So after the early morning J & J screening last Sunday (see recent Julia-O-Rama post), we raced off to a dreamy Sebastopol spread, Olive Oaks (we actually have friends, Edita & Martino, with a named property!), raw poulet, haricot & pâte brisée in hand - to expliquez and document Julia Child’s cusine bourgeoise from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
To be honest, I haven’t cracked Mastering the Art for years, which is not to say I haven’t been using it constantly. Digging into it again for this fête, I realize how deeply I’ve internalized the tome: the teensy batch browning; the slow fat-loved sauces; the crucial flavor-punking deglaze; the tender fold into halcyon floss; the imperative right-hand-man of righteous stock.
My European cooking school (read: French, as it is undeniably they who codified the whole shebang into technique and decree), traded in pedagogies like alarmingly thick early morning hand-outs of huge family trees titled “Mother Sauce” that branched into all sorts of tangled, intimidating progeny: Sauce Soubise, Creme Fleurette & Ravigote... Child always brought this kind of gibberish (n’a pas de sens) all home to me in intelligible, lucid spades.
Choosing the menu was a surprising snap. The Californian in me - compulsively bound by season - landed instantly on Poulet Poele a l'Estragon (Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon). I mean Summer’s just so tarragon, which is itself just so damned French.
And with nothing but August’s green beans galore, the Haricots Mange-Tout à l'étuvée (Wax Beans Braised with Onions, Lettuce and Cream), stepped right up to preen beside the herby chicken.
And how could I resist Quiche à La Tomate, Niçoise (Fresh Tomato Quiche with Anchovies and Olives)? I mean if the JC oeuvre doesn’t scream savory custard tart, what on earth does? Besides, the 80's are so here again, and tomatoes sont arrivés.
Also, when Ms. Child pronounces a chocolaty something an “all time favorite,” you’re a fool if you don’t seriously investigate... hence, la Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheeba/Chocolate-Almond cake).
My co-conspirator Winnie throws in rogue Gougères and a Pommes Anna, crisply fleshed-out in duck fat, for good measure.
The dinner is quintessentially française: fearlessly fat and flavorful. The tart, an egg-tricked pissaladière in an butter-fused crust, is an old fashioned testament to how much tomatoes do love their beurre. The chicken is both rubbed in softened butter and browned to golden in the stuff. Tarragon is trussed within and laid beside the bird to long-stew in its crazy juices, then added by fresh handfuls to finish the glorious affair. Summer beans, onions and lettuce are layered raw into a gratin with herbs and stock to braise before anointed with thick cream. Ground almonds jacked with almond extract are tenderly wound in souffléd chocolate.
The final plate is a trippy shifting tableau: a blackened potato island surrounded by bronze poulet jus swimming up against thick jade haricot cream. The one European at the table, Martino, giddily notes - while cracking off another wedge of pomme - that the potato is so fat-full it practically fends off the chicken butter & creamy beans, which, I notice, does not slow him down in the least. Could anything on earth have delighted Julia more?