Avocat au saumon fumé

Here’s a fresh take on avocat vinaigrette, a popular starter on bistro menus when I arrived in Paris 40 years ago. In the original, avocado halves were filled with a thick, mustardy sauce. This version is both lighter and prettier, the pink-orange of smoked salmon contrasting with the pale green of the avocado and darker green flecks of dill. Although it has the look of spring, it can be made in any season — and it’s incredibly quick to prepare.

Avocat au saumon fumé / Avocado with smoked salmon

This recipe works best with thick-cut smoked salmon. I experimented a lot before settling on the right proportions for the sauce, which combines olive oil with fresh lemon juice. A halved clove of garlic immersed briefly in the sauce adds depth, and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper adds bite. There are many other possible combinations, however.

A simple one would be to substitute lime juice and fresh cilantro for the lemon juice and dill. Or you could use a milder oil, for example sunflower or grape seed oil. For an Asian twist, combine peanut and sesame oil and add lime juice, grated fresh ginger and lemongrass. Vegetarians can omit the salmon and double the quantity of herbs.

Whichever version you choose, set aside a small quantity of fresh herbs to use as a garnish on top. One avocado half per person is sufficient as a starter, but what if you’re home alone with a ripened avocado ready to eat? Treat yourself to both halves as a light lunch dish.

And now some food for thought (but not for the faint of heart). I recently posted a recipe for lobster risotto, which called for either live or frozen lobster. From now on, I will more likely use the frozen variety. This choice is based on a report in Le Monde that Switzerland has banned the boiling of fresh lobster on grounds that they deserve a kinder end. Click here for a BBC summary on the best way to achieve this.

Although I have not purchased a live lobster in more decades than I can remember, mainly because of the price, I found this article noteworthy. At a time when concerned citizens are becoming more attentive to animal rights, foodies can choose to become vegetarian — or, if they prefer to remain omnivores, as most humans have been throughout the millennia, they can adapt to a modern way of thinking about our fellow creatures.

Dear readers — each time I post a new recipe on this blog, a few people unsubscribe. I hope this foray into an area rarely touched on here will not spark a mass exodus. The point is that, as noted at the top of this page, The Everyday French Chef is ‘the modern cook’s guide to producing fabulous French food’. Today, let’s put the emphasis on ‘modern’.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 1. Starters | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Poireaux au gratin

Leek gratin is traditionally made with Reblochon, a pungent cheese from the French Alps, but it has been snowing in Paris. The snow brought the city to a standstill, and by the time it stopped the stores were empty. No Reblochon to be found! I wanted to make this recipe, so I improvised with raclette, a similar cheese. Tantalizing waves of aroma spread through the house as the leeks baked. This is winter comfort food at its best.

Poireaux au gratin / Leek gratin

For someone who has spent winters in Wisconsin, upstate New York and Moscow, the idea of a few inches of snow paralyzing a city is laughable. But few were laughing last week as the snow iced over and Parisians with broken bones poured into hospital emergency rooms. Bus service halted, taxi drivers went home, schools closed. The kids were in the streets tossing snowballs at passers-by. I ventured out among them, trodding carefully over the ice and dodging snowballs as I made my way to the local supermarket.

This is what I found. At the front of the store, the salad shelves were empty, a sign announcing that due to the weather, delivery trucks had been unable to get through. This was two days after the snow stopped. The dairy shelves, usually packed with a thousand types of yogurt, were empty too. In the cheese department, after hunting in vain for Reblochon, I found a lone packet of raclette and snatched it up. I already had the leeks.

It was time to start cooking. The beauty of leek gratin, beyond its delightful flavor, is that it’s so easy to make. You chop the leeks, steam or parboil them, drizzle on a little cream, add the cheese and pop them in the oven. Thirty minutes later, the gratin is ready to serve.

This dish has enough character to stand on its own, perhaps with a salad or some cured ham alongside. It marries well with roast meat or chicken, and deserves a hearty red. It’s a crowd pleaser — you may have to double the recipe.

So when it starts to snow, head immediately to the store to stock up on leeks and cheese (many other cheeses work well, as explained in the recipe). While the gratin is baking, if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, pile on the wood and light a match. Then watch the flakes drift down for a quiet moment. It will soon be time to eat.

