Salade de concombre sichuanaise

I discovered this spicy peanut-topped cucumber salad just as Sichuan cuisine began making it big in Paris. It’s on the menu of Deux Fois Plus de Piment (‘Twice as Much Hot Pepper’), a small Sichuan joint in my neighborhood that the chef Shaun Kelly once named as his favorite Paris restaurant. This was back in 2012. Fresh, crunchy and piquant, the salad had me going back for more on a regular basis — until the pandemic struck.

Salade de concombre sichuanaise / Spicy cucumber salad with peanuts

With only a couple hours’ notice, France shut down all restaurants in March 2020 and it was some time before home delivery was allowed. Suddenly I was cut off from Sichuan food. What to do, what to do? I had become hooked not only on the cucumber salad but also on Deux Fois’ Sichuan ravioli, spicy chicken and fabulous spicy beef soup. I had already found a first-class Sichuan cooking site, but their version of the cucumber salad wasn’t the same. So I improvised and started making it at home.

The key ingredient in this salad, as in many Sichuan recipes, is Sichuan peppercorn. It looks different from black peppercorn in that it’s a reddish brown and more wrinkled. Unlike hot red peppers (piments in French), Sichuan peppercorn is described as numbing rather than fiery. And its flavor is just unbeatable. You can find it at Asian grocery shops.

Which is not to say there’s no fire in this salad, which also includes cayenne. How much heat to add is up to you. At Deux Fois, diners may choose their level of heat on a scale of 1-5. I once made the mistake of choosing Level 2. Oops! Level 1 is already plenty fiery.

Preparation of the salad is easy and may be partially done in advance. The cucumbers are half-peeled and chopped, then mixed with a dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic and the two kinds of pepper. Crushed peanuts and snipped cilantro are added on top. It’s both light and filling, and perfect for warm weather.

Once Sichuan cuisine debuted in Paris, Deux Fois became so popular that it spawned two offspring — Trois Fois Plus de Piment and Cinq Fois Plus de Piment (that’s Three Times and Five Times as spicy!). But visiting the original, a modest hole-in-the-wall around the corner from my place, was not my first encounter with Sichuan cooking. That event took place in Manhattan in the 1970s at a place whose name I no longer remember.

A large group of friends had invited me along one summer’s evening. We were seated around a long table and handed an even longer menu. One item intrigued me, so I inquired about it when the waiter finally got around to me. The conversation went like this. Me: ‘What is a sea cucumber?’ He: ‘What do you mean?’ Me: ‘Is it a fish?’ He: ‘No.’ Me: ‘Is it a vegetable?’ He: ‘No.’ Me: ‘Well then what is it?’ He: ‘What is a hot dog?’

Happy cooking.

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabillaud au chorizo

The other day I decided to try to recreate a dish I vaguely remembered — cod with chickpeas, spinach and chorizo chips. It felt just right for a brisk, pre-spring sunny day. I checked my favorite Spanish cookbook, couldn’t find it. Ditto my Portuguese cookbook. Then I looked online, and found not a single recipe for this precise combination. So I winged it. Well, dear readers, my guest was happy. And in fact so was I.

Cabillaud au chorizo / Cod with chickpeas, spinach and chorizo

When or where did I have this dish before? Or did I conjure it up in my imagination? It combines flavors typical of Spain, Portugal and the French Basque country — places where cod and chorizo are frequently served. The chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, add a Moorish touch. And spinach is often paired with chickpeas in Spanish cooking.

Moro: The Cookbook, my bible on Spanish cuisine, has a stew of chickpeas and spinach with saffron, cumin, wine vinegar and hot pepper. A simpler version of this is served at tapa bars in Barcelona. Another Moro dish combines spinach and chorizo in a paella. And cod topped with chorizo chips is currently hot in Paris bistros.

