The region of France known as Brittany is famed for its buckwheat. Not actually related to wheat, buckwheat is the seed of a plant native to central Asia related to sorrel and rhubarb; it likes to grow in cool, wet weather and rocky soil. It has a very distinctive nutty flavor, as anyone who’s eaten buckwheat pancakes knows.
Pacific Crpes on Anacapa Street offers us a taste of Brittany. Owner Yvan Morin came to Santa Barbara from Brittany and opened the restaurant 10 years ago. I love eating lunch there-one savory crpe and a green salad make a delicious lunch.
Cooks in Brittany fill their buckwheat crpes with savory fillings: ham and cheese, sauteed shallots, various seasonable vegetables, perhaps combined with a creamy sauce. They serve their large crpes with a little fold at the bottom, mostly open-faced. You might try their Crpes Pyrenees, with goat cheese, walnut halves, and prosciutto, or one of four savory vegetarian crpes, such as “Forest”: sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, bechamel sauce, and parsley. Bretons make regular wheat flour crpes, too, but use them to accompany fruit or dessert fillings, and Pacific Crpes carries on this tradition. Their dessert crpes have luscious fillings, including fresh berries, chocolate, lemon sauce, and Grand Marnier.
Buckwheat Crpes with Chicken, Leeks, and Bechamel Sauce
In the following recipe I’ve chosen a filling of chicken, braised leeks, and a bechamel sauce. You’ll have crpes left over, which can be warmed in the toaster briefly and served with butter and (contrary to Breton tradition) jam. The crpe recipe is adapted from French Farmhouse Cooking by Susan Loomis. The Sauce Bechamel is adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.
8 buckwheat crpes
1 recipe braised leeks
2Â½ c. moist, shredded roast chicken
1 recipe sauce bechamel
Â¼ c. grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or Â½ c. shredded Gruyre
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay out two crpes at a time on counter. Spread a couple tablespoons of braised leeks down center of each, top with cup roast chicken, two tablespoons of bechamel, and some cheese. Roll the crpes burrito style and place the seam side down in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon remaining bechamel across the middle of crpes, and bake until very hot, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle thyme across the bechamel ribbon and serve immediately.
(Makes about 15 nine-inch crpes)
1Â¾ c. plus 1 Tbs. buckwheat flour
2Â¼ c. water
2 large eggs
Â½ tsp. sea salt
1 Tbs. clarified butter or ghee
Place flour in medium-size bowl. Slowly whisk in water to form a smooth batter. Vigorously whisk in eggs and salt, until batter is smooth. The batter will be quite thin but elastic; when you lift the whisk, the batter will drop off in “ropes.” Use immediately or let it sit for up to two hours, loosely covered.
Heat a nine-inch nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or crpe pan over medium-high heat. Brush lightly with clarified butter.
Whisk the batter quickly to mix. Pour Â¼ cup of batter in the center of the skillet and quickly rotate the skillet to spread batter evenly. It is fine if the batter is thicker in the center. Cook the crpe until its edges begins to curl, about 1Â½ minutes. If it browns too quickly, reduce the heat slightly. Using your fingers, carefully pick up the edge and gently pull the crpe from the skillet, flip it over, and continue cooking until it is set on the other side, about 30 seconds. As the crpes are done, stack them on a baking sheet and warm, covered with a tea towel, in a low oven.
(You can make larger crpes-they do at the restaurant. Just increase the batter to cup per 10Â½-inch skillet.)
(Makes about 1 cup)
4 large leeks, cleaned, cut into thin rings, including tender green leaves (about 4 c., cut)
2 c. water
1 Tbs. butter
Â¼ tsp. salt
Place the ingredients in a two-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the liquid is almost completely evaporated and the leeks are very tender.
(Makes 2 cups)
2 c. whole milk
Â¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 Tbs. flour
More salt to taste
Â¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
In a small saucepan, heat the milk and Â¼ tsp. salt just until scalded. Keep warm. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, and cook slowly, stirring, until butter and flour froth together for two minutes without coloring. Remove from heat.
As soon as the roux has stopped bubbling, pour in all the hot milk at once. Immediately beat vigorously with a wire whip until no lumps remain. Place the saucepan over moderately high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture boils, and continue to boil for one minute, stirring. The mixture will thicken to the consistency of heavy cream. Season with nutmeg and set aside.
Pacific Crpes is located at 705 Anacapa Street. Call 882-1123.