Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tour Food and Drink: Stages thirteen to fifteen

Over half way there now but this year's route continues to be a culinary challenge.  One dish I had to make was the very first thing I learnt to cook: Coq au Vin.  Perhaps more typically associated with the Burgundy region, in fact it is pretty ubiquitous in France, where you just bung in the local wine and call it Coq au whatever the locals drink.  This was an ideal solution for Stage 13 which cut just south of the Beaujolais region and clipped the top of the Rhone.  

I first cooked this delicious concoction of chicken, bacon, onions, wine and mushrooms about forty five years ago, under the supervision of my father and it has been a regular ever since.  Although it is not exactly a delicate dish it has always been a hit with young ladies, although nowm inexplicably, increasing numbers of them, such as my daughter, are vegetarians.  I'm afraid I really don't understand vegetarianism.  Not eating meat is like going around the world wearing glasses that only enable you to see in black and white.  I don't like killing animals and don't really approve of people who kill creatures for fun (and that includes fishing) but, bad luck animals (not fish, you taste horrid),  you shouldn't be so tasty and that is why we have less squeamish people do all the nasty bits for us in a civilised world.  I saw a TV programme a while back when they took a group of people into an abbatoir and killed and gutted a cow in front of them to show how their meat reached the table.  While this was quite nasty, interestingly, very few said they would give up meat afterwards.  

Stage 13

Anyway, the French have little time for vegetarians and finding a veggie option in a French regional restaurant will be tricky.  Some veggie friends of mine were offered a vegetarian soup in a restaurant there a few years ago.  When they pointed out it had bacon in it they received a typically Gallic shrug and a look of complete bafflement.  Why on earth would you do anything that restricted your choices in food?  At least, that was the French restaurateur's view. Both my friends eventually gave up on being vegetarians as it was "too difficult".  As they are both extreme foodies, who get their fruit and vegetables FedExed from Italy every week, they just found the diet too restricting for people who really like food.  I have a theory that the less interesting the national cuisine is the more likely you are to find a high proportion of vegetarians (religion, something else I don't understand, aside).  My mother in law (who is an otherwise estimable woman) has said to me that she would quite happily take a pill every day with all the nutrients necessary in it so she could avoid "wasting time on meals".  The Old Bat lives on Complan and Slim Fast shakes so she doesn't have to cook or waste time eating.  I scored a minor victory, therefore, last week in that she ate my coq au vin and really enjoyed it.   

I had to use the recipe I learnt from originally, from one of my other favourite cookbooks Great Dishes of the World that I used.  Not that I really need to refer to the recipe.  This is not my original copy which disintegrated a few years ago.  Fortunately, I managed to get a pristine copy in the RNLI charity shop in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight two years ago.  I always pop into the RNLI shop there and try to buy something to support them.  The orange enamel casserole I cooked it in was the original one I first used in 1969, which my father had bought in a shop in Perigueux for the then staggering price of £5.  Worth every penny, of course!

Anyway, the accompanying wine really had to come from the Northern Rhone.  The closest wine town to the route was Condrieu but as a very aromatic white this wouldn't really have gone with a dish cooked in red wine so I went just a little way south of the route for a St Joseph, which worked perfectly.  Coincidentally, it was my girlfriend V, who featured in the last post, who introduced me to northern Rhones.  She was one of the few girls I knew in those days (early eighties) who drank red wine.  In fact it became a bit of a test for me on new potential women.  Does she like art, does she like Rachmaninov and does she drink red wine?  The next girlfriend I had (briefly) did as well, although she was, even more unusually, a claret drinker.  Sadly, stinky C the paratroopers daughter had to go because although she was built like Kelly Brook she smelled like the worst sort of wargamer.  I was her boss at the time and had to have the embarrassing conversation, as her colleagues complained about her to me.  I tried to wash her as often as possible after that but in the end she moved to Canada, I think.  Canadians wouldn't be so reticent but would, very politely, point out the problem straight away.

Stage 14 saw us in the only full day in the Alps, in a sadly wine free region.  I looked about 25 miles north, however, and alighted on the town of Chambéry, which is the headquarters of one of the three battalions (the 13th) of the Chasseurs Alpins.  The town is also the home of my favourite vermouth, as I find the French one more delicate than the Italian versions.  They are also, these days, made in a rather less industrial way than their Italian cousins, using real herbs from the mountains rather than just flavourings.  Nice just with ice, it's also my preferred vermouth for Martinis.  In France you can also get Chamberryzette, a version deliciously infused with strawberries.  Girls like it.

Stage 14

After a heavy dinner the night before I just had some light Abondance cheese from Haut-Savoie which is actually closer to Stage 11 than Stage 14.  Another find from Tesco, which is just as well as the road blockage is making getting to Sainsbury or Waitrose a bit of an epic trip.  This was the nicest cheese of the Tour so far.  Sweet and nutty; just like my daughter, in fact, who performs in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony tonight!

Stage 15 was a quick whiz through Northern Provence with plenty of wine options on the way.  However, as the stage finished in the splendid Roman city (Nemausus) of Nimes (home of denim too, of course) then it had to be a Costières de Nîmes.  The vineyards here have been producing wine here for over two thousand years and the region was settled by many veterans of Caesar's campaigns in Egypt, which explains the symbol of a crocodile chained to a palm tree on  the local coat of arms.

Time for another lighter meal so just some typical Provencal tapenade and some picholine olives (no more cornichons for a while!).  Olive and anchovy tapenade was, appropriately, recorded in Roman times as olivarum conditurae.  Some nice crunchy picholine olives added another local touch.  These are, also, particularly good as the olive in a Martini.

Next time it's another big casserole!


  1. What a feast! As a bit of a foodie myself, I definitely approve!

  2. Vegetarianism is a crime against nature humans have canine teeth they are for tearing flesh everyone should use them for their intended purpose. Congratulations on your small victory with the other half.

    1. Rejoice that we're leaving you more to tear, old boy!

    2. I don't object to vegetarianism. I just don't understand it. But then I don't understand football either!

    3. Rest assured I'm wholly with you on the latter!

    4. Good job we're not all the same -it would be like being Swiss!