Mark Hix brings you brasserie classics with a modern edge

The French brasserie has always been an inspiration when it comes to good simple cooking. I try to pop over to Paris on an annual basis to check out everything that's new, as well as reminding myself of what's old and still works. The one thing that always remains intact is the innate Frenchness of the brasseries - and I don't mean that in a Brit-with-a-chip way, but the fact remains that the French just don't let other cuisines through the door. In the great brasseries of Paris you know exactly what you're going to get before you walk into the place.

My last trip to Paris a month or so ago with my colleagues Gary Lee and Russell Norman proved an interesting one. Everyone seemed to be in Paris that weekend - the photographer Jason Lowe, and gallery-owner friends Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart who were checking out a new space for one of their artist's shows.

We visited the obvious small brasseries such as Allard and Chez Georges and they were great, but Terry Durack also recommended that we visit Gérard Depardieu's relatively new restaurant, La Fontaine Gaillon, which Tracey MacLeod mentions in her review on page 55.

It has the look of a smart stand-alone Parisian house, which is probably what it was in its former life. The menu is short and contains none of those bog-standard Paris brasserie dishes. I thought the restaurant was a breath of fresh air, and there were a few dishes worth lifting, too. I don't mind owning up to stealing other restaurants' dishes - especially when I know that's probably how they got on the menu I nicked them from in the first place. Some of the recipes I have given below are brasserie classics, and some have a more modern edge.

Morue fraîche

Serves 4

This was on the menu at La Fontaine Gaillon, and I thought it was one of the most pleasant ways of eating salt cod I've come across. Salting fish was always a method of preserving the catch for the cold, or warm, months and it would have also been a highly valued trading commodity - but this recipe sort of uses the technique in reverse.

The waiter explained that the fish was caught that morning, then filleted and salted for 30 minutes, then washed off. It was my kind of food; and the most perfect and simple dish you could imagine, served on its own, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by the silkiest mash. In fact, the mash was so buttery that it was more like a sauce. Real pommes mousseline, as we call it in the trade, was the kind of mashed potato that I remember Marco Pierre White serving with his stuffed pig's trotter (a dish inspired by Pierre Koffman).

A large fillet of sustainably fished cod (visit www.mcsuk.org) is crucial here , so you will need to ask your fishmonger for a fillet off a fish weighing about 5-6kgs, or you could use pollack.

1 thick fillet of cod, or pollack, weighing about 1.5kg, skinned and bones removed
A couple good handfuls of sea salt such as Maldon, Halen Mon or sel de Guérande
Ground white pepper
4-6tbsp good extra virgin olive oil

Remove the thin tail end of the cod and save for a pie or fish cake. Put the remaining cod fillet on to a non-reactive tray and evenly scatter over the sea salt. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes, then wash off the salt. You can keep the fish for about 24 hours in this condition. Season the fish with white pepper and steam, or cook in a covered pan in the oven with a centimetre or so of water, for about 10 minutes or until just cooked.

To serve, drain on some kitchen paper and serve on a warmed plate drizzled with olive oil.

Serve with the pommes mousseline below.

Pommes mousseline

Serves 4

This is a very indulgent way to make mashed potato. If you relate it to the butter content of, say, a hollandaise sauce, it's more or less on a par with that. It's crucial that you use really well-flavoured potatoes that are not waxy - and because you don't need that much potato itself it works really well with large new potatoes like charlotte, roseval, or you could even use Jerseys.

150g large new potatoes, peeled
150g butter
4tbsp double cream
Milk to mix
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 12-15 minutes, or until cooked. Drain, then return to a low heat briefly to evaporate any excess water. Put the potatoes through a mouli-légumes or a potato ricer.

Melt the butter in a pan with the cream, then add the potato, season and mix together with a whisk, adding milk to adjust to almost a custard-like consistency. At this stage you can add more butter, cream and seasoning to suit your taste, but it's important to keep the earthy flavour of the potatoes.

Onglet aux échalotes

Serves 4

In France this is a classic bistro and brasserie steak. In this country, we tend not to use it as a steak cut; sadly, it goes into the stewing and mincing bin, along with other similarly tasty cuts of beef. It is, however, slowly starting to gain recognition over here and some gastropubs are using it as their steak of choice.