So whatever the origin of this particular dish, the flavors blend well. And, as I discovered, it is not just easy to make but has the significant advantage of being able to be prepared in advance. If you cook the chickpeas yourself — highly recommended — it’s best to start the evening before you plan to serve the dish. Tips on cooking chickpeas may be found here.

Once your chickpeas are ready, the dish requires three skillets — one for sautéing the spinach with garlic, one for pan-searing the cod and one for frying thinly sliced chorizo — as mild or spicy as you like. All the ingredients may be combined at this point and gently reheated later, with the chorizo chips added on top.

This recipe makes a healthy one-dish meal that could be accompanied by just a salad at lunchtime. If serving the cod as the centerpiece of a more elaborate meal, starters that pair well include tapenade, Moroccan carrot salad, eggplant caviar or, if you’re going all out, a seafood platter. And you could follow up with crème caramel or sliced oranges with star anise. As for wine, a crisp dry white or a light red would marry well.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Flamiche

Flamiche is a savory tart from Picardie made of leeks and cream encased in puff pastry. This is comfort food at its finest, perfect for cool days or nights as we wait for spring. Flamiche can stand on its own as a lunch dish or may be served as a starter in the evening, accompanied by a fruity red. Its versatility makes it a winner. Yet this pie from Picardie is rarely encountered in other parts of France, not to mention the rest of the world.

Flamiche / Flamiche

Making flamiche is fun and surprisingly easy. The key, unless you enjoy making pâte feuilletée from scratch, is to use a high-quality store-bought variety of puff pastry. The leeks are cleaned, chopped and sautéed in butter, then crème fraîche and seasonings are added. Unlike a quiche, which has only a bottom crust, this tart has a top crust as well. It is brushed with an egg yolk glaze before going into the oven to produce a beautiful result.

Flamiche is claimed as a local specialty in Picardie, a region northeast of Paris that stretches from the Channel to the edge of Champagne country. Also known as flamique or flamike, it has evolved over the years, having come into existence as simply a way of using leftover bread dough, which was flattened into a galette, or flat cake, baked and coated with melted butter. Exactly when the brilliant idea of adding the leek came up is unknown.

These days extra ingredients are often included — bacon, shallots, grated cheese or pungent soft cheeses such as Maroilles or Roquefort. But natives of Picardie consider it a sacrilege to add anything to distract from the star ingredient — the sacred leek!

Flamiche is rarely found in bakeries or restaurants, so the only solution is to make it yourself. I have had great success this winter when serving flamiche to guests. It’s just unusual enough to elicit surprise and delight. As we head toward what we must hope will be a peaceful spring, why not try your hand at this superlative and very French dish?

Happy cooking.

Posted in 4a. Savory Tarts and Tartines | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Salade d’oranges à la badiane

This light, refreshing dessert of orange slices in a flavorful syrup is best in winter, when large sweet oranges are in season. I first tasted it at the home of my neighbor Manuela, a superior cook. But on that occasion she barely cooked. The main course was a platter of oysters and langoustines straight from the market. She followed up with the sliced oranges, which were so delightful I had to have the recipe. The star ingredient was star anise.

Salade d’oranges à la badiane / Sliced oranges with star anise

You can use any any oranges for the dessert, but the plumper and sweeter the better. The syrup is infused with cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and star anise, which translates beautifully into French as badiane. For me, star anise conjures up visions of Asian beaches with palm trees swaying in the wind. I use it often in Chinese cooking. More on that later.

If you haven’t used star anise before, it’s a seed pod that comes in the shape of … a star. It has a flavor similar to fennel seed, and can be found at high-end food shops and Asian groceries. According to amusingly varying accounts, the star anise was brought Europe in the 1500s either by Marco Polo or by an English sailor. If you’ve ever had the Vietnamese soup pho, you will have encountered its flavor.

This I knew, but what I didn’t know is that apéritifs like pastis and ouzo also get their anise flavor from star anise. The seed is prized in Asia for its medicinal properties, while in Europe it is used to make spiced tea and spiced wine. In the recipe for the orange slices, the spices are filtered out at the end, but star anise is so pretty that I use if for decoration.

