Every Friday, we celebrate the beginning of the weekend by sitting on our back deck, armed with a strong glass of pastis, nibbling on a small bite of some kind. It’s our perfect way to unwind and quickly settle into relaxation mode. By the end of the pastis, I usually don’t feel like getting up and making anything too complicated or labor intensive for dinner. This week, I sauteed pork chop with garlic and pastis, a simple dish I wanted to share with you. …
To properly celebrate the world’s best king salmon and spring, I decided to make a time honored classic from the world’s great cooking duo of all time, the Troisgros brothers. Over fifty years ago, they created escalopes of salmon in a sorrel sauce that revolutionized French cuisine and ushered in a new era of cooking. There is no better dish to honor Columbia River spring run king salmon than this classic….
People want to reclaim what’s real. Mass tourism is no longer sufficient. ~ Jamie Wong
Culinary Adventures are the new way for travellers to experience a country and connect directly with locals and their culture through the plate. It’s an immersive way to “travel better, on a deeper emotional and more personal level”, explains The Rise of Experiential Travel Report by Skift + Peak.
For years, Lisa and I have brought friends on incredible trips to France to directly experience the real French culture by eating in regular people’s homes, touring food markets and travelling to far off small villages to taste the dishes that made them famous. What we have found is: people want to escape the homogenized trips and experience more adventurous and experiential travel. Mass tourism is dead.
Gui Gedda had become a mythical character in my unrelenting search for pure, unadulterated Provence cooking. I heard his name mentioned in several publications, always spoken with absolute reverence, but could never really find out a lot of details about him. Chefs referred to him as both the Pope and the Marcel Pagnol of Provencal cuisine. Finding Gui Gedda’s book ‘Cooking School Provence’ was a major find; it felt a bit like finding the holy grail.
It is absolutely no secret to anyone that knows me well that I am in head over heels in love with Provence, land of my predecessors. It’s heaven on earth; land of the golden sunshine, peopled by a population that are joyous, defiant, independent with a playful spirit, and best of all, they really love to eat. The cuisine is simple and rustic, yet diversely reflects the seasons on every plate. Limiting my favorites to a select, top 10 list was hard, but this is what I came up with.
There are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises — Burgundy. – Curnonsky
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is perhaps Burgundy’s most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local red wine with a calves foot, pearl onions, bacon lardons, herbs and button mushrooms. In truth, cooking proteins this way seems much more a regional style than a one off creation, you will find this combination of flavors taking many forms, from the equally iconic Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) to lesser known dishes like Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon, mushrooms and onions) and Pochouse Bourguignonne, a rustic fish stew made with an assortment of river fish and crayfish simmered in Chambertin with onions, bacon and mushrooms. Technically, meurette is the name for highly flavored red wine sauces from Burgundy, though the word is seldom used in that connotation today.
Beef Bourguignon undoubtedly started life as a humble, peasant dish used to cook tougher pieces of beef, long before becoming a seriously tasty way to eat braised beef at regional restaurants and tables around the world. I have seen a few websites claiming the first appearance is in an Escoffier book, but I would argue the recipe is timeless and was been published several times prior without the word ‘bourguignonne’ added to the title. Most of the older French recipes mention larding the beef and adding a calves foot to the pot to provide a certain unctuousness. Larding, or inserting strips of pork fat into cubes of beef, is the proper way to take tough cooks of beef and make them tender. I certainly would advise adding a calf’s foot if you can find one; try looking in ethnic Asian or Mexican markets where they have a better selection of animal parts than typical mainstream grocery stores.
My top ten list of favorite French dishes to eat at home
I usually steer clear from these sorts of posts, but after a recent long walk in the Columbia Gorge rendered me insatiably starving and seriously contemplating eating my family, I decided to post what I do love, and dreadfully miss most about French food, in a vain attempt to save their lives. Earlier in the week, we had cut every single thing I love dearly about life as part of some satanic ritual known as the ‘new year’s resolution’. Foolishly, we thought adding exercise might reduce our surface circumferences quicker; instead visions of the doomed Donner party haunted my mind….
