Raymond Blanc and Sauce Grenobloise
"My mother taught me that food is love." Raymond Blanc
Inspired by another quick bit of foodie TV this is a sort of 'A word from ...' post and also a post about a particular dish - well a sauce in this instance.
First the smiley man on the left - one Raymond Blanc. A Frenchman who has lived in England for over 30 years but still has an amazingly thick French accent that you can barely understand at times. I think he is standing outside his restaurant/cooking school in Oxfordshire. It probably has accommodation too and doubtless is his home. Like many chefs' restaurants/homes these days it's one of those beautiful manor houses that dot the English countryside. Not quite big enough to be labelled a stately home but well out of the reach of ordinary people.
Raymond Blanc is unusual for a 2 Michelin star chef, in that he is completely self-taught - largely by watching and learning from his mother he says. He came to England when young, found a job in an Oxford pub, married the publican's daughter and when the cook left, took over. From there it seems to have been ever onwards and upwards. Well there have been downs - a messy divorce from his wife being the main one. But now fairly late in life he has a new love - a Russian lady half his age.
He has mentored many chefs in his restaurant kitchen and several of them have gone on themselves to become Michelin starred chefs. So an all round good guy he seems to be, with a passion for sustainability - he has a kitchen garden at his mansion - simplicity - well sometimes - and local produce.
"If it’s seasonal, it’s also from close to home, so you get a better flavour, colour and texture. You don’t have to import from billions of miles away, plus you help to reinvent our own agriculture."
So does he consider himself French or English? Well I suspect neither - a bit like me and Australia. He maintains that the English have made him able to laugh at himself. The French find this very difficult.
"What marks out his cooking, he says, is that he has been "enriched" by British culture. "If you take Arab culture in France, their food has not entered the repertoire. Whereas here the food of Pakistan and India has entered it completely. My food is French still but I have been enriched by other cultures. And that is the difference between me and a Frenchman who has stayed in France." Interview with Carole Cadwalladr - The Guardian
And yet there is that thick French accent. A Frenchman who lives in England then. Does that make me an Englishwoman who lives in Australia? I'm not sure that that quite describes the situation, because I really don't think of myself as an Englishwoman. English - yes sort of - because I spent the first 26 years of my life there - the formative years perhaps, Australian - yes sort of - because I have lived here for so long and absorbed Australia into my soul a little. But probably neither. The French, ironically, have a good word for it - dépaysé - which roughly translated means 'uncountreyed'.
Raymond Blanc also thinks, like me, that it is not difficult to cook delicious food and considers it almost criminal for a mother to reheat a frozen dinner in the microwave and serve it to her children.
"If anyone does not have three minutes in his life to make an omelette, then life is not worth living." Raymond Blanc
And so we come to his dish of Rainbow Trout Grenobloise - the program was about trout - which is an amazingly simple dish to make, very quickly - as long as you don't burn the butter. He also has an almost identical recipe with a different fish - Hake Grenobloise.
It's basically a fish cooked in butter with a sauce of capers, lemon segments, croutons and parsley. Honestly dead simple. And you can find the program The Great British Food Revival on SBS On Demand. The way he talked about it you would think that it was a standard home dish that everybody knew. But here's the thing. I found absolutely no reference to Sauce Grenobloise in my many French cooking books, whether by the French themselves or outsiders. Not even the Larousse Gastronomique had it listed. There were many recipes on the net and many fans who sometimes used it for other things.
"Grenobloise, is comprised of butter, lemon, parsley, capers, and some croutons. Almost always paired with fish, it imparts a subtle richness and a truly delightful tang – But its charms are wasted if limited to only piscine pairings – Grenobloise will compliment a wide range of foods and dishes, and is a perfect vehicle for raising leftovers to new heights." Urban Monique
Mind you that 'wide range of foods and dishes' was hard to find. Almost always it was fish - here are the most common - sole, on the left, and the least common - scallops on the right.
Really the only 'other food' recipe that I found was white asparagus. And this was in French so I won't direct you to it here. French I think because that's white asparagus that the French love and think is superior and which we don't seem to get here. I have never been particularly impressed by white asparagus but that may be because I probably should have peeled it. The skin is rather tougher than it is on green asparagus and the spears are much thicker.
I'm not directing you to other recipes because really they varied so little. It's such a simple thing. You cook your fish in butter, fairly slowly or the butter will burn, but until the skin is brown and crispy, and then you deglaze the pan with a little stock or wine and the aforesaid capers, lemon segments - it's always segments - parsley and croutons. A glorious mix of tangy, smooth, crunchy and fresh.
The only variations I saw were that some chefs used oil rather than butter, although that seems to me to be really wrong. Also, depending on the type of fish used it might be dunked in milk and dredged in flour before cooking. I saw somebody do that with large white fish fillets of some kind.
On a personal note I was really interested in the Grenobloise name. Grenoble is a town that I know well as I spent the larger part of my last three month university vacation there as an au pair. As part of my French degree I had to spend at least three months in France. Some took a whole year teaching English in French schools. I had visited French schools in my youth and was horrified at the apparent lack of discipline, so was certainly not attracted to that option. Besides you would be speaking English for a fair amount of the time. So I chose to be an au pair, and was assigned a family of three small children in Grenoble. I looked after the baby - who I think was the last straw for the mother, and the two year old. Serendipity - it was also the home of Danielle - one of my two French exchange partners - and her family who had moved to Grenoble from Paris shortly before. So on my days off I had a family to go to. And we still keep vaguely in touch. On one of our earlier French holidays this century we were close enough to go visit - and here we are above the town, after lunch in Danielle's small flat with the rest of the family. Danielle is a talented artist and has a small gallery in the old part of town.
Grenoble town is not particularly beautiful in itself but its setting is. It is completely surrounded by mountains which makes it a little hot in the summer. But you can always look up at those mountains and feel refreshed.
But it is landlocked, and what we have been talking about is a sauce for fish - usually sea fish. So why is this sauce given the name Grenobloise? I could not find an answer. I suppose if it was traditionally paired with trout that might be the answer as I can imagine that trout are in the mountain streams. But it seems to mainly be paired with sole - a fish of the more northern seas. Grenoble is quite a long way south. Who knows? Maybe it was a Grenobloise chef who invented it. I gather it is a variation on Sauce Meunière (housewife), or maybe a variation on Sauce Diane.
Anyway - try it next time you have some fish and lack inspiration. It looks yummy.