Pancakes aux Lardons

8 12 2008

When he was in high school, my brother used to frequent a place called The Original Pancake House.  He was a big fan of their Dutch Baby, a puffy, eggy pancake served with melted butter, powdered sugar, and lemon juice.  Every now and then, he and my Mom would bust out the cast iron skillet and make one at home, which, luckily, they were willing to share.  Anyway, as far as I knew, The Original Pancake House was just that – a one-off, family-owned breakfast joint.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that same familiar sign tucked behind the Albertson’s in another city at least 2,000 miles away.  Well, I had to give it a shot.  Not having been there in years, my memory of the menu was hazy at best.  But when I sat down, I was immediately drawn to the bacon waffles.  Who doesn’t love a nice plate of waffles drenched in maple syrup with a side of meaty, smoky bacon?  And when the bacon and the syrup chance to meet?  Bliss.  So the bacon waffle it was, and it was every bit as awesome as I expected it to be.

Mmmmm... bacon.

Fast forward to a few years later.  I’m living in Paris, and I have no waffle iron.  I do, however, make my fair share of pancakes on Sunday mornings.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this specifically before, but they sell these packages of lardons (i.e. pre-chopped bacon) in just about every portion size imaginable.  They’re totally convenient for adding small amounts of bacon to recipes, and you don’t even have to dirty a cutting board!  So, finding myself with a package of lardons in the fridge, I decided to whip up a batch of bacon pancakes.

It couldn’t have been easier.  I cooked the lardons and set them aside, then made a simple buttermilk pancake batter with a bit of medium-grind cornmeal.  As the pancakes cooked, I sprinkled them with the crisp bacon, flipped them, and breakfast was served.  Absolute heaven with butter and a liberal drizzle of maple syrup.

Breakfast of Champions

Bacon Pancakes

 

100 g (about 3½ oz.) lardons fumés, or chopped thick-cut bacon

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (Type 65 if you’re in France)

¼ cup medium-grind cornmeal

2 tsp. cassonade or turbinado sugar

¼ tsp. coarse sea salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

½ tsp. vanilla extract or bourbon

 

  1. Cook the bacon until most of the fat has rendered, and desired crispness is reached.  Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.  Save the fat for cooking the pancakes.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Blend the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla or bourbon in a measuring jug.  Gently stir the two mixtures together until just combined.  A few lumps are nothing to worry about.
  3. Heat a little of the bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot and the fat is shimmering, spoon out the batter into the desired pancake size.  (This is a highly personal matter, but I think 3 Tbsp. is about right.)  As they cook, sprinkle a few of the bacon chunks over the raw pancakes in the pan.  When you see bubbles rising to the surface of the pancakes, flip them and cook a few minutes longer.  Keep them warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.
  4. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup. 

Makes enough for two hungry adults.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Polenta, Two Ways

18 04 2008

I recently discovered a number of shops nearby which sell beans, grains, and so on in bulk from large sacks.  Apart from the quaintness of it all, you can get some really cheap staples as well as some cool, harder-to-find items.  I had been harboring a latent polenta hankering for a while, and when I walked into the first of these shops (which also happened to have the smallest selection, it turns out) I was struck by the variety of different sizes available for each grain.  Not only is the polenta at the grocery store expensive, it’s downright powdery.  I prefer a coarser grind, both for flavor and texture.   So I was delighted to find a range of different cornmeal grinds.  I bought two bags, one very coarse, one medium.

The dish I had in mind was an Italian-style braised chicken with spring vegetables, namely fennel.  I got some cheap chicken leg quarters from a butcher and brought them home to cook.

Browning the chicken

The first step in any good braise is to get the meat nice and brown to build up the fond.  Once my chicken legs were deeply bronzed on both sides, I moved them to a plate to cool so I could remove the skin.  (Chicken skin makes for some tasty fond, but you don’t want all that extra grease in your final dish.)  I added sliced onion and fennel to the still hot pan and used the moisture released to scrape up the browned bits.

