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VIDEO: Bernard Charret’s Loire River lamprey stew seasoned with liquorice root
Chef Bernard Charret has always given local products pride of place in Les Chandelles Gourmandes, his restaurant on the banks of the Cher River.
Chef Bernard Charret, who has been cooking in Larçay on the Cher for the past twenty years, takes ‘local’ seriously: 97% of his suppliers come from his département, the Indre-et-Loire. Charret, who has a degree in political science, likes to say that his ‘cuisine is derived from the agricultural world that surrounds him.’ Because of that, he is considered to be an exemplary spokesman for the culinary heritage of the Touraine region of France. Lamb from the Lochois, flour from ancient varieties of wheat, pork from rustic races of hogs, suckled veal, lentils with sunflower oil, foie gras de canard with heritage vegetables: everything arrives in his kitchens extra-fresh and intact thanks to the extraordinary network of suppliers that he has patiently set up during the past two decades.
Nowadays microwaves and tin openers have invaded many a restaurant kitchen, but not that of Bernard Charret. He and his team clean and peel all of the vegetables, fillet the fish and carve the lambs and suckling pigs that are delivered whole. Charret also bakes his bread and smokes and salts his meats and fish.
His friend Philippe Boisneau, one of the last professional fishermen who works on the Loire River, delivers all of the restaurant’s river fish. Boisneau appreciates the flexibility and open-mindedness of this singular chef who adapts his menu to whatever is available. Depending on the season, some fish will be on the menu, others will not. In the entire Touraine region, only fifteen or so chefs are willing to work with Loire River fish in this way.
For Bernard Charret, each dish is also an opportunity to spotlight biodiversity without making a big fuss about it. This lamprey stew, for example, is rich in rare vegetables, such as turnip-root chervil, with a sweetness that evokes potatoes and chestnuts, and red oca from Peru, a potato-like tuber with something of the acidity of sorrel. These botanic curiosities come from the garden of Xavier Matthias, a young market gardener who grows approximately three hundred varieties of vegetables in his fields in Chédigny, near Loches.
With the help these two suppliers and dozens of others, Charret does his best to make local food exciting. And he succeeds brilliantly.
Bernard Charret’s Loire River lamprey stew seasoned with liquorice root
For the lamprey stew
1 live lamprey of approximately 1 kilogramme
150 g black radish
100 g carrots
100 g celeriac
Marc de Loire (brandy)
2 sticks of liquorice cut into pieces
1 star anise
1 Indian long pepper
1 tsp cocoa powder
Vegetables for garnish
Julienne of leeks
Sweet dumpling squash
Prepare the lamprey
Stun the lamprey, bleed it and save the blood. Skin it like an eel, slit open its belly, gut it and remove the central nerve and its cartilage. Cut the flesh into chunks and sauté these in hot walnut oil. Flambé in the Marc de Loire and moisten with white wine.
Prepare vegetables for the stew
Wash but do not peel the radish, celeriac and carrots, then dice them and sauté in walnut oil. Flambé in Marc de Loire and moisten with white wine (a Montlouis Demi-Sec would be a fine choice).
Put all of the above into a large pot and add the flavourings: liquorice, star anise, pepper and cocoa. Add a bit of water if necessary to cover. Boil for 30 minutes, then remove the pieces of lamprey and set them aside. Cook the other ingredients another 60 minutes to reduce. Finally, add the lamprey blood while stirring vigorously, then strain.
Prepare the garnish while the stew is cooking
Boil the chervil in salty water as for potatoes, then remove and peel. Cut the Sweet Dumpling squash in quarters and boil. Sautee the oca in a bit of oil, add a dash of vinegar, pour in enough water to cover, season and cook 7-8 minutes; do not overcook.
Slice the leeks in half length-wise, wash and cut into thin julienne strips. Boil in a small quantity of salted boiling water with a spoonful of butter. Remove quickly after a few minutes.
Coat the chunks of lamprey with the strained sauce and surround with the vegetable garnish. Serve piping hot.
Les Chandelles Gourmandes
44, Rue Nationale
Tel: (33) 02 47 50 50 02
Xavier Matthias: le Champ de Pagaille
Where to stay
B&B and self-catering cottage ‘Le Clos des Augers’
Danièle and Philippe Hellio
Lieu-dit Les Augers
Tel: (33) 02 47 50 49 49
Official website of the Tourism Committee of the Touraine Département