Happy cooking.

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Risotto de langouste

The lobster known as le homard — the one with alarming claws — is hugely expensive in Paris, and so is its kinder, gentler cousin, la langouste (no pinchers). But this winter frozen langouste tails began appearing at a reasonable price, so I brought some home and began to experiment. I served them French style, butterflied and grilled with a vermouth-flavored beurre blanc, on New Year’s Eve. And this week I tried my hand at lobster risotto.

Risotto de langouste / Lobster risotto

It was fun, easy and delicious. The trick is to pre-cook the tails, pull out the meat and then use the shells to make a broth. After that, it’s a standard risotto. You sauté onions in olive oil, add the rice (preferably Arborio or Carnaroli rice from Italy), stir until it’s translucent, add some dry white wine and, when it evaporates, add the lobster broth. When the rice is nearly cooked to creamy perfection, you add the lobster, stir in some butter and — if you dare, some grated parmesan. This would be a travesty to most Italians, who prefer their seafood pasta and rice sans parmesan, but non-purists such as myself tend to like it.

The langouste is a warm water creature also known as spiny lobster, langusta or (really?) crayfish. It is plentiful in the Mediterranean, and was enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and probably far earlier residents of the area. Still considered a delicacy in France, it is most often served during the holiday season. But that should not deter us from enjoying it at other times of the year, particularly as the frozen variety is available year round. If you can afford it and do not fear being pinched, you can use the other type of lobster (homard) instead. Whichever, this risotto makes a sublime comfort food on cold winter nights.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Velouté de butternut

Butternut soup is suddenly the rage in Paris. Walk down any street and you will see it listed on menu-of-the-day chalkboards outside bistros. This is all the more surprising given that butternut squash was virtually unknown in France until a few years ago, when it began appearing in farmers’ markets. Having captured the national imagination, it also captured mine, and today I’m offering two versions of this pleasant winter soup.

Velouté de butternut / Butternut soup

The first, pictured above, uses Mediterranean flavors to liven up what is — let’s face it — rather a bland vegetable. The second, pictured below, imbues the squash with Thai flavors. Either can make a tasty start to a cold-weather meal, and both may hold special appeal for vegetarians and vegans, as well as omnivores like yours truly.

Perhaps in their (probably hopeless) effort to protect the language, the French have rebaptized what is originally a New World vegetable as courge doubeurre, which translates loosely as ‘sweet butter squash’. But I have never seen it marketed under that name, and you would most likely get a quizzical look if you asked at a grocery store for doubeurre. In fact, you might instead be given a packet of butter (du beurre). Better to use the French pronunciation of butternut — boo-tair-NOOT.

Meantime, on the literary front (French food and wine style), three books have come to my attention that may interest you. The first, The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah, will be out in June. She says it’s ‘a story about wine, World War II and family secrets that have been buried for generations’. The second, Burgundy: Twisted Roots by Janet Hubbard, is the third in a mystery series set in the wine regions of France. And finally, a reader of this site has alerted me to the forthcoming publication of Minced, Marinated, and Murdered, a gourmet crime mystery set in Lyon, with pre-order gifts attached.

But back to squash. Butternut is not only tasty but also packed with vitamins and minerals. Its texture makes it perfect for velouté, the French name for velvety soup. The recipes are easy and inexpensive, and the flavors comforting. So treat yourself!

And happy cooking.

Posted in 2. Soups | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parmentier de canard

Here’s a cold-weather dish that is both sophisticated and supremely French. Duck parmentier — shredded duck confit topped by puréed potatoes — has turned up on Paris bistro menus recently and I was lucky enough to be served this version in early December. It came surrounded by a parmesan cream sauce and, to quote a friend, it was absolutely divine. After finishing every bite, I asked the bistro owner for the recipe.

Parmentier de canard / Duck parmentier

The bistro in question was Chartier, in Levallois on the western edge of Paris. It’s the kind of place that you long to find but that is increasingly rare — a modern version of the classic bistro style, with an inventive menu that winks at past traditions. The owner, Thomas Chartier, a congenial man, was happy to share his culinary secrets.

