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Gascon Cuisine with Pascal Aussignac

08 December 2009 by
Gascon Cuisine with Pascal Aussignac

Michelin-starred Gascon chef Pascal Aussignac made his mark on the London restaurant scene a long time ago, so it's no surprise he has brought out a cookbook. Here, the chef shares three recipes from Cuisinier Gascon, a celebration of the food of his homeland in the south-west of France. Kerstin Kühn reports.

Pascal Aussignac and business partner Vincent Labeyrie are synonymous with the Michelin-starred Club Gascon group of restaurants and have been a steady force on the London restaurant scene for more than a decade. The double Catey winning chef-restaurateur duo launched the groundbreaking restaurant Club Gascon in 1998 in London's Smithfield to unanimous critical acclaim. Now, 11 years on, they control a group of three businesses centred on the old meat market area as well as two sister restaurants in Chelsea and White City.

When Club Gascon first opened, it had Aussignac behind the stove, Labeyrie front of house and very few other staff. Today, the pair employ about 100 full-time staff across their group, which includes, in addition to Club Gascon, wine bar Cellar Gascon and pastry-deli Le Comptoir Gascon in Smithfield, as well as Le Cercle, just off Sloane Square in Chelsea, and Chip and Fish (formerly Croque Gascon) at Westfield shopping centre.

Few would dispute that they've truly made their mark on the industry. At the heart of the operation's success is the pair's pioneering trend of tapas-portioned dishes as well as Aussignac's daring showcase of foie gras and the hearty, earthy food of his home region of Gascony in the south-west of France. His cooking gained Club Gascon numerous accolades as well as rave reviews from even the most feared food critics and a Michelin star in 2002.

So, it's no surprise that Aussignac has brought out a cookery book. Cuisinier Gascon is the chef's tribute to the food and culture of his homeland, where fine charcuterie, cassoulet, duck, foie gras and Armagnac are de rigueur.

Cuisinier Gascon includes 140 traditional recipes, some with modern twists and inflections, which sit within a lavishly designed and beautifully photographed book. The book's narrative is a clear indicator of how well Aussignac knows his subject, conveying a calm sense of authority to the reader. There's also attention to finer details including cook's notes on Gascon traditions, detailed descriptions of the local produce and discussions on topics such as the role of salt and different varieties of pepper. Fans of Aussignac's food will be delighted to discover recipes for classics such as cassoulet Toulousain and Gascony pie, while primavera tulips and Bloody Mary pork exemplify his more modern approach to the region's culinary heritage.

A foreword by fellow Gascon-born chef Pierre Koffmann praises Aussignac's faithful dedication to the area. "The book is charmingly written and beautiful to look at," Koffmann enthuses. "And it seems to be very much a love letter to his homeland."

Aussignac adds: "I see my Gascon food, in all its manifestations, as a refinement of the original Gascon cuisine terroir, a cuisine which reflects and respects its origins, which remains close to the earth.

"In the dishes I have borrowed and created I may have made subtle alterations, replacing heartiness with a more modern lightness, for instance, but they are all still anchored firmly in the strength of local produce."


Vincent Labeyrie Pascal Aussignac


RED MULLET AND GOLDEN QUINOA RISOTTO

Red mullet or rougets are landed along the coastlines of Gascony and are delicious.

I serve them with quinoa, a grain which comes from South America. Pronounced "keen-wah", it is known as the "super grain of the Incas" because it is so healthy. It is similar in texture to millet, and doesn't need much cooking.

I have also added mussels and baby squid to my risotto, so this is a truly great fishy treat of a dish.

INGREDIENTS (Serves four)

For the red mullet

  • 4 medium red mullets, filleted
  • 1kg fresh mussels, washed and de-bearded
  • 4tbs olive oil
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2tbs chopped fresh dill
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Knob of butter

For the quinoa risotto

  • 50g baby squid (optional)
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • Good pinch of Espelette pepper (optional)
  • 120g quinoa
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • ½ tsp saffron (or spigol, see below)
  • 1 small chorizo sausage, finely chopped

Check the mullets for pin bones and remove them with your fingertips. Trim the edges to neaten the fillets. Set aside in the fridge.

Cook the mussels. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan and, when hot, tip in the prepared mussels. Pour in the wine, add the bay leaves and thyme and cover with a lid. Cook on a medium heat for about five minutes then uncover. The mussels should all have opened. Those that haven't should be discarded. Strain off the cooking liquor into a bowl through a fine sieve.

Cool the mussels and remove them all from the shells. Set aside.

Prepare the fennel. Halve lengthways, cut out the base core and slice thinly. Place in a bowl with two tablespoons of oil, the lemon juice and half the dill. Season and allow to marinate.

If using, wash the squid, cut into small dice, and marinate in one tablespoon of oil with a pinch of Espelette pepper.

