My wonderful Scott bought me Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking for my birthday. It’s a fantastic book. Bourdain starts up by insulting you (the reader) in the introduction:
This book aims to be a field manual to strategy and tactics, which means that in the following pages, I will take you by the hand and walk you through the process in much the same way – and in the same caring, sensitive, diplomatic tone – as I would a new recruit in my restaurant kitchen.
Which means that if, from time to time, I refer to you as a “useless screwhead”, I will expect you to understand – and to not take it personally.
Every word in this book can be read in your head with Bourdain’s voice. His writing style is the same as his speaking style, clear, beautiful, and considered. The recipes are the rotating dishes depending on the season and availability of ingredients that were available at Les Halles when he worked there. The instructions are clear, and thanks to the standards of these dishes there are plenty of videos available on YouTube if you don’t quite understand the steps described.
I loved this book and am looking forward to cooking from this book again. It is not vegetarian friendly as such, the vegetable only dishes really are only potato dishes (quite tasty potato dishes nonetheless). Like a lot of French bistro food, the vegetables come in the dish with the meat. I cooked three dishes from this book over one weekend, and so have all three to share. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Poulet basquaise (serves 4)
- 1 whole chicken (1.6kg) cut into 8 pieces (or 8 pieces of chicken which is what I chose)
- salt and black pepper
- pinch of cayenne pepper (or piment d’esplete)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 red capsicum cut into fine julienne
- 2 green capsicum cut into fine julienne
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 450g canned Italian plum tomatoes (or just a regular 400g can, it will be fine)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cube chicken bouillon (or 1/2 tsp chicken stock powder)
- 3 sprigs of flat parsley, finely chopped
- Large pot with cover
- wooden spoon
- serving platter
- Season the chicken all over with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Heat the large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the butter. When the butter has foamed and subsided, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown on that side only. Remove the chicken with the tongs and set aside on the plate.
- Add the capsicum and the onion to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the wine, scraping, scraping – as always – to get the good stuff up. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add the water and the bouillon.
- Return the chicken to the pot, making sure to add all the juice that’s accumulated on the plate while it rested. Cover the pot and allow to cook on low heat for about 25 minutes, then remove the chicken to the serving platter.
- Crank up the heat to high and reduce the sauce for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediate, with rice pilaf (recipe not included).
Notes on this recipe:
- We shredded the chicken off the bone while we were reducing the saucing in the final step so it was easier to consume. This did not affect the dish.
- I have a habit of leaving things simmering very low, versus, as this recipe calls for, cooking it on a low heat. Don’t be like me, let things sit at a medium to high simmer on a low heat, they’ll be fine.
- This dish was colourful and tasty and I enjoyed it. I also looked into the origin of the dish, and it’s from the Basque region of France (western France near the border with Spain).
- I made a white rice pilaf, using a recipe from another book. You can find many many recipes on the internet and use the one that looks the best for you.
Boeuf bourguignon (serves 6)
(not a great photo, sorry)
- 900g paleron of beef or chuck steak cut into 4cm pieces
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsps plain flour
- 1 cup red Burgundy wine
- 6 carrots, cut into 2.5cm pieces
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 bouquet garni
- a little chopped flat parsley
- Dutch oven, or large, heavy-bottomed pot
- wooden spoon
- large spoon or ladle
- Season the meat with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat, in batches – NOT ALL AT ONCE! – and sear on all sides until it is well-browned (not gray). You dump too much meat in the pot at the same time and you’ll overcrowd it; cool the thing down and you won’t get good colour. Sear the meat a little at a time, removing it and setting it aside as it finishes. When all the meat is a nice dark brown colour and has been set aside, add the onions to the pot. Lower the heat to medium high until the onions are soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over them. Continue to cook for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine. Naturally, you want to scrape up all that really good fond from the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon, Bring the wine to a boil.
- Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots, garlic, and bouquet garni. Add just enough water (and two big spoons of demi-glace if you have it) so that the liquid covers the meat by one third – meaning you want a ratio of 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat. This is a stew, so you want plenty of liquid, even after it cooks down and reduces. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender (break-apart-with-a-fork-tender).
- You should pay attention to the dish, meaning check it every 15 – 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the meat is not sticking, or God forbid, scorching. You should also skim off any foam or scum or oil collecting on the surface, using a large spoon or ladle. When done, remove and discard the bouquet garni, add the chopped parsley to the pot, and serve.
Notes on this recipe:
- We weren’t sure what level of simmering we should be leaving this for 2 hours at, so we went and found a YouTube video of Bourdain making this dish. Check it out so you understand the techniques and how many bubbles should be appearing while the sauce is thickening and reducing.
- This was a really simple and tasty dish to make. Forget the fancy name, it’s a beef stew with simple and relatively inexpensive ingredients. Don’t use expensive wine, don’t use expensive beef. Make it cheap and tasty.
Gratin dauphinois (serves 4)
- 8 white potatoes (yukon gold, nicola, etc), peeled and cut into 6mm slices
- 2 cups heavy (thickened) cream
- 5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 spring rosemary
- 1 spring flat parsley
- salt and white pepper
- freshly ground nutmeg (go easy)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 112g grated Gruyere cheese
- large pot
- large ovenproof gratin dish
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Place potatoes in the large pot and add the cream, 4 of the garlic cloves, and the herbs. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a boil (yes, really), then reduce to a simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and discard the garlic and herbs.
- Use the remaining garlic to rub around the inside of the gratin dish. Butter the inside of the gratin dish as well so that it is evenly coated. Transfer the potatoes and cream to the gratin dish and sprinkle the top with the Gruyere cheese. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.
Notes on this recipe:
- I initially freaked out about the boiling of the cream, potato, garlic, herb and spice mixture. I thought the cream would separate. Because this dish is magic, it does not separate
- It is vital that you use fresh nutmeg. If you have a jar of it, taste it before you add it to the dish. If it tastes of nothing (like mine did) then you need to get more. I have nutmeg seeds to grate, I just couldn’t be arsed finding them at the time. I went and found them so this dish would taste good. Fresh nutmeg (even if bought fresh in a jar last week) is better than the nutmeg that has been sitting in a jar in your cupboard for the past year.
- This dish was good, really really good. We ate the leftovers as part of breakfast the next day (and didn’t die). Highly recommend making it for the noms.