8th February 2013
Tartiflette On Skis

Bacon-wrapped chicken with carrots and potatoes The Gang
I'm back from a veeeeery long ski holiday in the French Alps (Les Carroz don'cha know) with a group of instructors from the Firbush outdoor centre.
Naturally they're all quite experienced skiers, which made the eight full days on the slopes quite hard work for someone who hasn't skied for about 5 years, and who wasn't all that great to start with.
Despite winning the medal for the fallingest skier, I survived the trip even if it did take over a week for my legs to recover.
Possibly from that wipeout when my kneecap did its best to pop itself off my leg.

We took a self-catering apartment - so naturally we ate well, taking turns to cook dinner for everyone. I turned out a depressingly unauthentic moussaka-lika (honestly, the pun is better than the dish), but a very tasty and well-received pan-fried chicken breasts wrapped in bacon (as opposed to that other kind fried on a dustbin lid), glazed carrots with orange and honey, served with boiled potatoes.

We allowed our budget one night out on the town and I sampled the local speciality Tartiflette for dinner at a very homely restaurant Le Neve in the village square.
I also enjoyed their version of Crème Brûlée, which they flamed off at the table with a shot of the local wormwood-based hooch génépi (vaguely related to Chartreuse).

On the return flight I filled out my baggage allowance with local meat and cheeses including, naturally, a couple of Reblochons so I could have a go at my own tartiflette.
I have to say it was every bit as good as theirs.

A cheesy bacon and potato gratin.
Skiing in the alpine Savoie region of France I just had to try their (not-so-very-ancient) tartiflette.
Then I just had to make their tartiflette.
Despite giving the impression of being a traditional local speciality, it was actually developed as a marketing promotion in 1980 by the Reblochon cheesemakers. Though it doesn't taste any worse for that.

So who better to tell you how to make a tartiflette than that cynosure of everything homely, earthy and above all French, Anthony Bourdain.
Astonishingly he does not include garlic in his recipe (I did), and I can't help feeling that he is overly optimistic about the number of people the dish might feed - he reckons on 6, I would count myself lucky to feed 4. But then perhaps his guests are more blasé about this fine dish, whereas I had to go to France to get my Reblochon.

I used a dry-cured smoked saucisson sec instead of the bacon (well, I had just been to France for the Reblochon), which worked just fine (you don't need to fry it up as much). Also I diced the potatoes - the better to distinguish the dish from a gratin I thought (though the tartiflette I had in France just sliced them). Opinions vary as to the best gratin potato but I would suggest a fairly waxy variety like Desiree, Estima or Maris Peer that will hold its shape against the tide of cheese. I used Charlotte potatoes, didn't bother to peel them and I boiled 'em up pretty good there too: in fact they were breaking up so much that they might as well have been diced!
It is quite stodgy though, so feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche which loosens it up nicely. Don't overdo it though - it will get sloppy quite quickly.

Smoked salmon makes an effective substitute for the meat-averse. Just chop it into lardon-sized pieces and add it to the onions when you mix in the potatoes - no need to fry it. It's a stronger flavour than the bacon though - so you might want to use less than 200g of it. I added sour cream and a little chopped dill when I made mine, which was quite delicious, though I think the dill was probably unnecessary.