Now cook the quinoa. Using a large pan, heat the remaining oil and stir in the quinoa and shallot. Cook for two to three minutes then add the saffron (or spigol) and cook another minute or so. Pour in the mussel liquor, stir and bring to the boil, then cover and turn the heat down. Cook for about 10 minutes, then uncover, stir in the diced squid, chopped chorizo and remaining dill. Season and keep warm.

Finally, cook the mullet fillets. Heat the last of the oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the fillets, skin-side down. They should take no more than two to three minutes.

Stir in the butter and heat until it sizzles and browns the fish. Remove from the heat. Toss the mussels into the pan and cook on a high heat until browned.

Serve the fish with the quinoa risotto, mussels and fennel.

http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/2009/12/08/331060/carpaccio-of-foie-gras-with-figs-and-walnut-by-pascal-aussignac.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">CHRISTMAS GOOSE STUFFED WITH HAY](http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/2009/12/08/331026/christmas-goose-stuffed-with-hay-by-pascal-aussignac.html)

Goose is, not surprisingly, a popular meat in Gascony, and never more so than around Christmas.

This is my suggestion for a French-style Christmas feast, cooking the "stuffing" separately and filling the body of the goose to be roasted with fresh, clean hay. This imparts a delicious grassy flavour to the meat. You can buy hay from most pet shops.

INGREDIENTS (Serves six)

  • 1 oven-ready goose, about 6-7kg, with heart and liver
  • 3-4 fistfuls fresh hay, about 150g
  • 50g duck or goose fat
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the stuffing

  • The heart and liver of the goose, finely chopped
  • 100g chicken livers
  • 200g button mushrooms, chopped
  • 3tbs Armagnac
  • 150g shallot compote
  • 125g good sausage meat, broken up
  • 100g Agen prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 100g day-old rustic bread, torn into small pieces
  • 125g vacuum-packed chestnuts, chopped
  • 100g foie gras, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Stuff the body cavity with as much hay as it will hold. Place in a large roasting pan with the duck or goose fat, season well and roast for 40 minutes, then lower the heat to 160-170°/gas mark 3 and cook for 30 minutes per kg, pouring off the cooking fat once or twice. When the bird is cooked, remove it to a warm platter and leave to rest.

Pour off the fat from the pan until you have just meat juices left. Put the pan on the hob on a medium heat and stir in 150ml water, scraping up the meaty deposits to deglaze. Bubble for a few minutes then strain the jus into a jug and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing. Using a large sauté pan, sauté the chopped heart and liver, chicken livers and mushrooms in some of the saved roasting fat for about five minutes, then add the Armagnac and stir for a minute or two. Add the jus, shallot compote and the sausage meat. Stir and cook for another five minutes until the sausage meat is cooked.

Mix in the prunes, bread pieces and chestnuts, reheat until piping hot and cook for a further five minutes. Then stir in the foie gras and check the seasoning. Carve the goose, remembering the breasts are quite shallow. Give each guest a portion of leg and breast meat each and a good spoonful of stuffing.

[CARPACCIO OF FOIE GRAS WITH FIGS AND WALNUT

Foie gras that has been reared in a wholesome, natural state is so good it can be eaten raw, simply cut in wafer-thin slices and sprinkled lightly with what I like to call "crazy salt" - sea salt mixed with Espelette pepper. You can also add a drizzle of Xipister vinegar or a light brushing of Sauternes wine.

We serve this shaped as roses on a bed of a carpaccio of figs accompanied by chopped fresh walnuts. It is also extremely good served with a glass of fine port.

INGREDIENTS (Serves four)

  • 400g fresh duck foie gras (the large lobe only)
  • 8 fresh black figs

To serve

  • 2tsp fleur de sel
  • ½ tsp Espelette pepper
  • Xipister vinegar or Sauternes wine
  • A little walnut oil
  • A few fresh-shelled walnuts
  • 4-8 slices country bread or brioche, toasted

Snip the tops off the figs and cut each in half lengthways. Lay a sheet of non-stick baking parchment paper out on a large board and press each fig half cut-side down, then cover with another non-stick sheet. Using a large rolling pin, roll the fig halves as thin as you can, 3mm thick or less - like a £1 coin.

Then lift the figs still in the paper on to a flat sheet and freeze until solid. Sometimes, we then use a metal round cutter and cut out neat rounds of frozen fig. When ready to serve, cut the foie gras in wafer-thin slices. We obviously use a slicer, but you could use a Japanese mandolin or a very sharp knife dipped in hot water between each slice.

Lay some frozen figs on a plate, then top with the foie gras slices, which you can fold in a rosace or circular rose pattern - you could do this slightly in advance, but you must clingfilm each plate, and leave in the fridge.

Mix together the salt and Espelette pepper, my crazy salt. Sprinkle over the foie gras, then drizzle or carefully brush over the vinegar or Sauternes and walnut oil.

Scatter walnuts around and serve with toasted brioche slices

Cuisinier Gascon, published by Absolute Press, £25. ISBN 978-1-906650-20-9

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