry, one of cherry, brined olives rinsed and now bottled in olive oil, and apricot in the making, have placed considerable strain on my supply of jars. Yet I am always thinking greedily ahead. Figs are already on my mind, yet here I am in the throes of moving house. Somehow, the making of that Fig Confit must happen. I can’t miss figs at those sorts of prices. They must be preserved before my pans are packed. Or immediately after arriving at the new place before my boxes are fully unloaded. Will I be able to do it? I feel the panic rising. No amount of telling myself that I don’t actually have to do it this year has any effect. I have to. I must. It’s just the rhythm of the year and I can’t bear to miss the joy of opening a jar at Christmas in the midst of an English winter. Just a little ray of Provence sunshine from my other home on a cold, cold day. A little fig confit to serve with the foie gras adds a French touch to the festive season.

The stress is intensive by that Apricot tree which still preys on my mind. Those wasted golden globes are just asking for my attention. It really would be a crime to let them wither on the tree. Wouldn’t it?

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Home is where the hearty food is

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

This month: Joanna despairs over the modern inability to enjoy the simple foods in expat life.

UPDATE: Due to popular request after this post first went live, Joanna has included her recipe for the Beef and Guinness Pie she made for her St. Patrick’s Day party. Read on!

* * *

“It’s a bit samey,” said The Husband as he cast his eye over this latest piece. “Just you telling everyone how we ex-pats are up our own arses over food.”

Fair point — but I can’t help grinding the same old axe.  I think that there is a lot of up-arseness the world over when it comes to food.  Am I alone in being so irritated by people who call themselves “foodies” as though there is some sort of originality in their love of eating?

The truth is everyone loves good food, but not everyone is lucky enough to get it that often. Have you ever met someone who smugly tells you that they have expensive tastes, as though no one else has ever wanted an Aston Martin or a Chanel suit? The very reason these things are desirable is because they are expensive and out of the reach of most. “Foodyism” isn’t much different. “Foodies” are just a bunch of people trying hard to be special, but they’re no different from anyone else.

The sad result is that we have lost the confidence to love regular everyday food that speaks, truly speaks, of the place where we find ourselves.

Drizzle with pomegranate coulis. Post photo to Facebook. Serve immediately.

It’s the same the world over. No one cooks simple food for one another anymore. If we cook, it has to be restaurant worthy, or at least it has to look it. Those who can’t cook that way get hopelessly behind and become the kind of people who never invite back for a reciprocal dinner at their place.

The more cookery programmes there are on our screens, the less we cook. These shows present cooking in a way that sets us up for failure. Recipes and presentation are so dauntingly complicated that often we don’t bother at all. When we do successfully follow a complicated recipe, we are so proud of ourselves that we post photos of it on Facebook (along with other irritating posts charting our kids’ successful routes to medical school.)  We know it annoys others but we just can’t help it. “Look at me! look at me!”

The expat is particularly prone to Food Narcissism. It’s just too easy and too tempting to show off unusual items we have seen in far-flung places. Or the exotic meals eaten in little places we have found in some unfashionable part of town. No one back home is going to know that the food stall we just happened upon has been featured in KL Expat Today, or Foreign Workers in Caracas, or some such publication.

Gosh, I even irritate myself and it takes an intolerable level of smugness to be able to annoy yourself.

Comfort food shouldn’t be a source of discomfort

A few weeks ago I decided to get in touch with my Irish side and host a St Patrick’s day party. I agonized for a long time over what to serve. Many of my guests surprised me by not knowing what St Patrick’s Day celebrations entail. There was even a soupçon of concern over where to find green cocktail frocks, which only served to intensify my preoccupation with the menu. Although I reassured my guests that they were to wear anything green that they could find at home and were absolutely not to go out and buy a fancy frock, I realized I too was complicating what should be a fun and easy supper. It was horrible to realize that I was afraid to serve Irish food in case it was too simple and that my cooking might be seen as a bit dull, basic even. There I was, actually trying to tart up the Irish recipes to a degree where they would be indistinguishable from French ones. Little piles of salmon on delicate rounds of soda and individual servings of boxty (a sort of Irish rosti) piled up and garnished with drizzles of sauce.

It was in dealing with the matter of the emerald-green silk dress hunt that I realized where my own lack of confidence in real food was landing me. How ridiculous. Instead of serving simple and comfortable food, I was trying to turn it into something fancy.

The question hung in my mind in Green, Orange and White letters: “Why?”

Why indeed?

Giving myself a metaphorical slap around the chops, I got a grip, squared my shoulders, and returned to basics. I would serve the food I grew up with. Irish Stew, Soda bread with salmon, and Beef and Guinness pie.

Oh all right, not the pie. My mother wasn’t keen on making pastry at all, citing hot hands as her excuse, but actually we all knew she would rather settle down to a glass of Guinness and watch a simple stew take shape than hand-make pastry. But the rest, you get my meaning. The memories flooded back. The stew in a big, cream enamel pan on the hob, the warm soft “stocklike” aroma of cooking lamb on its bone with plain old carrots and potato punched up with plenty of pepper, white pepper, and of course the resulting condensation on the kitchen windows.

Culinary childhood in a bowl.

When in Rio, shop and cook as the Cariocas do

We expats often live behind a two-way glass where we do not socialize with the people around us. Barriers — language, cultural, time, work —  impede us. Yet the rare glimpses into the everyday life of the places where we live create the most special and evocative moments. Food produces some of the strongest memories. Memories of great restaurants are one thing, but home cooking is another thing altogether, being a part of the fabric of everyday life.

I was lucky enough to have a maid when I lived in Brazil. At the time I thought I was lucky to have someone to help with the housework and kids, but in retrospect, I realize that she represented so much more than that. She made a Maria-shaped hole in the glass I lived behind, bringing some of the everyday world of a Carioca (someone born in Rio) into my kitchen. Every Monday, Maria would arrive ready to cook up a few days’ supply of black beans. These shiny black nuggets were blasted soft in a pressure cooker, then cooked with onions, a large pile of garlic and a few bay leaves then cooked long and slowly into rich and satisfying stew.

The secret to getting a great flavor into these beans is the addition of salted pork extremities to the mix. Ears, trotters, tails, you name it, are all used. As they break down in the cooking they have a thickening effect too. I had seen great piles of waxy, white and vaguely familiar items in the meat sections of supermarkets, but had given them a wide berth. Under Maria’s tutelage, I got over my silliness and grew to appreciate their value as they became an intrinsic part of my shopping list.

The best times were when couve was available. Couve, or collard greens, deep green palm-like leaves, which she would roll up and finely slice and stir fry with garlic and seasoning and nothing else. A pharmacist once told me that folic acid isn’t really needed for expectant mums in Brazil. The combination of the beans with the couve produces a cocktail of minerals easily absorbable by the body and priceless in reducing the risk of spin bifida. Is there anything not to love in Brazil’s national dish?

The black bean memory doesn’t include a fancy restaurant to boast of. No little food stall tucked away in the back of a very “local” area of town. Here was just a woman producing basic home food with the intention of filling an empty belly until the next day. These memories are more evocative of life in Rio to me know than my endless photos of Christ the Redeemer or Sugar Loaf Mountain. Maria made my experience of the place.

