French Culinary Revolution

Being genuinely interested in the history of French cuisine, I have recently researched how the French Revolution, in general, and the personality of Napoleon Bonaparte, in particular, influenced the culinary future of France. Even now, two centuries later, many gourmet innovations brought forth by both the Revolution and the glorious conquests of “Empereur des Francais Napoléon I”, have not lost their popularity among connoisseurs of French cuisine from all over the world.

Historical chronicles show that Napoleon Bonaparte, apparently, loved good food and ate well… His reign in the beginning of the 18th century witnessed the refinement and rise of modern-style French cooking, which was enriched by Napoléon Pastries, Chicken Marengo, and Lobster Thermidor. The famous layered Napoléon Pastries, also known as Napoléons, were created by chef Marie-Antonin Careme, who is often referred to as the father of gourmet French cuisine. Careme is also famous for their invention of puffy “chefs’ hats” and the introduction of soufflés into French cuisine of the Napoleon era.

At the same time, that period was also noted for the onset of some questionable methods of cooking and preserving food, such as canning  – a truly revolutionary way to supply French troops fighting in Prussia and Russia with “quality ration”. During early military campaigns of Napoleon, scurry, starvation, and malnutrition were raging among his soldiers. Later, one of the first celebrity chefs of France, Nicolas Appert, invented the method of boiling bottled or canned food in water to stop its spoilage, for which the French government awarded him with a prize of 12,000 francs. His first commercial cannery established in Paris became a thriving business, even though the opening methods of these early preserves were far from modern. Usually, soldiers had to just smash the “cans” open with heavy rocks…

When Napoleon became a dictator of France, he also introduced a strict control over the food prices, which was a good measure to make basic staple foods accessible for the masses. The lessons of the French revolution led by hunger were obviously still fresh!

Dill and Butter Sauces

A proper sauce is an indispensable addition served with French appetizers, salads, and main courses. Various types of French mayonnaises and marinades feature raw or gently heated ingredients and add valuable enzymes and a heavenly taste to vegetables, meats, and fish dishes.

Creamy Dill Sauce:

This refreshing sauce goes wonderfully with cold roast beef, poached salmon, cold cooked ham, or salmon mousse. Beat 1 egg and combine with 1 tbsp grated onion, 4 tbsp lemon juice, 4 tbsp finely chopped dill, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 1 cup crème fraîche or piima cream. Check for seasonings and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if desired. Serve immediately.

Beurre Blanc (Butter Sauce):

This is a classic French sauce served with fish dishes. Place in a small pan 6 tbsp minced shallots, 6 tbsp dry white wine, and 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. Bring to boil and reduce to about 2 tbsp. Piece after piece, add 1/2 cup butter cut into small cubes, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Sauce should thicken and become frothy. As soon as all butter has been melted, remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve right away with cold or hot fish.

Béarnaise Sauce:

This wonderful sauce is a great complement to grilled meats or fish. The taste is fantastic, but making it requires some mastering. In a small saucepan, combine 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots or green onions, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh or dried tarragon, and 2 tbsp each of white wine vinegar and white wine or vermouth. Bring to boil and reduce to about 1 tbsp. Piece after piece, add 1/2 cup butter cut into small cubes, whisking constantly until all butter has been melted. Slowly, drop by drop, add 5 beaten eggs yolks, whisking the sauce constantly until it has thickened. Remove from the heat and add a bit of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Serve warm.

French “Guides Rouges” Names Tokyo the Most Delicious Place on Earth

In accordance with 107-year old and world famous “Guides Rouges”, a food connoisseurs’ bible published by the French company Michelin, the capital of Japan is ranked the best gourmet city of the world, leaving behind Paris, New York, and London. The first Michelin Guide for Tokyo lists 150 Tokyo restaurants, all of which are rewarded with at least one star and eight are given a high three-star estimate. This impressive amount of stars beats total restaurant ratings listed in the guides for such “gourmet cities” of the world as London and Paris, which officially makes Tokyo the world leader in fine cuisine and dining.

Such gourmet triumph of Japan’s capital should not be surprising – the country is famous all over the world for its biggest fish market, fresh seasonal produce, best-quality foods, and long-established love of the Japanese for exquisite and perfect dishes. Interestingly enough, about half of all TV programs is Japan are somehow related to food and the total amount of registered restaurants, canteens, sushi bars, and other eateries in Tokyo alone is over 190,000!

