An amuse-bouche or more correctly in France an amuse-gueule is literally translated as “mouth amuser”. They became popular in restaurants in the nineteen eighties as a showcase of the chef’s skills. Normally a small intensely flavoured dish presented to all diners before their ordered dishes. In high-end classic restaurants such as those with Michelin, stars amuse-bouche are now an integral part of the meal.
At home, an amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule does not have to be an elaborate creation it can be some delicious marinated Spanish olives, a tasty, freshly made dip with breadsticks or a Gazpacho Shot.
Ghee is a south Asian pure butterfat used for frying and flavouring similar to clarified butter. The production of ghee results in the elimination of any milk solids which prevents the ghee from oxidising, consequently ghee has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration. Ghee is commonly used in Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Pakistani cooking. In Indian cookery, ghee is used in the preparation of dishes such as biryanis, daals, parathas and curries resulting in a rich flavour and texture and is brushed on roasting Naan breads. The word ghee comes from Sanskrit.
Commercially prepared ghee is made by first melting the butter, as it does the milk solids and buttermilk form a white froth on top. This is removed and the butterfat is then simmered, stirring occasionally, as it is cooked on low heat it turns a dark golden colour. Any remaining residue settles at the bottom and the ghee, which is now clear, aromatic and golden is ready to be filtered. The ghee solidifies as it cools. The texture, colour, and taste of ghee is altered by the length of the cooking process and from the milk which made the butter.
Ghee is an ideal medium for deep fat frying because the smoke point (where it begins to break down) is 250 °C / 482 °F, which is well above typical cooking temperatures for most foods around 200 °C / 392 °F and above that of most vegetable oils. Several other cuisines produce similar products to Ghee. In North Africa, the Berber tribes add spices and age their refined butter. In other parts of Africa purified butterfat is used for frying and in Germany Schnitzels are traditionally fried in Butterschmalz a type of clarified butter.
Melba toast is completely dry, crisp, thinly sliced, toasted bread and most often served with soup or pâté. History has it that the name was given to the toast by the world’s most famous hotel manager César Ritz. Melba toast was created by his equally famous chef Auguste Escoffier for the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, around 1897. During a stay in London, the singer was taken ill and when she requested something light to eat Escoffier delivered Melba toast.
Melba toast is available commercially but is not difficult to make and a great way to use up excess sliced bread and you will find the results much better. It can be made up to a couple of days before you need it and stored it in an airtight container, then crisp it up for a short time in the oven.
Sliced white or brown bread as required
Preheat the grill to high and toast the bread lightly on both sides. Cut off the crusts, then holding the toast flat, slide the knife between the toasted edges to split the bread.
Place the toast cut side down onto a food preparation board and gently rub it over the board surface. This removes any loose crumbs and snags of dough which will burn when you toast the underside and produces a professional finish.
Place on a baking tray untoasted sides uppermost, then toast under a moderate grill until golden and the edges curl.
When required crisp for a short time in the oven at 170 °C / 325 °F / Gas 3 before serving.
Mirepoix, a trio of aromatic vegetables, became popular in 19thcentury French cooking and is named, in the fashion of so many French culinary terms, after a Duke who was a regarded as a pretty incompetent Field Marshall and Ambassador, and who owed much to Louis XV affections towards his wife. Mirepoix is a small, fine dice normally of onions, carrots, and celery roughly in the proportions 2:1:1. It is the base flavour of many classic sauces and stocks and slow-cooked casseroles and stews. Mirepoix can vary from recipe to recipe and region to region and include garlic, leeks, mushroom stalks and tomatoes.
Mirepoix au gras has the addition of finely diced ham or streaky bacon. Similar base vegetable mixes are to be found in German cooking called suppengrün or soup greens. There is also the holy trinity of Creole cooking; onions, green bell peppers and celery and soffritto an Italian soup and sauce base of vegetables, garlic and parsley stewed in olive oil.
Matignon is traditionally a finer dice of aromatic vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, leeks and garlic which is sautéed in butter and flavoured with a pinch of thyme and perhaps some crushed garlic. It is usually finished with salt, sugar if required and a splash of Madeira wine. The result can be used as a stuffing or a base to present poultry and meat on.
When Dill is growing it looks very similar to Fennel, and they share a similar aniseed flavour, however, Dill’s is sweeter and gentler. Dill grows annually and is best planted in cool, sunny sheltered locations. After flowering, the dill plant will die. Plant new seeds before the next season. Dill pairs beautifully with seafood, smoked salmon, potatoes, eggs, fish, and carrots and is used extensively in Scandinavian cuisine.
Dill was used by the ancient Greeks and Roman and is mentioned in St Matthew’s Gospel, and by medieval times, dill was commonly used as a culinary herb as well as a pickling spice. Dill or dill oil is a major ingredient in Gripe water used to calm infant digestive systems and reduce wind. The word dill originates from a Saxon word meaning to lull, as dill has a calming effect.
