ArchiveAugust 29, 2009

A Few Days in Bordeaux

We had a lovely invitation to spend a few days in the Bordeaux area with some French friends whose family have been making wine in the Pessac-Leognan, St Emilion, Margaux and Entre-deux-mers area since 1880.
We flew to Paris and then took a relaxing three hour train journey to Libourne. It’s been at least 20 years since my last visit to Bordeaux where everyone ‘lives, breathes and sleeps’ wine. The landscape is covered with row after row of meticulously pruned vines sometimes with a red rose bush planted at the end. Originally this was used as an early indication of mildew which tended to attack the roses before the vines.
There are many charming wine villages and chateaux names that are familiar from restaurant wine lists. Many of the grandest date back to the 18th Century, others are less resplendent and some just simple farmhouses, but in Bordeaux it’s the terroir that really matters. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semilion are the principal grape varieties for dry wines yet produce utterly different wines depending of whether the soil is gravelly, chalky, heavy clay or a mixture.
Every vineyard owner knows every inch of their soil minutely, this is the foundation. After that there is the skill of viticulture and vinification .One chateau we visited, Cheval Blanc, buys barrels from eight different coopers, each adds a different attribute to the wine and then there’s the skill of aging and blending. Christine Lurton at Chateau Dauzac tells us they choose the barrels from five different coopers.
We also met the iconic wine maker Andre Lurton owner of six properties in the Et Emilion. He oversees the making of over four millions bottles of wine a year and knows each vintage intimately. He has devoted his whole life to enhancing the quality of Bordeaux wines and now his family is following in his footsteps. Unlike Burgundy, Bordeaux does not have a particularly distinguished food culture; really renowned restaurants are few and far between, apart from Entrecote Bordelaise, Lamprey eels, cannelés and macaroons, it’s difficult to track down local specialities.
However we didn’t need to worry, we were staying with Jean Pierre Moullé and his family so every meal was a simple and beautiful feast. Jean Pierre – married to Denise, one of the Lurton wine family girls – is head chef for six months of the year at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
His food totally reflects what’s in season in his garden. It was so wonderful to lie in a hammock under the Mirelle plum tree, enjoying the sounds and the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen just across the garden – such a precious moment.
A visit to the local butcher to buy meat for dinner was like going back in time in Ireland. Convivial conversation between the customers as they waited their turn to be served, the butcher produced a few glasses and poured us a measure of pineau des Charentes, a mixture of Cognac and fresh grape juice and proudly dispenses samples of his boudin noir for us to taste. One of the most delicious and bizarre taste combinations I’ve encountered at 11:30 in the morning. There are still local markets every day in different towns and villages. I was intrigued in particular by the variety of cured meats, every scrap of meat and poultry is used. Fromage de Tête, rilettes, salami, saussicons… Chickens still come with their heads and feet attached, some ducks also. The tradition of curing and preserving food for the winter is waning since the widespread use of the freezer. However a 5 day power cut last winter which resulted in many people losing their entire supply has kindled a renewed interest in more traditional methods of preserving, like confit, pickling, jam making and curing. One spirited youngster I met squirmed when she talked of the bizarre but delicious things her 86 year old grandmother cooked Sanguette (Chicken’s blood with shallots, parsley) but nonetheless realised the urgency of learning these skills before it was too late.

Here are some of the delicious things we enjoyed for picnics and meals both in the garden and indoors.

Pizza with Salmon Crème Fraicĥe and Chives

Jean Pierre had recently built a pizza oven in his garden so we made a batch of dough and experimented with his new toy. French flour is quite different to Irish flour but nonetheless the results were delicious. We brought some of Bill Casey’s Shanagarry organic smoked salmon as a present and Jean Pierre used that to make this delicious pizza.

1 pizza base (9 to 10 inch)
extra virgin olive oil
thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons or more crème fraicĥe
2 to 3 slices of Irish smoked salmon
teaspoon finely chopped chives
freshly cracked pepper

Pre heat the oven to 500º 260F Gas10 or more. Heat a heavy baking tray if possible. Stretch or roll the dough into a 10 inch round. Sprinkle a pizza paddle with flour or cornmeal; transfer the pizza to the paddle. Brush the top with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with paper thin onion rings, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes in the oven or until the pizza is bubbly around the edges and fully cooked. Remove from the oven and then spread with crème fraiche, cover the surface with thin slices of smoked salmon and sprinkle with chopped chives, season with freshly cracked pepper and enjoy immediately.

Pizza Ladierè

This is a French version of pizza not to be confused with its Italian cousin and makes a perfect summer lunch or a delicious starter.

