We had some French friends staying and there was a suggestion we all go out for dinner. I suggested I cook. I am never sure how the Frenchman's friends react, in private, to the news that I shall be producing dinner, but I can imagine the apprehensive conversations:
"I hear she's cooking dinner?"
"But she's English?"
"Wouldn't it be better to eat out?"
"Hmmm, probably but it's too late now."
So they arrive filled with trepidation, expecting boiled lamb and soggy potatoes (half of France still think this is this is our national dish). They leave, hopefully replete with reasonable wine, good food and pleasant surprise as well as disabused of one small cross-Channel stereotype. Or not.
This time, I did a 'Roti de Porc' in the cocotte. It is a lazy - and pretty foolproof - way of producing a delicious meal involving slow cooking meat in a large and heavy cast iron pan with a large and heavy lid. My mother-in-law very thoughtfully gave us one of these a couple of Christmases ago. It weighs a ton. Shortly afterwards I dropped it. The Frenchman seemed less concerned that it nearly took off a couple of toes than that it lost a chunk of enamel. I told him "enamel we can replace. My toes we can't" but he fussed about the cocotte in a way he did not fuss about my feet. The brand name of the pot is a Doufeu (Doux = gentle, Feu = fire/heat) and that is the principle; you put the meat, vegetables, potatoes in the pot with a very little water, slam on the heavy lid, put ice cubes (or in my case cold water) in the lip of the lid and set it on a gentle heat on the cooker for several hours. The whole thing becomes the culinary equivalent of a self-supporting eco-system though hopefully without the single cell amoeba: the kind of moisture cycle involving evaporation, precipitation, condensation, clouds, plateaus and mountains I vaguely remember from school geography lessons centuries ago. It leaves the cook free to chat to guests and escape the slavery of the steaming stove. Perhaps the slang word 'Doofer' used for something you cannot remember the exact name of, stems from this cooking pot.
So far, it has always turned out a fabulous meal with very little effort on my part and this weekend was no exception. While it simmered away on its own, I was able to spend time with our friends instead of slaving over a hot stove. The big chip in the red enamel made no difference to its efficacy, as I was at pains to point out to the Frenchman. In the early hours of the morning our guests left with congratulations and compliments to the chef - me. I am not sure if I was imagining silent sighs of relief and surprise from those I had never previously cooked for but I could imagine the nub of a subsequent conversation: "Not bad for an Anglaise, but it was a French pot."