Mussels have been part of our diet for hundreds if not thousands of years, there are well over a dozen edible species and they are eaten around the world. The peak season of the Blue or European mussel is October to March and nearly all UK mussels are now sustainably farmed. Mussels are high protein and a good source of Zinc and Vitamin B12. Mussels can be smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted, barbecued, battered or fried in butter or vegetable oil. Allow 500 gr to 750 gr of mussels per person for a generous portion. To prepare your mussels first rinse them with plenty of cold running water and throw away any mussels with cracked or broken shells. Give any open mussels a quick squeeze, if they do not close immediately, throw away as well as they are dead and not to be eaten and may be poisonous. Then using a small knife scrape the shell to remove any barnacles or dirt and pull out any beards by tugging towards the hinge of the mussel shell. If you intend to cook later that day, store in a plastic container in the bottom of your refrigerator covered with a damp tea towel.
In Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, mussels are steamed with white wine, garlic, and herbs and eaten with French Fries the classical ‘ moules-frites ’. In Spain, they are popular cooked in a simmer manner with added lemon, in soups and pickled in oil and vinegar flavoured with bay leaves, peppercorns, and paprika. Mussels are eaten in Chowder in New Zealand and America and in Cantonese cuisine in a spicy black bean broth. Mussels can be added to fish pies, seafood stews, and pasta dishes as well as being steamed.
For more information on sustainable seafood visit the Marine Stewardship Council.
The Bay tree was originally native to the Mediterranean but is now grown throughout Europe and in north and south America. The Greeks and Romans saw bay as a symbol of wisdom and glory. The leaves were worn around crowns, honouring successful warriors. They are best grown in a sunny sheltered position with fertile, well-drained soil and can grow to be quite large. The leaves can be picked and used all year round.
The fresh leaves can be a little bitter tasting, but picked and left in a sunny spot for a couple of days to dry they lose their bitter flavour. Bay leaves have a floral aroma with scents of nutmeg and they are best used where their flavour can slowly release in recipes such as soups, stocks, and stews and in marinades. Bay leaves go exceedingly well with beef and chicken dishes, citrus flavours, and traditionally in pâtés and terrines. They are an ingredient in Bouquet garni, a cloute used to flavour Bechemel sauce and more exotically Massaman curries.
Parsley has a vibrant, aromatic flavour, it is typically added toward the end of cooking as excessive heat can destroy its flavour. Parsley has a slightly lemony aroma and the flat leaf version is a little more robust than the curly type which is used more for decorative purposes. Parsley is widely used in cooking across Europe, the Middle East and America so you can find it in creole shrimp, beef bourguignon, risotto as well as being a garnish finely chopped and sprinkled on potatoes, fried chicken, steamed fish, and steaks.
Parsley pairs well with other herbs and spices such as chilli, garlic, chives, dill, mint, rosemary and thyme and is a key ingredient in the French Bouquet garni used to flavour soups, stews, and casseroles. In the United Kingdom, parsley sauce is a roux-based sauce, traditionally served over fish or gammon and it is a key ingredient in several Middle Eastern salads such as Lebanese tabbouleh.
Herbs are plants that are used in relatively small amounts to add flavour to dishes. We can use the leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. Some herbs also provide spices like Coriander with its citrus, spicy flavoured foliage and warm, spice and nutty flavoured seeds. Before the introduction of exotic spices during the Norman conquest herbs were one of the principal methods of flavouring food in Britain.
Different herbs grow best in different conditions and are divided by gardeners into perennials ( growing every year ) like Bay trees and shrubs like Thyme and Rosemary, plants with a two-year life cycle ( biennials ) such as Parsley and those that need fresh planting every year or annuals like Basil. Herbs such as Mint and Thyme are used both in the preparation of food and have medicinal uses as well.
Herbs on a Cook’s Compendium
A bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string used to add flavour to soups, stocks, and stews. It is cooked with the other ingredients but is removed before the dish is eaten. There is no standard recipe for bouquet garni, but most French recipes include a Bay leaf, a few sprigs of Thyme and some Parsley or Parsley stems. Depending on the dish other herbs such as Rosemary, Tarragon and Chervil may be added as well as peppercorns.
In Provence, a couple of slices of dried orange peel may be added.
Sometimes chefs will bind the ingredients in tied leek leaves or a stick of celery if the recipe is for a large amount the herbs can be tied in cheesecloth or muslin fastened with butchers string. You can also buy sachets of bouquet garni which look very similar to T-bags.
Thyme is an herb used in cooking in fresh, frozen and dried forms. Thyme has a piney and peppery taste with bitter, slightly lemony and minty notes. It is often sold in small bunches and recipes often call for a sprig which is usually a single stem. It was used by the Romans to flavour cheese and drinks and is popular today in many Mediterranean dishes. Thyme grows well in semi-arid and rocky environments; southern Greece is famous for abundant wild thyme and the honey produced from its flowers.
Thyme goes well with lamb, chicken, tomatoes, and lemon and is a staple ingredient in Herbes de Provence and Bouquet Garni.