Cooking is for life, not just for Instagram

So, despite all my talk, I haven’t been able to circumvent the curse of expat “showing offness”. For what I seem to be saying is that anyone can book a couple of weeks in Rio and see the sights on a safe and comfortable air-conditioned bus tour, but to have really experienced the place you need memories akin to the memories of childhood. Maybe; or perhaps the truth is a little kinder? Simple home cooking is an everyday experience. There is no need to photograph it or put it on Facebook because it happens all the time. It’s as common as teeth-cleaning or walking the kids to school. Because of that, we experience it directly and fully, since we are not watching from behind the tiny lens of a camera, video, or smartphone. Instead, it is the comfortable and expansive background of life which seeps into us, unnoticed, to become a collection of memories; memories that can be triggered by a kitchen aroma, or by the way a woman holds a knife to crush a bulb of garlic.

After all, if a plate of madeleines inspired seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, perhaps I can be forgiven for the sameness of my own little bits of writing.

Epilogue

“So,” I expect you are asking, “how did the Irish food go down?”

Well — since you ask — rather well, actually. All eaten and, I hope, enjoyed, particularly the beef and Guinness pie. It a good thing that hot-hands skipped a generation. So I raise my glass of black velvet (Guinness and Champagne – a disaster for both drinks, but much fun) to simple home cooking. Slap a pan of stew on your tables, and put out a couple of bumper size pies and let everyone dig in.

I, for one, will be repeating the experience.

* * *

Beef and Guinness Pie My Way

(“My Way” includes metric measures — if you prefer to measure in cups or ounces, this conversion website will be useful.)

First make a beef and Guinness stew. This needs to be done a day in advance.

  • 1kg grams stewing beef
  • 30 grams flour
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 large chopped onion
  • 2 large chopped carrot
  • 500 ml of Guinness
  • 300 ml of stock – a good homemade beef stock will pay you dividends
  • but water will do if needs must.
  • Handful of stoned prunes, chopped finely (finely) these will add depth of flavor but, ideally, not change the texture of the stew.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cut meat into 2.5cm cubes and roll in seasoned flour.
  2. Heat oil and quickly sear the meat in batches putting the sealed meat on a plate to one side.
  3. Heat a little more oil and add onion to pan. Cook slowly and gently until the onions almost caramelize
  4. Return the meat to the pan and add any left over flour with the carrots, Guinness, stock and bay leaves.
  5. Bring the whole to a boil then cover and simmer for two hours. Traditionally this would have been cooked on the hob, but I think it is easier to pop the stew into a casserole with the lid firmly in place and cook at 140°C or 275°F for at two hours. At this point add the prunes, stir well, recover and cook for a further half hour or until the stew is thick.
  6. When the stew is ready, remove from the oven and wait until it is cool enough to place in the refrigerator overnight.

The Pastry

I used to make a puff pastry for this pie, but I recently tried a Nigella Lawson recipe for pastry, which she gives for her chicken pot pie. It is a firm textured, but buttery pastry, which is ideal for a robust beef pie.

  • 375 grams of plain flour (all-purpose)
  • 226 grams of cold butter
  • 3 eggs (one will be used for gluing and glazing purposes only)

(This mixture will make two medium size pies or one large one. I like to make a double quantity and freeze for another time.)

  1. Put the flour and cubed butter into a metal tray and shake to evenly distribute it over the metal surface. Place in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes (Nigella exhorts us not to skip this stage since this is the step that makes the pastry so easy to handle and so delicate. She’s so right!
  2. While the pastry is chilling, beat two of the eggs with two tablespoons of cold water and place in the fridge.
  3. Next, place the flour and butter into a processor and pulse until you have a fine mixture. Do this quickly, don’t be tempted to overwork the mixture as the texture will suffer. Add the eggs while the processor works until the mixture starts forming a ball, then stop.
  4. Now you can divide the dough into two, press flat, cover with cling film and chill.

This mixture will make two medium size pies or one large one. I like to make a double quantity and freeze for another time.

Putting it Together

This is the part I like most, putting my homespun stew between two sheets of the Divine Ms Lawson’s pastry. I have yet to become bored by the idea.

  1. So, roll out the pastry to line whichever tins you wish to use. Please do use metal dishes, as you will neatly side-step the problem of a soggy bottom.
  2. Fill with the cold stew.
  3. Use the remaining egg to seal together the bottom and top of the pie and to brush the top.
  4. Place on a metal tray in an oven pre-heated to 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes. You can protect your pie from burning, until the last minute, with foil, or you can pop it in naked and white-knuckle it.

I really hope you enjoy it!

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Gourmet coffee vs The Pod — France’s answer to England’s “Lapsang Souchong vs PG Tips”

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers. This month: Coffee, the Achilles heel of French cuisine.

* * *

“I wouldn’t mind French coffee being quite so terrible, if they would just admit it,”  my English friend said in exasperation as she clicked her cup back into its saucer.  “It’s the equivalent of British tea, from an urn, at a railway station in 1930s Huddersfield.”  There was a pause as she picked up her croissant for my inspection. “But I suppose there are compensations.”

If you have spent any significant time in France, you will have noticed that it is very difficult to find a really good cup of coffee.  If you have never visited, I’m sure you will find that difficult to believe, such is France’s reputation for wonderful food, wine and coffee.  So, take a breath, retrieve your eyebrows from your hairline and trust me on this one:

If you’re not a fan of Starbucks, France might just be the place to drive you there.  If you can find one, that is.

Why is French coffee in so unpalatable?  It has the power to cause involuntary facial spasms and to make my stomach roil.  At first I put these symptoms down to my taste buds being insufficiently sophisticated to appreciate its forceful nature.  After two and half years, my friend’s comment helped me to recover some self-esteem and quit making a victim of myself.

Maybejust maybeit’s not only me.

Tea: A Brit’s second language

IMG_2742

Joanna, apparently mildly surprised at her enjoyment of French coffee

I drink the tea this way, because that’s how I was brought up drinking it.  We drink it for comfort, to stay awake, to go to sleep, or to get over a nasty shock.  It comes with its own social language.  Offering tea to an upset friend shows concern when we cannot find words.  Failing to offer it to an unexpected guest says they should not expect to stay long.  Giving some to a workman is a way to show your respect for them and to ensure a good job.  Thus, overseas, tea is a rock of sameness I cannot let go of.  In fact, it is the only overseas product I really must have if I must have something from home.  It works for me.

Coffee: A rough guide

The coffee in France, therefore, should appeal to my rough taste in beverages.  It is largely made from robusta beans which are recklessly roasted until the flavor verges on the acridity of all things cremated.  It is drunk black, the addition of milk or cream deemed unsophisticated; ironic, given the rough, bad manners of the coffee itself.  The tiny cups are instead dangerously laced with extreme amounts of sugar or sweetener and then downed rapidly in a way Mary Poppins would have approved of.  And why not?  Sometimes even the French should be allowed a break from tasting and judging good food and drink.  My tea gives me the comfort and hit I demand, so why can’t I accept that the French should also be allowed, sometimes, to demand substance over style?

With coffee, the French give themselves a break from the world’s demand for them to be so effortlessly chic.  Coffee is not approached as is, say, wine, with a sort of intellectual or artistic mindset.   The routines of coffee tasting are not observed.  Whereas wine is lifted to the light, swirled, inhaled luxuriously and sucked over the tongue, coffee is knocked back as if by a Russian soldier engaged in long evening of vodka toasting. Coffee is not cupped with the hand to prevent the aroma escaping prematurely before the nose is lowered to inhale the intensified aromas.  It is not sucked over the tongue to seek the full range of flavor.

