SWANSEA BORN BETHAN HOLLAND AND HER IRISH PARTNER CHRIS WHELAN RUN THEIR SKI CHALET COMPANY IN THE PORTES DU SOLEIL REGION OF FRANCE.HERE, CHRIS SHARES HIS PASSION FOR FOOD AND DETAILS A TRADITIONAL FRENCH CHRISTMAS MEAL. THE RECIPE FOR THE STARTER MAY READ SOMEWHAT LIKE A CHEMISTRY LESSON BUT CHRIS ASSURES ME THAT THE TECHNIQUE IS IN FACT QUITE SIMPLE
Le Reveillon à Swansea
Black Pearl Oysters…Roast Goose, Potato Galette with Blackberry sauce…Bouche Noel
Traditionally the French attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and return home for the reveillon, or wake up meal. This meal is an elaborate affair and menus vary massively from region to region; relying on the best quality local ingredients. I have created a menu that embodies this celebration of locally sourced ingredients; everything came from Swansea market….with two tiny exceptions.
Black Pearl Oysters
12 fresh oysters
1 can of Guinness
500ml distilled water
Xanthium gum (you can find this in Swansea at any good health food shop)
Calcium Lactate (you can find this on Amazon)
Sodium Alginate (you can find this on Amazon too)
Oysters are a very traditional choice of entrée for le reveillon, especially in Brittany. We’re lucky that oysters are available in Swansea all year. While this may not be the most traditional way to serve oysters in France, Ireland or anywhere else, this dish is really tasty and far easier than you might imagine. It’s also a great way to bring the whole family together; every foodie family member will want to be involved. I did this with four generations at the table and it really made food interesting.
When buying the oysters ask for the fishmonger to shuck them for you – not only will this make them last longer in the fridge, but you’ll avoid the need for a last minute dash to the hospital!
To make the black Guinness pearl we are going to use reverse spherification – don’t be put off by the jargon! This technique will allow you to create perfect black pearls that release a beautiful Guinness liquid when burst. Reverse spherification works by adding a small amount of calcium lactate to any solution (anything from mangos to cream), you then drop this solution into a sodium alginate bath. When the calcium lactate comes into contact with the sodium alginate, a semi permeable membrane is formed trapping the liquid inside.
The day before you plan to serve, you need to make a sodium alginate bath. It’s best to do this with distilled water (you can pick this up in Boots or simply make your own) or your bath will become gel-like. To make the bath use a 0.5% solution of sodium alginate i.e. 1 litre of water requires 5g of sodium alginate. Mix these together with a stick blender – it may take a few minutes to completely disperse the sodium alginate. Once the solution is mixed, place in the fridge to set overnight.
Now you are ready to make the pearls: place your Guinness and shallot in a pan and reduce to 100ml. Next, add your chilli according to how hot you like your food (I feel 10 mins fully submerged will be plenty – no need to dice it). You can add sugar and Worcestershire sauce too if you like – don’t add lemons as the phenolic acid interferes with the reaction. Remove from the heat and add ¼ teaspoon of xanthium gum. This is to make the solution slightly thicker; think egg yolk rather than water. Slowly stir this in with a spoon.
Now it’s time to add the calcium lactate; you add 2% of the total solution. In this case the solution was reduced to 100ml, so add 2g. You now want to stir the lactate in – don’t blend this as it will foam up and it lose all the flavour intensity. This will probably take 8/9 minutes.
Finally, the fun part; get a small slotted spoon ready and a bath of clean water (tap is fine). Now gently drop your Guinness solution into the sodium alginate bath and be amazed! I find a measuring spoon gets lovely pearls. The longer you leave the pearls in the solution the thicker the membrane formed, 45 seconds is plenty of time. After this, drop the pearls in clean water to stop the action – don’t let them touch as they can stick. These will sit in room temperature for a couple of hours before they burst.
Serve on a fresh oyster with a squeeze of lemon and a flake of smoked salt. Remember to nip the pearl on the way down, a little taste of gastronomy in your own home!
Roast Goose, Potato Galette with Blackberry sauce
1 large goose
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
As I mentioned there is no steadfast set of rules for le revellion, perhaps surprisingly, the main course has the least tradition; or certainly has the most variations. Goose is most common in the Alsace region, as well as being quite traditional in the U.K. Personally, I feel it is far superior to turkey: it doesn’t dry out as much, it is easy to get a smaller bird and feels a little bit more luxurious than turkey. It’s a great bird to do the day before as the high fat content keeps it from drying out.
Preheat the oven to 220 C or 200 C fan.
First, clean out the cavity of your goose. Your giblets should come in a bag – discard these and, using a sharp knife, remove the excess fat from inside the cavity.
Now, in a bowl zest and juice your orange and lemon; add some salt and combine with your vegetable oil, thyme and bay. Take the juiced orange and lemon pieces and place inside the cavity – there will still be flavour left in them. Now, rub your juice and oil mix into the goose. It may seem strange to rub oil into a fatty bird, but fat renders fat and this will leave you with a lovely crisp skin.
To get that beautiful brown skin heat a large heavy based roasting tin or frying pan then press your goose breast side down into the pan. Get the skin nice and brown – this will take a bit longer than you think, don’t be scared to add some real colour.
Roast the bird at 220/200c for 10 minutes and then drop the temperature down to 190/170c. If you feel the bird is getting too much colour just cover in tin foil.
I cook the bird for 30 mins per kg. To check if your goose is fully cooked prick the thickest part and you should see clear juices run out.
If you want to do this the day before, cook at 180/160 for 3 ½ or 4 hours or until the meat easily pulls from the bones.
