Tag Archives: French

Pissaladière

DSCF1048This onion tart originated in Nice in the south of France where it is often served as an appetizer at room temperature. The name is thought to be derived from Ligorian for “salt fish,” referring to the anchovies that are an integral part of the dish. Recipes vary: some call for pie dough, some for pizza-like bread; some have goat cheese, others do not; some include potatoes, or not. They only mandatory ingredients are caramelized onions, black olives, and anchovies. I have reimagined pissaladière as a deep-dish pizza. The ingredients I used were what I had on hand. In place of the aged provolone and mozzarella one could use chèvre or feta. I included tomatoes because I had some that needed to used up. The olives in my version are Moroccan oil-cured but any tasty black olives would do.  Just do not scrimp on the anchovies. After all, they are what the tart is named for. You will notice that the ingredient list is a bit vague. That is deliberate. Make this dish your own.

Ingredients

One medium russet potato

Two medium to large onions

Olive oil

One half 14½ can diced tomatoes, preferably unsalted

Fresh chopped or dried thyme

Fresh chopped or dried basil

Dough for 12” to 14” pizza

Shredded aged provolone

Shredded mozzarella

A dozen or so pitted and halved black olives

A dozen or more anchovies

Salt and pepper

Method

Peel the potato and boil it until done, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool a bit then slice thinly.

Thinly slice the onions. Heat some olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions slowly until nicely browned. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Set aside to cool.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet and cook the tomatoes until most of the water has evaporated. Season with salt, pepper, and basil.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack near the bottom.

Roll out the pizza dough and put it into a 12” preferably cast-iron skillet that have been lubricated with olive oil. Spread out the dough, forming a rim around the edges.

Line the dough lightly with provolone then spread the caramelized onions on top of the cheese. Spread the tomatoes on top of the onions. Top with a bit more provolone and some mozzarella. Distribute the olives over the cheese and arrange the anchovies.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the cheese and the crust have browned. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Fricassée

Some might be prompted to ask, “Fricassée of what?” but to add anything to fricassée would be redundant since, as the authoritative Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “In modern French usage, the word fricassée applies almost exclusively to a method of preparing poultry in a white sauce.” [Larousse Gastronomique, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961), 430-431]. Most commonly in the United States it is a stew of leftover poultry with vegetables and gravy. Technically a white sauce contains milk or cream but I find that to be gilding the lily, so to speak. The easiest approach is to figure out how much leftover chicken, or turkey, you have and scale the recipe accordingly. The quantities listed below make a generous pot full that should feed at least four.

Ingredients

 

Schmaltz, olive oil, or a combination

2 tablespoons

30 ml

Onion, diced

8 ounces

250 grams

Carrot, diced

6 ounces

175 grams

Celery, diced

4 ounces

125 grams

Flour

2 tablespoons

30 ml

Chicken broth or stock

2 – 3 cups

500 – 750 ml

Tarragon leaves, dried

½ teaspoon

2½ ml

Thyme leaves, dried

1 teaspoon

5 ml

Parsley leaves, dried

1 tablespoon

15 ml

Potatoes, medium dice

12 ounces

350 grams

Peas

4 ounces

125 grams

Cooked chicken in bite-sized pieces

1 pound

500 grams

Salt and pepper

to taste

to taste

Method

Put the schmaltz or oil into a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat and sweat the onions, carrots, and celery for about 5 minutes or until softened but not browned. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook for about 2 minutes then add stock a bit at a time stirring until each addition comes to a boil. Continue to add stock until the gravy has a nice consistency. Stir in the herbs then add the potatoes, peas, and chicken. Add more stock if needed to just cover everything. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Check to see that the potatoes are done. If the gravy is too thin, uncover, turn the heat up to medium for a few minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Review: Tranquil Bar and Bistro

 

shapeimage_2[1]Opened in 2008 by Binghamton University professor Sean Massey and his husband Loren Crouch in what had for years been an Irish bar, Tranquil Bar and Bistro bills itself as, “(a) Little French Bistro in the Heart of Binghamton” and promises “(w)onderfully creative cuisine, spectacular beverage menu, welcoming surroundings and attentive service.” And, on the whole, it delivers on that promise.

