Used by luminary chefs in France such as Alain Passard from the Arpège (3 stars) and Guy Martin from Le Grand Vefour (2 stars), the vialaporte team asked a renowned London-based French chef to help us understand why argan oil is currently the must-use product in fine dining.
We contacted Pascal Aussignac from Club Gascon, who has maintained *1 Michelin star at Club Gascon since 2002.
After learning his professional at the lycee Bordeaux-Talence, this born Toulouse chef soon became aware that the suffocating restaurant environment in France, heavy with protocol and bureaucracy was not for him. Shortly after moving to London, he discovered success. Supported by his friend Vincent Laberie, Club Gason has become one of the most successful fine-dining City of London destinations. His creativity and elegance and above all attention to the quality of his products paid-off with a star, which has never been downgraded. Pascal continues to bring a creative approach to the food of his native Gascony to London diners today.
Argan oil tasting:
Extracted from argan trees in North Africa, argan oil has been mainly used in cooking until the cosmetic industry realised its potential and started buying-up the market, making these berries hit some record prices.
The oil is very greasy and is quite difficult to use in cooking, which is why we have come to Pascal to show how to use it properly.
We selected three oils to sample from various brands, one known in the restaurant industry – J.Leblanc, one from a more high street brand – A L’Olivier and an independent argan oil producer called Wild Wood Groves.
Three spoons, three bottles, three tastes; and what were the results?
Wild Wood Groove is the first on the test, and it was easily the clearest of the oils. The second, is the professional product from a very famous brand used in many restaurant kitchens, J.Lebanc. This oil was very dark in colour; almost black. Finally the A l’Olivier product was presented in a very stylish tin, with the oil a warm orangey colour.
Starting by smelling the oils, Wild Wood Groove has a very strong roasted perfume, which is perhaps how you would image an argan oil would smell. The A l’Olivier oil has a really pronounced earthy smell.
If you want to make a real statement with the argan oil, you’d be best to go for the J.Leblanc oil, which is easily spotted on the plate being so dark. The two other oils are clearer and less visable on the plate.
Taste-wise, the Leblanc is definitely the grainiest while the A L’Olivier oil is the sweetest and seems to be the richest. The Wild Wood Grove oil on the contrary is more delicate, almost fragile.
Pascal with his keen chef’s palate suggests that the oils would marry wonderfully with mushrooms, but also and rather creatively with a piece of turbot. He recommends that it would work best with very delicate and precious mushrooms, like girolles and chanterelles, but nothing as strong as cepes, as they would be too strong and would cover the nutty flavour of the oil.
Scallop carpaccio, cauliflower couscous
argan oil and cauliflower velouté
Ingredients for 4 people = 8 big Scottish scallops, 1 cauliflower, finely chopped chives, 20g of roughly grounded hazelnut, 1 shallot thinly sliced, 15g of butter, 150 mls of single cream, 150 mls milk, 200g girolles, 100 mls of dry white wine, 50 mls of grape oil, 1 tablespoon honey, sea salt and Espelette pepper to taste, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme and 50 mls of argan oil.
Girolles aigre-douce (sweet and sour):
Brush the girolles and remove any grit. Pour the honey, vinegar, grape oil and 50mls of water into a sauce pan and mix. Add thyme, a pinch of both salt and Espelette pepper and the girolles to the mixture. Keep covered in the fridge for 24 hours.
Remove the cauliflower leaves and grate enough to end-up with 8 tablespoons of the textured “couscous”. Cut the rest of the cauliflower in rough pieces.
Brown 10g of butter in a saucepan, add the chopped shallots and cook slowly till they turn tender but not coloured. Add the rough pieces of cauliflower, milk, cream and season with salt and Espelette pepper. Cook slowly until the cauliflower is tender. Blend the mixture to create the velouté; season if necessary. Keep warm.
Thinly slice the scallops and arrange nicely on the plate. Season with sea salt, some Espelette pepper and the argan oil.
Toast the nuts in a pan with 5g of butter. Out of the pan, mix the 8 reserved spoon of cauliflower with the chives and the roasted nuts. Sprinkle the prepared mix of nuts, couscous over the scallops and decorate with the drained girolles. Serve the velouté on the side in a little ramekin; decorate with a few drops of argan oil.
A perfect balance of flavour
We tested each of the three oils with the recipe and all of them worked well in their own different ways. Though, Pascal suggested to use the most subtle oil for the velouté, which is lightly peppered (Wild Wood Grove), and the grainy oil (Leblanc) with the scallops as it adds a bit of texture with its thickness. Though you should try them all and make your own decision.
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