The initial work to create a list of the 1,500 most popular Tokyo restaurants was accomplished by a group of five food inspectors – both Japanese and European. During the second stage of evaluating, Michelin inspectors for 18 months were paying anonymous visits to the selected restaurants to taste the food and rank the service and interior.

Over two thirds of the Michelin list of fine Tokyo restaurants mention traditional Japanese dining, yet classic French cuisine is also well represented, especially among three-starred dining establishments. According to Michelin, the best French restaurants in Tokyo are: Joel Robuchon, L’Osier, and Quintessence.

Michelin’s turn towards Japan reflects this bible of French gastronomy’s desire to modernize its a bit heavy old-fashioned image and broaden its range of international culinary experience. Besides Japan, the guide has been recently expanded to 21 countries, with the latest published list featuring the finest dining locations of Los Angeles.

French-Style Caesar Salad with Creamy Dressing and Duck Cracklings

French-Style Caesar Salad:

This salad is a traditional appetizer in the Auvergne region of France. It closely resembles a classic Caesar salad (actually, it is a precursor of the Caesar salad), but features a different type of dressing. To make the salad, take a large head of very fresh romaine lettuce, remove tough outer leaves, slice off the end, and open up to rinse out any dirt and impurities in cold running water. Pat dry and slice salad leaves across at about 1-inch intervals. Using the large-holed side of a grater, grate 1 once good quality Parmesan cheese, preferably Reggiano or Gran Padrino (do not use supermarket-bought powdered Parmesan). Toss the sliced lettuce leaves with the grated cheese, a handful of warmed crumpled duck cracklings (see below), and a generous amount of creamy dressing (see below). To serve, add on top 1/4 cup salad croutons (see below). Enjoy as an delicious appetizer for lunch or supper.

French Creamy Dressing:

Mix together in a small bowl 1 tsp Dijon-type mustard and 3 tbsp raw wine vinegar. Slowly add 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a fork until the oil is emulsified. Add 1 tbsp expeller-pressed flax oil. Stir in about 1 tsp of finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon, basil, thyme, or oregano. As a last touch, blend in with a fork 1/4 cup crème fraîche, and serve immediately with French-Style Caesar Salad.

Duck Cracklings:

In order to render duck fat and make cracklings, cut pieces of duck skin and fat into small chunks and cook them in a heavy-bottomed pan for about 30 – 40 minutes, until the pieces have turned golden and a lot of fat has been rendered. Remove cracklings with a slotted spoon, pat dry with paper towels, and store in a refrigerator. Prior to serving with the salad, cracklings should be gently heated.

Salad croutons:

Take 3 slices whole grain bread (preferably sprouted or sourdough), trim off crusts, and spread on top a mixture of 1 clove mashed garlic, 1 tsp French-style herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme, etc.), 6 tbsp butter, and a pinch of paprika. Bake the bread slices in an oven at 250 degrees for about 1 hour, until they are crisp. Allow to cool, and cut into small cubes. Salad croutons can be stored in a container with a lid without refrigeration until needed.

Climate-Friendly Wine from Bordeaux?

French Bordeaux will soon become the first region of the world with unique, carbon-reducing, vineyards. Winemaker Remi Lacombe from Medoc, who is working in collaboration with ClimatePartner, a German green group, is planning to launch a climate-neutral wine project in order to cut harmful for the environment carbon emissions. Traditional production of wine, including the natural process of yeast fermentation, emits to the atmosphere about 1.7 kilos of carbon dioxide per bottle, or about 639 tonnes annually from four chateaux (vineyards), which Lacombe runs in France.

To cut emissions of CO2 during wine production, ClimatePartner has suggested to replace wood-burning stoves by devices powered with the solar energy. Lacombe’s own climate-friendly ideas include automatically switching exterior lights and an innovative cooling system of circulating water, which will keep wine temperature within the optimal range of 20 to 28 degrees without harming the environment.

In addition to investing his personal time and efforts into the project, Lacombe has already spent about 14,000 US Dollars (10,000 Euros) on renovating his chateaux, and he now hopes that consumers will choose his wines with carbon neutral labels, the cost of which will be no more than that of other ordinary wines – about 10-12 US Dollars (seven – eight Euros) per bottle.

Lacombe’s wines from Bordeaux will become the first wines in the world that will carry a climate-neutral label. The winemaker plans to produce annually about 380,000 bottles of environmentally-friendly wine, thus spreading the message to save the planet from carbon dioxide pollution.