As a small child, I believed in two things; Santa Claus and the virtues of a simple grilled Loup de mer, or branzino as it is more commonly called in the US. Loup de mer is a Mediterranean sea bass with a delicate flesh and addictively delicious crunchy skin when grilled. Get your coals white hot, put dried fennel branches on top then the fish and let the licorice smoky flavors pleasantly permeate your fish, lending a feeling of being in Provence. There is no greater act of love than sharing a wonderful meal you cook with the people dear to you. Remember, good food can happen anywhere, this one is especially good cooked over an outdoor fire, preferably deep in woods, with loved ones and a few bottles of great wine….
Every New Year’s Eve, I host a gastronomic party to celebrate the passing of one year and the birth of the next. It usually progresses (regresses) into a Bacchanalian celebration. The table laid with the finest china and silver, our stomachs tempted with turbot, black truffles, caviar and foie gras, and too many bottles of Champagne to count.
The better the ingredient, the simpler the preparation should be. Simple and pure pairings, like roast chicken and white Burgundy or older Barolos drank with white truffles, are timeless combinations that should never be improved upon. Likewise, a simple caviar preparation is always best and preferred.
Prepare yourselves for the roaring voice of the God of Joy! – Eurides, The Bacchae
Chickpea Fries, also known as panisses, are a staple food from the south of France and parts of Italy. Panisses are made by slowly cooking chickpea flour and water into a thick porridge, pouring it onto an oiled pan and cooling overnight, then cutting into finger sized shapes and deep frying.
Panisses are the perfect snack food, especially when flavored with spicy peppers and cumin, and served with a dipping sauce like rouille or a harissa spiked aioli. They make a great accompaniment for roast chicken, lamb, beef and seafood.
Last weekend we were feeling rather nostalgic for Burgundy and began to relive our recent vacation. We remembered all the visits to the great bakeries, cheese shops, markets and wineries. We reflected upon the wonderful meals we shared. and which were the best. One of our favorite experiences was sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by the world’s most iconic vineyards, indulging in a plate of escargots while drinking a glass of Pommard. Soon we were in the kitchen, preparing our own plate of escargots and opening a bottle of wine we brought home from France….
A tian is an earthenware vessel of Provence used both for cooking and serving. It is also the name of the dish prepared in it and baked in an oven. – Wikipedia
A lot of friends had asked for this recipe shortly after posting a picture of it on Facebook two weeks ago. The dish was born of the moment, inspired partly by too much pastis and perhaps a memory not quite my own. We had just gotten back from France, and my garden was overgrown with weeds competing for the same limited resources that nourished my vegetables. I was doing everything to avoid tackling the tangled mess, so I started reading Roger Verge’s classic tome, ‘Cuisine of the Sun’ under the guise of research. I got to the pages where he delectably described in vivid detail a lunch with local fishermen in Cannes. They had just caught two beautiful John Dorys, and were preparing a large, festive tian for everyone to enjoy. Verge waxed on poetically about “potatoes gilded with saffron, ruddy tomatoes, pale onions, bluish thyme, green bayleaf and steel-grey fish” cooked in the local baker’s oven and served in the golden May sunlight. I was hooked.
The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them. – Paulo Coelho
No other dish in the world better captures the soul and spirit of a single region than bouillabaisse. The rich, often colorful history of Marseille floats sublimely with rascasse in its spicy golden hued broth. Some believe bouillabaisse got its start from the Greek mariners who founded Marseille as Massalia in 600 BC, while others claim its origins are strictly Italian because of a few shared ingredients. The absolute truth may be that no one can precisely pinpoint the exact single moment in time, whether on that fabled riverbed encampment of fishermen and their wives or not, that bouillabaisse was born. What really would be the point of trying to figure that out anyway? It won’t make it taste any better, and it certainly won’t change the fact that bouillabaisse is the mirror reflection of the cultural melting pot Marseille has become. And the deeper I look into it, the more I see my own story reflected in it.
To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean. Elizabeth David
A few days ago, Lisa and I returned from an all too short vacation in France. We started up north in Puligny Montrachet then worked our way south to the golden sunshine of my family’s beloved Provence. When we arrived at our home in Cagnes sur Mer, near Nice (France), I only wanted to drink roses, pastis and red Bandols and eat Provencal food. The idea was solidified after I returned from the local farmer’s market armed with a beautiful wild sea bass caught that very morning and a basket of perfectly ripe figs….
