Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Possibly the most French of dishes

I’ve been running my own unscientific poll the past few days to find out what’s the first dish that pops into someone’s mind when I mention the phrase “French food”. So far I’ve asked 21 people – and not all of them gourmands, either. Twelve have answered quiche, which doesn’t really surprise me.

So that’s what today’s posting is all about, specifically quiche, the famous French custard and cheese pie.

As is usual with country foods that have been around a long time, getting to the roots of this dish is a long and winding road. It originally had no cheese, the base was a bread dough and there are doubts that it actually originated in the disputed région on France’s border with Germany. Whatever is the case, this dish had become indisputably popular around the world. As it’s spread and different chefs have got in on the action, a myriad of things have been added (spinach, tomatoes, different cheeses, mushrooms, etc), but for a traditional quiche lorraine (the most famous variation), it seems the recipe should include eggs, cream, bacon, and cheese. According to purists, if you use Gruyère cheese it becomes a quiche au gruyère. If you add onions or leeks, it then becomes quiche alsacienne.

Confused yet? Welcome to the world of French cuisine.

As a luncheon dish, I think it’s unsurpassed. Accompaniments can be simple: a tossed green salad and a glass of dry white wine work for me. In France, quiche is often served cold. It’s thicker than you’d expect and the crust seems more like a secondary thought. It’s delicious, but not quite what I (and a lot of other North Americans) enjoy best: hot or at least warm and with a healthy top edge to the crust.

Since my recipe today includes leeks, I guess I’m leaning to quiche alsacienne, because I think they add a lot to the overall flavor. I won’t turn up my nose to this dish without leeks or onions, but if I had to pick, the dish would include onions. I like to use the milder Emmental cheese, which isn’t even French, so I don’t what the heck you’d call my recipe

On to the kitchen!

I must let you know that I make a really good short-crust. It’s flaky and tender and tastes wonderful. My shortcoming is that the top edge often collapses a bit during baking, so don’t expect my photo to look like it just came out of the kitchen of a 50-star restaurant in the heart of France. I’ll hold off on that recipe for another blog post, so the recipe below just says “one short-crust recipe”. Supply what you like: store bought or homemade.

Rick’s sort of Quiche Lorraine/Alsacienne/Suisse/Whatever (it still tastes fantastic!)
Serves 4-6

3 smoked bacon slices (we use our own home-smoked bacon which is heavenly)
½ cup leeks, the white & light green parts sliced thinly
1 cup grated Emmental cheese
3 eggs
1½ cups cream
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
freshly-ground white pepper
1 shortcrust recipe

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Roll out a pie crust into a deep 9" pie pan.

2. You’ll need to blind bake the pie crust to keep it from becoming soggy when the custard is added and cooked. Do this by pricking it all over with a fork, then baking it for about 4 minutes or until the surface is opaque.

3. Cut bacon into ¼" pieces and sauté these in a frying pan over medium low heat so the fat renders out completely. When nearly crisp, remove and drain on paper towels. Reserve the drippings.

4. Cook the leeks until tender in 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings.

5. Cover the bottom of the partially-cooked shell with bacon, leeks and cheese. (Can be made ahead to this point.)

6. Beat together eggs, cream, salt, nutmeg and pepper then pour gently into the pie crust. Mix lightly with a fork to spread things out again.

7. Bake for 15 minutes at 450°, then reduce heat to 350° and bake another 15-20 minutes or until a knife stuck into the quiche comes out clean.

8. Let the quiche cool for 10-15 minutes to set more firmly. Serve warm with a tossed salad and a good dry white wine.

Hint: Only reheat quiche in the oven. Microwaving will ruin the crust!


Anonymous said...

To possibly further confuse the frenchness I like to sub crème fraîche (oh...that's french), made with heavy cream and buttermilk, for the traditional cream. Love the tart richness it brings.

Rick Blechta said...

Oh, now that's a good thought! I'll have to try it next time out. Thanks for the tip.