Over the years I've managed to amass a large collection of cookery books without even really thinking about it. It's easy to forget once popular books languishing at the back of the shelf. I had forgotten about Raymond Blanc's Cooking For Friends, first published back in 1991.
It's a terrific book and comes with my recommendation. I remember buying it new- today, looking at the photographs of a svelte Monsieur Blanc in his all-white kitchen with its Villeroy & Boch Luxembourg pattern tureens and the emphasis on the French Cuisine Bourgeoise, it seems slightly dated.
Thinking about it, there are two types of cookery book. There's the complicated, cheffy, 'secrets of the so-and-so restaurant' type of book. And then at the other end of the spectrum there's the dumbed-down, pretty pictures, coffee-table, celeb chef, supermarket blockbuster thing. There's often a problem with both of these. The recipes don't work!
How many times have you tried a recipe exactly as written, only to find that there's not enough sauce, or the fish is overcooked, or there's too much sauce, or the blasted thing is burnt to a cinder. And quite often the measurements are just wrong, as if the books been rushed to the printer, and nobody seems to have actually tried the recipes out first.
Cooking For Friends falls somewhere in the middle. Okay, it ain't perfect- I tried the Poulet à la Creme et au Riz, and it definitely needed a bit of tweaking, but the Cabillaud à la Boulangère, which I am about to share with you, was fantastic, even if I poured in too much stock and the sauce was a bit watery. But that was my fault, not the fault of the book.
The recipes are relatively simple, (ingredients can easily be sourced from any supermarket) but aimed at people who enjoy cooking and have a bit of knowledge to go with it. Enthusiastic, intelligent amateur cooks.
Here's how I made Raymond Blanc's Cabillaud à la Boulangère. Braised Cod with Boulangère Potatoes.
First you make the Boulangère Potatoes. You get one of those shallow rectangular or oval enamel dishes (with a lid) and grease it with a knob of butter. Into the dish goes a layer of sliced onions, over that goes a layer of sliced skinned potatoes which you've previously rinsed in cold water (I used Maris Piper), and then another layer of onions, topped off with a final layer of potatoes. Each layer is seasoned generously with sea salt and black pepper, and sprigs of thyme and a few bayleaves added to the dish. Chicken stock is poured up to half the height of the dish.
Put the dish on the hob and bring the stock up to simmering point. Obviously you need to make sure at this stage that your dish won't crack with the direct heat. The dish is then placed inside a pre-heated oven (230°C) and cooked without a lid for about half an hour.
While this is going on, cook the cod. Heat oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan and pan-fry the cod very briefly. Raymond Blanc says 'both sides for five minutes', although I found the fish cooked much quicker than that. The important thing is to not to over-cook the fish, otherwise it will start to flake and go rubbery.
The browned cod is then placed on top of the onion and potatoes, the lid put back on top of the dish, and the whole thing is finished off in the hot oven for about eight minutes.
To serve, arrange the sliced potatoes and onion to one side of the plate, place the braised cod on top, squeeze over a bit of lemon, and check the seasoning. The sauce is spooned over the dish. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.
This is delicious. Its' simple to make and looks great on the plate. If your sauce is too thin and watery, you could always strain it into a small saucepan and reduce it on a high heat. This would thicken it up. I haven't tried doing this yet, but it might be a small improvement.