Now back to Chinese cooking. A secret little known outside my immediate circle is that I’ve been experimenting with Asian cuisine in recent years. It all started when my sister-in-law sent me a Thai cookbook one Christmas (New Thai Food by Martin Boetz). Once I’d assembled the basic ingredients, I found it was easy to produce delicious Thai food at home for a fraction of the cost of a meal at the local Thai place.

During lockdown I branched out to Sichuan cuisine, again inspired by a local joint. This is where star anise came into the picture, along with another spice I now use a lot, sichuan peppercorn. One favorite is a cucumber salad with peanuts, another is shredded chicken in a spicy sauce. Lately I’ve been having a go at Chinese dumplings, for example with ground pork, Sichuan peppercorn and other spices, or with shrimp and lemongrass. If you can find the wrapper dough at an Asian shop it’s, pardon the mixed metaphor, a piece of cake.

I’ve thought about posting some of these Chinese/Sichuan recipes here, but since this is a French cooking site I’ve hesitated. However, if you consider that the French love Asian cooking, and that Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean restaurants are doing a booming trade in Paris, then maybe Asian recipes are fair game. If you have an appetite for the occasional Asian dish on this site, please let me know. And in the meantime…

Happy cooking.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Potage Parmentier

Hiding beneath its rather grand name, potage Parmentier is familiar to every child in France as potage poireaux-pommes de terre, or creamy leek-and-potato soup. It takes its name from Antoine Parmentier, who won royal approval of the potato (seriously!) on the eve of the revolution that toppled the kings of France. The soup — which unlike vichyssoise is served hot — makes a satisfying, and some would say elegant, winter dish.

Potage Parmentier / Creamy leek-and-potato soup

The story of Parmentier The Man is amusing, so let’s start with him. The young Antoine trained as a chemist but, lacking the funds to open a pharmacy, he joined the army, which sent him to Hanover in 1757 during the Seven Years War. He discovered the potato upon being taken prisoner by the Prussians, who served their POWs potato soup.

The potato, an American import, was viewed with suspicion in northern France at the time, although it had been accepted in other parts of the country. Parmentier was so impressed by its qualities that he launched a campaign to promote it, stressing that it could help alleviate famine. After writing a thesis on the matter, he won an award from the Besançon Academy of Sciences — despite a parliamentary ban on cultivation of the potato (really!). His next step was to tackle the Paris Faculty of Medicine, which after many weeks of debate agreed in 1772 to allow him grow potatoes in Paris.

By 1786 he was ready to present the potato to King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles. According to lore, the potatoes he brought them included some blossoms. The king plucked two — one for the queen, inserting it it into her powdered wig, and the other for himself as a boutonnière. He crowned that gesture by telling Parmentier, ‘France will thank you one day for discovering the bread of the poor’.

And, indeed, Parmentier today is revered in France. His name graces not just many streets, including a Paris avenue not far from my place, but also dishes such as hachis parmentier (mashed potatoes over chopped beef) and parmentier de canard (mashed potatoes over preserved duck). Which brings us back to Parmentier The Soup.

Preparation of potage Parmentier requires nothing more than potatoes, leeks, water, salt and a little cream. Some cooks include an onion as well. The veggies are pared, simmered to tenderness and puréed, with the cream swirled in at the end.

The soup makes a fine lunch dish and may also be served as the starter of a more elaborate meal. It is generally topped with fresh herbs, such as chives, dill or chervil. Or you can dress it up with a little salmon or trout roe on top — an elegant start to any meal.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 2. Soups | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bourride

Bourride is a Mediterranean fish dish bathed in a sauce infused with garlic and inflected with hints of orange and sunshine. If you’ve been to the French Riviera you may have had the luck to encounter it. Elsewhere there’s little chance you would have run into this undeservedly lesser known cousin of bouillabaisse. I’ve rarely seen it in restaurants in Paris. Which is why, shortly after tasting it for the first time, I learned how to make it.