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C/Gas 4.
Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover and bring to the boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain and sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into ¼" slices or small dice and set aside.
You can peel them too if they're big, ugly and thick-skinned like a Tory MP.
Cut the bacon into lardons or small dice.
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onion. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until golden brown, then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you prefer a whiter shade of pale, then fry the bacon first, then add the onion and fry until it softens. Maybe with a hint of browning.
Add the garlic and stir through. De-glaze with the wine and bubble to reduce.
And some cream if you fancy. Don't add too much or the dish will be sloppy.
Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the mixture from the heat and place half of it in a round, ovenproof dish. Does it have to be round? Well it does fit the shape of the cheese. Cut the Reblochon in half horizontally across its middle. Spread one half of the Reblochon over the potato mix in the dish. I suppose you could scrape the cheese off the skin to do this, but I just chopped up the half cheese skin and all and scattered it over. Seemed to work fine! Cover this with the other half of the potato mixture. Lay on top the other half of the cheese, skin-side up. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.
Serve hot with a green salad, pickles, crusty bread and the rest of that white wine.
I Served mine with a salad with chopped tomatoes, gherkins, green olives and pickled onions, but I drank all the wine myself.
I did have to turn the oven up to Gas 7/425°F/220°C to get the cheese to brown at the end. And although I didn't add any cream (or crème fraîche), I think a dash might have loosened it up nicely.
Delicious stuff though - even if it's part of no diet.
I've also made this dish using up leftover Christmas smoked salmon pâté and Chaource and Vacherin Mont d'Or cheeses Thanks Flora! which was also excellent. So don't feel you need to restrict yourself to Reblechon.

It's Moussaka Jim, but not as we know it.
Moussaka Lika
main meat
A traditional moussaka would usually be made with minced veal or possibly lamb, flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg, layered into a dish with fried aubergine slices, topped with béchamel sauce and then baked.
On a skiing holiday in the alps with no oven, I made a vague attempt at a moussaka-lika on the stove top using some of our spare vin chaud flavoured with cinnamon, cloves and oranges.
I also threw in some decidedly un-traditional kidney beans, red peppers, mushrooms and crumbled oatcakes (thanks Mark!).
Hey, you work with what you've got.

Feeds 6

Empty the kidney beans into a large pot and keep it gently simmering.
Chop the aubergines, heat up a generous layer of olive oil in a deep frying pan and fry the aubergine until it browns and the skin begins to crisp. Add to the kidney beans in the large pot.
You'll probably need a lot of oil - those aubergines are thirsty suckers.
You can salt or microwave them for a minute or two to cut down on that.
Fry the mince until it colours, crumble in the oatcakes, stir in tomato purée, fry until the oil separates then add to the pot.
Deglaze the frying pan with vin chaud, or red wine, or any liquor you have spare, and add this to the pot too.
Do this every time you need to after frying up the following ingredients...
Roughly chop the onions, fry until glassy and add to the pot.
Chop the red pepper into chunks, fry gently, then add to the pot.
Slice the garlic, fry gently and add to the pot.
Quarter the mushrooms, fry until starting to shrink then add to the pot.
Simmer the moussaka until the aubergines are no longer made of leather, and serve.
Probably best described as scran, and none the worse for that.

Orange Glazed Carrots
side veg
Orange-flavoured carrots is a theme I often revisit. Here's one of many versions...

Peel and julienne the carrots into thick matchsticks. Put in a heavy pot with a generous knob of butter, a dose of salt, a coating of orange juice, and a blob of honey.
Put on a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently over a low heat until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the carrots are tender.
Feel free to add liqueur, ginger, garlic, marmalade, stock cubes, or whatever else takes your fancy.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breasts in Mustard Cheese Sauce
main fowl meat
I didn't have any flour around when I made the sauce for this dish, so I thickened it with egg yolks.
You could make a roux using flour, or finish with cornflour if you preferred.

1 breast per person. 2 for hungry skiers.

Wrap the chicken breasts in bacon. Fry them in a little oil until the chicken is cooked through and the bacon crisped.
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside in a warmed serving dish. Pour off the excess fat and reserve to flavour the boiled potatoes.
Add the thinly sliced, or crushed, garlic and fry briefly before deglazing the pan with white wine, then add cream, mustard, and grated cheese.
Heat gently until the cheese melts, then whisk in the egg yolks without boiling until the sauce thickens. Do this by whisking the yolks in a cup, add a little of the sauce to the yolks, then add the yolks back to the rest of the sauce .
Season and pour over the chicken breasts and serve with boiled or steamed new potatoes dressed with the reserved fat.
Delicious. Served with orange-glazed carrots it's a bit like a poor man's Nell Gwynn's Breasts.

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