Not exactly a dish from France, but its origins are from the most French of all cities in the USA: New Orleans. The kitchen of Antoine’s is where it’s supposed to have been created, although the one time I ate it in the restaurant’s dining room, it was a huge disappointment. However, when made well, this is, for me, the finest of hot oyster dishes.
12 rock oysters, shucked
250g young spinach leaves
10g picked parsley leaves
100g unsalted butter, softened
30g celery, peeled and chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
The leaves from 3-4 sprigs tarragon
Several shakes Tabasco
Quarter teaspoon salt
A few fresh breadcrumbs
Fill a pan with water and bring to the boil. Plunge in the spinach and parsley, allow to boil and drain in a colander. Immediately refresh in iced water until cold. Squeeze as dry as possible between two hands until no more liquid seeps out. Set aside.
Melt 25g of the butter in a deep frying pan, gently fry the celery and shallots until softened, then add the Pernod, allowing it to bubble a little. Cool briefly, then scrape into the bowl of a small food processor. Add the cooked spinach, tarragon, Tabasco, salt and the remaining 75g of butter. Blitz until very smooth and set aside.Pre-heat the oven to 220˚C/gas mark 7.
Tip off any excess juice from the opened oysters and, using a small palette knife, completely cover each one with a generous coating of the spinach mixture. Strew a baking dish (or deep metal pan) with coarse salt, to allow the oysters to sit neatly. Distribute a fine showering of breadcrumbs over the oysters and bake in the oven on the top shelf. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Serve without delay.
Classically known as Le Grand Aïoli in Provence, this dish is a celebratory one, particularly so on Christmas Eve. Served as a magnificent centrepiece, the poached salt cod is surrounded by all manner of accompaniments, but always an array of various vegetables, and boiled eggs, too. The dish should be served warm and the olive oil the finest you can afford.
In the capital, I go to Lisboa (57, Golborne Road, London W10) for my salt cod. Although always a touch more expensive, a meatier piece from the middle of the fish is preferable for this dish. In the British provinces, seek out the nearest Italian or Spanish emporium for salt cod.
For the aïoli
2 egg yolks
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
300ml-350ml extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon juice, to taste
350g-400g finest salt cod, centre-cut, if possible, soaked in several changes of cold water for 48 hours
2 boiled eggs
4 small artichokes, trimmed of outer leaves
2 small heads fennel, trimmed and halved
2 small leeks, trimmed and cut into short lengths
6 small waxy potatoes, peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
First, make the aïoli. Put the egg yolks in a bowl with the garlic and pepper. Whisk together, while slowly trickling in the olive oil. Once the mixture is becoming very thick, add a little lemon juice. Continue whisking, adding the oil a little faster as you go, and incorporating a touch more lemon juice and more seasoning as you think necessary.
Once you’re happy with the flavour and texture which should be almost ointment-like-the aïoli is ready. Put to one side.
Poach the cod very gently in only just simmering water-a few occasional bubbles breaking the surface is about right for 15-20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, cool a little, then carefully remove all skin and bones. Keep warm, covered with foil.
To the same cooking water, add a little salt and a spoonful or two of olive oil. In this, cook the vegetables at a quiet simmer until tender, then carefully lift out with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.
Arrange the cod and vegetables on a warmed serving plate, trickle some extra olive oil over it and serve with plenty of the aïoli. Also, a judicious squeeze of lemon juice never goes amiss.
Simon Hopkinson is the founding chef and co-proprietor of Bibendum restaurant, London