Bourride / Bourride

The star of bourride is aïoli, aka garlic mayonnaise. Unlike a normal mayonnaise, aïoli consists only of egg yolks, garlic and olive oil — no mustard, no lemon juice. The first step in making the dish is to create a fragrant broth that includes a strip of dried orange peel. While the broth is cooking, you make the aïoli and cut up some veggies — carrots and finocchio — as well as the fish. But which fish?

There are probably as many recipes for bourride as there are chefs in Provence. Some use monkfish (lotte), which has the considerable advantage of holding together nicely when it is boiled. But any firm, white-fleshed fish may be used. In the photo above, I used cod.

To complete the dish, the veggies are sautéed in olive oil, simmered until nearly tender in the broth, and then the fish is added. Aïoli is swirled in at the end, with an extra yolk added to thicken the sauce. Serve and prepare for applause.

Because of the delicate chemistry of the sauce, bourride must be served immediately upon preparation. Which raises the question of what to serve as a first course. My recommendation would be to offer hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour — something that may be eaten before moving to the table, like parmesan apéritif chips, a savory cake with walnuts and roquefort or chicken liver pâté on toast. Then, while your guests are enjoying themselves, you can disappear to the kitchen and finish the dish.

Following up, you could serve a salad of tender leaves (mesclun), with cheese during or after, and a fruity dessert, for example poires au caramel (caramelized pears). And a good bourride deserves a good wine, from the region if possible, such as a chilled white from Cassis or  rosé from Bandol. Bon appétit! And…

Happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Oeufs au caviar rouge

Stuffed eggs topped with red caviar make a simple yet elegant dish that’s perfect for special occasions. Do I hear New Year’s Eve, anyone? Or brunch on the morning after? Most French takes on this dish call for the eggs to be scrambled. This recipe, with hard-boiled eggs, has a more Russian flavor. In the old days, Russians often served the eggs topped with black caviar — but with the sturgeon now an endangered species, red caviar is used instead.

Oeufs au caviar rouge / Eggs topped with red caviar

The recipe is a breeze. You boil the eggs, halve them, remove the yolks and mash them with cream, lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper. You then return them to their whites, topping each egg with a spoonful of caviar. The result is both tasty and beautiful to behold.

On occasions like New Year’s Eve, the eggs may be served as part of an hors d’oeuvre spread. They would marry well with Russian-style gravalax, which is also incredibly easy to make but needs to marinate for 24 hours before being served. On the morning after, you could also pair them with blini, cucumbers in cream, tarama, salmon terrine or any other brunch dish of your choice.

This is my last post of 2021, so I’d like to use the occasion to thank you for your support. The coming year will bring the 10th anniversary of The Everyday French Chef, a milestone I could not have imagined reaching when I started writing this blog back in 2012.

Happy New Year, dear readers! And… happy cooking!!

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Côte de boeuf

If you’d like to serve something different this holiday season, why not consider côte de boeuf? A bone-in rib of beef that is served as steak, and not as a roast, côte de boeuf is a popular cut is France. It is ultratender, flavorful and easy to prepare. If you can convince your butcher to cut the meat as the French do, then this elegant dish would make a lovely centerpiece to a festive meal, perhaps accompanied, as shown here, by a cauliflower gratin.

Côte de boeuf / Rib of beef
Gratin de chou-fleur / Cauliflower gratin

The French tend to celebrate not just New Year’s but also Christmas on the eve, gathering with family or friends for an exceptional meal. A typical festive evening might start with champagne and amuse-bouches (‘palate ticklers’), such as gougères. The guests then move to the table for an opulent succession of dishes — perhaps oysters or foie gras, followed by a sumptuous main dish, assorted cheeses and a gala dessert. If you’re looking for suggestions, different variations on this theme may be viewed under Holiday Menus.

