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How to make a simple French Sauce Nantua

I’m not into frou-frou cooking. I went through it and out the other side to find, well, simplicity. It was great fun plowing through French recipes from feuilleté to pheasant. I had a ball, really I did, smashing that buttery brioche dough one hundred times against my black granite pastry board. Good for getting aggression out of your system for sure, and with a lovely, light pastry to show for it, not often found in too many bakeries, alas.

But years of experimenting has brought the pot to the simmer and the broth is crystal clear. And because of winding down a bit, my kitchen has never been so full of surprises, innovation, and just plain fun.

Take for example the kilo of écrevisses (crawfish in my part of the woods) that I bought the other day from our wonderful fish monger. Living part-time in France, I wondered why we do not eat these incredible little morsels more often, as here, they are reasonably priced and fresh out of the sea?

But I’ll admit, there is only a small, tender, buttery bite in each tail, and though one can challenge one’s dental works by chewing and sucking on the claws and tiny legs, it’s best to move through the little morsels, dipped in the broth in which they cook, and save all the shells for Sauce Nantua, one of the cooking world’s wonders. It’s difficult to find even in classy restaurants, as the labor to create it probably costs far more that what the management can charge.

But your luck is about to change

Simple sauce Nantua

I wanted Sauce Nantua to spread over silky quenelles (fish dumplings). It is named after the town of Nantua in Ain, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, famous for its crayfish. I took a look online at a very well-known recipe source to refresh my very distant memory. Here’s what I found: shrimp, cognac, shallots, onion carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, clam juice, parsley, tomato purée, cayenne, fish velouté, and cream. Complicated and over-egged (though no egg is involved).

Here’s how I made it.

First I cooked my sweet little écrevisses in a large pot with half a sweet onion, two spring green onions with tops, all chopped fine (NOT FINELY!), a dash of salt, a splash of cognac, a cup of white wine, and brought everything to a simmer.  After 5-6 minutes, I turned off the heat, covered the little darlings to let them get to know their surroundings, and went off to do a bit of gardening.

But here’s the good part.

I put the bouillon through a sieve into a saucepan, tasted it and almost fainted with delight. It did call for a lovely swirl of butter and a spoon more of Cognac and the elixir then went to the table in which to dip our succulent tail meat.  My husband took a sip from his bouillon cup and his eyes glazed over.

Now is the fun part of kitchen madness.

All of the shells, heads, and claws were put back in a large pot and simmered with the same ingredients as before, for about 20 minutes. I drained off the liquid to save for the finish, and took out my meat cleaver to use the flat end to mash the shells to a pulp in the pot.

Throw that bouillon back into the shell pot along with whatever was left from lunch and simmer it for about 10 minutes.

Strain the mix into a container and swirl in another spoon of butter.

Just for the record, you can use this simple magic potion, reduced and whisked with a spoon of good tomato sauce and a shot of heavy cream and your Sauce Nantua will outshine the one with too many players in the act.

Suzanne Dunnaway is the author of No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes (Hyperion); Rome, At Home, The Spirit of la cucina romana in Your Own Kitchen (Broadway Books); No Need to Knead (Metric/American version-Grub Street Publishers, London).

More fish dishes from France

Scallops with saffron butter sauce, a recipe from Touraine, Loire

Hay smoked salmon with a citrus sauce – recipe from a top chef in Annecy, Haute-Savoie

Classic French salmon en papillote

Moules Marinieres – the taste of the seaside in France!

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