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Cook Book Club: May's Ingredient Is Flour. The Country: France!

In our second year highlighting entire cultures, we will continue on with Europe as we started last Fall. Kits will include a little bit about the country of focus, a recipe (or more) that is native to the country, and a unique ingredient or two from that recipe without which, it wouldn't be the same. Most recipes are from writers native to the country covered or otherwise live there. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!

 

As we continue on our culinary journey through Europe, we make our way to France and the heart of modern gourmet cooking. While the original post did manage to dissolve into the internet ether like a well-blended sauce, hopefully this post will sate your interest and get you experimenting on your own.

French Cuisine As We Know It

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts - Home Gourmet and other historical and cooking resources

While elements French cooking can be traced back to medieval times such as the emphasis on seasonal ingredients and an exploration of spices, it would take a few culinary and political shakeups to bring it to what it is today. By the middle ages, cooking for the elite shifted from abundance/quantity to lighter fare. With the colonization of other areas of the globe, the French Revolution shattering occupational restrictions established by the government, and a rags to riches story of one Marie-Antoine Carême as a result of said revolution that eventually catapulted him into becoming possibly the first celebrity chef, we saw a shift towards moderation and quality, lightening up the cuisine and raising it to "a sophisticated art form that required technique and precision." This is where we get the idea of tiny plates of extremely high-quality foods from. Forget gourmet. This is Haute Cuisine.

Marie-Antoine Carême

Long before Wolfgang Puck was even a twinkle in his ancestors' eyes, Marie-Antoine Carême became the icon to which chef stardom aspired. When Carême was about 10, during the Reign of Terror, his destitute parents, realizing their child's extraordinary intelligence combined with the new opportunities that were becoming available as a result of the revolution and their inability to cope with the size of their family (It is unclear how large. Some say youngest of 15 others say he had 25 siblings.), abandoned Carême so that he might have a better chance to make his fortune. He rid himself of the first half of his first name, and with it any bias/apparent connection with Marie Antoinette, instead going by Antoinin, and took to learning to cook and soon to become a patissier (the real stars of French cooking at that time). By 19 he had his own patisserie and by 21 he had made enough of a name for himself that he was hired on by Napoleon's most popular gourmand/politician to Chateau de Valencay to cook for all the diplomatic gatherings where he would have to produce entire banquets in addition to his famous pastries. He set a steep stipulation for himself: "Carême agreed to present a different menu for every day of the year using only local products" (National Geographic) to which he maintained for the next 10 years. He spent this time also systematically studying French cuisine and learning from the previous regime's chefs, organizing and codifying the cuisine into a coherent whole. And despite his insistence on working almost exclusively for the wealthy than the public (believed it allowed him more creativity), his books he wrote for the wider public.

Creation of the Mother Sauces

One of the things that Carême codified and turned into something that every chef should know how to do (and a century later was simplified by Auguste Escoffier) are what are called the five (or six) Mother Sauces or Grande Sauces from which hundreds of other sauces can be formed (the so-called "Daughter Sauces") and have served as the building blocks of French cuisine ever since. (Although there was significant input a century later by Escoffier who added on to the original 4 sauces relying on a roux with one or two emulsions (depending on who you ask). The sauces are: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Sauce Tomate, and Hollandaise (although initially Mayonnaise was included in the lineup until it was abandoned in a 1907 translation and never again entirely regained its recognition). Almost all originally started with a roux, although later versions of the tomato sauce rely instead on cooking the tomatoes down and pureeing and hollandaise is nearly in a class by itself, relying on an egg yolk and butter emulsion (sabayon base -> an Italian-originating technique of mounting and thickening a base liquid like milk or oil using egg yolks, usually cooked slowly over very low heat) rather than roux, similar with mayonnaise.


After mastering these basic sauces, you will have the first building blocks of French cuisine and a good understanding of other cultures' cuisines that were influenced by them. Have fun on your journey.

 

The Main Precursor

Roux

As edited & adapted from FoodNetwork for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 1 part Fat (often to usually butter, especially clarified, but sometimes made using oil, lard, or rendered fat such as bacon, or pan drippings from a piece of roasted meat)

  • 1 part Starch (most recipes call for all purpose flour, but other flours or even other starches such as cornstarch or arrowroot powder also work.)