Birds often feature as the main dish. Over the years, I have posted recipes for roast duck, goose, turkey, partridge, pigeon and quail — as well as fish/seafood dishes and vegetarian/vegan options. This year I wanted to try something different, hence rib of beef.

A côte de boeuf is the equivalent of an American ribeye steak, with the bone included. It is prepared in two stages. First the meat is pan-seared to seal in the juices. It is then roasted for a relatively short time in a very hot oven, allowed to rest briefly and sliced off the bone. Nothing is added until the very end, when the meat is salted and peppered. When buying the rib pictured here, I asked Marie Pacaud, who presides over the excellent Boucherie du Marais, whether to rub the meat with garlic. I received the French equivalent of fuhgeddaboudit: the Gallic shrug. ‘That would distort the flavor,’ she said drily.

A single côte de boeuf will typically serve 4-6 people. Restaurants sometimes propose it as a dish for one or two, but it would take a gargantuan appetite to finish off an entire rib, especially at an elegant meal with many other dishes involved. Side dishes for côte de boeuf range from potatoes — roasted with rosemary, gratinée or French fried — to veggie purées (for example, of celeriac, finocchio or sweet potatoes), green beans and/or salad.

Cauliflower gratin is another option. Ultra-simple to prepare, it marries steamed cauliflower flowerets with cream, garlic and grated cheese, baked together until bubbly and golden. Prepared in this way, the humble cauliflower becomes an elegant side dish — or could feature as the star of a vegetarian meal. When serving rib of beef this week, I paired the gratin with a watercress salad.

This is my penultimate post of 2021, a year that has proved challenging for all of us. Although I usually post on Fridays, my next recipe will come on Thursday, December 3o, to give you time to shop for ingredients if you choose to serve it on New Year’s Eve or the day after. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Christmas. And…

Happy cooking!

Posted in 7. Meat Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Risotto aux champignons sauvages

This unusual wild mushroom risotto is the creation of John O’Shea, the brilliant young British chef who presides over the kitchen at JJ Beaumarchais, a restaurant downstairs from my apartment. It is unusual first because instead of rice it uses épeautre, known in English variously as spelt or einkorn wheat, and second because, unlike most risottos, the ingredients are cooked separately and combined only just before serving.

Risotto aux champignons sauvages / Wild mushroom risotto

There’s also secret ingredient that lends a certain — and fabulous — je ne sais quoi. I couldn’t identify it when I first tasted this risotto in early November. But I knew I had to have the recipe, which John was kind enough to share. And in case you’re already worrying about where to find épeautre, not to panic. He assures me that this dish may also be made with a traditional risotto rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli.

So, here’s how he does it. First, he makes a broth, such as homemade chicken broth or, for vegetarians, homemade vegetable broth. Then he simmers the rice or épeautre in the broth until it is al dente. The next step is to clean the mushrooms. And, you might well ask, which mushrooms? John uses a combination — whatever is available in season — and he throws in some standard mushrooms as well.

I made the dish three times last month, using a different combination of mushrooms each time. Pictured at right are four types I’ve tried. Going clockwise from the top left, they are in French, chanterelles, pleurotes, shitake and girolles. This may be a bit confusing, because what the French call girolles are called ‘chanterelles’ in English. But it doesn’t matter because you can use whatever is available in your area. I have also used the papery black mushrooms called trompettes de la mort (‘trumpets of death’), which despite their scary name are not poisonous and are indeed very popular over here.

To return to the recipe, the mushrooms are sautéd in olive oil until they give up and reabsorb their juices, with shallot and garlic added along the way. When everything is tender, the pan is deglazed with — wait for it, here comes the secret ingredient — white vermouth, such as Martini Blanc or Noilly Prat. As most risottos call for dry white wine, not vermouth, I might have balked at the idea had I not tasted the finished product before making it at home. Well, dear reader, the vermouth leaves a shadow of flavor that is frankly divine when married with the rustic grain and mushrooms.