Duck parmentier is a spinoff of the classic French dish hachis parmentier, or sautéed ground beef topped by mashed potatoes — the kind of food you might expect to find in school cafeterias, not at a classy joint for adults. Both are named for Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, the 18th century chemist credited with popularizing the potato in France.

In Monsieur Chartier’s version, duck confit is shredded and stirred into what he called a tombée de champignons, or thinly sliced mushrooms (wild and farmed) sautéed with onion until meltingly tender, before being topped by the puréed potatoes. For an extra flourish he adds an unctuous sauce of grated parmesan stirred into heavy cream.

In my version, I omitted the mushrooms for reasons of practicality — it’s not always possible to get hold of wild mushrooms, and without them this dish may be prepared in any season. I think it’s best in winter, though — a sublime comfort food that can be paired with a salad and a hearty bottle of red. If you’d like to add a starter, I’d suggest something light, perhaps smoked salmon, and for dessert possibly an apple or pear tart.

In the months ahead, I plan to bring you more French classics with a modern twist. This blog is now entering its fifth year and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Many thanks to all of you, dear readers. And on that note I’d like to wish you a very happy New Year and…

Happy cooking!

Posted in 6. Poultry | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments


I had a surprise recently when a friend from Alsace presented me with a recipe for butterbredel, small butter cookies in festive shapes that are traditionally served over the holidays. They’re not just pretty but incredibly easy to make. And fun! You can get the whole family involved. There are many variations on the recipe, but this one is the real thing. It’s from a bakery in Saverne, a small town near Strasbourg in northeastern France.

Butterbredel / Holiday cookies from Alsace

Saverne has an interesting history. The town’s emblem is a unicorn — why, nobody knows, but the local beer is named in honor of the mythical beast:  Bière de la Licorne. It has apparently always been a drinking town. It was called Tres Tabernae — ‘three taverns’ — when Julius Caesar’s troops were there, and this evolved over time to Saverne. The town blossomed in the 18th century and acquired a sizeable Jewish population. It switched hands from France to Germany and back many times, most recently in 1940 when it was annexed by the Nazi regime. It was liberated and returned to France in 1944.

Butterbredel are enjoyed not just in Saverne but across Alsace throughout the Advent season, from early December until Christmas. A Jewish friend with family roots in Alsace told me that the cookies are enjoyed during the eight days of Hanukah too, and in fact throughout the year. They are traditionally small, cut into holiday shapes or rounds and decorated with a wash of egg yolk and milk that turns them golden.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays, this might be a good time to check out the Holiday Menus section of this site, which presents a variety of festive French meals and has just been updated. A traditional feast might feature oysters on the half shell or foie gras followed by roast partridge or turkey. There are variations from the farm, from the sea and, for vegetarians and vegans, from the land. Desserts range from chocolate truffles or pears in red wine to … you guessed it … butterbredel.

The Everyday French Chef will be on vacation over the holidays this year. I’ll be back on Friday, January 5, with a dynamite recipe I was given this week by the chef of a perfect bistro. Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a joyous year’s end. And…

Happy cooking!

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plateau de fruits de mer

Sharing a shellfish platter in fond company is one of the great pleasures of life in France, particularly if you happen to be enjoying it by the sea. Add a bottle of crisp white and the sound of waves breaking against the shore, and you’re in for a romantic afternoon. This is of course not always possible. But with a little effort and ingenuity, you can create a shellfish platter at home. It makes a fine addition to a holiday meal.

Plateau de fruits de mer / Shellfish platter

But how to do it, and what to include? A French shellfish platter nearly always features oysters on the half-shell along with various other ‘fruits of the sea’. I was hoping to include lobster or crab on the platter pictured above, but by the time I got to the market on Sunday none were to be found. So I improvised, choosing instead gambas and two types of sea snail — bulots (whelks, the large ones) and bigorneaux (winkles, the small ones).

Improvisation is the name of the game here. Perhaps sea snails are not available where you live, or perhaps not to your taste (it took me several years of living in France before I deigned to try one). Not to worry. Many other types of shellfish typically feature on such a platter: langouste (rock lobster, which have large tails and are virtually clawless), langoustines (scampi), palourdes or praires (clams), moules (mussels) and oursins (sea urchins). Go for whatever’s local, or whatever you can find.