Chicken & Duck Liver Mousse with Truffles

French is a homeland of many delectable recipes. Today, we are featuring a delicious French appetizer which would be especially suitable for a Sunday dinner or a gourmet party reception – Chicken & Duck Liver Mousse with Truffles. Traditionally, it calls for fresh chicken and duck livers, about 1 1/2 pounds each, 1 or 2 tbsp truffles (very finely chopped), 1 cup crème fraîche or piima cream, 2 cups clarified beef or duck stock, 1/2 cup dry white wine of cognac, 2 tbsp each of butter and extra virgin olive oil, 2 eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. The best stock for this recipe is home-made, while crème fraîche or piima cream, as well as indispensable duck livers and truffles, can be purchased from European gourmet markets. Although making this appetizer might be quite costly and time-consuming, we guarantee the fantastic result!

Sauté whole livers in small batches in a mixture of olive oil and butter until they turn brown. When all are ready, return them to the pan and pour over wine or cognac and 1 cup stock. Boil rapidly until almost all liquid evaporates and let cool. Carefully mash together the livers with 1 cup cream and 2 raw eggs until they reach a creamy consistency (you can use a food processor for that). Transfer the creamy mixture to a bowl, season generously, and stir in the truffles.

Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf pan, spread the top smoothly (best to use a 1-quart pan that will be about two thirds full) and cover tightly. Place in a bigger pan of hot water and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the mousse from the oven and let cool. Open and pour over the remaining 1 cup stock, cover again, and chill well in the refrigerator.

To serve, slice the cold mousse thinly and arrange the slices neatly on top of French croutons or sourdough bread and decorate with pickled cucumbers. Makes a perfect starter for any great occasion!

Coffee in France

Coffee is an international drink of choice in different countries with divergent cultures, tastes, and traditions. Although it enjoys universal popularity, every culture has developed its own ways of making, serving, and drinking coffee. In Europe, including France, the day usually starts with a particular version of café au lait and goes on emphasising tiny cups of strong black coffee, which is usually enjoyed after or in between meals. A French press and espresso machines are often used to make coffee in Europe. In contrast, the Americans are fond of drinking weaker versions of coffee, usually loaded with sugar and cream and served in mugs. They rarely use anything else but electric “coffee machines”, which, although fast and convenient, are unable to brew a really good cup of coffee suitable for the European taste. In the Middle East, coffee is made strong, black, and sweet, with strict rules of etiquette guiding the serving. Electric coffee-makers are not respected; the strong flavourful beverage is brewed on fire or in hot sand in small copper pans of a particular shape.

The French morning ritual of coffee served with croissants, butter, and triple-cream Brie is copied in many parts of Europe. In the morning, Parisian cafes offer large cups of frothy white coffee, called grand crème, while in the province a usual morning treat is café au lait served in deep bowls. The taste is very different from that of watery and milky coffee popular everywhere in the U.S. or Britain.

Later in the day, coffee consumption continues with smaller demitasse (meaning “half-cup”) holding about 100 ml of strong, black, flavourful brew closely resembling espresso. The French prefer bitter, dark roast coffee with a deeper and more profound taste and a distinct flavour. Sugar can be added, but not milk, since the French believe that coffee with milk is difficult to digest after meals. In hot summer days, French cafes serve café frappé, a very refreshing, chilled, and frothy coffee beveragemade by shaking the coffee with sugar and ice cubes.

Simple French Food by Richard Olney

The book “Simple French Food” has been recently written by one of the most skilful American experts in French cuisine, an enthusiastic advocate of authentic French cooking, Richard Olney. His previously written books include a number of popular paperbacks and hardcovers

on the subject, such as “The French Menu Cookbook”, “Lulu’s Provencal Table: The Exuberant Food and Wine from the Domaine Tempier Vineyard”, “Richard Olney’s French Wine & Food: A Wine Lover’s Cookbook”, “Provence: the Beautiful Cookbook”, and “Ten Vineyard Lunches (Ten Menus Series)”. An accomplished cook, the author of “Simple French Food” is famous well beyond the borders of the USA for his delicious recipes featuring wholesome, healthy meals easily to prepare in any household. One of the best and most accurate reviews of this book belongs to Nika Hazelton from The New York Times: “Simple French Food has the most marvellous French food to appear in print since Elisabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking…. The book’s greatest virtue is that the author…really teaches you to cook French in a way I’ve never seen before. Here you acquire the methods, the tour de main, the tricks that are the heart and essence of French food, unforgettable once acquired in this book because of their logical, well-explained presentation.”