I must admit, it does the heart good to see the French behaving so badly.

Coffee climate change in Montpellier

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Coffee in Montpellier

I understand, though, that this is changing.  There are increasing numbers of little cafés which roast their own beans and grind to order.  Little places where robusta beans are eschewed for the more subtle delights of arabicas.  It’s been a while since I have had the time to hunt down these places in Paris.  However, last week I was in Montpellier and had the great good fortune to find two of these hallowed places.

Café Solo is an adorable place where the smell of coffee can be enjoyed a considerable distance from the front door even on a rainy February day.  I had forgotten this smell.  You don’t get it in a Starbucks or a Costa or any of the many similar establishments.  The tiny interior is crammed with drawers of beans, a counter of homemade delights in little covered cake stands and, in a corner, a large roasting machine.   My family and I discovered it quite by chance while exploring the streets of Montpellier.

Here we enjoyed what can only be described as a consultation with the artiste who would make our drinks.  She listened to what we like and do not like, and pronounced her judgement on what would suit.  Describing the flavours of each of the beans in that day’s selection, she guided our choice.   Then we waited and watched while our coffee was made.  It arrived in charming mismatched espresso cups and, thoughtfully, with little jugs of frothed milk– just in case.  Hmmmthere was me thinking I am a coffee hooligan who needs the milky stuff, just like a kid, but I absolutely did not need a drop of it.  My mocha bean from Ethiopia was soft and smooth with a tumble of flavours which lasted in the most pleasant way.   It was a delightful surprise.  I am so accustomed to a punch in the back of the throat from a tough one-dimensional over-roast.  Not so here.

“You see,” explained the artiste behind our coffees, “we French make terrible coffee.  We just don’t know how to make it.”    She smiled broadly, knowing full well that we could not agree with her.

We found a similar place a few streets later and just had to go in to try another.  Would it be possible to find two great coffees in one day?  Yes, it was. This time Columbian for me; a bit more acidity, but absolutely no acridity. Lovely.  Again, intoxicating smell of roasting coffee beans.

As we returned to our hotel, nursing the residual flavor of our coffees, we saw a Nespresso shop and just had to go in.  We knew that the chic, modern interior with its rows geometrically displayed and pristine pods as well as the absolute absence of the smell of real coffee would round off our day perfectly.  Today that clinical chicness, instead of depressing us, would only intensify the memory of the delightful little stores we had just left.  How deliciously wonderful it is to confirm how right I was.  Clutching my bags of beans from Café Solo to my nose, I knew in that moment I would never succumb to the clinical pod.  May my work surfaces be forever stained by the work of my little espresso machine and my walls stained by the periodic explosions to which the enthusiastic amateur is prone.

I thought I had no sophistication when it comes to coffee, but, perhaps because I don’t drink tea for the tea itself, I do drink coffee for the coffee itself.  I am much more open to trying different flavours and I am very willing to drink a lot of bad coffee until I find it.  Since I can manage without coffee, I am not lured by the siren call of Nespresso machines, Starbucks, or any of the lesser places.  I found absolute delight in those two shops which sell the stuff the way it should be sold.  I am willing to keep trying everywhere, until I next hit coffee gold.

Perhaps the next big discovery I will make is that the French acceptance of routinely bad coffee has freed them to become gourmet tea drinkers.  It would be fun to think so.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: The Mysterious Case of the Missing Pastries

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

This month: The regrettable global takeover of the Cronut, and what should be getting the publicity instead.

* * *

“What in dog-breeding hell is a Cronut?” demanded my son Seb, reading over my shoulder while swigging milk from the bottle in that annoying way 16-year-olds have. Baffled for a second, I realized the confusion and laughed.  My German Shepherd, Sophie, is my obsession and I am always reading articles about breeding and training.  Today, though, I was reading a food magazine which discussed trends for the New Year. Seb had seen a headline that asked:

“2013 was the year of the Cronut and Duffin but what does 2014 hold?”

Those of you elsewhere — anywhere except France, that is — may laugh, but Seb’s assumption that a Cronut is German Shepherd-related rather than food-related was completely justifiable.  My own ignorance of Cronuts and other “blended” pastries was only brought to my attention in December, when a friend living in Kuala Lumpur posted that they had finally arrived there.

I think it true to say that the Cronut hasn’t yet arrived in France and probably never will.

Some dishes deserve to go global

I do hope the same will not be the case for other treats that, my magazine suggested, will be sweeping tastebuds worldwide this year.  I was particularly happy to see the arepa from Venezuela and Columbia on the list. My hips might not want to revisit my interest in these delectable goodies, but I am smacking my lips in anticipation.

I first met arepas in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and our friendship deepened while I lived in Caracas.  These flattened balls of unleavened maize flour-based dough are fried and then filled with a cornucopia of ingredients, depending on the region. North Western Venezuela, where I first fell in love with the arepa, has its own speciality, the Arepa Cabimera, whose filling consists of the improbable combination of cheese, jam, chicken and boiled eggs.  You know when someone is eating a Cabimera as the arepas are unusually square.  Other varieties often include queso guayanés  — a mild, medium-soft cheese similar to mozzarella, shredded chicken and, if you are very lucky, crispy pork rind.

Global — with the exception of France, that is

The idea that I will miss such delights as they sweep the world is distressing, but our ignorance of the Cronut is a sad portent of what might come.  How had the Year of the Cross-bred Pastry missed France? Perhaps it’s not such a surprise; France is not culturally inclined to faddy trends as is, say, London or New York.  Why a “need-to-please” hybrid, when a classic, small, and delightfully buttery croissant is available?  How intolerably vulgar to take such perfection and, presumably, add jam and deep-fry it.

I can feel a thousand thin and elegantly clad Parisian shoulders shudder at the thought.

Hybrid – it’s the new pedigree

On further reflection, my less-thin shoulders shudder too.  As my son’s comment shows, cross-bred dogs are very much at the front of people’s minds at the moment.  Maybe the Cockerpoo, Labradoodle, and Schitzpoo are the canine equivalents of our human desire to have our cake and eat it.  A dog that doesn’t shed and mess up the carpet and sinuses, and a croissant that doesn’t — oh, wait. It does crumble.  Well, a pastry that isn’t a croissant or a doughnut but which still makes a crumbly mess…

Why?  Why make a mash-up of existing pastries when you could come up with something less plagiaristic or stick with what already works?  Oh, listen to me: maybe I do belong in France!  After all, for each hybrid that works there are the unlucky ones in each batch which fail to inherit the best of both worlds and instead exhibit the worst of each.  A croissant where the delicate buttery flavor has been killed by over-sweetening?  A  Labradoodle which sheds anyway and isn’t a pedigree but which costs the same and has the potential to inherit the congenital defects of two different breeds?

What’s more, the frying of such a delicate thing as croissant pastry is not for amateurs.  Getting the layers of pastry and butter to open in the heat of an oven is no mean feat; getting them to do the same in hot fat is entirely different.  Apart from that, think how easily butter burns.  That’s a lot of worry when pâtissierières across France already have mastered the art of injecting chocolate into croissants to make pain au chocolate or, better, almond paste.

