In some of my travels and snooping around ancient kitchens in castles, châteaux, palaces, palazzi and any other magnificent abodes where I am allowed to visit the kitchen, I check out at the batterie de cuisine and high on the survival list are centuries old cast iron pots.
Recently after cooking a Beef Bourgogne in my fifteen year old red Le Creuset cocotte I was shocked to find a couple of small chips on the inside enamelled surface. It was the first time anything like this had happened and I tried to find out what went wrong.
This Le Creuset gratin dish has been in my kitchen since the 80′s. It is no wonder the French cast iron company Le Creuset offer a lifetime guarantee on their equipment – that is if you don’t treat it recklessly.
The black baking dish I bought even earlier, probably mid 1970′s. The brand is Danish Copco but sadly Copco has moved away from cast iron and gone into tea kettles. I discovered on Ebay, Amazon and Etsy that there is a healthy second-hand market mostly for Copco coloured cast iron cooking pots.
Now back to how I developed chips in my Le Creuset cocotte. I am not one hundred percent sure but I have been told that I may have filled the pot with cold water to soak after use whilst it was still hot. Or it may have suffered a shock by my turning up the heat too high whilst I was browning the meat. Whatever I did I am not sure but I am guilty of taking the pot for granted.
When I got the new big black one at the top of the page a manual came with it and so it gave me a chance to read the instructions again.
If like me you just think they will be hardy whilst you are tardy follow my extracted tips below:
- Always put something in the pot/frypan if going on the stove top, eg water or oil and fully cover the base.
- Warm it up slowly, only then can you turn up the heat.
- Once you take it out of the oven put it on a neutral temperature base, I usually put it on one of my gas top trivets as I have stainless steel benches and that would be too cold in the winter.
- You can use a high temperature if you use it to boil water for pasta, just warm it up first. High heat should never be used to pre heat a pan before lowering the temperature, I definitely own up to having done that in the past.
- Cleaning – soak with warm water if the pot is still warm
- The versatility – can be used on gas, electricity radiant electric ring, ceramic, induction and thermic ovens.
- I have always been fussy though about the implements I use, never metal, always wood or heat proof plastic to stir in the pot or serve out of the pot.
- If you have developed chips inside you can continue to use it if you keep the exposed cast iron bits oiled. I love the stainless steel knob on top of my new black cocotte and I promise I will look after it.
U tube can be helpful, if you have an old cast iron dutch oven or frypan, the type that may have looked like it spent most of its life over a camping stove or fire, then follow the lead of an American woman I saw on U tube buy an old dutch oven at a junk shop to replace the one she donated from her kitchen to her son when he left home. It had layers of black gunk and since she had a pyrolitic oven it was a cinch to clean. She acquired a fire brick to sit on the base of the oven to hold the pot and turned on the pyrolitic programme and it fully restored the oven and then she discovered that the brand was the famous one she had given to her son. A happy ending but I would not recommend it for enamelled cast iron.
My large frypan is a bit blackened around the edges but I try not to scrub it too hard for fear of scratching. The blackness has developed over many years by sending it to the oven for final roasting of quail, steaks, racks of lamb, and many other dishes including tarte tatins and souffle omelettes and frittatas. They are heavy but I love them despite arthritis in my fingers and wrist. Having a second place to hold the frypan helps.
Another recent addition to my cast iron family is this Japanese Nambi Tekki designed by Sori Yanagi. It is multi purpose and has a matching lid that costs about the same as the base so I hesitated and have not bought the lid yet as I don’t think it need it.
My former red cocotte lives on in my memory – I used the lid to weigh down a flour and water paste that was a seal for seven hour lamb.
I have this terrine in bright red also. Terrine making is a dying art in the average home but I still make them and I also use them for baking loaf cakes and sometimes for extra stuffing and the occasional meat loaf.
I checked and they are not available in Australia as there has not been enough interest to justify the shipments but Amazon will sell and ship them to Australia.
Goodbye red oven, you have served me well.
The cookware shop Taste in the James Street, New Farm shopping complex stock the largest variety of Le Creuset shapes and colours in Brisbane.
I have no affiliation with Le Creuset, Copco or any other brand of cast iron or the Taste shop.
This year I returned to Paris again and headed straight back to my friend Paule’s cooking school. Even though I ran a cookery school myself for several years in Brisbane I still find attending another cook’s classes stimulating and there is always something new to learn. Every time I have gone to Paule’s school I discover not only new recipes but entirely new techniques.
