I recently visited Paris and enjoyed a classic Parisian dinner, even during a pandemic.
Yes, it was only traveling in my kitchen but an avalanche of memories and cooking was triggered by the recent purchase of “World Food: Paris” by James Oseland, with Jenna Leigh Evans.
This is the second book of the World Food series published by 10 Speed Press and it’s just as rewarding as the first one written by Mr. Oseland about the dining pleasures of Mexico City.
In fact, based on the details of people and food, I had assumed he was an expatriate living in Mexico City but he somehow pulls off the same familiarity with locals and markets in Paris as he did in Mexico’s capital city.
I remember Mr. Oseland when he was editor-in-chief of Saveur, back when it offered a detailed look at food around the world and, apparently, he served as a judge on the Bravo television series “Top Chef Masters.” I’ve never thought cooking should be presented like it is a World Professional Wrestling match so I’ve missed that program.
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Soupe de Moules Chez Benoit
Adapted from “Bistro Cooking” by Patricia Wells
The last time my wife and I visited Paris was the spring a few years ago and our first dinner was at Benoit since it was a short walk from the Airbnb where we were staying, and now run by the famed restaurateur Alain Ducasse.
The menu was classic bistro dishes: simple, traditional French home cooking. The restaurant opened in 1912 and it still looked like a scene for an Impressionist painter: polished brass rails, red velvet seats, engraved glass windows, dark wood paneling.
This week when I was looking for dishes to transport me back to Paris I turned to Patricia Wells, who had been the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune and later wrote food-related books such as The “Food Lover’s Guide to Paris” (which was excellent but written in the 1980s and never updated) and cookbooks such as “Simply French,” “Patricia Wells at Home in Provence” and “L’Atélier of Joel Robuchon.”
The cooking I mostly do is casual, which is the theme of her book “Bistro Cooking.” So, I started flipping through her cookbook and immediately saw this mussel soup from Benoit. And, the wonderful memories of that cold spring evening we ate there came back.
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Muscadet
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
2 small carrots, peeled and minced
2 leeks (white part only), rinsed well, and minced
3 1/2 ounces slab bacon, rind removed and minced
3 1/2 ounces side pork (fatback), rind removed, and minced
2 cups fish stock or light unsalted chicken stock, preferably homemade
3 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut on an angle into 1/2-inch lengths
Freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly scrub the mussels and rinse with several changes of cold water. Remove the beard (the tuff of hair-like fibers that sprouts from the shell) from the mussels. Do not beard the mussels in advance, or they will die and spoil.
Place the mussels, white wine, and crème fraîche in a large non-reactive skillet over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, shaking the pot, just until the mussels open, 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook or the mussels will become tough.
Remove from the heat and drain the mussels, reserving the mussels and the cooking liquid separately. Discard any mussels that do not open. Strain the cooking liquid through several thicknesses of dampened cheesecloth; reserve.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, leeks, bacon, and side pork. Stir until coated with the butter, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the fish stock and cook until the vegetables are very soft and flavors have had time to mingle about 45 minutes. Stir in the mussel cooking liquid, and cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.
Blanch the green beans in a large pot of salted, boiling water, just until the beans are crisp-tender and bright green, about 4 minutes. Immediately drain the beans and rinse under cold running water until the beans are cooled throughout. This will help them retain their crispness and bright green color. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
Remove the mussel meats from the shells; discard the shells.
About 5 minutes before serving the soup, add the mussels, and cook just until they are heated through. Evenly divide the soup among 4 shallow soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with equal amounts of the green beans, shower with a touch of pepper. Serve immediately.
Chicken Braised in Red Wine with Mushrooms
“World Food: Paris” by James Oseland
While this dish is not strictly limited to Paris, as Mr. Oseland writes, “virtually every home cook n France makes some version of it,” I always associate it with the simple bistro cooking found throughout the city. Traditionally, this was a way for cooks to use an old, tough chicken that was no longer laying eggs, needing to simmer up to 1 1/2 hours, but these directions assume a store-bought young bird. I’ve made other Coq au Vin that add small boiling onions and a splash of brandy, plus garnished with parsley, but I think this is a flavorful recipe without the additions.
1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds, cut into pieces and each breast halved. Or, 4 pounds of whole legs (thigh and drumstick) separated at the joint.
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil (I’ve found both of these oils emit a scent to me, so I use sunflower oil, which also has a high smoke temperature, but I can’t smell it.)
