In these days where the oxymoron known as the â€œcelebrity chefâ€ is blaring at us larger than life 24/7 from plasma screened televisions, The French Chef Cookbook is a breath of fresh air the irony is that it was first published more than 40 years ago.
A simple book of recipes, which is the outcome of the television show by the same name, was published during the dark ages of American cuisine. Back then, I've been told, there was nary a fresh haricot vert or cà¨pe mushroom to be had anywhere in our country, but Julia Child still managed to inspire the American public not only to cook, but to cook French.
When Julia Child hit the airwaves in the early 1960's, with her six-foot frame and shrilled voiced, she showed the entire nation not only how to cook French cuisine but how to do it in an American kitchen with American ingredients. Through her books and television shows she brought much publicity to the craft of being a chef. The interesting thing is that she never really felt comfortable with the title â€œchef,â€ because she knew all too well that a chef, in it's literal translation, was chief, or boss specifically the boss of a restaurant kitchen, a kitchen in which she had never worked. Apparently television executives came up with the title of her shows as the French Chef.
The book is divided not by traditional chapters, but by show number, beginning with show number 14 (Chicken Breasts and Risotto), and ending with show number 134 (Turban of Sole). The short chapters, or shows, are not arranged in the manner as a traditional cookbook either (appetizers, then soups, then salads, and so on) they are arranged in the chronological order in which the shows occurred.
Most of the recipes, of course, have a decidedly French air and technique to them, and are written clearly and easy to follow using common ingredients. This, I suppose, is what made this (and most of her books, for that matter) instant classics. And while one would quickly assume that because these are French recipes they must naturally be overly complicated and difficult to execute, the contrary is actually more correct. Like a true master Julia Child focused more technique, quality of ingredients, and the perfection of simplicity (the recipe for onion soup that is included below is a good example of this).
A classic book is one that stands the test of time, and this book is â€œaging wellâ€ it's as relevant today as it was when it was first published. The French Chef Cookbook will make a welcome and well-used addition to any cooks library, and in fact should beâ€”-along with a few other of Ms. Child's worksâ€”-required reading for those interested in entering the culinary industry as a career choice.
Soupe A L'Oignon, Maison
(Homemade French Onion Soup)
For 6 to 8 servings
From the Ninety-Seventh Show, Page 275
3 Tbl butter
1 Tbl olive oil or cooking oil
About 1 1/2 pounds or 5-6 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbl flour
2 quarts hot beef boullion
1 cup red or white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sage
salt & pepper to taste
Melt the butter with the oil in a 4 quart saucepan or casserole. Add the sliced onions and stir up to coat with the butter. Cover the pan and cook over moderately low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and translucent. Then uncover the pan, raise the heat to moderately high, and stir in the salt and sugar. (Sugar, by caramelizing helps the onions to brown) Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even deep golden brown.
Then lower the heat to moderate, stir in the flour, and a bit more butter if the flour does not absorb into a paste with the onions. Cook slowly, stirring continually, for about 2 minutes, to brown the
flour lightly. Remove from heat.
Pour in about a cup of the hot bullion, stirring with a wire whip to blend the flour and boullion. Add the rest of the boullion and the wine, bay and sage, and bring to a simmer. Simmer slowly for 30 to 40 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and the soup is done. If you are not serving immediately, let cool uncovered, then cover and refrigerate.
Serve with French bread and grated Parmesan Cheese