The book is not only a collection of guidelines, kitchen hints, and cooking instructions, it is also an excellent piece of writing that is able to render the appearance, flavour, and taste of delectable French dishes. Olney, unlike many American authors, favours traditional, rich ingredients that give the most authentic taste to cooking. For instance, his recipe of French-style scrambled eggs includes generous amounts of butter and describes a smooth and creamy texture of the ready dish. Another feature of “Richard Olney cuisine” is an emphasis on simple and inexpensive vegetables that he turns by his art into a delight of almost every meal.

This great book is a must-read for every connoisseur of French cuisine. But do not be deceived by the word “simple” on the cover – even the simplest French recipe requires time, effort, and LOVE to be incorporated into cooking. The rewards are worth the effort – lamb shanks with garlic, roasted calf’s liver, Pommes de Terre… you will find there hundreds of exquisite recipes that will transform your kitchen into a culinary temple of the fancy taste from Paris, Provence, and Lyon.

Most readers have given “Simple French Food” 5 stars. Read, cook, and enjoy!

Best French Chefs Will Share Their Expertise with Students

In accordance with PARIS -AFP, one of the best and most popular French chefs, Alain Ducasse, and a well-known in France chocolate and pastry chef, Yves Thuries, have decided to take over the top national higher school of pastry (Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Patisserie, or ENSP). The school, located in the southern part of France, in Yssingeaux, faced a possible closure due to declining enrolment of students, which “saddened” the famous chefs. The school was established in 1984 as the only culinary college in France that offered a complete and advanced curriculum in order to teach established chefs the art of making pastry. Last year, only 750 students were enrolled in the program.Ducasse, the celebrity chef of the top-ranking Michelin restaurants in Paris, New-York, and Monaco, believes that the school can be resurrected to become a French “seedbed of creative pastry”. He already has his own culinary school, named “Alain Ducasse Formation”, which not only trains professional chefs but also provides consulting services to create balanced meals for astronauts of the European Space Agency!

The chefs’ educational plans include attracting international students to enrol in the training, as well as exporting the French pastry art expertise by establishing the school branches outside of France. It is planned that, by the year 2010, about 1,200 culinary students will attend a full-time school program, while amateur chefs from both France and other countries will learn the art of making pastries at the regular weekend courses.

Basil – an Indispensable Herb of French Cuisine

In many cultures, basil is treated as a sacred herb. In India, it is an object of veneration, which is planted in temples and monastery gardens. It is believed to have a power to cure diseases and kill both mosquitoes and demons thriving in the open air. In ancient Persia and Greece, basil was associated with the world of spirits, and therefore, was often planted on graves. In ancient Rome, the herb was considered a sexual stimulant eaten by lovers to promote the “fire of love” and boost fertility…Today, basil is an important plant of Mediterranean cuisine, and especially it is praised in both French and Italian cooking. The French call basil the “royal plant” – “l’hebre royale”, and there is a good reason for that. In accordance with research, the scent of basil has a salutary effect on people’s disposition and outlook. Brewed into a tea, basil is great for the gastrointestinal tract as it can relieve gas and even combat dysentery. Just like mint, the basil’s closest relative, it is easy to cultivate in a garden or in a pot at home. And, of course, it has a pleasant and unique taste, which makes it an indispensable ingredient for the preparation of many dishes. Especially beautifully does basil go with tomato, fish, and meat dishes.

In French cuisine, basil is one of the most important herbs. Very often, the French put torn basil leaves in salads of sliced tomatoes, lightly seasoned with Celtic sea salt (very healthy unrefined sea salt harvested in France), freshly ground black pepper, and virgin olive oil, and accompanied by crusty baguette. Perhaps the most famous basil dish is pesto – and the French have their own version of pesto, called “pistou”, which is made from garlic, cheese, and pine nut. Pistou can be used as a marinade or a condiment, and it is able to turn humble spaghetti into a true feast! To prepare authentic French spaghetti with pesto, first make pesto by combining together (better with a help of a mortar and a peste, but a food processor will go, too) a bunch of basil, 4 cloves of garlic, a handful of pine nuts, 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. Toss hot spaghetti with the pesto and enjoy with a glass of light dry Chardonnay. Bon appetite! :)