For me the almond croissant is the pinnacle of pastry pleasure.  This marriage of crisp pastry with nutty and unctuous almond paste represents the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward of the Pâtisserie.

The Cronut is, as yet, a Brangelina wannabe and everyone is already asking how much longer is it going to last.

“New” but not necessarily “improved”

The French disdain for change for change’s sake can be seen everywhere.  Fashion classics which stand the test of time are valued over the new and the shocking.  London fashion is all about iconoclasm and rebellion, rather than restraint.   Surely, when it comes to food, good taste should not be derided.  Maybe the French are right not to jump on the bandwagon of each new craze, instead waiting to see what stands the test of time and has what it takes to become part of the pâtisserie canon.

I doubt that the Duffin will ever be the Little Black Dress of the pâtisserie world; certainly not with a name that makes it sound like something an ageing hippie would wear on a cold winter day in Glastonbury, UK.

Hmm, pause for thought indeed.  At least with baking, we can bin the rejects; we cannot do the same with our canine friends who don’t pass the successful hybrid test.

How, then, can a modern culinary classic find acceptance in France?

So, let me find order to my reasoning.  The French, so far, have not accepted the hybrid pastry which tries too hard to please and lacks the elegant restraint of better behaved French patisserie staples.  However, history reveals that the French will eventually accept what will not go away: dishes with an enduring appeal, such as the pizza so…

…let’s return to my arepa whose pedigree cannot be questioned.  This is a traditional, tried and tested, and regionally variable dish.  Given time, I am hopeful that the French, who enjoy regional variety in cheese and wine, should be open to accepting this newcomer.  France has already embraced with overwhelming enthusiasm the pizza and tweaked it to French tastes – crème fraiche anyone?  There is a little van with a wood burning stove on most street corners in every city, town and village of the country.  For every Domino there are scores of restaurants, parlours, and vans, nearly all of them French owned and run.

For the arepa this is hopeful news indeed. I may have to wait longer than a resident of London, Birmingham or, indeed, Kuala Lumpur, but I have hope that the Venezuelans are coming to Aix.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Stuffing a chair with boar’s hair, and your face with Charlotte Royale – British style, bien sûr.

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers, which includes pretty much every expat we’ve ever encountered.

This month: Upholstering armchairs to the tune of Mary Berry.

* * *

I haven’t been cooking much this month.

This is because, instead, I have been totally absorbed in reupholstering an armchair for my daughter’s bedroom.

Like so many “trailing spouses”, I am an International Jack of All Trades and, possibly, Masters of None.  Work visas are rarely applied to spouses and we must do what the current location allows us if we wish to work.

In my time I have taught English (yes, I have a qualification), arranged flowers (basic qualification), taught exercise classes on a Saudi compound (absolutely qualified with first aid certificates to boot) and baked and decorated birthday cakes (the qualification here is hard to pin down, but I am very enthusiastic).

My latest enterprise, however, is gripping me, and might well be what saves me from permanent life as an expat dilettante.

A family history, as recorded on sofa cushions

Over the years my four children have wrought destruction on all our soft furnishing, but the sofas have suffered the worst.  In part, I have been loath to recover them, as they represent something of both the material culture and culinary history of our family.  The stains, ever more poorly hidden by artfully draped throws and cushions, track the growth of the children from breast to solids. Here and there are the stains of snacks smuggled from the pantry or the marks made by friends I felt woefully too weak to upbraid.   Perhaps I’m just too English to tell off other people’s kids successfully.  My “Take the hamburger back to the kitchen before I am forced to beat you” delivered mildly with a smile and a wink, is taken as face value and ignored – I should expect no more, really.   Anyway, confronted with an upholstery bill that reached into five digits, I decided to take another “Have a go, Jo” course.

The result is that I can no longer visit a friend’s house, or watch a film or TV, without becoming entirely distracted by the chairs and sofas on display.

Thanksgiving stuffing? Not unless it’s made of boar’s hair

This new interest has caused me to all but abandon the kitchen.  Meals are late and gracelessly served.  Plates generally consist of pasta with a side of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and sundry vegetables dragged from the back of the fridge or freezer – anything to make up the 5 a day and free me to return to the basement.  I’m amazed that my family is bored by this approach.  Perhaps they need a little footstool project of their own.

Thankfully for this webpage, this dearth of food-related happenings in my household has been tempered by my need to listen to radio or TV while I work.

This month I caught up with Great British Bake Off: the perfect accompaniment for the stripping and recovering process.  If you haven’t yet discovered the delights of this quintessentially British of “competitions”, I recommend a quick rifle through YouTube.  I’m sure you too will be hooked.

None of the competitors claim that winning the show is their dream, or assure us that they must win because they want it so bad. That they don’t do so on a televised competition comes as a surprise and seems to suggest that things back home have changed more than I could ever have guessed.  So accustomed are we all to naked ambition and self-puffery despite slender talents that the shock of modesty seems inconceivable.  This year there was even a competitor, Ruby, who was so self-effacing that she became a hate figure in the press.  Holding up her various offerings and apologizing for their variously burned, dry or just plain terrible states, she seemed to hail from a bygone age, ignorant of Simon Cowell.  But today this is mistrusted and seems to be insincere, even manipulative.  Interestingly, Mary Berry, the rather strict octogenarian judge, was quick to comfort and reassure.  Modesty has been lost to the British TV in 15 years of TV competitions in music, food, modeling and god-knows-what.

The public might mistrust Ruby’s handwringing over her uselessness, but Mary did the proper thing and bucked her up.

What, really, is so wrong with such a world?

Killing two oiseaux

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Joanna and her impressive reason
for a lack of cooking this month

Where am I going with this?  Welcome to the wandering mind of someone whose hands are deep in boar’s hair and webbing.  I’ll tell you where, though.  It occurred to me that, since this hugely successful show had been spun off to many countries, each tweaking it to its own tastes and state of mind, I could find the French version and improve my lamentable French while never pausing in my upholstery endeavours.

The first two hour episode proved to be a deeply comforting and successful experiment in language acquisition — mal cuit, anyone?  But then, halfway through the next episode I received a bit of a douche froide, so to speak.  The announcer, thankfully less humorous than her British counterparts as my French is barely up to understanding French slapstick let alone gentle, self-deprecating humour, announced that the Challenge Technique would be English in origin.  Cue the endless pause so beloved of such shows, then:

“Le challenge est……….  Charlotte aux fruits rouge.

Well, strike me down with a langue de chat.  You see, Charlotte Royale wasn’t English, it was French.  I knew this, because it had appeared only a week before on English T.V. and during French Week, no less.

Charlotte? C’est un French name, non?

Finally, something had occurred which made me look up from my stitching.  What gave Charlotte her ambiguous status between the French and the Brits, while retaining value as a challenge worth attempting?  The British show gave no clue.  Although their Charlotte involved Swiss Roll and looked like one of the illustrations in your mother’s 1970s copy of, er, a Mary Berry recipe book, it was accepted without demur by all as French.  Similarly, the French contestants, while sucking in their breath and declaring they were going to have to concentrate hard on this one, they failed to cry as one patissier,  “Zut alors, c’est un recet francais!”