An opulent shellfish platter makes a perfect start to a Christmas or New Year’s feast. It’s convivial and very special. But serving shellfish at home need not be restricted to two days a year. If you’d like to keep it simple, make an oyster plate instead.

Assiette d’huîtres / Oyster plate

Opening oysters can be a challenge. I do it when I must, although if possible I let my fishmonger or a skilled friend do it for me. Here’s a bit of lore. 1) You do not need an oyster knife to open oysters. Any sharp, sturdy knife will do. 2) You don’t need to struggle to keep the oyster’s liquid intact. It’s best to throw it off, allowing the oyster to produce a new, fresher, sweeter liquid. This I learned only this summer, when enjoying oysters near Sète in the south of France.

Oysters in summer? This would seem to contravene the rule about eating oysters only in months containing an ‘R’ — i.e. from September to April. The rule was invented to prevent poisoning via oysters plucked from warm seas. But if you happen to be right beside the place where the oysters are produced and you eat them virtually straight out of the water, they do not pose a health risk.

Oysters are generally served here with lemon halves or a sauce made of red wine vinegar and minced shallots. Add some thinly sliced rye and salted butter, along with a good bottle of white, and you’re in business. An oyster plate is usually served as a first course in France, but oyster lovers may choose to make a meal of them, followed perhaps by a salad, cheese and fruit or dessert.

As for the full shellfish platter, it can stand alone as a main course, perhaps preceded by an elegant starter — for example, salmon terrine or blini with red caviar — and followed, again, by salad, cheese and a special dessert. Or it can launch the proceedings at a holiday meal, setting the stage for a roast bird with all the trimmings.

In my next post, I will revisit some of the holiday menus that have appeared here over the years. We are now entering into the bleakest months. It’s time to start thinking about how to add some sparkle to these long winter nights.

Happy cooking.

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

Boulgour aux oignons rouges

A guest was coming to dinner, a friend from the literary world. I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen while he was here, yet wanted to produce a satisfying, palate-pleasing meal. What to do, what to do? After some considerable thinking, the solution appeared: Russian-style gravalax and beet-lamb’s lettuce salad followed by grilled guinea fowl, bulghur with red onion and mint, and sweet potato purée.

Boulgour aux oignons rouges / Bulghur with red onion and mint
Purée de patates douces / Sweet potato purée

The date was November 7. Without realizing it, I had concocted a menu that tipped its hat to the former USSR — on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution! Most of the dishes were variations, with a French touch, on food served in Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The exception was the sweet potato purée, which I never encountered there but which was on my mind with the approach of Thanksgiving. As was the bulghur dish, which pairs brilliantly with poultry of any kind. And everything could be prepared in advance, including the guinea fowl breasts, which I marinated in olive oil, garlic, cumin and ground coriander and popped into the oven while we were having the starter.

In this week’s main recipe, bulghur’s nutty flavor is enhanced by the addition of sautéd red onion rings and zesty fresh mint. It’s a dish I invented last summer and have since served many times, as it proved to be a crowd pleaser. Unlike tabbouleh salad, which uses bulghur but is served cold, this dish is best warm or at room temperature. Despite its humble nature, it may surprise you. A friend who came over during the July heatwave liked it so much that she insisted I post it on this site. Et voilà.

Moving on to the sweet potatoes, this is an ultrasimple recipe for a classic dish that is served every year in the United States in late November. But this succulent purée marries well with many dishes other than turkey and can be served throughout the autumn, or even throughout the year.

However, if you are thinking ahead to your Thanksgiving menu and would like to give it a French touch this year, you may also wish to try:
Roast turkey, French style, a recipe kindly contributed by the three-star chef Georges Blanc, in which the turkey is stuffed with ground veal and pork flavored with thyme and walnuts and is served surrounded by roasted fresh figs;
Pumpkin gratin, another Georges Blanc creation, in which the pumpkin is flavored with garlic, nutmeg and heavy cream and topped with grated Comté cheese;
Pumpkin purée with parmesan, my own creation from a few years back;
Sweet potatoes with herbs;
Green beans, French style;
And for dessert:
French apple tart;
Pear tart with almond cream;
Chestnut mousse.

