The Critic has a rule. It's a strange rule, given the fact that we live in Paris, France. It's the ABF rule. It's invoked whenever we are deciding on a restaurant. And it stands for Anything But French. Well, he's English. And not overly open-minded. He's not entirely alone; I know a lot of English people in France who hate French food. Maybe it's a reaction to the snobbery of the French in culinary matters. Maybe it's just a reaction to feeling like you are drowning in a foreign culture. You would think that the whole "we won every military battle against you in the last 500 years" thing (which I hear about often, believe me) would assuage a bruised ego. But in fact they seem to need to reject the food anyway.
I guess it's not that surprising. Food is a very emotional issue and of course very much tied up with our cultural identity. The French refer to the English as "Rosbif" (roast beef) and the English of course call the French "frogs" because, well, they eat them and that's definitely a defining characteristic. So I usually respect the Critic's wishes and gorge on French food when we have visitors in town and he can't reasonably enforce the rule. Except for the times I sneak a French element into a theoretically English dish. Heh, heh, heh...
And this week I did so with the basic English classic Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding. With a wild mushroom and crème fraîche sauce. Actually, the way English cuisine is going these days, I could probably open a gastro-pub tomorrow.
The problem I have with the traditional roast beef is a logistical one. If you are using all the beef drippings to make your Yorkshire pudding, what do you use as a base for the gravy that is supposed to accompany both? There are many Bisto TV ads telling you exactly what to do, but I am very picky about my gravy and have never yet found a good one that was made with a stock cube or powder. Making a mushroom sauce gets you neatly out of this problem as the gravy is not relying on beef flavour alone for its success. And any beef juices that come out as the meat is resting can be added to the mushroom sauce to add a little depth.
So this post is not so much a recipe as a process, with a few tips on the side. To make a successful Beef and Yorkshire pudding, proceed as follows:
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). While it is heating, peel enough potatoes to fill a roasting pan and chop them in big chunks. Toss them with a few glugs of olive oil, sprinkle them with fresh or frozen thyme and salt. Toss in a couple small cloves of garlic if you are so inclined. Put the pan in the oven and turn to your the Yorkshire pudding.
Crack one egg into a medium bowl. Add 100 grams flour and a generous pinch of salt. Measure out 300 ml (1/2 pint) of milk and slowly add it to the egg and flour, beating vigorously as you go. Incorporate all the milk and set the bowl aside to rest. If you want a really fluffy pudding, you might want to use two eggs but I find one is enough.
I get my roast as it always comes in France - larded on the sides and tied up neatly with twine in a package. Sprinkle it with chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh oregano. (I've recently decided to replace all my houseplants with herbal plants - safer for the boy and tastier for everyone.) Grind a little fresh pepper over the roast. Toss in a few big juicy cloves of garlic that you've smashed with a meat tenderizer.
Pour a little olive oil in the bottom of another roasting pan and put the roast in it. Place it in the oven next to the potatoes and take a break for the next 20 minutes. Feed the boy, if you have one. Toss the potatoes from time to time to get them brown on more than one side.
When you come back, test the potatoes - they should be nearly done. Turn up the heat on the oven to 220C. (Yes, I know the usual way to cook meat is to start out with a high heat and then lower it, but the potatoes will turn into rocks if you roast them at too high a heat and the pudding would collapse into plain stodge if you baked it before the potatoes. I figure the beef is the most resilient element in this dinner so I abuse it a bit. If the meat is good you'll be fine.)
Once the oven reaches 220C (mine beeps, helpfully) remove the potatoes and cover them with tin foil to keep them warm. Depending on how rare you like your beef you have a choice here: remove to a carving board and cover with tin foil to rest or - more likely - put it in a new, smaller roasting pan and put it back in the oven. Take the pan with the meat juices and add a little animal fat to it if you have any - bacon grease or goose grease are great. In a pinch, you could add a little more olive oil. Put it in the oven empty and leave it there until the grease is hot and nearly smoking. Pour the Yorkshire pudding batter into the pan (it won't look appetizing at this point) and bake for 35-40 minutes, until it has risen nicely and is brown on top.
While the pudding is baking, you can finally start the mushroom sauce. I used a frozen mix of wild mushrooms for the first time and I have to say it worked extremely well. If you are in France, try Picard or Monoprix; if you are in the US I wouldn't be surprised if Trader Joe's has some. Melt a little butter in a frying pan and toss in a cup or so of wild mushrooms. Add one or two of the roasted garlic cloves to the pan and squish them with the back of a spoon. When the mushrooms are soft and garlicky, add half a glass of white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Let it bubble away for a bit and then add a couple of heaping tablespoons of crème fraîche and tablespoon of fresh or frozen chopped parsley. If you like, you can also add a little stock; I poured in the juices from the resting meat. Taste for salt and pepper; it will probably need a little of each.
About five minutes before the pudding is done, carve the meat. Pile a few slices on the Englishman's plate and heap it with potatoes. Pull out the Yorkshire pudding out of the oven and add a generous slab. Slather the whole thing with mushroom sauce and serve.
Note: if I had any peas or carrots to hand I probably would have added a bit of healthy vitamins. But it was pretty tasty anyway. Vive la différence!