I was very saddened to read of the passing of Chef Albert Roux earlier this week. I think its fair to say that he was already a legend when I first started cooking in London in the early eighties and his London restaurant, Le Gavroche, became the first in Britain to earn three Michelin stars 1982.
Shortly after that, I’d managed to scrape enough money together and I made my first pilgrimage to eat there. I was nineteen years old at the time and it was my first experience of dining in a three Michelin-starred restaurant. Without doubt that visit left an indelible mark on me, I was blown away by elegance of the surroundings and the rich, classic flavours of the food. I can still remember every dish that was served that day such as the gruyère-clad soufflé Suissesse and a lobster mousse with caviar and champagne butter sauce.
Le Gavroche operated on a different plane and set standards of serious, classic French cooking that had not been seen for many years. The restaurant also acted as training ground for chefs with the likes of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Pierre Koffmann, Phil Howard, Marcus Wareing and so many other great young chefs passing through the kitchen, each of whom in turn passed on what they had learned from Albert to so many others and spearheading of a revival of the British food scene all over London and beyond.
Many Years later, the great man turned up for dinner at Reads Hotel in Santa Maria and it was an honour to cook for him and spend a little time in his company. After dinner he gave me a copy of his wonderful cookbook, New Classic Cuisine (I already had a copy, but I didn’t tell him) and he gave me a few words of advice. “Keep it simple”, he told me. “…and never forget the roots of classic, French techniques”.
You see, once upon a time, you had to know how to make a good Béchamel sauce before going on to master a Velouté. It was one of those benchmark recipes of all good cooks and the base of countless other classic sauces such as Nantua, Soubise and Mornay. These day’s, most young chefs are more concerned about how much lecithin they have to put in their sauces to make their foam stand up for half an hour and a good Roux has practically become obsolete in professional kitchens.
This is a real shame as a well-made béchamel sauce is truly delicious, and for any home cook, it opens up an endless stream of classic dishes from Gratins, croquettes to lasagnes, and I’m cooking a lot of those kinds of recipes for our Fosh Food at Home delivery service right now.
- 500ml milk
- A few parsley stalks
- 1 bay leaf , torn
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- ½ small onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves
- 40g butter
- 30g plain flour
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Bring the milk just to the boil with the onion pierced with the cloves, bay leaf, parsley stalks and the peppercorns.
Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes before straining. Then melt the butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook over a low heat for five minutes.
When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk. Stir until smooth, and then add more milk until the sauce is thickened.
Cook for 10-15 minutes to ensure the flour is cooked through. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg, if desired; pass through a fine sieve and serve.