When the email came through, I did a little bit of research. I hadn't heard of Franck Pontais and I hadn't heard of the second part of his book title: verrines. Not generally a good place to start. I have had the occasional terrine, though. The few times my husband and I have been to an upscale restaurant, it's always been on the menu. So I was intrigued. And when I learned what a verrine was, I was blown away.
Leave it to the French to come up with an ingenious and intriguing way of presenting food. Tasty food, mind.
There's this whole movement in France, a tradition called traiteur that sets the precedent for the kind of food Franck Pontais displays in his book. (And the kind of food I cooked! Eep!) And at the forefront of this tradition lie terrines and verrines.
Terrines and verrines are intricately layered foods. Think a super posh French lasagna prepared by a classically trained chef made with top notch ingredients served in a restaurant with a few Michelin stars on its books. That is the league this food is in. It's crazy good. (Not a very refined description for such posh nosh, I know, but sometimes, it's best to mince with pretension and call a spade a spade.)
Ever wanting to try new things in the kitchen, I responded yes to the email inquiring whether I'd like to review this book and a few days later, I sat on my sofa and thumbed through page after gleaming page of some of the prettiest and most appetizing food I'd ever seen.
What have I done? I thought. I was convinced that anything I attempted from this book would end up looking like my two year old son did it while blindfolded and wearing mittens. I read it religiously, practically cover to cover in an hour, taking in everything Franck had to say, scribbling notes in the margin and hoping that I would feel confident enough to tackle one of his creations. When I looked at the last recipe I still felt a knot in the pit of my stomach, that booming sense of fear. For the first time since I taught myself how to make French macarons, I was afraid of my own kitchen and of a recipe.
I went back to the book a few days later, hoping that after giving myself some time to breathe, I would stumble across something less frightening. But upon closer examination the recipes seemed equally daunting. This is ridiculous, I said to myself. It's just food. So I tightened my apron strings, put in a fresh pair of contacts and hunted for a recipe I thought I could handle. I had glanced over it the first time, making note of the smoked salmon, but I hadn't paid it much mind until then. Now, I saw it in full not-so-difficult-that-it'll-make-you-run-barefoot-from-the-flat-screaming-into-the-Manchester-rain glory: Smoked Salmon Mousse with Avocado Guacamole.
Yes, I thought. I can do this. I've made guacamole. And I've seen loads of Come Dine with Me contestants make salmon mousse. It'll be a piece of cake. The ingredients were purchased and after reading the recipe for the 80th time, I set to work making the salmon mousse.
It wasn't too bad, actually. The instructions were clear and cohesive. I began to feel my shoulders relax as I pressed on with the guacamole. By the end of the first recipe, I was on cloud nine. You'd think I'd just been given £1,000 and free range in a high street cookery shop!
Once my mousse and guacamole were made, I piped them into glasses and topped them with a piece of avocado and a sliver of smoked salmon before putting them in the fridge to chill. Then it was time for the lemon and thyme paper--that cool, translucent wafer sticking out of the glass. I'd never made a paper before. Never even used rice paper. Here, Franck's instructions were a little vague and it took me two attempts to get it just right.
With the finished product standing proudly on my kitchen counters, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. When my husband and I tasted the verrines, we were mesmerized. Well and truly floored and taken aback by the amazing flavor in such an uncomplicated dish!
Pretty much 99% of my success with this recipe came from Franck's clear instructions and gentle guiding. As a reader, I got the impression that he truly wanted me to succeed in recreating his recipes. Not because they are his, but because he wants his readers to experience what he has and to be enthralled with and enchanted by his food. It certainly comes through. And the clear instructions help when you've psyched yourself out about the recipe and are having a mild panic attack in the kitchen!
Franck's book is filled with all manner of tempting and tantalizing terrines and verrines, a range of goodies you can whip up for canapes or starters for your next party, some that would even work as main courses and even dessert dishes! I'm looking forward to sampling more of his recipes but have especially got my eye on:
- Cornfed Chicken Confit with Mushrooms and Baby Leeks--a pressed terrine that Frank suggests should be served with homemade plum chutney! He gives a recipe for the chutney that sounds gorgeous and perfect for summer when plums are in abundance.
- I've earmarked his Three Peppers & Feta Wrapped in Grilled Courgette terrine for when I have to cook something for my vegetarian and vegan friends. It's a beautiful tricolor creation and it's looks like a terrine I've tried in the past.
- There's a tempting recipe for Cooked Crab with Celeriac & Baby Squid that I've got big plans for, too, especially since Franck gives ideas for serving the terrine either hot or cold.
- And you know I'm eying up a dessert or two. Like his Pear Poached in Beetroot Jus & Roasted Plums served with pistachio macaroons or Franck's Pineapple & Strawberry with Candied Basil Leaf verrine. It looks absolutely gorgeous, though you'd be hard-pressed to come across a recipe of his that wasn't esthetically pleasing.
Lastly, if you're looking for more of a challenge in the kitchen (one where you'll be guided through every step of the way) or if you want to broaden your repertoire of foods to serve at parties, then I'd suggest you go pick up of a copy of Terrines & Verrines. You won't be disappointed.
I'd like to say a very big thank you to Franck Pontais for sharing his recipes and for his clear instructions and vote of confidence in ordinary readers ability to create restaurant-quality grub in their own kitchens. Thank you to the amazing team at Supertravel who contacted me about this review and donated Terrines & Verrines. They work closely with Franck (I'm jealous!) to create private dining experiences in their Courchevel chalets.
Because I have not altered the recipe in any shape or form, I have elected not to reprint it here. If you would like to make these verrines (and I suggest you do!) here's information you'll need to purchase the book:
Terrines & Verrines
"Franck is re-interpreting and challenging the tradition of terrines, and introducing verrines, the little-known art form of presenting layered food in glasses to the UK."
Written by: Franck Pontais
Published by: Food Creation Ltd.
Date published: undefined/undefined/2008
Available in Hardcover
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