My wife and I have been there for drinks, dinner, and brunch on a number of occasions, most recently on our tenth wedding anniversary last Tuesday. We arrived a bit early for our 8PM reservation to find ourselves the only dinner patrons—not entirely surprising for that hour on a Tuesday in Binghamton. We started out at the bar with the evening’s special: $5 rail martinis. In a trice the bartender poured us two perfect gin martinis—stirred not shaken—garnished with olives. (One might be surprised at how difficult it is in the post-James Bond world to get a real martini.) So, on to our dinner.

By the time we sat down to dinner another couple had come in to the restaurant. Our server was prompt and attentive to everyone. (In my experience, service is often worse in a nearly empty dining room because wait staff are bored.) On occasions when Tranquil was more crowded the service has been equally good. After considering the daily specials we both decided to order from the menu. My wife chose the Trout Meunière and I the Steak au Poivre. Since we were having such different entrees we bypassed the impressive wine list and chose white and red Côtes du Rhônes by the glass. Our server brought us a basket of excellent warm bread—Italian bread, actually, but that is what Binghamton is famous for—with whipped honey butter. I would have preferred a bit of French baguette with unsalted butter but what we had was good. The salads were very nice plates of mixed greens in a classic French house vinaigrette garnished with cucumber slices and grape tomato halves. They were attractive, tasty, and perfectly whetted our palates for what was to come.

While preparation a la meunière is often associated with sole it works wonderfully with any small mild fish. In this case it appeared to be farm-raised rainbow trout which is sustainable and delicious. Our only compliant is that the fish was perhaps a bit overdone, either because getting thin filets done perfectly is difficult or because of the local Binghamton culture that looks askance at potentially undercooked food. (My personal opinion is that there is no such thing as undercooked fish.) The rice pilaf accompanying the trout was very good and a perfect match for the buttery sauce. About the vegetable of the day, broccolini, more later.

I am sorry to report that the steak au poivre was less successful. For one thing, it was served with mashed potatoes, the traditional accompaniment of pommes frites being unavailable. The potatoes were fine—red potatoes with bits of skin—but I find it unbelievable that an establishment billing itself as a French bistro does not offer that most iconic of French bistro food, the French fry. Secondly, although the meat was cooked nicely rare as I requested, I found the serving too large, too thick, and not well trimmed. In fairness to the chef, we Americans tend to prefer large slabs of beef, but a French bistro would do well to consider getting French cuts of meat. I could not tell whether the steak had been cooked on a grill but the classic French preparation would have been in a very hot cast iron skillet with a bit of butter. And for my taste it could have used quite a bit more black pepper.

Now to the broccolini. I love broccolini, a smaller, crunchier version of broccoli. But what we were served was disappointing. Some of the stalks were bright green as they should be but others had the telltale grey of reheated vegetables. Yet they were still a bit underdone. A $27 entrée should not come with obviously reheated green vegetables, ever. Broccolini is a nice touch but it has to be done right and served fresh.

Our evening ended with complimentary crème brûlée, in honor of our anniversary—a nice surprise made possible by one of Glenda’s artist colleagues whose work was on display at Tranquil for the month. All in all, it was a wonderful celebration. Despite my nitpicking, which I offer as constructive criticism, we will certain be back and I urge everyone to give Tranquil Bar and Bistro a try.  

