Last day of cooking in Brittany

Although Friday was supposed to be our “day off” from eating, our trip to Dinan still revolved around a typical Breton lunch: galettes, crepes, and cidre. Originally from Brittany, these dishes have migrated throughout the country and I had always thought of them as generically French rather than regional. To remedy this misconception, I ordered the most classic meal I could manage: a croque breton with onion confit, jambon, and cheese, and a dessert crepe with the local salted caramel, washed down with yeasty brut cidre.

In addition to eating, I also explored the town, which looked totally different in the rain before lunch than it did in the sun that poked through in the afternoon. Dinan is a classic medieval town, complete with moss covered slate roofs, lopsided wood-trimmed houses, and three towering churches whose steeples compete for prominence in the skyline. There is also a small river port at the very bottom of the hill under the town with charming boats and cafes lining the banks. After huffing and puffing up and down the cobblestone hills for a few hours, I was rejuvenated and ready to tackle dinner.

The sun came out in Dinan's central square

We started with the lobster bisque, most of which we had made the night before. All that was left to do was strain the stock and reduce it, then whisk in cream and pour it over the carefully portioned bowls of lobster and julienned vegetables. It was absolutely fantastic – a soft orange color and brimming with the essence of lobster, the soup was easily as good as any lobster bisque I've had in restaurants. Although it is not technically difficult to make, the bisque is a huge pain because it is so many steps and requires making your whole kitchen smell like lobster for 24 hours. I could see trying it for a special occasion with a small group of family or friends but it certainly won't be part of the weekly rotation.

Arranging each lobster portion on a bed of julienned vegetables so that we'd be able to serve quickly when the time came

Decadent lobster bisque

Next up was beef wellington, and I have to admit that I was a little wary of this one. I think I must have had it on British Airways at some point, and not surprisingly, found it rubbery and inedible. Not so the version we made in Kerrouet, which was quite good. To make it we laid out strips of serrano cured ham on a piece of saran wrap then spread minced, sautéed mushrooms on top. We placed a seared tenderloin on top of that and then rolled the whole thing up into a log, which we covered with puff pastry painted with egg and then baked. The sauce was a highlight, made from reduced port, our chicken stock, shallots, and balsamic vinegar.

Port and shallot reduction sauce

Serrano ham on the bottom, minced and sauteed mushrooms on top, and Dijon mustard spread over the tenderloin

Wraping up the beef wellington in a puff pastry shell

Beef wellington: better than the version British Airways serves!

Dessert brought cooking full circle for me – a classic Italian tiramisu, which was a much boozier version than I'd made in Siena, but certainly delicious.

Folding egg whites into egg yolk custard

Arranging boozy ladyfingers in the tiramisu tray

Tiramisu to top things off

Dinner was a festive affair (read: lots of wine), and we were joined by the Westaways, the lovely Welsh couple who live down the street and have been my generous hosts for the week. The celebratory food and drink led to a very meandering and far reaching conversation touching on topics across all of our nationalities and cultures. I'll leave it to you to guess how we went from reincarnation and spirit mediums to the US election to crazy family stories to tipping customs in different countries. Somewhere in there my cooking companion and I also managed to pass Poul's rigorous verbal exam by remembering such arcane facts as the ingredients in gazpacho, the most commonly grown vegetable in Brittany (artichoke), and the flower that defined the flavor of our mussel soup (saffron). We were awarded (temporary) antique Danish medals of honor in front of the roaring fireplace and thanked Poul and the Westaways for their hospitality. It was a warm and jovial end to a fun and informative week in Brittany.

The festive table in Pouls' kitchen (the picture doesn't do it justice!)

Getting my temporary Danish medal of honor for passing the class


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