The French presenter thickened the plot further, introducing a historian to explain the English origins of the dish.  Apparently, it was invented by Antoine Carême (yes, the father of the art of patisserie) who worked at both the English and Russian courts for a time.  You see?  Strange, no?  He made it for either a Queen Charlotte, a Princess Charlotte, a cousin Charlotte and then at some point tagged on Russe to include the Tsar in his flattery.

So why is this not considered French if a French man really did invent it?

Unearthing Charlotte’s origins in my own kitchen

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Patrick sharing his British Charlotte Royale. In France.

Patrick, my 9 year old, and I, decided to make the British version.  Doing it for myself cleared up all my questions.  It was, let’s say, a woman of substance.  French Women Do Not Get Fat, and their puddings cannot be hefty either.

My own Charlotte Royal was no slip of a thing.

The Swiss Roll lining was easily managed by Patrick working alone with our trusty KitchenAid.  While the French contestants piped boudoir biscuits to surround their moulds for the light bavarois filling, Patrick sliced up jammy sponge rolls which gave the pud a slightly cerebral air when turned out. How can you cut a petite tranche from that?  Piping even biscuits would be much more of a challenge for child and adult alike.  The Swiss Roll is infinitely more forgiving.

The difference between the French version and the English became clearer.  Simiar amounts of work and skill are involved, but one must be elegant and the other must be generous.  One should look preternaturally perfect, and the other is valued for comfort.  A French dessert should perhaps make you feel you are not quite elegant enough to eat it, while the English makes you feel better because you do not look like the Duchess of Windsor.  Ha ha –  it is not generosity of spirit that holds the French back from planting the tricolor on this this dish.  They are anxious that it is a recipe that can look unfinished, so trifle-like.

When Carême returned to France, he apparently rechristened the dish Charlotte á la Parisienne, probably to soothe the nerves of alarmed locals who may have heard a thing or two about the English king Carême had worked for.  I have no doubt when Charlotte arrived on French shores she resembled a trifle as little as possible.

Carême’s Charlotte is a little rootless, like so many of us expats.  Like us, it is unsure where it belongs and if home will ever be home again.  The Charlotte is perhaps a sort of Third Culture Dessert.

But at least I think I may have found the name for my upholstery business if I ever start one.

Here’s to Third Culture Sofas.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Keeping food real in Brazil

JoannaJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers, which includes pretty much every expat we’ve ever encountered. This month: Authenticity, Brazilian-style.

* * *

“What’s the most depressing thing I’ve seen this morning?” I demanded of my husband as we arrived at our hotel on that first day in Brazil.

Was it something in my tone of voice that made my husband stick out his jaw? Having your wife positive about a new location is always a good thing. Any hint of wifely discontent can put the terrors into most expat husbands, even the most rufty-tufty oil field types.

“The favelas on either side of the motorway for the entire journey from the airport?” His voice had a slight tone of —  could it be? — belligerence. He’d decided to meet head on what he feared was my Western European squeamishness over visible poverty. I’d agreed to come, after all; it wasn’t his doing that the favelas existed.

“Oh.” I felt a pin pricking my outrage. “Actually no. It was the model of the Statue of Liberty outside the shopping mall we passed, the one with the Hard Rock Café.”

Not the voice of a woman with a strong social conscience, then.

“Aren’t we in Brazil?” I asked lamely.

Living in the shadow of the USA

In my defense, I was afraid that this most exciting and culturally rich of countries appeared in thrall to the ego of a foreign superpower. Here, where Christ the Redeemer looks down calmly over Rio and Guanabara Bay, it distressed me that he was unable to turn his cheek from the abominable reproduction Liberty. Such are the drawbacks of being made of stone.

My frustration really hadn’t abated much by the time we left several years later, but it was tempered. Here was a country that had its own great music, landscape, history and food. Brazil’s son Santos Dumont’s first flight had been overshadowed by the earlier but aided take off of the Wright Brothers’ heavier than air plan.

But surely the same could not happen to Brazilian fast food – and at their own hands?

Coxinha  — wins the Pepsi Challenge against the Chicken McNugget, any day

When I was in Brazil, workers could fill a canteen with beans, rice, a little meat and some pasta for 5 reais. A meal from McD costs four times that and cannot keep a belly as full for as long. Yet not only was there a Hard Rock Café, Dominos and McDonald’s, but the bloody Statue of Liberty to boot, holding her torch triumphantly aloft as if lighting the invasion of foreign fast food. (I know, I need to get over that tacky statue.)

Brazilian fast food choices, which can be grabbed on the run in a similar way to a hamburger, are extensive. Kibe consists of meat and bulgur wheat shaped into rugby balls and deep-fried. Empadhinas are little pastry pies often filled with palm hearts but options are endless. There are bollinhas de arroz (rice balls) and, a slightly more costly option these days, bollinhas de bacallao (salt cod).

Then there is the coxinha. Oooh, heaven. It is a pear-shaped, breadcrumb-coated, deep-fried confection of pulverized chicken, creamy catupiry cheese, and onion. I don’t want to be rude, but for heaven’s sake, Brazil — how could you choose a chicken nugget over that?

Please. It’s time for a Coxinhas R Brazil brand to sweep all before it.

Turn the milk sour with your grouse? Or simply dance the samba?

Brazilians probably have a greater openness and sense of fun than I do. They seem to tolerate kitschy statues and dodgy food for what it is, just a bit of fun not to be taken as a serious threat to national pride. There is a great deal of pride in being Brazilian and, I’m told, there are as many Americans trying to emigrate to Brazil as vice versa – it is a new land of opportunity.

Brazilians seem less sulky or passive aggressive than many in dealing with what they don’t like. One amusing example came in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when America required passengers arriving on planes to America from Brazil to be subject to the same security searches, and delays, as planes coming from countries deemed a threat. Brazil has no history of terrorism and people were offended. However a cheerful approach was chosen. Officials simply decided to apply the same principle to American planes landing in Sao Paolo, Brazilian style. To ease the pain of the wait, passengers were treated to smiling samba bands and charming dancers. Nothing was ever going to change, but the point was made and relations not permanently soured.

A meal fit for a (Burger) King

Perhaps this non-confrontational approach is best. The invasion of American fast food is all-conquering everywhere. Its advance hasn’t been slowed by a thousand angry French farmers and restauranteurs, or by the Italian Slow Food movement. But its growth in Brazil alongside a rapidly emerging obesity crisis comes alongside economic improvements. According to a recent BBC Programme on the rise of obesity around the world and particularly in developing and BRIC countries, the answer is to be found less in the innate appeal of the food, but in the message that is sent out when you’re seen eating it. McDonald’s is an “aspirational food”.

(You might notice that I started a new paragraph rather suddenly. It was to give you a moment to recover from the shock of seeing the words “McDonalds” and “aspiration”, not only in the same sentence, but right next to each other. The idea of being proud to be seen eating fast food is a difficult one that takes time to absorb. I too enjoy the odd foray into the depths of culinary depravity, but I hide the bags – I admit hypocrisy right here. May I continue now?)

You might think you would aspire to a Wolf oven or even a Meile vacuum cleaner, but McDonald’s? No — bear with me. A Brazilian McDonald’s meal costs four times that of a plate of rice and beans. Its cost would buy you any number of coxinhas. It is impressive conspicuous consumption. You pay to eat a meal which won’t actually fill you and you will have to pay to eat again soon after, but the point is: you can.