In the US it is referred to as a hanger steak because it hangs from the diaphragm, which comprises the skirt - a cut we are vaguely familiar with but which we often stew. If butchers got a bit more clever with their knives they would break down some of these muscles like they do in France and sell them as prime cuts instead of stewing steak.

Because you get only about 4-6 onglet steaks per animal it may not be commercially viable, but it's worth it because it has such a unique flavour, being next to the kidney on the beast.

If you have a good butcher, he'll know what you are talking about because this cut is sometimes referred to as butcher's steak - the butcher would traditionally keep it for his family as a bit of a treat. You could ask him for a bavette or flank steak which has similar eating qualities, but they need to be trimmed of all muscles and sinew.

4 x 200-250g onglet or bavette steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp vegetable oil

For the shallot sauce

8 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A couple of good knobs of unsalted butter
1tsp flour
150ml white wine
250ml good beef stock

First make the sauce. Gently cook the shallots in the butter in a covered pan for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often, until soft and lightly coloured. Add the flour, then gradually stir in the wine to avoid lumps forming. Then add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes until it has reduced by two-thirds and thickened. Season to taste then whisk in the butter and keep warm by covering with a lid or cover tightly with clingfilm.

Heat a ribbed griddle, barbecue or heavy-based frying pan. Season the steak and brush with a little oil. Cook the steaks for about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare (or more, or less, depending on how you like them). Leave the steaks to rest for 3-4 minutes and then cut them into 5-6 slices. Arrange on warmed plates, saving any juices and pouring them into the hot sauce. Spoon the sauce over or serve separately. Pommes allumettes, which are thin French fries, are the perfect accompaniment - or a green salad if you're in a healthy mood. To make pommes allumettes, cut potatoes such as Maris Pipers, Spuntas or Yukon Gold into 1/3- 1/2cm thick chips, then rinse them well and dry them. Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 130-150C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep fat fryer and blanch them for 3-4 minutes (you might need to do them in a couple of batches). Raise the temperature to 160-180C and re-fry the chips (again, perhaps in two batches) until crisp and golden. Drain on to kitchen paper and scatter lightly with salt.

Millefeuille aux noisettes

Serves 4-6

I also tasted this at Gérard Depardieu's restaurant, and it fulfilled all the requirements of a good dessert. Millefeuilles (which means a thousand leaves) is a common pâtisserie dish and comes in many guises with many fillings. This one was pretty simple in that the filling contained praline, which is a roasted hazelnut paste. It's not easy to make, or buy for that matter, but you could try it with Nutella, the chocolate-praline paste instead.

200g butter puff pastry, rolled to about 1/4 cm thick
Icing sugar for dusting
80g hazelnuts
110g praline or Nutella, at room temperature

For the pastry cream

150ml milk mixed with 200ml double cream
60g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
20g flour
15g cornflour
250ml good quality double cream like Jersey, semi-whipped

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Lay the puff pastry on to a baking tray and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 6-7 minutes then carefully turn it over with the help of a fish slice and/or spatula and continue baking for another 6-7 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Transfer to a cooling rack; leave to cool. Meanwhile, roughly chop the hazelnuts with a knife and then scatter them on to a baking tray lined with foil and lightly dust with icing sugar. Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes, stirring every so often until lightly coloured.

Now prepare the pastry cream. Bring the milk and cream to the boil. Mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a whisk then mix in the flour and corn flour. Pour the boiling milk and cream on to the egg mixture; whisk together. Return the mixture to the pan over a low heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly until it thickens. Pour it quickly into a liquidiser with the praline and blend until it is smooth. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and cover with a sheet of clingfilm actually on the pastry cream to prevent it forming a skin. When it is cold, fold in the semi-whipped cream and hazelnuts.

To assemble, cut the pastry through the centre with a sharp serrated knife, then cut into four 7cm x 12cm pieces. Spread a third of the mixture on a piece of pastry, top with another piece and spread with another third of the mixture. Spread the final portion on the third piece of pastry and top with the last piece. Don't stack it up, as the weight will push out the cream mixture. Leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then assemble the last layer, smoothing any of the cream mixture on the sides with a spatula or palette knife, then return to the fridge for an hour or so to set.

To serve, trim the ends with a sharp serrated knife and dust the top with icing sugar. Carefully cut the millefeuille into 2cm thick slices and lay on serving plates.

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