Tranquil Bar and Bistro

36 Pine Street

Binghamton, NY 13901

(607) 723-0495

Coq au vin

This classic French braise is almost certainly derived from a peasant dish. It would have been made in a large cauldron over an open hearth and once an ingredient went in it did not come back out until the dish was done. Similarly the wine would probably have been rather rough and a few days past drinkability. I have tried to find a middle ground between the farm and the haute cuisine restaurant, eschewing some of the more precious touches that have crept into the recipe. After all, this was originally a way to make a “retired” laying chicken tender. I’m sure it is still best made with a tough old bird full of flavor. But, alas, such are nearly impossible to procure today. I like to use leg quarters rather than whole chicken because the breast meat of today’s young frying chickens is just too delicate for the long cooking this recipe requires. Although some insist that one must use a good wine for cooking, I find that a reasonable box or jug wine is just fine. Traditionally the sauce was thickened with chicken blood mixed with pounded liver and brandy; modern recipes use beurre manie. Rice flour works well if you can to make the dish gluten-free. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the chicken to cook, especially if you are using an older bird otherwise it will be tough.

Ingredients

 

Bacon

60 grams

2 ounces (about 2 rashers)

Chicken fat, butter, or oil

15 milliliters

1 Tablespoon

Chicken pieces

2 kilograms, approx.

5 pounds, approx.

Pearl onions

120 grams

4 ounces

Carrot, diced

60 grams

2 ounces

Celery, diced

60 grams

2 ounces

Garlic, minced

6 cloves

6 cloves

Mushrooms, thickly sliced

120 gram

8 ounces

Cognac

65 milliliters

¼ cup

Dry red wine

about 500 milliliters

about 2 cups

Dried thyme

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Salt

to taste

to taste

Freshly ground pepper

to taste

to taste

Butter, unsalted, softened

30 grams

2 Tablespoons

Flour

30 grams

2 Tablespoons

Method

Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F).

Cut the bacon into lardons, i.e. pieces about the size of matchstick. If you have sliced bacon cut it crosswise into 3 mm (⅛-inch pieces). Heat the fat in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and render the bacon until crispy. Remove to a bowl leaving as much fat behind as possible.

Turn the heat up a bit and, working in batches, brown the chicken pieces well on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Sweat the onions, carrots, and celery until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Continue to cook the mushrooms give off their liquid.

Return the chicken pieces to the pot and pour in the brandy. Turn off the vent hood, if it is on. and light the vapors with a long match. When the flames die down, add the wine to just cover the chicken. Return the lardons to the pot and season everything with thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the hot oven. Bake for about 30 minutes—several hours for an old bird. Remove the cover and return the pot to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Skim the fat off of the liquid and add to the softened butter. Mix in the flour to make a smooth paste, beurre manie. Stir into the broth and bring to a boil to thicken.

Serve hot over noodles or potatoes. Or, best of all, by itself with some crusty French bread.

Pots De Crème Au Chocolat

It is just not St. Valentine’s Day without chocolate! Topped with a bit of whipped cream these little ramekins full of goodness are just the thing. This recipe makes four so you and your sweetheart can celebrate again tomorrow.

Ingredients

250 milliliters (1 cup) heavy cream (36%)

125 milliliters (½ cup) non-fat Greek yogurt

125 milliliters (½) cup water

75 grams (3 ounces) 100% cocoa unsweetened chocolate*

15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon) espresso or strong coffee

125 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar

4 egg yolks

* Or 50 grams (2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder

Methodpots de creme au chocolat

Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Warm the cream, yoghurt, water, and coffee in a double boiler over medium heat, stirring to smooth out the yogurt. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the chocolate in small pieces and stir until melted. If using powered cocoa, add it a bit at time and whisk briskly to avoid lumps. Continue to cook until the mixture is smooth and just steaming. Remove from heat but leave the double boiler together.

Using a whisk, beat the eggs yolks in a bowl until smooth.  Whisking constantly slowly add about 100 ml (scant ½ cup) of the chocolate mixture to temper the yolks. Take your time or you could end up with chocolate scrambled eggs. When the yolks are tempered, slowly pour them into the chocolate while whisking briskly. Return the double boiler to heat and cook gently, stirring often until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened.

Place four ramekins into a shallow roasting pan. Divide the custard evenly among them. Put the pan into the oven then pour the hot water from the bottom of the double boiler into it to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until set.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the ramekins cool until you can handle them. Refrigerate, covered with foil, for at least 2 hours. Served chilled with a dollop of whipped cream.