It’s a fairly modest aspiration for the new middle class. Thousands of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty over the last 10 years. But potential hunger is still a recent memory and the fear of slipping back must be strong for many. An outrageously priced Big Mac is still less expensive than a ritzy restaurant in Leblon and it’s certainly easier to avoid potentially embarrassing etiquette gaffes for those not yet accustomed to what is known in America as “fine dining”. This is what fast food companies can trade on, and before you know it, new habits are formed.

If you’re going to gain Brazilian pounds, make them worthwhile

Why get fat on this so-so food, though, when you can get gloriously fat on real cooking? You can easily pile on the pounds with Brazilian feijoida, Let the weight gain be a result of leisurely, indulgent meals and not sandwiches grabbed in plastic furnished, fluorescent lighted “restaurants” that are tiled like public lavatories.

I’d say the same to America. Ditch the McD and get fat on Southern and Soul Food, some of the most luscious food in the world. Wow, those Southerners know how to take a healthy low-calorie green vegetable and give it the cholesterol punch of cheesecake. My two personal favourites: collard greens cooked in fatty port cuts and sweet potatoes mashed with butter and topped with a crumble made of brown sugar pecans and a handful of marshmallows. Sounds appalling, but it is the closest thing to ambrosia since Zeus was a viable god to worship.

Both Brazilian and American Soul food has the opulence and indulgence to deaden and dazzle the senses at the same time. It has what a dried up hamburger and flabby white bun bread cannot hope to rival even with liberal dollops of ketchup.

Oh please. Get fat on real fat and be patriotic about that: your nation’s fat.

Make it worth your while.

Make it worth your money.

Aspire.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: How (not) to feed a convalescent expat

JoannaJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident Food Gossip, is back with her column for like-minded food gossips.

This month: The state of worldwide hospital food.

* * *

“The last thing you need on top of everything else when you are in hospital is red wee.”

So ended my husband’s texted tirade after a few days in an Abu Dhabi hospital following an emergency appendectomy which turned out to be less than straightforward.  The indignities, pain, and discomfort could be handled with fortitude, but the food had caused the British stiff upper lip some serious challenges.  Beetroot was served at every meal and in every conceivable form — none of which was remotely welcome to this convalescent.

Almost unbelievably, the day after my husband was admitted to a Middle Eastern hospital, my 9-year-old son was diagnosed with the same condition and admitted to Taunton Hospital, in Somerset, England, for the same operation.  Patrick took it all in his stride, only threatening mutiny when a disposable bottle, apparently made of the same recycled cardboard as egg cartons, was proffered in response to his request to go to the loo.  With furious determination he heaved himself upright  and made his way to the bathrooms, wheeling his drip ahead of him and making my heart swell with maternal pride.

Several hours later, when wrinkled potato wedges and bright orange fish fingers confronted him, Patrick’s attitude was rather different.  My husband’s texted complaint lacked the colour a human voice could give the words.  My son’s anguished “Why, why, why?” however, provided a glimpse of  The Husband’s state of mind when he composed his text.  The pitch of “Why can’t I just have a tuna sandwich?”  swung from already-stressed contralto to end-of-tether soprano.

KISS: Keep It Simple, Sandwich

This question is one I ask myself every time I face airline food.  Why not a sandwich? A simple sandwich is perfect food for those on the go; ask any hill-walker. It is easily transported and eaten and requires little in the way of tableware.  It certainly beats sub-standard wannabe home-cooking, or, more depressingly, wannabe gourmet cooking.  KLM used to do a nice sandwich on granary, a little oatcake and a good cup of tea or coffee on their London to Schiphol shuttle.  I have never enjoyed airborne eating as much.  Flights since, even champagne-soaked upgrades, have never hit the spot as well.

Hospitals, like airlines, are susceptible to the curse of being the girl who tries too hard at parties and embarrasses everyone, for different reasons of course.  Airlines because they feel they are part of the same package as the business trip or holiday and have to provide something special.  Hospitals, being in the health business. feel under pressure to produce something healthy and balanced.  Easy healthy and balanced is a lump of protein, a lump of carbohydrate and some boiled veg.  Each element can be whatever is readily to hand in the locale.  Obviously, beetroot is easy to come by in Abu Dhabi – who’d have thought?

A few years ago I found myself admitted with an unpleasant stomach bug to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur.  During my recovery, meal after meal was placed in front of me,  each consisting of overdone, indigestible chicken in glutinous sauce with rice and boiled vegetables. (Never talk to me again about English food.) Not appetizing at any time, but certainly not in the recovery period.  At the end of day two I was begging for cream crackers and jelly.  Even if I was unable to eat them, they were easier to tolerate the look of in the post-prandial two hours that the staff took to remove the debris.

The Victorians –now, they knew how to run a sickroom

When I’m sick I crave the ideal Victorian sickroom.  I want chicken soup, broth, and little crustless sandwiches cut into triangles.  I want food that makes me feel pampered and I want it in miniature form.  What I don’t want is big hunks of meat that I have to take a hacksaw to.  I don’t want to bother with a knife and fork.  I’d like little sips of water, or tea and maybe the odd ginger biscuit.  Some soft-boiled eggs and soldiers (fingers of toast) would be nice too.  In short, give me the whole Victorian sickroom vibe complete with flowery china and a little vase of flowers.  Do that and I’ll put on a white nighty, brush my hair and smarten up my convalescent act accordingly.

What explains this wanton disregard for dainty and light in preference for The Undigestibles? I suggest it is because hospitals the world over want us out, and want us out fast. In cash-strapped UK NHS land, beds are at a premium and waiting lists must be kept down.  Make things too comfortable and delicious and who knows how long malingering patients will stay?  I also imagine American insurance companies would like to minimize the number of nights their customers spend in hospitals which are often more costly than excellent hotels.

If you can’t keep it simple, keep it real

So, what’s my point talking about all this in our “displaced” world?  I suppose it is simple, really.  I want any experience that takes place outside of my own country to be distinctive and of that place.  If a hospital cannot, or will not, convert its menu into something I might find in Little Women, I want to lose my appetite for something distinctive.  If I have some indescribably unpleasant stomach complaint and find myself again in hospital in KL, I want to be unable to eat Malaysian food, truly Malaysian food.  If I’m not eating, give me beef rendang to reject and not boiled chicken breasts.  If I am in Rio, I want to lose my appetite for black beans and chiffonade of couve (actually, that will never happen) and if I ever end up in a  Abu Dhabi hospital, I want to reject grated raw beetroot.

You see, be it Victorian pampered convalescent on a chaise longue, or expat overseas, I yearn to feel special when I am sick.  Is that really too much to ask?

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

Image:

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Winning the war of Global Food One-upmanship

JoannaJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident Food Gossip, is back with her column for like-minded food gossips.

This month: The war of foodie one-upmanship, or “Who’s travelled the most?”

* * *

“I’m doing it the Malaysian way” said my friend with satisfaction as she poured her too hot tea from one cup to another and back again to cool it.

It was my cue to ask “How do you mean?” thus allowing her to launch into (yet another) story of how things are done in some place or other she had visited.

It was hot, I was grumpy, and my friend’s tone was just a touch too self-satisfied.

