4 years, 30 days ago
A simple summer recipe for a quick and delicious French style family meal.
Read a copy of Elizabeth David’s ‘French Provincial Cooking’ today and it’s hard to believe it was once considered revolutionary. But that’s the story. Way, way back in 1960 when it first hit the bookshelves, David’s ode to food and France changed lives apparently. It might seem a bit quaint in its methods now and the artery-aware should never so much as read the introduction, but this classic collection of recipes is credited with launching the UK’s passion for garlic. Read a few pages and it’s not that hard to believe. Apart from the desserts and a few quiche, there’s barely a dish where the delicious allium doesn’t make an appearance. And, even in the desserts, you get the feeling that if David could’ve, she would’ve.
We’re a bit more cynical about the true nature of the garlic invasion. Yes, London might have embraced it in the early 60s. But it took the casseroles of suburbia another couple of decades to really catch up. And for that conversion we’re happy to give all the credit (or blame) to a less glamorous culinary icon than Elizabeth David, humble garlic bread. This may not be historically accurate, but it is funny to think two slices of baguette, thinly coated with spread, sprinkled with garlic salt and chucked in the oven may have killed our inner Nosferatu and began a love affair.
Our next Lavender & Lovage recipe is Pan Fried Lemon and Garlic Chicken. It’s heart might be in France but the prep and cooking is fast and simple so it fits the relaxed holiday mood perfectly. Naturally, the ingredients are the heroes and for this particular dish you’ll probably use a bulb of ‘porcelain garlic’ without a second thought. But is choosing garlic really that simple and how much do we honestly know about the little bulb we can’t seem to cook without? Here are a few facts, some fables and a quick guide to bluffing your way round Allium Sativum.
France may have commandeered the cooking, but the Chinese grow more garlic than anywhere by a long, long shot. Over 20,000,000 tons of the stuff are produced annually in China and chances are the inexpensive varieties you buy on a daily basis originate here. This is where you should get a little bit picky. The prized, translucent white in a lot of garlic is achieved by bleaching. Not as brutal as it sounds – a surprising amount of our food has more than a brush with bleach at some point. But if you want to make sure your garlic isn’t unnaturally blanched, buy organic.
We can see the attraction of the mighty Elephant Garlic. It’s invariably huge and whispers ‘easy to peel’ sneakily into the ear of the unwary buyer. But peeling garlic fast isn’t that difficult and the Elephant tastes like a cross between boiled leek and socks. So learn to crush your cloves with the flat of a large knife and the skin will slip off effortlessly. Then leave the Elephant to languish on the shelves until someone eventually takes the hint and renders it obsolete forever.
If you like heat in your garlic and you want to join the legions of connoisseurs who claim to know about such things, look for Rocambole. It’s the garlic of garlics, prized by chefs and identified easily by its purple streaks. This isn’t one to leave around the kitchen for long, it rots quite quickly. So use it fast. And if you want to keep its distinctive, chilli-like taste, don’t crush the cloves and cook sparingly.
You can’t miss Spanish garlic. It’s oversized with a deep reddy-purple colour that’s an instant give away. But unlike the Elephant, it tastes fantastic. If you haven’t tried roast garlic yet, this is the bulb to begin with. Some varieties are very mild and almost sweet, others are hot and slightly fragrant, experiment. But beware, this is a garlic that can steal your heart and ruin you for all others.
Long, plaited garlands of garlic are very pretty, but unless you’re making Italian mountain soup or warding off vampires, resist. In all probability, you won’t use the bulbs while they’re still worth using and mouldy garlic brings nothing good to the kitchen. It’s almost always best to buy loose, use what you need and buy again. If you do it this way, you’ve also got the added pleasure of looking a little expert as you prod and poke for optimum freshness.
And a quick final note. Pan Fried Lemon and Garlic Chicken doesn’t need a ‘personality’ garlic. Pick something simple, mild and basic and give the other ingredients a chance to shine too.
by Karen Burns-Booth
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)