Maison Brasserie serving up French comfort food

January 1, 2013 10:00:00 PM PST
French comfort food typically means cassoulet or beef bourguignon, but a new brasserie in the city is also making a labor-intensive brandade everyday, which is a perfect winter snack for non-meat eaters.

Any self-respecting French bistro - or brasserie, for that matter - has to have certain dishes in its repertoire. For a newcomer like Maison Brasserie - which hides beneath the shadow of the majestic aqua building in Lakeshore East - that "must-have" dish is brandade.

"Brandade is the traditional dish from the south of France; it's made primarily from salt cod and potatoes," said Perry Hendrix of Maison Brasserie.

Hendrix doesn't take any shortcuts. To begin, he submerges filets of cod in salt for a week.

"I think salting really concentrates the flavor of the fish. It's also the tradition of the dish that I believe in following," Hendrix said.

After seven days, the fish is soaked in water overnight, so it's not too salty.

In a large pot, he combines cubed potatoes, heavy cream and the washed-and-rinsed cod. Some garlic cloves and a bouquet of herbs are tossed in, and everything is heated slowly for about 45 minutes. Once the ingredients have softened, the mixture is transferred to a stand mixer, where a dough paddle is used to beat it up; while that's running, a thin stream of olive oil is added to give it just a bit of richness and bring the brandade together.

It's transferred to a serving dish, then baked for about 10 minutes, until it's piping hot. Served with some toasted crostini and a small tangle of greens, it's a cozy French starter on a winter's day, or night.

"I think it sells better in the winter; a little warmer starter for people," Hendrix said.