Some cookbooks get plucked from my shelf constantly and as such, some are now looking, not to put too fine a point on it, rather knackered. Bashed up, stained, ripped and grubby; all testament to their constant use and the times that they very nearly fell into a stock pot or on to open flame. Speaking of which, my laptop screen is looking fairly splattered right now, having caught a spray of leftover vegetable soup I made earlier. So after typing this post out, I think I will go and grab a wet wipe.
However, there are some books sitting up there as pristine as the day I bought or was given them. One of them is my Larousse Gastronomique. Every food lover worth their salt will have a copy of this weighty tome on display in their kitchen, to scream just how serious and dedicated they are to the cause. Because this monumental work reflects everything. The culinary revolution of the closing decades of the twentieth century. Social and cultural changes across the ages. Advances in science and technology. Tenets that have dramatically influenced our ideas on food and the way we cook and how we eat today.
I know this because I just read all that on the inside cover, just now.
Normally, I like to pull the book out just to gaze upon the chubby little waiter on the cover, who looks like he is just about to sneak a quick slurp of beer, from a tray of drinks destined for a table in some restaurant, in 1930s Paris. But I have found myself using it more and more, for research and for inspiration and after looking for ideas of pairing up Gruyère with fish, I stumbled across this simple little recipe using skate or ray wings. I rather like this cartilaginous flat seawater fish and often enjoy it with the regular accompaniment of burnt butter or beurre noir, with the odd caper or twenty. But to throw mushrooms, shallots and cheese into the mix? How would that work? After all, there are some who say that cheese and fish do not and should not marry. Although in my opinion, those sort of people are... very silly.
To be honest, Prosper Montagne, the French chef who was responsible for the first edition doesn’t really suggest it either. Yet he does say that a bechamel, served bubbling atop as a gratin, does work rather nicely with skate and ray. So what harm could an added element of richness from the Gruyère bring to this meaty fish. I think it goes very well together and has all the hallmarks of a classic dish. In fact, I am going to send an email right now to the editorial department and ask for an addendum to be put into future editions.
'Use Gruyère cheese in that skate recipe!' I will say and ask for my name to be inserted into the acknowledgements.
My only worry is that no one will read it.