Meantime, the Menus section has been updated for autumn, with new selections for everyday and weekend cuisine for all, and special pages for vegetarians and vegans.

Bon appétit, and happy cooking!

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

Quiche lorraine

You can find quiche lorraine in virtually any bakery or deli in France, but it is even better when made at home. The rich filling of eggs, milk cream, bacon and cheese fluffs up in the oven to marry delightfully with a buttery homemade crust. Served with a crisp white and a salad of tender leaves alongside, it makes a fine lunch dish or a great starter at suppertime. If you cut it into little squares, you can also serve it with drinks at cocktail hour.

Quiche lorraine / Quiche lorraine

Unsurprisingly, this quiche hails from the Lorraine region of northeast France. It has gone through many permutations over the centuries, the most recent of which is the addition of cheese. Purists may tell you there should be no cheese at all in a quiche lorraine, and they would be right, historically speaking. But cheese, which deepens the flavor, is often included these days. For the record, the great chef Paul Bocuse includes cheese in his quiche lorraine recipe, and that’s a good enough recommendation for me.

Another difference from years gone by is the crust. Nowadays, quiche lorraine typically uses a pâte brisée, or savory crust. But when they first started making this dish in Lorraine, back in the 16th century or perhaps even earlier, the filling was encased in bread dough and the quiche was baked in communal village ovens on baking day — a convenient way for home bread bakers to use up any leftover dough.

These days, cubed ham is sometimes used instead of bacon, and the bacon itself is sometimes included in the filling uncooked (although I wouldn’t suggest that). Quiche lorraine is often sold in individual portions, made in tart pans about 4 inches (10 cm) wide, and if you have pans that size you can make about six from this recipe.

Lorraine lies close to Germany, separated only by Alsace, and the culinary roots of quiche are evident in its name. It derives from the German word kuchen, meaning cake, which in French came to be pronounced kichen (KEY-shen) before morphing into the present-day quiche (keesh). The dish bears some resemblance to the Alsatian dish flammekueche, aka tarte flambée, a fine-crust tart with bacon.

You can take a shortcut to making this quiche by using store-bought pie dough. But if you have the time and the inclination, make the dough yourself. It is far superior, and your guests or family will appreciate it. Happy cooking.

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

Poissons fumés en salade

A salad of smoked fish makes a delightful lunch as the days grow cooler. In the salad pictured here, I used smoked mackerel, which is sold in France covered in crushed black pepper. Its tawny hues contrast nicely with the deep green of lamb’s lettuce and pale Belgian endive. Other options for the fish include smoked trout, smoked salmon or the perennial French favorite, smoked herring, a bistro classic that is popular here in the winter months.

Poissons fumés en salade / Mixed-leaf salad with smoked fish

In the bistro version, whole fillets of smoked herring are served alongside boiled potatoes, most often with a couple of carrot rounds and raw onion rings on top. As indicated by its name — filets de hareng pommes à l’huile — the dish, which is served as a starter, is bathed in oil. In my salad version, the herring is chopped and accompanied by greens. It’s a bit lighter and brighter, and can make a proper lunchtime meal.

When I first arrived in France, I was surprised to learn that herring came in two varieties — smoked or pickled. The latter, known as hareng de la Baltique, is served in thick cream, either chopped or rolled up tightly stuffed with capers and chopped onions, in which case the dish is called rollmops — ‘roll ’em ups’, get it? But the real revelation was smoked mackerel, which is fleshier and richer in flavor than herring. I buy it at the farmer’s market nearly every Sunday. Just delicious.

Smoked fish has played a long role in French culinary history. The smoking and salting allowed the fish to be preserved in the centuries before refrigeration was available. Perhaps this is why smoked fish also have interesting linguistic connections in France. The unfortunate maquereau is not just a tasty fish but also means ‘pimp’ in French. And as for smoked herring, when sold whole but split in two it becomes un gendarme (a policeman).

But this need not concern us cooks. All we need is a few minutes and a chilled bottle of white and voilà — our smoked fish salad is ready to grace the table. Happy cooking.

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