Tuesday, 3 July 2012

STAGE 3: TOURNAI - BOULOGNE SUR MER

The flat coastal plain of the Pas de Calais is famous for chicken and turkey farming, asparagus and chicory, a regional cheese called Maroilles, Betises de Cambrai (hard mint sweets), smoked garlic from Arleux, andouillette (white sausage), as well as moules (mussels) and other seafood. There is a distinctly Flemish influence on the food of this region: a popular dish is Waterzooi, a stew made from fish or chicken with boiled vegetables. Food from this region is rich with cream and butter

Today's stage of Le Tour takes in some of the infamous sections of pavé (cobbles) which feature in the great one-day Classic, the Paris-Roubaix, before heading towards the coast. The stage ends with a long ascent, which will provide an exciting finale for spectators.

Chicory has a bitter, rather acquired taste (like olives, and gin) when raw (though a good addition to a salad of creamy Roquefort or goat's cheese), but when braised it takes on a delicious silky sweetness. The French call it endive, the pragmatic Belgians witloof ('white leaf'). Chicory are forced in warmth and darkness throughout the cold months to produce their distinctive white leaves and bitter taste.

Chicory makes an excellent gratin, cooked with bacon (which compliments the bitterness), cream and cheese. And here's a dish from food writer and cook Elisabeth Luard for Poulet à la biere aux endives (chicken in beer with chicory), a classic Belgian/northern French dish:

Serves 4

1 chicken, jointed
2 tablespoons seasoned flour
4 chicory heads (endives)
1 large leek
1 large carrot
3 garlic cloves
3-4 oz unsalted butter
1/2 pint Belgian beer (or any light full-strength beer)
1/4 pint double cream 
Salt and pepper

Vegetables: quarter the endives vertically, trim and chunk the leeks, scrape and slice the carrots, skin and crush the garlic.

Set half the butter to heat in a roomy casserole and put in the quartered endives. Let them brown a little. Remove and reserve.

Add the rest of the butter to the hot juices in the casserole and fry the chicken joints gently, turning the pieces until they brown a little all over. Push the chicken to one side, and add the chopped leeks, carrot and garlic. Let them sizzle for 3-4 minutes.

Pour in the beer and let everything bubble up. Tuck in the endives, season with salt and pepper, lid and turn down the heat. Let the pot simmer gently for an hour, until the chicken is tender; add a little water if necessary. Pile the meat and vegetables onto a hot plate.

Stir the cream into the remaining juices in the casserole, adjust the seasoning (perhaps a little sugar?), and reheat.

Pour the sauce over all and serve piping hot, with brown bread for mopping.

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