The pause grew as I busied myself with milk and sugar.  It extended into a grim silence as I resolutely avoided asking.  Not generous of me, I know, but in my defense I have never pretended to be Pollyanna, and sometimes those “we found this marvelous place just off the beaten track” stories just get on your nerves.

It would be another 5 years before I lived in Malaysia and discovered Teh Tarik for myself.  The pouring trick was not to do with cooling, but with the mixing and frothing of a sort of tea made with condensed milk.  An environmentally friendly cuppotino, I suppose.

Look where I’ve been — and you have not!

All expats have probably found themselves on one side or another, or both, of this conversation.  Expats and serious travellers are all engaged in an endless war of covert operations.  We maneuver for superiority by exposing snippets of our discoveries and being impressed, or not, by those of others.  We certainly don’t like to admit to this unedifying trait of One-upmanship, preferring instead to see ourselves as laid back free spirits and survivors of alien situations.  Yet, the truth is, it is our Achilles heel.

Expat tales of unusual foods, which hopefully Waitrose will not discover before we get home, allow us to say “look where I’ve been, and you have not”. While appearing to share generously of our experience, we want to show what we know and what those who stayed at home do not.

Calling bluff on Bi Bim Bap

“You’ll never go hungry in a Korean restaurant if you can just remember to ask for Bi Bim Bap.  After all, who could forget a word like Bi Bim Bap?”

My friend’s hands spread out, palms up.  Her shoulders and eyebrows rose in perfect synchronicity.  The gesture suggested that not only was it impossible to forget such a word once heard, but that not knowing about Bi Bim Bap was unimaginable in itself.  We had reached the point that expats will recognise from the cold war of One-upmanship.

I faced a difficult choice.  Was I going to expose my lack of knowledge over “Bi Bim Bap” and lose a little position in the “most well travelled”, or was I going to take the dangerous but potentially game-winning risk of pretending that I knew what it was and indeed had been taught to produce one by a well-known Korean chef whom I had just happened to bump into?

The advantage of the first approach is  the warm glow of generosity of giving another a moment to shine. That and the fact you might actually learn something interesting.  The second approach means you avoid having to listen to a long-winded boast.

Does she actually think she invented the Bi Bim Bap? you mutter darkly to yourself.

Of course, in not asking, you remain in frustrating ignorance, especially if you forget to Google it upon returning home.  More seriously, you risk exposure as a fraud.  That is enough to chill the heart.

You might be thinking that the example of Bi Bim Bap was a little repetitive, following so quickly as it does on the heels of Teh Tarek.  I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the opportunity to show off – again.  As I say, it is a hazard of being an expat with an unfortunate interest in food.

Expats 1, Tourists 0

Hari Raya Aidilfitri:  outlying suburb of KL far from the Tourist Zone.  These stalls offer traditional foods for  to locals and a wealth of boasting opportunities for the lucky expat passerby.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri: outlying suburb of KL far from the Tourist Zone. These stalls offer traditional foods for to locals and a wealth of boasting opportunities for the lucky expat passerby.

Expats like to think that living overseas gives you a window on a world that tourists or those who remain at home will never see.  Tourists will never have to face the problems of daily life in a strange language or culture.  They will never have to get the electricity turned on, find a plumber, or do the weekly family shop.  A tourist’s world in many respects doesn’t differ hugely from place to place.   Pre-booked hotels, transport from airports, organized trips on air-conditioned buses.  Even backpackers travels follow a familiar path.

The wonderful Nasi Lemak (coconut rice to you) of a tourist hotel was doubtless an experience, just not the same as the hawker stall the expat discovers in the backstreet to which they have been directed to find a furniture repair store.

That, we believe is the uniqueness of living overseas.

Expats trump tourists.

How naughtily satisfying.  One-upmanship indeed.

A Tower of Babel for the food industry

As the globalization of food companies and supermarkets continues to homogenise world food experiences, the expats’ territory is further threatened.  The same products appear the world over and are marketed similarly in the name of brand identity.

Take the confectionary market.  An advert for Maynards Sour Patch Kids is currently airing on UK television.  It has been voiced over in an American accent and uses American vocabulary such as “soda”. It upsets me. Maynards was bought by Cadbury, which in turn was bought by American Kraft, but why did a company with a uniquely English Quaker social and economic philosophy have to be marketed in England in much the same way as it is probably marketed in America?  How could this happen to the company of a man who had invented the wine gum to help wean the impoverished working class off the demon drink?

Sour Patch Kids should be sold in America to American kids.  Maynards should be selling wine gums to English kids, using an English accent.  Kids should be allowed the thrill of receiving a unique item from granny or auntie when she returns from her travels.   They should be asking friends visiting those countries to “bring us back a packet”.  They should be learning at an early age the delicate game of Travellers’ One-upmanship.

The joy unbounded of discovering a packet of a long remembered treat is equal to the joy of a pig that unearths a truffle.  These are the experiences of travel and expatness that must not be lost.  They will be lost, mark my words, if Haribo takes over the world as it threatens to do so, with their gummy bears and fizzy cola.  Brands unique to different countries must be guarded jealously, much as France guards the name “champagne”.  Mexican Chili sweets, English Trebor mints and American Peanut Butter Cups can then keep their allure and remain in production.  The thrill of the chase and the discovery of the new should not be lost.  A world of confectionary should there for us all.

Expat living: A licence to boast

Expats have a sneaky feeling that knowledge of and access to certain foods is our earned right.  It is cheating if the supermarkets bring them to homebodies and tourists collect them at the airport on the way out.

I feel I have earned the right to drone on about wonderful Venezuelan coffee and why it is so difficult to find because I survived Caracas’ toilet roll shortage of 2009.  Really, every day for weeks I drove around all the supermarkets of the city searching out any flushable paper products.  Like the natives of the city, I bought my one allocated packet in one supermarket, got in the car and drove to the next.  If there was none, I bought none.   Expat and local as one in a shared quest.  It was while diligently scouring the shelves of every aisle in one that I found the white shrink-wrapped bricks of Venezuelan coffee nirvana.  They represented the ideal pick-me-up after shopping, the ideal gift for home, the ideal story to tell.   I had earned my licence to boast.

As I say, I’m far from perfect, but I’m not alone.  Global Food One-upmanship is not a truly bad fault in the great scheme of things and we combatants do ameliorate our annoyingness with gifts of the delicious foods we have found whenever we can.

Be gentle when you judge us.

P.S.  Bi bim bap is a Korean dish meaning “mixed rice”.  Rice is topped with vegetables and raw or fried egg and different meats.  The sauce is chilli based.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

Image:

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Pastry or pie dough? Whatever you call it, it’s child’s play.

JoannaJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident Food Gossip, is back with her monthly column for like-minded food gossips.

This month, Joanna comes clean about the reasons for her dissatisfaction with the world today. Who knew that pastry (that’s pie dough to Americans) could be such a contentious subject?

* * *

You know how it is when you have known someone for a while.  Not long, but a while.  Things are so pleasant, and positive and fun, you can’t imagine ever getting irritated with them.  Then one day, you just are.  I’m afraid, my darlings, it is the day of revelation of a certain grumpiness in my personality.  A grumpiness that I usually do backbends to hide, but now I feel our relationship demands a little more honesty.

