Unusual tastes

Why sausages can go with oysters, but not salmon with rataouille
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In his extraordinarily useful book, Cooking in Ten Minutes, Edouard de Pomiane gives a recipe for tomatoes, which carries the title a la Polonaise. Here it is:

"Cut the tomatoes in two. Melt some butter in a frying pan. Add an onion, finely minced. Put the tomatoes face downwards in the pan. Cook on a hot fire for 5 minutes. Turn. Pierce the skin with a fork. Cook for 5 minutes. Salt, pepper. Pour three ounces of cream between the tomatoes. Heat. Let the creamy sauce come to the boil. Serve." (It actually takes about 12 12 minutes, but I think one can overlook that.)

This is a dish of such simplicity, intelligence and style that it beggars belief when thinking of today's more complicated kitchen antics. Salads, for example, now need to be "built" (using balsamico, naturally), recipes for a "Ragout" - which, technically consists of bits of fish or meat cooked in a sauce that has to have been made separately, and takes half a day - suggest that you, too, can be a star chef in your own kitchen. And then, perhaps, a conglomeration of, say, "seared" scallops, a "twirly tower" of pasta, a sauce made from squid ink - only because it is nice and black and looks flash - a dice of tomato ('cause it looks nice on the black sauce) and - oh, I don't know - how about some coriander leaves, crisp bacon, lemon grass, ginger, filo pasty hat, toasted sesame seeds, crisply fried leeks (which, worryingly, resemble pubic hair). nd lets throw in some cheesecake and an egg and lettuce sandwich too.

That sort of exaggerated lunacy applies to the way a dish is invariably dreamt up these days. Conceptual cuisine (the title of a future cookery book, surely?) is all very well, as long as the concepts are true and genuine within the guidelines of good taste. So come on then, what is good taste, you snobby little cookery writer? Well... halved tomatoes cooked in cream, actually, thankyouverymuchforasking.

Components within the concept of a dish must like each other, get on, harmonise, blend. Tomatoes, cream and chopped onions blend; they can't help it. Eggs, onions, potatoes and olive oil get on famously in the making of a Spanish tortilla. The components of a ratatouille - peppers, courgette, aubergine, onion, garlic and much olive oil, lie happily alongside a hunk of stewed cod. They would not, or should not, however, be seen dead with a similar piece of oily salmon. But you see this sort of thing all the time - you do, honest. The cod is juicy, thickly fleshy, softly fibrous and can put up with the strong, southern sunny flavours of a Mediterranean vegetable stew. The salmon, on the other hand, is beautifully bland and creamy, almost fudgy, and oily rich. It's a duff combination, badly planned, almost an insult to both parties.

But how can you talk about all this richness in a fish such as salmon, and then, in the same breath, admit that it is a beauty when flooded with butter sauce (beurre blanc) or hollandaise? Well, they just go, don't they? Everyone knows that!

If this can be described as a weak solution, all I can say is that butter and eggs and lemon juice, or a wedge of parsley butter or ladle of sauce, fit so nicely together with salmon almost because they perversely deserve each other. It's like beef stroganoff, spaghetti Alfredo (cream, butter and black pepper), chocolate mousse and cream, that sort of thing - such a good taste that it can make you sick. Possibly the easiest way of finding out why the rogue-ratatouille doesn't work is to eat it.

Of course, there are some memorable combinations that are so good yet so bizarre that you wonder how anyone had the balls to lay themselves on the line in the first place. Gooseberries and mackerel? Duck and orange? Roquefort and pears? Crisp bacon, mango chutney and smoked salmon in a toasted sandwich? But one of the finest loopy combos of all, is another Pomiane gem that I would to end with:

"Fry some chipolata sausages. Serve them very hot on a dish and, on a second dish, a dozen oysters. Alternate the sensations. Burn your mouth with a crackling sausage. Soothe your burns with a cool oyster. Continue until all the sausages and oysters have disappeared. White wine, of course."

If only all recipes read like that!

It is a tradition in and around the Bordeaux region to enjoy this extraordinary combination of a hot little sausage, eaten together with an ice-cold oyster. Search out for it if you are ever there. Or, now the new oyster season is upon us here, have a go yourself. Have a few people in to congratulate you on your wit and good taste for even contemplating such a chic combination

'Cooking in Ten Minutes', Serif pounds 5.99, first published in France in 1930

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