As we were about to set off for Lyon back in December, we received some last minute guidance from a born Lyonnais including what food was a real must to try. He scribbled a list on a piece of paper and we had to call him to tell us how to pronounce the one on the top of the list - Quenelles ! Would you dare miss it? It didn't even cross my mind!.Whatever it was I was dedicated to find it and try it.
As it turned out, it was easer said than done. It was the busiest time of the year (Festival of Lights) and all the bouchons I was reading about and was so keen to try were booked in advance. From this perspective I haven't got a clue why I thought that we can just walk in and get a table.
I was looking in envy through the window of Chez Paul and saw a couple of empty seats in the far right corner and elbowed through the mass of people gathered near the entrance. The "horrible" man gave me a huge pity Oh, you are so naive look! She wants two seats and didn't reserve them like ten months ago! Huge deflation of my overall happy love affair with Lyon. Now what?
The streets were bursting with food, the wind was serving us with so many smells that we were getting hungrier as the minutes went by, it was getting really late and all the restaurants we wanted to go to were booked, no, overbooked and tightly packed. Mr M didn't care for bouchons or quenelles any more, he reached his limits and by this point he needed to eat, immediately. Me, not so much! My determination can easily override my hunger.
Walking around in desperation was slowly taking it's toll threatening to spoil the whole night as we were on the brink of turning against each other. And we would have done, if I hadn't of seen a queue in front of what looked like the type of restaurant we were after. The 'We don't take reservations' notice on the door sounded so good, even better when a head peaked out through the door to ask us how many seats we would need. It shouldn't be long!
Being at the wrong side of the restaurant's door just became the most natural thing in the World. and some time later ( I said 15 minutes, Mr M said 30 min) we were in. Vive Le Saint - Joseph!
And when your luck takes a turn it makes up for everything - they had quenelles. Chicken ones apparently, although chicken was nowhere to be seen, or tasted. But they still tasted heavenly, like nothing I've tried before. I still didn't have a clue what I was eating.
If I only flicked through the pages of Julia Child's French cooking before I left; but again that would have spoiled the experience of eating for the first time something she described as a delicate triumph of French cooking.
A small hassle to make? Maybe! But once it's done, you get to enjoy something unique and frankly quite extraordinary.
If you have Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, turn the page 167, if not here are her instructions how to master quenelles making :
by Julia Child
makes about 16
Pâte à Choux:
235 ml water
57 gr butter
113 g flour
2 egg whites
570 g chicken breasts
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
2-6 tbsp chilled cream
Bring water to boil in the saucepan with the salt and butter. As soon as the butter has melted, remove it from heat and beat in all the flour at once. Then beat over moderately high heat for a few minutes until the mixture forms a mass. Remove from heat and one by one, beat in the eggs, then the egg whites and turn the pastry into the mixing bowl.
Mince the chicken breast twice or, whiz it through a food processor until you get an almost purée consistency. Add the seasoning and beat vigorously either by K beater of your mixer, or by wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate until is thoroughly chilled, for a few hours.
Shaping and Poaching:
Just before you are ready to poach the quenelles, beat chilled cream into the paste. This step is very important because it will determine the consistency of the pastry that has to be firm enough to hold its shape when it's formed into quenelles, but if too much cream is incorporated the paste will become too soft, so tread carefully and add bit by bit. I used 2 tbsp.
According to her the spoon method (picture above) makes the most delicate quenelles, although a neater looking but less light- textured alternative is to roll them into cylinders on a floured board ( like one I had in Lyon).
Half fill a large frying pan with salty water and bring it to a barely simmering point.
With a wet spoon, dip out a rounded mass of the cold paste, transfer the spoon to your left hand, smooth the top of the paste with the inverted bowl of the second wet spoon. Then slip the bowl of the second spoon under the quenelle to loosen it and drop it into the barely simmering liquid. Poach them uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes never allowing the water to come beyond the barest suggestion of a simmer. The quenelles are done when they have doubled in size and roll over easily. Drain them on a rack or a cloth. If they are not to be served immediately, arrange them in a lightly buttered dish, brush them with melted butter, cover with greaseproof paper and refrigerate for a day or two. They can also be frozen at this stage.
Note: chicken can be substituted with the same amount of fish, veal, prawns. The method remains the same. Also, if using fish, they can be poached in fish stock.
Sauces for Quenelles :
You can pick and choose - white wine sauce, oyster, cheese, brown sauce, Madere sauce, or simple mushroom sauce as I did:
60 gr butter
240 ml boiling milk
250 ml vegetable stock
400 g chestnut mushrooms
Cook the butter and flour together slowly without colouring, take off heat and beat in the boiling milk, add seasoning, parsley and finely diced dry fried mushrooms.
Instead of mushrooms you can also add grated Swiss cheese at this point.