After a 1-1½ hours remove all the fat from the pan and, if you haven’t already, cover with tin foil and return to the oven. I don’t recommend basting goose as it can give the meat a greasy feel. There is enough fat in the bird to baste itself. Remember not to throw out that fat, people pay good money for it! Store the fat in the fridge and make incredible roasties, crisp up oven chips or even make savoury shortcrust pastry with it.
Remember to let the goose rest for half an hour before serving. If you are cooking the day before: remove, let cool for half an hour then shred into a large container (keep the breasts whole if you like).
Squeeze the juice of one orange over the top and a few sprigs of thyme then cover with the fat. Reheat in the fat for 30 mins on the day.
4 large potatoes
250 ml clarified butter
This is a really lovely alternative to roast potatoes: it looks pretty, tastes great and can be made in advance.
In this recipe it is really important to use clarified butter as it burns at a higher temperature than regular butter which prevents a bitter aftertaste.
Preheat your oven to 190/170c. Peel your potatoes and cut them into really thin slices, a mandolin is good for this but personally I prefer a sharp knife. You want these really thin – about 2 mm. If you want that really professional finish, force a cooking ring through each potato so that every slice is exactly the same; you want to do this in one go. Don’t put the potato slices in water as they will bend, better they’re a bit brown than wonky.
Now get all your ingredients ready; salt, white pepper, clarified butter, thyme and potato. Brush a spring loaded cake tin with clarified butter and place a piece of thyme in the centre. Place one potato in the middle and then, slightly overlapping, build the potatoes into a ring. Remember the bottom is going to be the top, so keep the first layer neat. Now brush the potatoes with more clarified butter, add salt and pepper then start your next potato layer. Repeat as many times as you want – I feel 6 is plenty.
Cook for 45/50 mins depending on how thick your potato slices are and how many layers you did. The galette is ready when a butter knife slides easily through it. As the bottom layer is the top, flip it over when you remove it from the oven. To reheat simply place in the oven for 10 mins.
3 shallots finely diced
1 sprig of thyme
Splash of red wine vinegar
150 ml red wine
100 ml blackcurrant Cassis
A handful of blackberries quartered
This is my go-to sauce for dark poultry- it will become part of your dinner party repertoire.
Simply fry your finely diced shallots in a pan with butter, thyme and seasoning until they are soft and translucent. Just as they start to caramelise, deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine vinegar, and reduce for 15 seconds before adding the rest of the liquids. Reduce by 2/3 or until it’s sweet enough for your palate; add the quartered blackberries just before serving.
Light as a feather Bouche Noel (chocolate log)
6 eggs separate yolks from whites
100g caster sugar separated into two 50g piles
170g good quality dark chocolate
3 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Zest of one large orange
300ml whipping cream
50g icing sugar
Large baking tray (this mix fits perfectly into a 26cm x39cm)
Electric whisk (you can do it by hand but it will hurt!)
In France Bouche Noel is the most traditional element of any French Christmas dinner, it is one of the few elements that is served in all the regions. In my experience a chocolate log can be killer rich and a bit heavy after a rich main course. This is my slightly lighter version; it sits nicely after a goose and has quickly become my go-to family style dessert.
First things first. Line your baking tray with greaseproof paper making sure you come right up the sides of your tin as the sponge will rise. Now cover the base with cocoa powder, this stops the mix sticking and preheat the oven to 170oC or 150oC fan
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until they are white and fluffy. This takes about 8 mins with a hand mixer about 5 mins if you use a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid.
Now melt the chocolate and water together, there’s no need to be clever here so no Bain-Marie needed, just keep stirring over a low heat so it won’t split. It should be smooth and fairly thick it won’t be all runny like melted chocolate. When all the bits have melted in remove from the heat and let it sit until it reaches room temperature.
While the chocolate cools, beat the egg whites and remaining sugar together until you have smooth stiff peaks. Add the sugar slowly to the egg whites as you beat them. Remember the sign of good stiff peaks is being able to hold the bowl upside down over your least favourite family member.
By this point your chocolate should have cooled; now beat the chocolate into your egg yolk mix. The next trick is to fold your egg whites into your chocolate and egg yolk mix whilst still keeping as much volume as possible. Fold by running a spatula down the edge of the bowl then lifting the mix over itself rather than stirring.
Pour the mix into your baking tray and spread it out in a nice even layer and bake immediately for 17 mins. While this bakes, get an old (but clean) tea towel and dampen it and have ready another tablespoon of cocoa powder.
The sponge is ready when it is springy in texture. Don’t insert a toothpick and wait for it to come out clean. Once cooked remove from the oven and cover with coco powder and place your damp tea towel on top and leave for 10 mins until your sponge is warm and not fully cooled.
Now for the hard part. As you will see this sponge is really light and fluffy but it is also delicate, we are going to roll the sponge while it is still a bit warm. Get a sharp knife and take a deep breath, slowly edge the cake away from the grease proof paper and roll into a log shape. Do this slowly and don’t worry about cracks, the cocoa powder helps this come away easily. Leave rolled up until cool and ready to stuff.
The stuffing. For this recipe I have used a really simple Chantilly with orange zest. I like this as it’s simple and stops the chocolate log feeling like death by chocolate. You can add almost anything, chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse of coffee cream. It’s up to you. To make the Chantilly simply beat your whipping cream and icing sugar together until stiff peaks form – you want the cream to be thick so it holds the log in together.
Rolling out your log lay your sponge out flat, so the long side is facing you, now make a mark 3 cm from the left hand side, take a sharp knife and make a slit half way through the sponge away from your self at the three cm mark. This helps get a nice neat fold, spread the Chantilly out over the sponge. Don’t worry about going into the edges and don’t cover the area beside your slice. Cover with a little layer or orange zest.
Now gently roll into a lovely neat log. There are no real tricks to this other than be slow and firm. Before you serve cut off the untidy ends and eat them. Finally dust with cocoa powder.