4 ounces slab bacon, cut into lardons 2 inches long and ¼ inch wide and thick. About ¾ cup. It helps to have the bacon slightly frozen to make it easier to get a sharp cut
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
1 cup peeled and sliced carrot, in ¼ inch-thick half-moons.
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups dry red wine (the recipe recommends a strong Bordeaux but I think the tannins are too much. I use an inexpensive Pinot Noir)
1 cup chicken broth. (It really helps to have homemade chicken broth; the stuff in a box doesn’t seem to have any collagen, the protein that gives stock that wonderful mouthfeel.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, a few fresh thyme, and oregano sprigs, wrapped in cheesecloth so you can remove everything before serving.)
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or more as needed.
1 pound medium cremini or button mushrooms, quartered (Look for it already sliced in packages at the supermarket.)
1 ½ pound Yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, buttered, and kept warm.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and set them aside. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry, stirring occasionally, until just golden and most of the fat has rendered, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the back to a plate, leaving the fat in the pot. You may need a splash of more sunflower oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
Increase the heat to medium-high. You should be able to put half the chicken pieces in the pan without crowding, then fry, turning as needed until they are deep golden on both sides, about 7 minutes total. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
With the pot still over medium-high heat, add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the flour, mixing well, and turn down the heat to low. Cook, stirring constantly until the flour begins to turn light brown, about 5 minutes or less.
Add the wine, broth, tomato paste, and bouquet garni and mix well, then raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Quickly return the bacon and chicken and its accumulated juices to the pot and return the mixture to a boil. The moment the mixture reaches a boil, turn down the heat to its lowest setting, cover, and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the liquid at a slow, steady simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through 20 to 30 minutes.
While the braise is cooking is just enough time to boil, peel and reheat the potatoes in butter.
Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a bowl, cover, and set it aside in a warm place. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Raise the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a steady bubble, uncovered. Reduce the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Dip a metal spoon into the sauce, then draw your finger through the sauce on the back of the spoon. This tracing should remain clear.
Taste for salt and add as needed. I also felt the sauce needed a splash of acid, so I used my favorite, Sherry vinegar.
Remove from the heat and keep warm. In a separate fry pan or pot large enough to hold the chicken and its sauce, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until just fork-tender and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and sauce and heat until the chicken is warmed through the sauce is hot. Serve immediately with eh warm buttered potatoes on the side.
Adapted from “My Paris Kitchen” by David Lebovitz
Makes 16 individual teacakes
You can’t have dinner in Paris and not end with something sweet, so I turned to former professional cook and now full-time writer and Parisian David Lebovitz. Mr. Lebovitz was once a pastry cook at Chez Panisse and started one of the first food blogs in 1999 but is now baking, blogging, and writing books in Paris.
I first started reading his lively newsletters (davidlebovitz.substack.com) and loved his writing enough to buy his book “The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing —City”, which pretty much sums up the book. This then drew me to his “My Paris Kitchen,” which is recipes, but always built around an interesting story of how it made its way into the book.
Literary majors may remember the simple madeleine from “Remembrance of Things Past” by French author Marcel Proust where these little teacakes trigger important memories for the narrator in the “episode of the madeleine.” This, of course, nicely circles back to our theme of recreating memories of Paris with food.
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoon baking powder (should be aluminum-free)
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Special equipment: nonstick madeleine molds (What? You don’t have a set of madeleine pans? Neither do I, but I do have a tray of nonstick mini-muffin pans, which Chef Lebovitz says works fine.)
Place the eggs in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed, adding the sugar a little at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whisk until the eggs have doubled in volume, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and stir in the flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla bean paste/extract. Cover the bowl and allow to rest for an hour.
While the batter is resting, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. (Remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of the butter for brushing the pans.) Add the honey and cook, stirring until smooth, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Stir the butter and honey mixture (rewarm to liquefy if necessary) into the batter until smooth. Cover the batter and allow to rest for an additional 30 minutes or up to an hour.
To make the madeleines, preheat the oven to 400°. In madeleine molds (or mini-muffin pans), brush indentations with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Using a tablespoon (or use a little cookie scoop), fill each indentation in the molds three-quarters full with batter. Tap the pan on the counter to distribute the batter evenly. The batter spread in the baking process.). Bake until deep golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 30 seconds, and then tip them out onto a cooling rack. Madeleines are best when served still warm or the same day they are made. Some like to dust with powdered sugar.
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Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email [email protected].