Serves 6

Yeast Base

450g (14oz) white baker’s flour
150ml (¼ pint) luke warm water
15g (½ oz) fresh yeast
2 organic eggs
1 scant teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 – 5 onions sliced
3 teaspoons or more of thyme, basil and finely chopped rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Small can anchovies 60g (2oz)
60g (2oz) Kalamata or Nice olives

35cm flan ring or low-sided tart tin or baking tray

First make the dough. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, I use a heavy old fashioned cream mixing bowl, so it’s an advantage to warm it first. Mix the yeast in a small bowl with the warm water, stir to dissolve, pour into the four, allow to stand for 4 or 5 minutes, it will start to bubble slightly, then add the beaten eggs and salt. Mix to a softish dough. Turn out onto a floured board; cover and leave for 3 or 4 minutes, then knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and springy. Rub a little oil over the surface. Pop into a bowl, cover the top with cling film and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled size – about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the sliced onion and chopped herbs, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss cover and cook on a gentle heat until the onions are really soft and melting.

Drain the anchovies and cut in half lengthwise. Half and stone the olives.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, ‘knock back’ by kneading for a minute or two. Roll the dough into a round and ft into a flan ring or simply lay on a baking sheet 35 cm round approx. Spread the melted mixture over the base. Grind a little freshly ground pepper on top. Arrange the anchovy strips in a lattice over the onions. Pop a half olive into each diamond. Allow to rise in your warm kitchen for 10 to 15 minutes while the oven is preheating to 200c bake for 10 minutes, reduce to 180 – 350 – 4 and continue to cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Or until nicely browned around the edges, serve hot or at room temperature.

Anne Willan’s Entrecôte a la Bordelaise

Entrecôte Steak with Beef Marrow (taken from ‘French Regional Cooking’ by Anne Willan)

Charente supplies Bordeaux not only with butter but with beef. There are two ways of serving this dish; in country districts books don’t bother with the sauce bordelaise but simply top the steak with bone marrow and pour the pan juices dissolved in a little red wine over it. Any good cut of steak, cut 5cm/2in thick can be used. If possible ask the butcher to extract marrow from marrow bones, otherwise use a sharp knife to remove it yourself.

Serves 5

1kg (2lb) entrecôte steak
2 tablespoons oil
125g (4oz) beef marrow sliced
bunch of watercress

Sauce Bordelaise

80g (2 ½ oz) butter
5 shallots finely chopped
250ml (9fl oz) red wine, preferably Bordeaux
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
pinch of thyme
pinch of grated nutmeg
250ml (9fl oz) broth

Begin the sauce bordelaise: melt a tablespoon of the butter in a heavy saucepan, add the shallots and cook over a low fire for 3 – 4 minutes to soften. Add the wine, a pinch of salt and coarsely ground black pepper, the thyme and nutmeg. Boil until reduced by about half. Add the broth and boil again to reduce by about half.
Brush the steak with oil and sprinkle it with pepper. Leave to marinate for a few minutes while heating the grill/broiler to very hot. Put the marrow in a pot of simmering water and poach for 2 – 3 minutes or until just tender. Drain and dice the marrow, cover and keep warm.
Grill/broil the entrecôte for 8 minutes. Turn it over, sprinkle with salt and grill the other side for about 7 more minutes (for rare meat). While the steak is cooking, finish the sauce: reheat the sauce to boiling. Take it from the heat and stir in the remaining butter, a piece at a time. Stir in the diced marrow and taste the sauce for seasoning.
To serve, cut the steak in diagonal slices, arrange it on a platter and spoon over a little sauce. Decorate the platter with watercress and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Fool Proof Food

Fresh Blueberry Slices

Irish blueberries are in season once again they are full of antioxidants which help to build up our resistance to winter colds and flu. They are enormously versatile and delicious. Throw a fistful into your muffin mixture, scones or even soda bread, add them to salads or sprinkle them over your morning muesli. Look out for them in shops and farmers markets and gorge yourself on as many as you can in the next few weeks. Most importantly check that they are Irish before you pop them into your shopping basket.

Makes 24

6 ozs (175g) soft butter
6 ozs (175g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour

½ to ¾ lb fresh Irish blueberries
1oz or more caster sugar

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well greased

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the top of the cake mixture and spread about 1 oz of caster sugar over the berries. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. As soon as the cake mixture is cooked, sprinkle a little caster sugar over the top cut into squares and serve warm with Crème Fraiche or thick Glen Ilen Farm Cream.

Remove the biscuits from the tin if keeping for a few days unless the tin is coated with Teflon.

Thrifty Tip

First Grenadier early cooker apples are out now and make delicious tarts and fluffy apple sauce, freeze the surplus.


Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads sells ready made dough for pizza bases at the Farmers Market in Midleton on Tuesday and Saturday and Mahon Point on Thursdays. All you need to do is roll it out and add the topping. Telephone 021 4501061 or email 021 4501061

Britain is to have its first degree course in artisan food. It is being offered from September 2009 by the University of Derby. The Bachelor of Science course at the Wellbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire is the UK’s first degree course to teach practical artisan skills. Students will learn how to make cheese, bread, pickles, beer and other artisan skills.
There is also a growing interest and demand for the now well established Diploma in Speciality Food Production at University College Cork. Please contact Dr Angela Sheehan, Tel. 021-4901423 / 4903178 Email: for further information.

Waterford Harvest Food Festival celebrates local food, heritage and culture from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th September, for more information visit


Past Letters