‘“My guiding motto for 50 years has been simpleness, the French peasant cuisine is at the basis of the culinary art. By this I mean, it is composed of honest elements that la grande cuisine only embellishes. For example, when I prepare an elaborate dish, say one that takes several days, all the ingredients are basically simple, and the cooking is simple. There are no tricks, no attempt to disguise the true taste by overuse of wines or condiments. What it requires is patience. One must avoid the temptation to hurry, to use substitutes.” – Alexandre Dumaine
During my life time, there have been many chefs I have idolized. I studied their lives trying to comprehend what made them tick, much like a student of music might study a great composer. I read the great chefs’ cookbooks cover to cover like a novel; I devoured any and all articles I could find written about them; I ate in their restaurants if I could afford it; I even cooked their dishes and featured them on my menus; anything, just anything to try to glean one small piece of their culinary perspective and philosophy and incorporate it into my style….
Every trip to France always becomes a holy pilgrimage looking for the perfect croissant and pain au chocolat to start the day. I often hear people stateside whine on about how there are no good ones left, or that the croissant were fabricated elsewhere and only baked on premises. I say hogwash, I find them every trip and completely relish in the ancient alchemy of decadently crispy, buttery croissant still warm from the morning bake off. You know the kind, the ones that make a definite crunch when you break a piece off, sending golden shards of flaky pastry flying into the air.
Lucky France subsidizes boulangeries so every village has at least one, but I will concede, not every one is great. We accidently stumbled into Thierry and Elisabeth Cochard’s boulangerie while searching for the rumored vegetable market in Nolay early one morning. After circling the town several times in vain, we ran into the boulangerie to ask for directions. Elisabeth laughed and said the town’s farmers were lazy and they would never be there on time or ever for that matter. While she talked, I became transfixed by the sweet smell of baking baguettes, chaussons aux pomme and pain au chocolat. Rows and rows of perfectly cooked breads stared at me as I tried in vain to concentrate on her answers. We succumbed to a shameless amount of pastries before returning to Puligny Montrachet empty handed….
Nothing much needs to said about a day that begins with Champagne and caviar in a random Seattle, Washington park more suited to meth use than recreation, a 9 hour flight, a one hour layover, another flight one hour and thirty minutes followed by a two hour drive except thank god it is over. The flight went well with little Beaumont behaving as good as one would expect from a restless six year old.
British Airways temporarily lost one of our bags. Lucky it arrived on the next flight from London an hour later. To add to insult, the conveyor belt broke while bags were being offloaded. I scampered up the ramp and proudly grabbed our last bag and returned to Lisa like a caveman might have after offing a woolly mammoth.
The only real hard part of the day was the last two hour drive from Grenoble to Burgundy. Beau would fall fast asleep in some awkward position, only to be woken by a swerve, followed by a rain of tears till he fell back into a deep slumber. Poor kid was tired beyond belief. During the last ten kilometers, I started seeing double and tried vainly to cram toothpicks in my eye sockets to keep my drooping eyelids from closing completely. I was very relieved to see the Puligny Montrachet sign announcing our arrival….
Ah soupe au pistou, I love you, thanks for making every single bite a golden taste of Summer! No other soup more clearly defines Provence than soupe au pistou. It is the edible history of the ‘arrière-pays’, or hinterlands of Provence where farmers have long tended their fields growing some of the most amazing vegetables and fruits. There are several versions of Pistou ranging from ham and bean based ones to purely vegetable ones. This one is based on what my maman taught me, though she would roll her eyes at the very thought of canned beans and San Marzano tomatoes. I find them to be suitable substitutes with little loss of quality and/or flavor. By all means substitute freshly cooked beans and just picked tomatoes. Pistou can be confusing for us Americans as it refers both to the soup and pesto-like basil sauce. The pistou sauce I make is not traditional but has an amazing flavor and stays green forever. Do not buy pre-made pesto as a substitute. They are vastly inferior and will ruin the final outcome….