All our yesterdays

A guide to some old masterpieces
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I discovered Oeufs en cocotte Pascal in my formative years - a time spent reading and marvelling at other people's cooking. It was in The Good Cook's Guide, the third book published by The Good Food Guide in 1974. It is a simple enough affair: eggs, butter, s&p, parsley, cream and Meaux mustard - the grainy stuff from Dijon that comes in collectable China clay jars. Collectable, that is, until you realise you have stashed away 23 of the things, and then wondered what the devil to do with them.

The recipe appeared courtesy of Tim and Sue Cummings. Being an avid reader of The Guide, I knew all about them: they had a restaurant called Crane's in Salisbury, where there were olives and cheese straws on the table with drinks - a treat for those of us who had never heard of "amusing girls".

I only met the Cummings once, at The Hole in the Wall in Bath circa 1984, where they had both trained under the legendary George Perry-Smith. They are now well-settled in Edinburgh, at the Vintners Rooms, in Leith. I hope Oeufs en cocotte Pascal still makes a showing on their menu.

I always keep old copies of The Good Food Guide by the loo at home. I own several (guides, not loos) - the earliest dating back to 1953. The current knee-numbing read is the dirty yellow and brown one from 1971. This particular annual has recipes dotted throughout the pages.

There is a brilliant one for souffle Grand Marnier from the loopy Andre Arama at the Hotel de la Poste, Swavesey, near Cambridge ("`If God made quenelles, he could not make them better,' says M. Arama..."), who I will always remember as fabricating the best sauce Bearnaise ever.

And there is the simplest leek tart from another great pioneer of fine cookery in England, Kenneth Bell, who took over the Elizabeth restaurant in Oxford, circa 1961-62. "Equal, if not superior, to any high table in Oxford," writes one member. Another says he has "a loving regard for his customers' tastes and for the food he serves". Kind words, but customers were, possibly, kinder then?

Kenneth Bell's leek tart (from the kitchens of Thornbury Castle where he moved to from Oxford) could possibly be seen as "just another quiche". For me, leeks, butter, three egg yolks, half a pint of cream, bacon and cheese, baked in a crisp pastry shell, sounds just dandy.

Kenneth Bell's leek tart, serves 4

This is taken directly from the text. The only alteration I would make would be to cook the pastry blind before baking the filling and to add a little freshly grated nutmeg.

Pastry:

175g/6oz plain flour

75g/3oz butter

1 egg

salt

cold water

Filling:

350g/12oz leeks, butter

3 egg yolks

275ml/12 pint cream

salt and pepper

50g/2oz ham or cooked bacon

grated cheese

"Some hours before the meal, make a short pastry with the flour, butter, egg, salt and water. (One tablespoon should be enough but it depends on the size of the egg.) Put in the refrigerator to firm up, wrapped in cloth or foil.

Roll it out and line a well buttered 8" (20.5cm) flan ring. Refrigerate until required.

Chop the leeks quite small and rinse in a colander. Soften them in a little butter. If there is a lot of moisture, turn up the heat to drive it off, but do not allow the leeks to colour. Cool. Beat together the egg yolks and cream and season. Fill the flan ring with the leeks to which you have added the diced ham or bacon and the egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle the top with a little grated cheese and put into a hot oven. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking for another 20 minutes."

The Michelin Guide is nothing at all like the 1971 Good Food Guide. It would not, for example, understand a dish such as Le filet de Saumon en Croute, aux gingembre confit et petit raisins, sauce messine (salmon in pastry with currants and ginger to you and me), given by the aforementioned George Perry-Smith. They might consider the sauce messine, as Elizabeth David gives a recipe for it in French Provincial Cooking (Michael Joseph, 1960). Perry Smith refers to it in The Guide recipe, as the more prosaic "herb sauce".

Another superb sauce with salmon was perfected by les freres Troisgros, Pierre et (the late) Jean, at their eponymous restaurant in Roanne, France. Their Escalope de Saumon a l'Oseille is probably the most famous fish recipe in the modern world.

Eliza Acton gave a recipe for Common Sorrel Sauce in Modern Cookery for Private Families in 1845, but it does not, for one moment, resemble the one les Troisgros gave to Caroline Conran when she translated their cookery book, The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean and Pierre Troisgros (Macmillan, 1980).

By the way, I knew I would finally see sorrel in my local Tesco - as I mentioned the other week - dangling from the herb rack in a plastic carton. Six leaves for 85p! Just about enough for a child's portion of sorrel sauce to go with a sliver of salmon. Which, incidentally, it would be a pleasure to construct, and serve up with bon humeur and a hug for the petit enfant. A French child, naturally, would know all about sorrel: he will have seen it in the local market - in big bunches costing about 50p.

Salmon with sorrel sauce, serves 4

I don't cut my salmon as thinly as they do in Roanne.

900g/2lb piece of centre-cut wild salmon, filleted and skinned (keep the bones and skin)

1 small wine glass white wine

1 small wine glass of water

2 tbsp dry vermouth

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

90g/312 oz sorrel leaves, trimmed of stalk and central rib, coarsely chopped

400ml/34 pint whipping cream

25g/1oz butter

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put the chopped up salmon bones and skin, white wine, water and vermouth in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan with the tiniest pinch of salt. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes and strain into a clean pan through a fine sieve. Add the shallots and reduce the liquid until syrupy and almost fully reduced.

Meanwhile, season the salmon fillets and cut into four equal pieces. Heat a non-stick or well seasoned, heavy bottomed frying pan and smear with the merest amount of oil. Fry the salmon on both sides until lightly coloured and just cooked through - about 3-4 minutes per side. Keep warm in a serving dish in a low oven.

Add the cream to the reduced wine/vermouth mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce until thickened, velvety and unctuous. Throw in the sorrel and cook for about 15 seconds, until it has changed from green to a sort of deep khaki colour. Swirl in the butter in small pieces until fully amalgamated, and add the lemon juice. Correct the seasoning and pour over the salmon

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