Sweating the vegetables

I also added salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and dried oregano to the pot.  While the vegetables softened, I went about the slippery task of removing the skin from the chicken leg quarters.  Once they had been denuded I returned them to the pot, along with a can of diced tomatoes, some red wine, and water to just about cover everything.

Braising the chicken

There were probably a couple cloves of garlic and a bay leaf thrown in somewhere along the way.  I partially covered the pot and turned the heat to low to let it simmer while I cleaned up the mess I had made so far and got the polenta going.  The beauty of braising chicken is that it takes about half as long as pork or beef, so you can have a really flavorful stew in about an hour and a half.

For the polenta I followed the recipe I’ve been using since culinary school.  Cream, stock, salt, white pepper, polenta.  I chose the medium polenta because I was hungry and figured it would cook faster.

Perfect polenta, every time.

While the polenta was simmering, I removed the chicken from the pot and pulled the meat off the bones.  This didn’t take much effort, as the chicken was nice and tender by this point.  I also reduced a little balsamic vinegar on the stove and stirred that into the stew with the chicken pieces.

This is really just a variation on a recipe I often make in the winter, with Swiss chard added at the end and no fennel.  It came out every bit as good as I had hoped, and was the perfect meal for a rainy evening.

Braised Chicken and Fennel with Soft Polenta

But I still had plenty of polenta…

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Not Crêpes, Pancakes!

4 03 2008

The other day I woke up with a serious hankering for some good, old-fashioned American pancakes.  (Or flapjacks, as Wikipedia insists we call them in the U.S. – the article was clearly not written by an American – we don’t put PB&J on everything, people!)  Without my trusty copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and after a search on his website came up fruitless, I decided to wing it on the recipe, based on what I remembered from the book.

My favorite kind of pancakes are undoubtedly the buttermilk variety.  However, I was skeptical as to my chances of finding buttermilk in a French supermarket.  Luckily, that’s an easy one to substitute if you have milk and lemon juice (which are easy to come by here).  I figured I should be able to find either baking powder or baking soda without too much trouble, and flour is a staple.  So I headed off to the store to see what I could find.  Well, I walked right past the flour on the first lap, since it turned out to be all but hidden on the bottom shelf underneath the packaged baking mixes.  Next to it was the poudre à lever, literally “baking powder,” but on closer inspection was revealed to be more along the lines of baking soda, with flour added for some reason.  This may be trickier than I originally anticipated.

I did find maple syrup in the international aisle, near the oyster sauce and curry mixes.  It was outrageously expensive, but sometimes you need a taste of home.  The label on the syrup is quite entertaining:

Maple Syrup

I like how at the top it says, “Product of Canada,” and immediately below it says, “USA.”  This company, Classic Foods of America, also makes peanut butter, microwave popcorn, tortilla chips, guacamole, and pancake mix, among other things.  Never having seen a label like this before, I wondered if it was an American regional brand I was unfamiliar with, or maybe produced by another major company for export.  Nope.  It’s a French company.

Anyway, I brought home my goodies and put together some pancake batter using a combination of milk, fromage blanc, and lemon juice in place of the buttermilk and simply guessing how much of the levure chimique to use.  I think I used a little too much liquid, because the batter was thinner than I remember it, and a little more bubbly than usual.

Pancake Batter

But it was pancake batter nonetheless.  I set about frying them, and after a couple of ugly ones (the first batch is never good), they started working as I expected.

Pancake - ready to flip   

Check out these gorgeous pancakes!

I’m hungry all over again just looking at them.  As the thin batter may have predicted, the pancakes themselves were thinner than I usually make them, but certainly passable.  Smothered in butter and drizzled with maple syrup, they made a breakfast (well, by now I was firmly in brunch territory) fit for my craving.  Now that I know pancakes are possible here, I will be adding them to my weekend repertoire, but I will probably tweak the recipe as I learn more about how French poudre à lever works.

Yay, pancakes!

Epilogue: I wolfed down this entire plate in record time.








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