As a finishing touch, John adds cream to the mushrooms and then combines them with the grain. He adds grated parmesan and a little chopped parsley, et voilà. That’s it.

I have served this risotto as a main course, preceded by smoked salmon and followed by salad and cheese, and as a side dish, in one case with roast chicken and in the other, at a more elaborate dinner, with rolled roast of duck and puréed cabbage (coming soon), preceded by dandelion salad with bacon and with walnut tart for dessert. However you may choose to serve the risotto, I can assure you your guests will appreciate it.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarte aux noix

Walnut tart, a specialty of southwest France, is a favorite of mine in the autumn. The walnut pieces are bathed in a caramel sauce and then baked in a tender tart shell to produce a sweet, chewy confection — comfort food at its finest. This tart would make a nice innovation on Thanksgiving, and could add a festive touch on Christmas or New Years. With the holidays arriving, I wanted to share the recipe with you. There was only one problem…

Tarte aux noix / Walnut tart

…I had never made a walnut tart before. Why bother? The pastry shop at the corner made a luscious version that I could just pick up. I thought about it, though. For years I pestered the pastry chef to share his recipe. He declined. Then he sold the place and it was taken over by vegans, who by the way make delicious bread — but as there is no butter in their pastry, traditional walnut tart is not on the menu. So I turned to a friend.

Julia Watson is a writer, cookbook author and, more recently, a food blogger whom I met in Moscow when we were both posted there in the 1980s. She’s a remarkable cook, and was the first to turn me on to the pleasures of fresh herbs in Georgian cuisine. Although British, she spends a lot of time in southwest France. I tasted her walnut tart somewhere along the line, and when I started thinking about making it for this site, I asked her for the recipe. Which she generously supplied. It had been published some years back in an article she wrote for Gourmet magazine about evening farmers markets in the Dordogne.

Well, dear reader, I followed the instructions and the result was what we call in France a cauchemar en cuisine (the phrase — meaning ‘nightmare in the kitchen’ — was popularized by the chef Philippe Etchebest in his eponymous TV series, in which he rushes to help save the situation for hapless restauranteurs). The problem was the caramel, which is made by boiling up sugar and water. It refused to turn brown. So after boiling it for, say, about 20 minutes, I gave up, continued with the recipe and put the tart in to bake.

Can you imagine the slopes of Mount Etna after a volcanic eruption? This is how my tart came out of the oven, with hills and crannies that looked like solidified lava and were just as hard. I’d made the tart for a dinner party that evening, and my guests gamely agreed to try it. Not too bad, I guess, because they asked for more — although one remarked that he had never before seen a tart that looked like a lunar landscape.

While the tart was still in the oven, bubbling away like a witch’s cauldron, I phoned Julia in a panic. What had I done wrong? ‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘Gourmet changed my recipe in their tasting kitchen. Try using less water.’ Which I did on my second attempt. Success!

Now don’t be daunted by this story. Making a walnut tart is actually quick and remarkably easy, providing you get the proportions right. You begin by making a sweet tart shell (pâte sablée), which doesn’t need to be rolled out — you simply pat it into the tart pan. While the shell is chilling, you toast the walnuts, heat some cream and in a separate pot make the caramel. Once the caramel browns, you pour in the cream — this step is pretty spectacular, because it all boils up like a seething sea of, well, lava. Then you add a little butter, stir in the walnuts, transfer the filling to the shell and pop the tart in the oven.

The tart is best served warm, perhaps with some cream on the side. In the cooler months, it makes a perfect ending to a festive meal.

By the way, another autumn dessert I love is pear clafoutis, which I posted back in 2012, when this site was just getting started. I made it again recently and updated the recipe with a better photo. If you’d like to try it, the recipe is here.

Happy cooking.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment