Mark Hix finds European dishes to try in 2006

Predicting culinary trends is certainly no science. In fact it's so personal that I noticed in January's Good Food magazine that no two chefs asked to look ahead can agree on what they see in the future. Italian, Asian, gastropubs and molecular gastronomy are others' choices. Inevitably you back your own preferences to catch on. You've probably noticed that I favour simplicity, and it certainly does seem to have been a key trend. It's what we like to offer customers in our restaurants, The Ivy, J Sheekey and Le Caprice, and coming early next year, Scott's fish restaurant in Mayfair which will reopen, and The Rivington in Greenwich joining The Rivington in Shoreditch.

There, I've given you a preview of new restaurant openings. They'll be serving real classic dishes where the main ingredients stand up for themselves. Dishes like coq au vin, steak au poivre and coteletta alla Milanese sound easy but can expose a lack of skill if not done well and with an understanding of the raw materials.

A classical background actually helps you to be a versatile cook. I didn't have a proper old-fashioned training like that, but I was lucky enough to be around at the tail end of those large kitchen brigades that kept a traditional sauce and larder section. I have fond memories of the simple dishes we used to serve in hotels, such as poached turbot with egg sauce, good, honest steak and kidney puddings in suet pastry and large Yorkshire puddings cooked under the rib of beef to catch all the cooking juices. Make the mouth water, don't they? And learning to cook these certainly set me up for trying out almost anything. A few weeks ago I was knocking up a chilli con carne and this week I've been pushing batter through a colander to make German spätzle. What next?

There's a lot of European tradition out there that's hardly been tapped. Including our own. While more restaurants are offering locally sourced ingredients and their idea of home cooking, how many people make suet puddings at home? How often is an apple pie with home-made custard produced with pride at a friend's house, and who bothers braising oxtail? I'd like to encourage all these; they're not technically difficult and they're so rewarding. Just as it is going to Henry Harris's Racine (on Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London) or the Galvin brothers' new place Galvin (on Baker Street) for really classic French cooking.

In France itself, I have to tell you that one of the best meals I've had recently was lunch with the winemaker Jean-Luc Terrier at his Château D'Artignac in Provence. It was cooked by Florence, Jean-Luc's wife, and consisted of a large Lyonnais sausage and a skinnier local sausage containing a large amount of pork rind, cooked in the oven in a casserole with potatoes in grape must, what's left after they have made the wine from the Alicante Bouchet grape. The potatoes turn the colour of beetroot in an intense red wine sauce. So simple to do, and yet so delicious.

Steak au poivre

Serves 4

A real forgotten classic. When green and pink peppercorns became trendy and French bistros fell out of favour on the high streets, steak au poivre lost its identity. But black shouldn't ever go out of fashion, especially pepper. The important thing here is to buy a decent piece of beef - fillet, sirloin or rump - and preferably from a good pedigree. You may think you can't go wrong with fillet, but believe me you can. Because fillets fetch such a high price they are not so often hung on the carcass these days but are cut out from under the sirloin and vacuum packed so they don't lose weight. This generally means they leak blood, though; when you open the bag there's loads of it, and the result is that the meat's dry and tasteless when it's cooked.

The best way to crush your peppercorns is in a spice grinder, mortar and pestle or an old coffee grinder. If you haven't any of those, put them in a tea towel and smash with a hammer. Maybe that's why people think of steak au poivre as a guy's dish. Ideally cream shouldn't be used, just natural meat juices such as the nice concentrated veal stock restaurant kitchens have. As that's not something you're likely to have at home, I have used a little cream and stock together to thicken the sauce.

4 sirloin, or fillet, steaks weighing about 180-200g each
3tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt
A good knob of butter
3 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp brandy, or Cognac
100ml beef stock
150ml double cream

Spread the crushed peppercorns on a plate. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and press one side into the peppercorns so they stick to the meat. Heat the vegetable oil in one, or two heavy-bottomed frying pans, depending on the size of your pans, and cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on a medium heat on each side for medium rare and 5-6 minutes for medium. Remove the steaks and keep warm.

Add the butter and shallots to the pan and stir well on a low heat for a minute or so. Add the brandy and turn the heat up so it ignites then pour in the stock and cream and boil rapidly until it reduces by half and thickens.

Season if necessary and pour over the steaks. Serve with watercress salad or chips or rich, cheesey, puréed aligote potatoes

Saucisson 'Alicante Bouchet'

Serves 4

This is my interpretation of that great dish I ate in Provence (see above). I doubt you'll be able to find exactly the right ingredients, but it's worth getting as close as you can by improvising with what's available here. The original used the local sausage and grape must - crushed grapes and juice at the stage before winemaking begins. I experimented by blending some tiny red grapes from a vine in the garden that never ripened, with some red wine. Any red grapes and f heavy red wine will do. I used Toulouse sausages but a thick, meaty butcher's sausage will do if you can't find a French one. You also need medium-sized waxy potatoes that won't fall apart during cooking - look for large Charlotte, Belle de Fontenay, Ratte potatoes or similar.

8 large meaty sausages, or 1 large saucisse de campagne weighing about a kilo
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good knob of butter
200g red grapes
500ml red wine
1tbsp sugar
500ml chicken stock
8 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the onion and garlic in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Meanwhile coarsely blend the grapes and red wine and add to the onions with the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5.

Put the sausages in a casserole or oven-proof dish and pour over the red wine mixture, season, cover with a lid or foil and cook for 11/2 hours, carefully turning the potatoes and sausages half way through cooking. The sauce should have evaporated by now and thickened; if not, remove the potatoes and sausages and simmer the sauce on the stove until it thickens.

Serve with greens or root vegetables.

Braised guinea fowl with spätzle

Serves 4-6

Guinea fowl is a perfect alternative to game birds, and makes a change from chicken. As well as roasting, guinea fowl suits being braised in a sauce. Many years ago in Colmar in Alsace I ate a memorable chicken cooked in Gewürztraminer and served with noodles. That was my inspiration for this recipe. I wanted to cook guinea fowl, and I had a bottle of Austrian white wine - but you could use a similar Alsace or German wine. The World Cup should kick up some interest in German food - and the wines, too, are due to come into their own.

Spätzle are little German and Austrian pasta-like dumplings. A couple of years ago I was given a bag of spätzle flour and a special spätzle-making machine from Germany. They've been gathering dust in my larder, but everything has its time, and 2006 seems like the year to put it to use.

Anyway, the spätzle-maker looks more like a slicing contraption, with holes instead of blades. You load the batter into a compartment on the top and slide it backwards and forwards over a pan of boiling water to release little blobs of the batter. As you're unlikely to have one of these you can improvise with a colander. You can manage without spätzle flour, too, but can buy this from the German Wurst Delicatessen, 127 Central Street, London EC1 (020-7250 1322). Otherwise plain flour will do instead.

2 guinea fowl weighing about 1kg each
Vegetable oil for frying
30g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
40g flour plus some extra for dusting
250ml white wine (such as riesling)
700ml chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3tbsp double cream
1tbsp chopped parsley

for the spätzle

100g spätzle flour, or plain flour
1 egg beaten
Water to mix (about 200-250ml)
1tsp salt
A good knob of butter to serve

Remove the legs from the guinea fowl, cut off the knuckles and halve them at the joint to divide the thigh and drumstick. Cut either side of the backbone with a heavy knife and remove it, so that you are left with the upper part of two breasts. Turn over on to the breast and chop through the breastbone, cutting the carcass in half to give you two breasts on the bone. Trim any excess bone around the meat on the breasts and cut each breast in half across the middle. Remove the wings. When you've chopped up two guinea fowl you will be left with eight pieces of breast on the bone, four drumsticks, four thighs and four wings. Keep the backbones for a stock or gravy.

Lightly flour the pieces of guinea fowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly brown the pieces on all sides, then drain them on kitchen paper. In a thick-bottomed saucepan gently cook the onion in the butter until soft. Add the flour and stir well. Gradually add the wine and chicken stock, stirring well to avoid any lumps forming. Bring to the boil and add the legs, thighs and wings of the guinea fowl first and lightly season with a little more salt and pepper.

Simmer gently with a lid on for 1 hour or until the guinea fowl is tender. Add the breasts and cook for a further 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the spätzle: mix the egg, salt, flour and about a tablespoon of water to make a paste then gradually add a little more water until you end up with a thick Yorkshire- pudding-like batter.

For the next stage you will need a pan of boiling water, a colander or a spätzle gadget, and a rubber spatula. Rest the colander over the top of the pan of water. Pour the batter in the colander and push it through the holes with the spatula. (Do this in one or two batches depending on how much you are making.) Simmer the spätzle for a minute or so then remove with a perforated spoon on to a plate to cool. Remove the pieces of guinea fowl with a slotted spoon and put to one side.

Add the double cream to the guinea fowl cooking liquor and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Return the guinea fowl to the sauce with the chopped parsley and bring back to the boil. Heat a knob of butter in a frying pan until it's foaming and lightly fry the spätzle for a couple of minutes, tossing it in the pan until it's lightly coloured. Check the seasoning. Serve the spätzle separately, or over the guinea fowl.

Comments