Classic French cookery has a reputation for being difficult and time consuming. But trust me when I say this couldn’t be further from the truth!
When people refer to French cookery, they don’t mean a list of complex ingredients or fiddly, time-consuming recipes. They’re actually referencing a way of cooking. French cuisine is a methodology; a time-honoured discipline, designed to bring the best out of ingredients. When the French refer to the ‘art of cookery’; art in French equally means type or style. The ‘French-style’ requires the mastery of a few basic techniques which, once learnt; will deliver consistently outstanding results.
One of these competencies is the classic French method of cooking meat. There’s a stately ritualism to this process, which is almost comforting in its cadences. The succulent sealing-in & caramelisation of the meat is followed by the slow softening of onions & garlic; then deglazing the pan with a magnificent whooshing ‘sigh’, as alcohol hits the thirsty metal-surface of the pan. As the kitchen fills with the delicious aroma of melting butter, fresh herbs and pan-seared meats, you’ll begin to feel like an alchemist creating pure gold from the very simplest of ingredients. It is truly an art worth learning!
This dish calls on the classic aperitif ‘vermouth’ to bring out the sweetness of the pork and deliver depth to the sauce. A generous glug of this fortified wine reduced down in the pan certainly won’t impact the blood-sugar. What could be more welcoming on a cold Winter’s evening that this? And all is suitable for the ketogenic-diet, diabetes, coeliacs and the paleo-regime. Low carb cookery welcomes all!
Bring your pork to room-temperature and season well both sides. Heat a metal-lined sauté-pan on the hob (non-stick doesn’t deglaze with pleasing results) and throw in a knob of salted butter followed by a dash of oil. The sizzle should be a rewarding sensation in itself, as should the aroma. Add your pork to the pan and seal on each side until it’s golden brown and deliciously caramelised. You must excuse me for constantly repeating myself, but it needs to be said…! Do not fuss around with the meat in the pan or move it until it’s good and ready. No-one likes to be mothered; why do it to your dinner?! When the pork is ready to be turned, it will release itself of its own accord in response to the merest touch with finger or wooden-spoon. If it sticks, it’s not ready. We want the meat to caramelise and brown; not steam! And do not crowd it in the pan or the same will happen! There – consider yourself told!
Once the meat is beautifully golden on each side, lift out of the pan and tip in sliced onion, peppers, mushrooms & chopped garlic. Soften these until translucent and just starting to brown, then crank up the heat as high as you can. This is not some obscure act of retribution, you simply want the pan to be as hot as possible for when you pour in the spirits. That way, you’ll deglaze with the maximum effectiveness, lifting all the caramelised flavours straight off the bottom of the pan.
Once it’s good and hot, pour in a healthy serving of vermouth, making sure to stand over the pan and enjoy the cloud of sweet, alcoholic steam which billows beautifully out into the kitchen! Once the liquid has all but evaporated, pour in a 3/4 inch depth of chicken stock (or water and stock cubes) and place your pork back into the pan, ensuring it’s surface is not submerged. Dissolve a small teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the pan and add a bay-leaf or two for warmth. Place into a low oven to reduce down for 40 minutes until the sauce is barely lapping the base of the vegetables then stir in a good handful of chopped herbs (basil, thyme, sage, oregano or parsley are all ideal).
Whilst the sauce is reducing, cut your cauliflower into slices and bring to the boil in a wide-based pan. Then fit the lid on firmly. and steam through for five minutes, until tender, but still retaining its bite.
Once cooked, drain away any remaining water, and spoon crème fraîche in generous dollops all over the surface of the cauliflower. Grate a do whack of cheddar-cheese (or similar) and sprinkle this all over the surface. Dust with herbs, then into the oven it goes for 20 minutes until the cheese is a golden brown and bubbly.
When all is ready, spoon your pork into bowls and pour on the vegetables from the pan, along with a tablespoon of the pan-juices on each portion. Serve up your cauliflower gratin to one side then dig in whilst still piping hot! Classical comfort food at its best! The results certainly won’t disappoint.
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Thanks for reading and bon ap!