The class started off with an escorted tour to the food shopping district close to the former Le Halles market. Paule’s business name is not named Promenades Gourmandes for nothing. Paule was one of the very first people to organise walks and shopping trips to the best food arrondissements of Paris.
The famous family pie crust. A very different technique of making pastry that I have documented in earlier posts. If you want to know more about a different and easier way of making pastry do look up her website, or better still put in a request if you are going to Paris.
The starter menu for today was goats cheese and shallot tart but of course the French would have a better name Quiche au Chèvre et Échalottes Confites.
The fabulous Lacanche stove.
The Le Creuset cocotte is an indispensable piece of equipment in Paule’s kitchen.
You don’t see the range in various sizes so often in Australian kitchen shops but you would easily be able to order one at a cook’s shop. I took these photos in Paris’s Galerie Lafayette where they offer cocottes in several sizes.
At the end just before serving the ratatouille in goes a little crème fraîche, a little something extra that most cookbooks don’t include.
The Tournedos de Saumon – fillets of salmon were coated in herbs and wrapped in slices of smoked salmon. The foil held the shape whilst it was being cooked. I was quite impressed by this dish and re-created when we went down to our rented farm-house in Provence.
Paule serves the most stunning best cheese always. On the board are Crottin de Chavignol, Saint-Marcellin, Brie, Saint-Nectaire and Comté. This year I learned that the crunchy taste in hard cheese are the fats in the milk that crystallise. Another tip this one is alarming for those that think it is the soft cheeses that are highest in fat, it is in fact the harder cheese that has more fat. You will also learn as we did the ideal wine to drink with cheeses.
I did not get a photo of the higher inflated version as it came out of the oven. It had settled whilst we ate the other courses.
Here’s a pic of us on a wine tour in Beaujolais. I cannot wait to return to France and return to Paule’s kitchen.
We had no friends in this city so our new Belgian friend became the internet otherwise we would never have found Volta by walking around the city. It turned out that it was not that far out but located in a street tourists have little reason to frequent. Volta occupies an old building that was once just as useful as an electrical transformer station.
We had been in Ghent for a week with our pals from Switzerland who had flown in to rendezvous (we meet up regularly somewhere in the world) and we wanted to eat at Volta as our final dinner together but it is very popular and we could not get in at night with short notice I am not called resourceful for nothing, I grabbed a lunch date.
When we arrived it seemed we had been allocated a high communal table with stools which just was not what we wanted after several hours of walking around the city. We needed to sit back on a chair and relax over our meal. I had a quick persuasive word with the head waiter and he gave us a table we think was intended for a group of businessmen who were sitting in the garden having a drink.
We were impressed with the large open kitchen where there was no drama to be witnessed, just cool and calm chefs going about their business. A glass wall kept out any smoke, odours or aromas, however diners were encouraged to go beyond the glass if they wished.
We chose the set lunch menu at an amazingly reasonable € 25.00. It turned out to be even more value on offer when four separate entrees arrived.
Sugar snaps, beans, perfect poached eggs, followed by a crostini with a chicken mayonnaise emulsion topped with curried corn, then another salad of carrots, black olives and herbs.
If you plan to visit Ghent be sure to look up the website, you can book Volta online and in advance as it is the happening place for hipsters and foodies.
I love the name of this restaurant, de Vitrine, a glass cabinet to display your collection of whatever you collect. It evokes for me Edmund de Waal’s memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes. de Waal is the English ceramic artist who wrote a best-selling memoir that centres around a valuable collection of Japanese netsuke that survived enemy occupation of the family home in the second world war and finally bequeathed to him by an uncle.
This small restaurant in Ghent is the city presence of Kobe Desramault’s restaurant in the country town of Dranouter between Ghent and the north coast of Belgium. In De Wulf is now on my list of restaurants to visit next trip to Europe. Desramault is the youngest Belgian chef ever to be awarded a Michelin Star and in my experience one star is the best star of all, chef is always striving and the cost is never likely to be outrageously expensive.
But back to de Vitrine, set in an old butcher shop in an area described to us by locals when trying to find it as ‘dodgy’. So when we arrived early for lunch we took a walk around the area and found the ‘dodgy’ description means lovely underwear clad ladies standing or sitting in windows and doorways, so reminiscent of the red light district of Amsterdam.
