A conversation with the chef (via the very charming waiter) in our rather splendid skiing hotel last week (Hotel les Campanules in Tignes – and apologies for the music if it annoys you as much as it annoys me….. The hotel is much nicer than its website suggests!) reminded me that, in my excitement over discovering a dead easy way of making totally gluten-free gravy (see Easy Gravy…) last month, I had completely forgotten my history.
The conversation was about the delicious ‘jus’ which was served with our toothsome but tasty steak one night. It had a very intense flavour which I could not quite identify, so I asked the friendly waiter, who asked the friendly chef… The juice from the previous evening’s partridges, was the answer – but the secret lay in the fact that partridge stock had not just been simmered for a few hours, as most of us might have done with a soup in mind. It had been simmered and simmered, and reduced and reduced until the four or five litres in which the birds’ carcases had originally been cooked had reduced to a mere 200-300ml of thick, intensely flavoured, almost viscous juices.
Of course, I remembered, no self respecting Victorian chef would have regarded his kitchen even half equipped unless there was a large vat of stock reducing over a period of one or two days to provide him with the essence of the meats to either serve with his dishes or to use as the basis for a more complicated sauce. Nor would he only have used the bones from a previous dish. He would consecrate whole joints of beef or veal, shoulders of mutton, boiling chickens or game birds along with a few onions and herbs, to his cauldron so as to ensure the strongest and most concentrated meat flavour.
This could be a bit over the top for the average 21st century cook – but the principle is good. But make sure that the ‘remains’ from which you wish to make your stock/’jus’ are still quite generously covered in meat – or ask the butcher for some fresh bones – and then boil, and boil, and boil…. Uncovered, of course.
While at the Hotel des Campanules I did ask how well they would be able to cope with restricted-diet guests if they came their way. ‘No problem,’ was the quick answer. ‘No restaurant these days could afford to ignore ‘les allergies’. Just let us know and our chef will prepare food to suit your diet.’
I suspect that, in the case of the Hotel des Campanules, this was indeed true. However, a study recently published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy in which researchers had questioned 90 ‘table-service’ restaurants in Brighton about their staff’s awareness of allergy, paints a rather different picture.
Although 80% of the staff questioned were confident that they could serve an allergic person with a ‘safe’ meal, only 30% of them had actually received any allergy training. In one out of every three kitchens no attempt was made to separate allergens (eggs, peanuts, wheat, milk etc) from other foods, while one in five staff members thought that a small amount of the allergen would not harm an allergic person and that removing the allergen from a finished meal (picking the nuts, or scraping the cream, off a dessert) would make it safe for an allergic person to eat…. You are warned…
Maybe we should mail all 90 restaurants a copy of our Allergy Catering Manual? All you ever needed to know about catering for allergies – complete with some of Christopher’s best cartoons….