Gratin Lyonnais

In our house, when I was a child, baked ham was not reserved for Easter (the vaguely anti-Semitic overtones of that tradition did not occur to me until much later) but graced our Sunday dinner table every month or so. The accompaniments were invariable—scalloped potatoes and spinach—which are still my favorites. As much as I like scalloped potatoes though, it is hard to ignore the amount of cream and cheese it takes to make them right. Gratin Lyonnais is a lighter dish that nonetheless is a satisfying foil for ham.

Ingredients

Onion, 1, thinly sliced

Butter, as needed

Potatoes, 1 or 2, I prefer firm chef’s potatoes

Parsley, minced, about 15 ml (1 Tablespoon)

Salt and pepper

Cheese, cheddar or Swiss, shredded, about 125 ml (½ cup)

Breadcrumbs, about 125 ml (½ cup)

Method

Sauté the onions in a bit of butter until soft but not colored. While they are cooking, scrub or peel the potatoes and slice them thinly—I use the 2mm blade in my food processor.

Butter the bottom and sides of a suitable baking dish. Layer half the potatoes on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the sautéed onions over the potatoes and sprinkle on the parsley. Layer the remaining potatoes on top of the onions and season with salt and pepper.

In a food processor, combine the cheese, breadcrumbs, and a large pat of butter, pulsing a few times to get crumbles. Spread over the top of the potatoes.

Bake at 190°C (375°F) for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes are done. Or, you can put the gratin in oven with the ham at 165°C (325°F) for an hour and half or so.

Cuisses de Poulet au Vin Rouge

This braise of chicken thighs in red wine is nothing more, or less, than a simplified version of the classic Coq au Vin, hence the fancy French name. Unlike the traditional recipe which is best made with a tough old laying hen cooked for hours to make it tender, this version using boneless or bone-in thighs cooks rather quickly making it suitable for a weeknight dinner. However, unlike the original, I would be reluctant to make it in a slow-cooker for fear of reducing the more tender meat to mush. If you want to be really authentic, brown the chicken in bacon fat instead of oil and butter. Be sure not to skimp on the thyme—its flavor is the essence of the dish—but don’t be afraid to use dried if you do not have fresh. I would use about a teaspoon in place of the four sprigs. Serve with boiled potatoes.

Serves 2 generously

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless (or not)

Flour

Salt and pepper

Olive oil and/or butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 carrots, diced

250 g (8 oz.) white mushrooms, quartered or sliced depending on size

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh savory (optional)

½ 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

125 ml (½ cup) red wine

Flour and water slurry, as needed

Method

Season a quantity of flour (I use rice flour for a gluten free dish) with salt and pepper then dredge the chicken. Heat the oil and/or butter in a lidded braisier or Dutch oven over a medium high flame. Working in batches if need be, brown the chicken thoroughly on each side, adding a bit more oil as needed. Set aside.  

Reduce the heat to medium-low, adjust the fat in the pan to about a tablespoon, and sweat the onion and carrots until softened but not colored. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the mushrooms express their moisture.  Stir in the tomatoes and wine then add the herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Return the chicken to the pan submerging it into the sauce, adding a bit more wine if needed. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is done. If the sauce is too thin, stir in some flour slurry (or beurre manié) and boil gently, stirring, until thickened. Remove the thyme twigs and adjust seasoning before serving.

Buckwheat Clafoutis

Clafoutis might be considered the French version of upside-down cake except that it is left right-side up. It is really little more than crepe batter poured over fruit in a tart pan or pie plate then baked. Traditionally it is made with cherries and a flour batter. I used blueberries and peach (frozen are fine) and gluten-free buckwheat flour. Because the buckwheat can be a bit heavier than wheat flour I folded in beaten egg whites to help give it some lift. Serve it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a bit of maple syrup.

Ingredients

Butter

½ cup blueberries

½ cup sliced peaches

½ cup white buckwheat flour

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup milk powder (or use milk instead of water)

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 eggs, separated

Water, as needed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch pie plate or tart pan. Spread the fruit on the bottom.  