A sensational combination to end our meal of white chocolate and yoghourt, purslane, celery granita. Under the yoghourt and white chocolate confection an egg yolk that had been frozen for 12 hours and then given the brulee torch, the garnish is toasted barley.
The egg yolk revealed.
Good value we felt – three courses €33 or four courses €45
The bad news (for me) is I missed the event at Garagistes in Hobart where Kobe came to cook – here is a link to read more about it. Savour Tasmania
Anyone planning a trip to Ghent – you can book online http://www.de-vitrine.be.
Address: Brabantdam 134, Ghent Tel 09 336 28 08
And not just a brand, they are making chocolate from the beginning – roasting and crushing the cacao bean, preparation that is usually performed before most chocolatiers receive their chocolate supplies to take to the tempering stage. The trend for quality chocolatiers in France and Belgium now is to produce single origin chocolate and Ducasse has launched straight into that trend.
It is in a former factory near Bastille in Paris.
Showroom antique chocolate moulds.
On the way out – cocoa bean man.
Ours was a hurried visit on the last morning of our stay in Paris, we had no time to organise a special behind the scenes tour for this blog but on his website there is a short movie showing all the behind the scenes view of the workshop. La Manufacture de chocolate – www.lechocolat-alainducasse.com
Normally I am wary of eating in the Parisian brasseries because you often get rather old fashioned food at high prices. But with our friend’s recommendation we decided to go there for lunch. It was not too crowded and we were not rushed so we had time to take in the 1920′s design that was refurbished in 2006. This brasserie actually began as a beer making enterprise in 1836 so I duly ordered a biere and those who know John will appreciate that he had the Brasserie Georges labelled water.
Fortunately we took advice but if you had no recommendations and only looked at the website first, the sheer size of the room could be off-putting. Although it is a very large restaurant most of the seating is divided into sectional areas and with intimate booths so it does not feel too impersonal. Amazing effect considering it seats about 450 people and can feed up to 2000 people per day.
We opted for the Menu Presqu’ile a set menu, with a couple of choices in each category. Here is my entree of salmon and poached egg under a blanket of hollandaise. The thick slices of red onion are a touch rustic.
We both like chives fortunately and John had plenty on his lentil salad entree, dressed with red sherry vinegar and if I am correct a little bit of buttery mayonnaise in there as well and more chunky slices of red onion. A huge serving so I gave John a helping hand. Although we paid a set menu price, to give you a ballpark, the lentil salad was 6 euros and the salmon below on the normal menu was priced at 18 euros.
The waiter to my right was making Steak Tartare at the table for four women. The Steak Tartare comes with chips and salad for 17 euros. No wonder this place is so well patronised. Good honest food to match the prices.
Elsewhere the popular dish being ordered by Lyonnaise stalwarts was Choucroute – heavily laden plates containing kassler, smoked sausages, smoked belly of pork, knuckle of pork and all the sauerkraut you could eat.
And to my left another waiter making Steak Tartare for two men, as I watched him mix the ingredients I was beginning to wish I had ordered it.
But that is for another time. Here is my dessert of île flottante aux Pralines Roses de St Genix or œufs à la neige (eggs in snow) interchangeable names but essentially it is poached meringue floating in a crème anglaise and the Lyonnaise touch is to serve it topped with the classic pink praline. I couldn’t have been happier.
Our stay of a week in Lyon could have been extended as we found plenty to do in this large regional city. In one week we felt we had just found our feet and would have liked at least another week to buy the springtime produce to cook for ourselves and still allow enough time to eat our heads off at its extensive selected restaurants. High on our list was Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – the covered indoor food market. It was named in honour of Paul Bocuse who has done so much to raise the profile of gastronomy in Lyon and of course he is so well-known outside of France. It was not as busy as we expected it to be, but we were informed that many of the fifty to sixty or so traders sell directly to restaurants.
The hours are advertised as opening early but nothing appeared to be happening until after 11am.
We had a meal here but it was quickly ordered and consumed as we had an appointment to find some wine in Beaujolais country. Generally you can have a good meal (mâchon as it is called in the region) in the bouchons (typical restaurants of Lyon), that are dotted around the food stands. We heard from locals that the food is quite expensive to buy here so maybe it is the many bouchons that keep Les Halles de Bocuse doors open.