I hate wasting food. So tonight, I’m being economical and preparing a bread themed dinner for my hosts Sarah and Jules. We have about three sticks of day-old-baguette that could be better used than for just fattening up Bernard’s ducks.
The menu will be simple and rustic, to keep with the very old theme of the beautiful 17th century grain mill, Pierre au Grain, we’re in. And it will be local. Using some of the lovely fresh produce that’s available in our own back garden and neighbouring farms.
We’re going to eat roast chicken with herb stuffing balls, carrots, braised fennel and bread sauce. And for dessert (of course I thought of this first), a French bread pudding – baguette e burre.
The chicken is the only ingredient we need to buy. And we ask the butcher to lop his head and feet off for us (using the universal “off with its head” sign language). The carrots and fennel from the farmers market on the weekend were in the fridge, crying out to be used. And we’ll find all the fresh herbs we need in our garden.
For the simple bread pudding, we’ll jazz it up with some homemade apricot jam and wild raspberries that we need to collect from the garden. The raspberries will be tart and fresh to cut through the rich sweet custard.
We sampled a few in our champagne whilst we foraged for them.
Chook and veg:
The chicken is rubbed with some olive oil and seasoned only with salt. After we pull out the guts and gizzards I stick a pierced lemon in the cavity. He’ll taste pretty good without my usual herb and garlic butter I like the stuff under the skin. I notice he’s not as big a breasted as the chicken I cook at home and he has exceptionally long legs. Maybe he gave the farmer a good chase before meeting his maker.
I roast the chicken with the guts and gizzards in the pan, adding the carrots about 20 minutes before the chicken is ready. I’d planned to add a little honey to them but they were already so lovely and sweet.
I braise the fennel in a pan with some (actually, a lot of) butter, chicken stock and a little bit of balsamic vinegar to glaze at the end. Here is a slightly more elaborate braised fennel recipe that I have earmarked to make another time.
I know stuffing is supposed to go inside the chicken, but I like to cook mine separately – shaping them in to little balls and putting them in patty pan tins. This way, they crisp up in the oven. My auntie Suz has always cooked her stuffing balls at Christmas this way, for as long as I can remember. And I love them.
I use the food processor to turn some of the baguette in to breadcrumbs. Add a cup of them to some cooked onions and bacon, chopped fresh sage, thyme and tarragon and an egg. Mix it all together by hand then do with is as you wish. I’m going to update this post with auntie Suz’s stuffing ball recipe when I get home.
The remaining bread crumbs will go in to the bread sauce. Bread sauce is so easy to make and essentially just a white sauce that’s been thickened with bread. Perfect with white meats and can be served hot or cold. To give it more flavour, I’m going to finish mine with some of the lovely chicken juices from the roasting pan. Here’s a simple bread sauce recipe.
I’ve made a few bread and butter puddings in my time – sometimes just individual ones for me when I want some warm, sweet, starchy, soul-warming comfort. But this was definitely my best to date. Put it down to the French butter, fresh cream and eggs, bread, our wild raspberries or homemade apricot jam that I was using – or the La Cornue stove – but it was a sensational pudding.
Cook and author, Nigel Slater, summed it up best when he said; “You can’t smell a hug. You can’t hear a cuddle. But if you could, I reckon, it would smell and sound like warm bread and butter pudding”.
Everyone should have this recipe in their cookbooks because it’s easy to make and uses basic ingredients, usually on hand – bread, butter, eggs, cream and sugar. Here’s a simple recipe. The only thing I did differently was leave out the brandy, use baguette bread, smear one side of each piece with apricot jam, scatter fresh raspberries in each layer and top with flaked almonds.
Sorry Bernard, your ducks won’t be such an easy target this week.