What on earth, you must be asking, could make Sunshine Lady feel less than, well, sunshiney?  Well, if you must know (and you know you must)  — it’s the sad state of the world’s flaky pastry.  We have come to a point in our culinary evolution where we have all but lost respect for the art of pastry making.  Supermarket shelves are heaving with the frozen stuff, and ready-made pie-crusts are to be found in abundance.  Marie-Antoine Carême, that French master of the art of the Mille Feuille  or thousand leaves of pastry, must be turning in his grave like a poorly controlled rotary whisk. That his peaceful rest is being tampered with can only make me feel justified in my fury.

Child’s play (doh)

Flaky pastry is a subject dear to my heart.  I first learned the rudiments of the art at the tender age of 12.  It was the pinnacle of a year’s pastry training.  We began with scones, worked up to shortcrust, then rough puff or cheat’s flaky, and then to flaky.  By the age of 15 or 16 we were all capable of producing a three course meal which included bread, a béchamel or similar sauce and pastry from scratch in a space of but 2 ½ hours.  Having survived this exam it’s difficult to be impressed by the stresses of Masterchef, or indeed the controlling of flight patterns at Heathrow. I may be exaggerating with the Air Traffic Controller bit, but I stand by my comments on Masterchef.  You see, flaky pastry wasn’t even the star of the show, it was just a skill to be demonstrated alongside the rest — in a very short space of time.

Nowadays, I like to make a day of my pastry making.  I download some good Radio 4 programmes to listen to.  In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg always hits the spot, and I take far longer than 2 ½ hours to make a large batch to use and freeze.  I find the rolling, addition of butter, folding and rolling, a therapeutic, meditational and endlessly gratifying process.  Best, is that the end, the product, homemade, without additives and addictively light, is without parallel.

I’ll repeat that. Homemade pastry is without equal — and I dare to write that, albeit behind locked shutters, in France.

A pastry protest

A few years ago I cancelled my subscription to BBC Good Food magazine.  It was in protest against their increasingly habitual calls for frozen pastry in their recipes.  Not “or you can buy some frozen pastry if pushed for time”, but brazenly, “2 sheets of good frozen pastry” as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world.  “Good frozen pastry” should be a shocker of an oxymoron to anyone who takes their food even halfway seriously.  For heaven’s sake, that their readers bought a magazine with the title “Good Food” suggests not only they have an interest in GOOD Food but that they might be open to the gentle suggestion they make their own pastry?  Indeed, BBC, it is possible that they expect to make their own pastry and require a recipe for it?

If I am wrong — and in this mood it’s hard to own the possibility — might I politely suggest the title is renamed BBC  OK, But Not Quite Good Enough FoodBBC Good Food is not the only transgressor, of course, but it is the only magazine for which I had a subscription and thus the opportunity to register my grievances.

French frozen pastry — it’s got to be better, right?

I can understand why you would buy pastries from a patissier here in France.  A qualified patissier is well-trained and takes a pride in being in the van of pastry production.  A patissier’s products are worlds away from frozen products mass-produced in some factory on the outskirts of Dijon. I believe the patissiers of France share my outrage at the frozen product of which I speak.  (Surely, surely they must?) 

In the spirit of fairness and a desire to appear reasonable, I decided to try a few samples of available frozen pastry here in France.  The stuff has taken over in the same depressing way the Nespresso machine has sidelined truly great coffee, and the world seems to be willing to accept mediocre as long as it is reliably so.

I tried to pick out the pure butter pastries or the ones that advertised themselves as Granny’s best, as if I were a BBC Good Food reader searching for two good sheets.  I took them home, baked them, carefully labeled them to avoid mix-ups and then herded my four kids into the kitchen for the taste test.   I had some misgivings about that last part.  They can be annoying at times, but they are my own, and by now, I had read the ingredients on the packets.  Despite the promises of “sans additives” and “pur buerre” I was perturbed by some of the contents. What flavourings do you need in a butter pastry other than butter itself ?  As for Granny, well — she evidently swapped the butter for palm and sunflower oil, and spent the savings on gin.  She certainly wasn’t sober when she made the thick and flabby batch I sampled, which cooked up into an oily mess.

Happily the kids survived, and the general consensus was that the pastry samples were all “OK” — just not very tasty.  Generally, the pastries rose into crisp puffs with an empty hollow where 947 leaves would have been expected. But OK, I take the point that not all of us have the time or inclination to spend a day listening to Melvyn in the kitchen, no matter how divine he might be.  If that is your case and pastry-making is a bother to you, I think it would be better to whip up a simple bowl of pasta or salad with some nice bread and forget about the quiches and tarts.

Homemade — it really is best.

Mass produced, marketed, and well-travelled frozen flaky pastry doesn’t have a hope in hell of bettering anything made at home. If you are going down the frozen route, just be sure to read the packets carefully.  Even some of the pure butter brands slip in various extras and a great deal of salt, if my raging thirst that night was anything to go by.

But stop!  Why issue advice on how to buy this stuff?   The top advice is to get into the kitchen and discover that most of the hours involved in making this kind of pastry are actually spent waiting for it to chill in the fridge between rollings.  An ideal time for a cup of tea or a glass of rose – and you’re still, technically, ‘working’.

It’s a win-win situation.

“If a  Bunch of 12 year Old Girls Can Do It, So Can You” Flaky Pastry Recipe

IMG_0091I can’t accept any credit for this recipe. It’s the first I learned.  Since then I have tried many other wonderful recipes and many methods of making flaky pastry, but this one is delicious and reliable.  The lard gives the pastry the short crispiness which one should demand in a flaky pastry, while the butter gives the flavor.  Lard is fat from the stomach of the pig.  It is clarified for use in much the same way as ghee is clarified.  If you are American, you might well be asking if Crisco is lard.  The short answer is “no”.  Crisco is vegetable based and lard is an animal fat.  Neither should be eaten in vast quantity, but at least lard is natural.  Use Crisco if you will, but use lard if you want excellence.

I should have mentioned that if you are worried about the fat content, you are in the wrong place.  It’s the fat that gives the flavour and texture.  If you are unhappy about it, go and buy a lettuce.

You will need:

  • 225 g plain flour pinch of salt
  • 80 g lard
  • 80 g butter      (blend both fats together and chill well)
  • Chilled water — about 120 mls
  • Dash of lemon juice

Rub a quarter of the fat into the flour and salt.  Then slowly add enough chilled water (about 120 mls) with a dash of lemon juice to bring the mixture together into a messy ball.  Now roll out into a rectangle shape about the size of a brownie pan.  Use a knife to score lines 1/3 and 2/3 down.  Use about a ¼ of the remaining butter to “dob” over the top two-thirds.  Fold up the bottom layer and down the top layer to form an envelope.  Turn the dough around to the vertical and repeat the process twice, but without butter.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.

Repeat the process until you have used up the remaining two quarters of fat. Wrap well and chill for at least an hour.

After the first few rollings you will find this pastry very easy to handle.  That’s the thing about flaky pastry, despite its reputation — it is very easy-going.

You can use this basic flaky for any recipe that calls for frozen pastry!  I love to make beef pies with it, but it is equally useful for sweet recipes.

Once you have mastered it, you can start to explore other methods.  This, though, is a good start..  Do try it and, please, never go back to frozen.   I hope that my work is done here.

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: Joanna’s daughter, Catherine, proving that even 11-year-olds can make flaky pastry

 

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