Saturday, May 28, 2011

Home-made millas: Toulouse cornmeal fritters

Corn and maize are rarely found in French cuisine--maize is mostly considered 'pig food' and sweet corn is practically unknown(more's the pity for French people; we always love it when it's sweet corn season in our garden!). But there's one area of France where maize has a much better press, and that's in the south-west, in the Toulouse region. Maize is grown there mostly to feed the region's famous fat geese and ducks, it's true, but it's also widely used for a variety of traditional dishes, from the rich, golden, moist cake, Gateau de Mais to the ubiquitous millas or cornmeal fritters which appear on restaurant menus, on home dinner tables and can be bought in readymade squares, ready-to-fry in traiteurs and bakeries and markets in Toulouse and its region.

Millas are versatile: they can be eaten with both sweet and savoury things: they are delicious as a side-dish with duck magrets(as Camille had in her recipe)or lamb or pork or indeed any kind of meat. They are also delicious served as a sweet snack or dessert, fried golden and sprinkled with sugar or honey or whatever you like. They are best hot but are also pretty nice cold, if you have leftovers.

Millas are not difficult to make from scratch, but they do take some time to prepare, which is why many people in France buy them ready-made(they are usually excellent, incidentally.) But of course you can't buy them here in Australia--at least certainly not in our country region!--so having had a sudden craving for millas the other day, I had to make mine from scratch, with the invaluable advice of Ginette Mathiot's I Know how to Cook, which I wrote about in my last post. (She has lots of recipes for classic regional basics like that which most other cookbooks simply do not have.)

The millas you buy in Toulouse is made from white maize meal, finely ground; as I could not get that here, mine had to be made with the readily-available polenta, or yellow maizemeal(pretty finely-ground also). I had no idea if it would turn out or not but I wanted to give it a go. And it did turn out really well, despite the fact my millas didn't look at all like the tidy pale squares I remember from childhood, when Maman used to buy them at the markets in l'Isle-Jourdain near our place in the Toulousain countryside. Intensely yellow and rather untidy, these frangourou millas were nevertheless delicious and went superlatively well with the lamb in tomato and red pepper and basil sauce I had made. And despite the difference in maize meal, they tasted pretty much as millas ought to, as well--a minor miracle in itself!

Here's how to make them(proportions are for two people): Take 90 g polenta meal(the finest grade you can find), 150 ml boiling water, 150 ml milk, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon butter, a pinch salt. First mix the polenta with a little water to make a paste, then add the rest of the water and cook till polenta has absorbed all the water and become stiff(takes about 10 mins).You need to stir it all the time--do not let it burn. Add the milk and egg, beat thorougly till well-mixed, then add butter and keep cooking over low heat till the mixture is like a ball of dough(or something like choux pastry) and comes away from sides and bottom of pan. Take it off the heat, let cool a little then shape into either circles or squares or any other shape you want--mine were a little crumbly at the edges so the shapes weren't exactly perfect, but the dough kept together well still. Fry in hot oil till very golden and crisp on outside. Serve hot, a little salted and peppered, as a side dish with meat and sauce(or vegetables)or as a simple dessert--sprinkled with sugar or served with honey, maple syrup, etc. You can also have them sugared, with whipped cream on top.

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