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the egg yolks and about ½ cup of water. Beat lightly then add more water as needed to form a medium batter. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir about half the whites into the batter then gently fold in the rest. Pour into the pan on top of the fruit. Press the batter gently into the fruit with a spatula.

Bake in the center of the hot oven for about one hour. Check with a toothpick to ensure that it is cooked throughout. Serve hot or at room temperature.

 

Galettes de Sarrasin (Buckwheat Crepes)

Buckwheat, sarrasin in French, is not a grain but an herb. Naturally free of gluten it is a great substitute for wheat in crepes and pancakes. To make the latter just leave the batter thicker. The best pan for cooking either is one made of cast iron because of its superior heat retention. If you do not have a crepe pan use a skillet. You may have heard that crepes can be cooked on the back of frying pan but in my opinion that is an urban legend.

This recipe is translated and adapted from one by Stéphane Lecuyer.

Ingredients

 

Buckwheat flour

1½ cups

325 g

Baking powder

1teaspoon

5 ml

Milk

1 cup

250 ml

Eggs

1

1

Salt

½ teaspoon

2 ml

Cold water

1 – 2 cups

250 – 500 ml

Oil for cooking

as needed

as needed

Method

In a bowl combine buckwheat flour and baking powder. In a second bowl lightly whisk together the milk, egg, and salt. Slowly incorporate the liquid into the flour being careful not to over mix. Stir in cold water as needed to produce a thin batter about the consistency of heavy cream.

Heat a crepe pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When a drop of water skittles quickly across the surface brush the pan with oil and pour in about 2 ounces, one quarter cup (75 ml) of batter. Swirl it around quickly to coat the pan. When the top is set and dry carefully turn the crepe, using a spatula to gently scrape it from the pan if needed. Usually the first crepe is a discard so do not be discouraged if it is not quite right. Continue to make the rest of the crepes, oiling the pan between each. To keep the crepes from drying out while you work, put them on a plate in a 300° oven covered with a large lid.

Serve the crepes hot with a bit of butter and sugar or use them in a recipe for stuffed crepes.

Fricassée

Some might be prompted to ask, “Fricassée of what?” but to add anything to fricassée would be redundant since, as the authoritative Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “In modern French usage, the word fricassée applies almost exclusively to a method of preparing poultry in a white sauce.” [Larousse Gastronomique, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961), 430-431]. Most commonly in the United States it is a stew of leftover poultry with vegetables and gravy. Technically a white sauce contains milk or cream but I find that to be gilding the lily, so to speak. The easiest approach is to figure out how much leftover chicken, or turkey, you have and scale the recipe accordingly. The quantities listed below make a generous pot full that should feed at least four.

Ingredients

 

Schmaltz, olive oil, or a combination

2 tablespoons

30 ml

Onion, diced

8 ounces

250 grams

Carrot, diced

6 ounces

175 grams

Celery, diced

4 ounces

125 grams

Flour

2 tablespoons

30 ml

Chicken broth or stock

2 – 3 cups

500 – 750 ml

Tarragon leaves, dried

½ teaspoon

2½ ml

Thyme leaves, dried

1 teaspoon

5 ml

Parsley leaves, dried

1 tablespoon

15 ml

Potatoes, medium dice

12 ounces

350 grams

Peas

4 ounces

125 grams

Cooked chicken in bite-sized pieces

1 pound

500 grams

Salt and pepper

to taste

to taste

Method

Put the schmaltz or oil into a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat and sweat the onions, carrots, and celery for about 5 minutes or until softened but not browned. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook for about 2 minutes then add stock a bit at a time stirring until each addition comes to a boil. Continue to add stock until the gravy has a nice consistency. Stir in the herbs then add the potatoes, peas, and chicken. Add more stock if needed to just cover everything. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Check to see that the potatoes are done. If the gravy is too thin, uncover, turn the heat up to medium for a few minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.