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DISCOVER THE 4TH COURSE BY MARTELL
PETIT-FOURS PAIRINGS CREATED BY CORDON BLEU CHEF LUIZ HARA
Christmas is literally just around the corner and we all know this potentially means copious amounts of festive treats, mainly revolving around food and alcohol. It also probably means many of you out there will be celebrating with friends and relatives and you might be in the situation where you are the host of a sit-down meal. It can be a very stressful operation, but do not fear as one of the oldest French cognac houses, Martell (founded in 1715), have come up with a fantastic solution for some tasty yet effortless nibbles to be enjoyed at the dinner table.
It is what Martell are calling 'The 4th Course' and they like to compare it to the French ‘café gourmand’, classically consumed at the end of a meal. However, instead of a shot of coffee, you crack open a bottle of Martell.
Some of you may only think of cognac as a drink that is enjoyed as you reach a certain age, when you kick off the slippers and put your feet up by the fire. However, after an invite by Martell to sit down and pair the drink with some petit-fours, created by Cordon Bleu Chef Luiz Hara (The London Foodie), I realised how perfect it is to sip on a glass of Martell after a meal with a few sweet delights. The idea of the following pairings is that they are incredibly easy and quick to create. It is always tricky with hosting when you need to be able to prepare the meal but also entertain and converse with your guests. These post-meal canapes are extremely simple, with no more than four ingredients, however they match the Cognac perfectly as they bring out all subtle spicy and fruity notes that the spirit is made up of. Plus, every mouthful tastes like Christmas.
Option 1 - Iberico Charcuterie and Cognac-Soaked Prunes
The stoneless prunes need to be primarily soaked in a sugar syrup and simmered for 20 minutes. The prunes are then left to cool and cognac is poured over them and left to soak again for at least a couple of hours. When you are ready to serve wrap the prunes in high quality Iberico de Bellota ham. This is an alternative to the traditional Devils on Horseback. With the slithers of slightly oily meat, the Martell adds another dimension. The prunes add some maturity to the relatively young cognac and the salt from the ham cuts through the prunes. They are truly delicious.
Option 2 - Parmesan and Quince paste
Take 0.5-1cm thick slices of 30-month old aged parmesan (make sure you purchase a really good brand) and add a sprinkle of black pepper on top. With each bite of parmesan take half a teaspoon of quince paste (other fruit jams work as well) and enjoy with a Martell champagne cocktail. The cocktail is just as easy to create with soaking a sugar cube (at the bottom of a champagne glass) with angostura bitters, pouring your preferred amount of cognac over the sugar and topping up with champagne. Do not stir the sugar, it is better to let it sit and dissolve gently. This sweet yet crisp cocktail works perfectly with the salt crystals in the cheese, as well as the parmesan creating a savoury pairing with the fruit jam.
Option 3 - Pears, Roquefort & Almonds with Cognac-Soaked Raisins
The raisins need to be soaked in Martell for a minimum of 2 hours. However, the longer they are soaked, the better. They can rest in your fridge throughout the festive season, ready to go at any moment. No cooking is needed whatsoever and all you need to do is thinly slice some fresh ripe pears, crumble some Roquefort on top of the pears along with some crushed toasted almonds and a sprinkling of the cognac raisins. You don’t even need a knife and fork.
Option 4 - Christmas Pudding Ice Cream
I am not a huge fan of the traditional Christmas pudding myself, however this might have converted me. If you are looking for a lighter desert after a hefty meal, then this is an ideal alternative. Take a tub of good quality vanilla ice cream and pop it in a food blender. Add half a teaspoon of ground mixed spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) and some diced Christmas pudding. Whizz up the ice cream until it is soft and the pudding has combined well. Pop the ice cream back into the freezer for a couple of hours and then to serve, top it with a few of your pre-soaked cognac raisins. This is just another enjoyable way to enhance the fruity notes of the alcohol with the sweetness of the ice cream and it definitely hits the spot.
With each pairing during the evening, we gently sipped on a glass of Martell VS. This is the youngest cognac from the Martell collection, which also includes VSOP, Cordon Bleu, XO and their new Cordon Bleu Intense Heat Cask Finish. When they call the VS the youngest it means it has been aged for a minimum of 2 years in their traditional French oak barrels. The cognac is produced by mixing together a variety of Brandies which themselves are aged between 3 and 5 years. It creates a drink which is smooth, light, well-rounded and thin on tongue. It certainly isn’t as thick or as rich as I had imagined and Martell pride themselves on this unique flavour.
With 300 years of knowledge and heritage under their belt, it is no wonder they are one of the most popular Cognac makers in the market. Martell are now determined to encourage the younger generation to enjoy cognac as part of a meal, as well as in a cocktail. From seeing how simple it is to enjoy with food, it is certainly something I would consider offering as a ‘4th course’ at a dinner party. I challenge you to try at least one of the food pairings above, over Christmas or New Year, and discover the wonderful festive taste of Martell. Happy Holidays.