Phat Beets at 'Bunkers', Capbreton.
Few things lift the spirit more than a fine Spring day in Blighty, except perhaps a fine spring day in South-West France, a spring day in Hossegor makes a British Summer pale in comparison. The 1st April was 30C and hotter than Satan’s bollocks, my pasty complexion was shocked and probably thought it was an April fool…not so. The evening was spent sweating by the beach and drinking some of Bordeaux's finest at the beach in Biarritz.
During my visits to Aquitaine, I always go for a bit of an exploration into the ‘Sauvage’ of the Cote des Landes, despite the volume of sand, maritime pines and cork trees, there are many similarities to our native Britain. Be it on foot, in the car or with the fishing rod, there is plenty to do and so far I have found many of the wild foods we have in the UK in serious abundance.
The French like to give the impression they are serious foragers- you cannot deny they’ve cornered the gastronomic market with their culinary genius, but it strikes me that the French have lost interest in food for free unless it has a pulse or a web of mycelium beneath it. Mushrooms are the Frenchman’s wild food of choice and perhaps that’s all that matters to them. They are old hands at gathering wild greens and the baton of thrift has been passed over the channel and lobbed over the Atlantic to let the Brits and the Yanks rummage through the undergrowth for a change.
The one thing I have yet to master is the sea fishing, my limited linguistics don’t quite allow me to decipher what the Fisherman here could tell me, in fact most of the time it holds me back from even asking. I did manage to haul out a small flat fish yesterday, by complete fluke, whilst retrieving the spinner hoping for a bass. The treble hook happened upon a wandering flounder and after returning it to the water, I looked up to see a couple of old boys eyeing my activities with uncertainty.
‘Excusez-moi Monsieur, Pour quoi avez-vous remettre le poisson?’ piped up one of the chaps.
I had a contained moment of panic: what’s he saying! Stall! Stall! This is where ‘Pardon?’ helps a lot as you listen to them say it over and over.
‘Ahh…Il est trop petit’ was my concise reply.
They both began to chuckle and snort: ‘Oh la…pas de poisson est trop petit!’
Still chortling and shaking their heads off they went.
Even my crap French managed to work out that apparently, in Aquitaine, no fish is too small. Right, so sustainability is not an issue over here and if Whittingstall’ brought his fish fight this side of the Channel, he would probably be laughed out of the country. Frenchies!
Right, anecdotes aside, this post is meant to be about sea beet. As wild foods go Sea beet isn’t all that different from the perpetual spinach grown today: perhaps the leaves are a bit more glossy, fleshy and sodium tolerant than their veg patch cousins, but it seems 2000 years of cultivation has done little to change them.
Sea beet or ‘phat beets’ as I sometimes like to call them, are common throughout European coastlines. They are easy to identify as they look just like spinach and in contrast to the paler coastal plants around them, the deep green, glossy leaves stick out like a sore thumb.
The Extent of Clare's kitchen- Its not what you have to cook on, but how you use it!
Yesterday, we decided to do a curry night, something that is virtually unheard of to the heat-intolerant Gauls. Show me a curry restaurant in France and I will show you a vegan in an abattoir. During the rather wonderful French ‘lunch hour and a half’, Clare and I had a picnic on the beach at a spot called ‘bunkers’ known for its poor German architecture and barreling waves. I had planned to make saag aloo and was pleased to find that we were sitting amongst plenty of phat beets. Nipping from patch to patch taking a handful of leaves from each, I soon had a full bag and an unfortunate eyeful of old leathery bosom from a wrong turn in the dunes- I made a quick retreat.
Sea beet requires cooking in much the same way as spinach- give it a good wash to remove any sand- not a pleasant texture, and then place in a pan with only the water that still clings to the leaves. On a medium heat, cook the beet for 10-15 minutes until wilted and dark green. Either serve with a knob of butter and twist of black pepper (they should already have a good douse of salt from their previous home), or allow to cool and then squeeze all the moisture out of them for use with feta, pine nuts and lemon or Saag Aloo.
Saag Aloo with Phat Beets:
2 medium sized white onions
a bagful of Sea beet (once cooked reduces to very little)
4 medium potatoes
2 tomatoes (chopped into small chunks)
Thumb size piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1 tsp Cumin seeds
½ tsp Garam Massala
½ tsp Turmeric
Salt & Pepper.
Peel and chop potatoes in to rough inch squares and boil until tender (10-15 minutes). Drain and allow to cool.
Cook the Sea beet as mentioned above, allow to cool and squeeze dry.
Heat a pan and add the coriander and cumin seeds for 20 seconds to help release their flavours. Remove and set aside.
Fry the onions, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes and then add the tomatoes, spices and seeds. Cook for a further 5 minutes and add the potatoes and spinach and season well. Turn the heat down and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally and serve with a handful of fresh coriander and a ring burner of a curry!
Back to England tomorrow, sad to leave but had a great time with the lady as always. Visited a Cidiere in Basque country for Supper, which was all the cider you can drink, mountains of Onglet (beef skirt) flame grilled and still bleeding!
'Oh right...so it's not a bedpan'
Vegetarian Special at the Cidiere.
Hunter Gather Cook School is full steam ahead, finishing off the clay oven next week and building the rest of the kitchen in time for the first arrivals later in the month and press day…
Full dates are going up on the blog next week with some nice new branding and a full rundown of what we do and how you can become the ultimate 21st century Hunter-Gatherer! If you are interested please drop me an email: [email protected]
Also I am doing a Foraging menu with Kerstin Rodgers, author of the recently published ‘Supperclub: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant’ on the 13th May in Londinium, Perch is most definitely on the menu! Click here for tickets.