After reading Martin Walker’s “The Body in the Castle Well,” the 14th book in a series about Police Chief Bruno Courrèges, I Googled real estate listings in the Périgord, known for its castles, caves, gastronomy and lush landscapes.
From Walker’s description, this region in southwestern France seems like an ideal place to live, even if you have to deal with truffle fraud, archaeological vandalism, arson, drugs and even terrorists, which Bruno encounters on a regular basis.
Besides, I always wanted to be Nancy Drew, even asking for a magnifying glass when I was 10 so I could search for clues. Alas, I got the magnifying glass, but where do you look for clues?
Since I won’t be moving to the Périgord any time soon, I can still channel the region by cooking like Bruno, who not only solves crimes but is a gourmet cook.
His recipes, insights and recommendations about wines, life in southwestern France and details about his cases are featured on his blog, brunochiefofpolice.com.
Obviously, Walker and his wife, Julia Watson, both of whom write the blog, get into Bruno and French cooking in a big way. The couple split their time between Washington, D.C., and Le Bugue, a small village in the Périgord, where they own a 1698 farmhouse with several newer outbuildings (if you consider the 1700s new, and in France they do).
When Walker, who served as bureau chief in Moscow and the U.S., and as European editor for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, isn’t writing mysteries or driving around the Périgord looking for the perfect place to plant bodies (for his books, of course), he and his wife spend much of their time in the kitchen.
Walker and Watson also wrote “Bruno’s Cookbook,” which is a bestseller in Germany, where it’s sold 100,000 copies. Unless you read the language, however, don’t bother to order a copy. It’s not published in English, though Walker encourages people to call his publisher and demand that it be.
Now, many of the recipes in both books are very French, calling for truffles, rabbit, foie gras and other ingredients not common in Southwest Michigan. Others are very easily made, and those are the ones I’ve chosen to try:
Cheese and Walnut Sable Biscuits
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 ounces butter
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped, or 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons beer, or 2-3 tablespoons milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift the flours, salt, pepper and chili powder (or cayenne pepper) into a bowl together and mix.
Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the cheese and walnuts, and mix well. Then add the beer (or milk), and blend into a dough. Chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out on a floured board, and cut into small rounds. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.
Sprinkle with seasoning salt or cayenne pepper if you wish. Cool on a wire rack, and store in airtight tins.
Serve with cheese, cream cheese and savory fillings and dips, or just by themselves.
Makes 8 servings.
2.2 pounds red meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons duck fat, or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 bottle red wine
1 bay leaf
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper
1.1 pounds bacon, diced
1.1 pounds shallots, left whole
2 cups mushrooms, slices
4 ounces Madeira, or ruby port
4 ounces beef stock
Heat oven to 300 degrees.
Pat the cubes of meat dry with a paper towel (or they will not brown easily) and fry them in the duck fat or olive oil until browned.
Remove the meat from the pan, and fry the onion in the remaining fat and juices.
When the onions are just turning brown, return the meat to the pan and start sprinkling the flour and stirring so the beef becomes coated.
Once the flour is thoroughly mixed, transfer to a casserole, and start adding the red wine, a glass at a time, so the dish stays hot. Add the bay leaf, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
Cook for two hours.
After two hours, fry bacon until much of the fat has been released, then add the shallots, and finally the mushrooms. Once they are browned, add them to the casserole with the port or Madeira and stock. Re-cover and cook for another hour.
The sauce is too thin if it drips too easily from a wooden spoon. If so, return the casserole to the oven without the lid for 10-15 minutes.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
8 small carrots, topped and tailed only
1 chicken, or 4 chicken legs
9 ounces white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 sprigs fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (can substitute an equivalent amount of sour cream)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
While doing this, if you want roasted potatoes (see below) start boiling them in slightly salted water.
Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, and over medium heat, sauté the onions and carrots till soft and beginning to turn gold. Drain and transfer to a dish. Set aside.
Add the chicken, with a little more oil if need be, and fry until browned all over.
Put the onions, carrots and chicken in a lidded casserole or baking dish and cover.
Pour out the fat from the frying pan, and add the wine, scraping up the brown goop from the bottom while bringing the liquid to the boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add it to the chicken with the tarragon sprigs.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, stir in the crème fraiche, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and return to the oven for 5 minutes, making sure the dish doesn’t come to the boil, then plate into a serving dish.
Serve with a green salad and boiled potatoes or roasted potatoes.
For roasted potatoes: Almost completely boil several peeled and quartered medium-sized potatoes, then drain and roll them in a pan that has been heated with a layer of oil in the oven to coat them.
Put the pan of potatoes in the oven for the 30 minutes that the chicken casserole is baking. They will roast in the oven till golden all over.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Focus, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.