Directions

  1. Melt 1 part butter or fat in a skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Then sprinkle in 1 part flour.

  2. Stir the butter and flour constantly with a wooden spoon in a figure-eight motion for even cooking throughout process.

  3. In 3-5 minutes, you'll have a light (aka blonde) roux that should puff slightly. If going for a brown roux, continue until you've reached a total o 6-7 minutes or until it begins to smell a little nutty and turns pale brown. For a dark roux, continue until you've cooked it a total of 8-15 minutes to desired color, stirring constantly and avoiding scorching.

Notes

  • No matter what the color, let the roux cool slightly before adding a liquid, like stock or milk. Use a whisk to incorporate and simmer to desired thickness.

  • While roux is commonly made with flour, but you can also sub in cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Mix the cornstarch or arrowroot powder with water to form a slurry before adding it to the pan and cooking it with the fat.

Main Course No. 1

Béchamel

As edited & adapted from Escoffier.edu for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter

  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

  • 1 Cup whole milk (any milk will do, but whole is best - creamier)

  • salt & pepper to taste (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small sauce pot, gently warm milk – be careful not to boil or scorch.

  2. In a medium sauce pan, create a light roux – be careful not to brown.

  3. While whisking, slowly add warm milk to the roux. Ensure no lumps remain.

  4. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to cook just until raw flour flavor is cooked out. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

  5. Once complete, the sauce can be seasoned and flavored in any number of ways, depending on the final application.

Notes

  • This sauce can be used to create any sauce with a creamy base from cheddar cheese sauce for macaroni to creamy onion or even a seafood sauce.

  • I'm the occasional apprecionado of chipped beef on toast which uses béchamel as the main ingredient with chunks of thin very dry corned beef (like Buddig) and peas (or other vegies if feeling explorative) mixed in and then everything poured over toast. This style also works as a sauce base for deconstructed pot pie.

  • Macaroni and Cheese is also a perennial favorite as you can load the sauce up with as much cheddar as you like and it comes out ooey-gooey. Add in some broccoli florets and I'm there.

Main Course No. 2

Velouté

As edited & adapted from Escoffier.edu for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp fat (clarified butter, oil, etc.), melted

  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

  • 1.5 Cup white stock (chicken, turkey, veggie, etc.)

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Combine melted butter and flour to make a blonde roux.

  2. Cool to room temperature. Bring stock to boil, and vigorously whisk in room temperature roux.

  3. Simmer and skim for approximately 25-30 minutes. Adjust consistency and season to taste.

  4. Strain through a chinois (sieve, usually cone-shaped, with closely woven mesh).

  5. Cool or hot hold for service. Melted butter may be added to the top of the sauce to prevent “skin” from forming.

Notes

  • Don't let the fancy name fool you. If you have made turkey gravy or chicken gravy before, you have made a type of velouté. Depending on the type of stock used and the combination of herbs, it can be used with any number of proteins.

  • Sauces such as Normande, Polonaise, and Allemande all start with a version of Velouté.

Main Course No. 3

Espagnole

As edited & adapted from Escoffier.edu for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Brown Roux

  • 12 oz Brown Stock

  • 4 oz additional brown stock

  • 1/8 lb Coarse chopped tomato

  • 1/8 lb MirePoix (see recipe notes)

Directions

  1. In a deep thick sauce pan dissolve the roux adding 12 oz brown stock.

  2. Bring sauce to a boil while constantly stirring.

  3. Let the sauce simmer slightly off-center to create a convection of scum pooling to the side, Depouillage (skim) as needed.

  4. It is advisable to change saucepans 2 or 3 times during the cooking process straining with a chinoise / cheesecloth each time; approx. cooking time 2 hours or less.

  5. Add additional brown stock to replace evaporated stock, 1/8lb fresh tomatoes and Mirepoix

  6. The sauce is then reduced to 8 oz desired quantity and strained an additional time.

Notes

  • MirePoix is also a staple of French cooking. It comprises finely diced celery, onion, and carrot traditionally in a ratio of 1:2:1 and slowly cooked (but not to the point of caramelization), usually in butter or oil of some sort and serves as an added depth and sweetness to the dish it is added into. It is a common ingredient in many French dishes.

  • Espagnole sauce is often used as a base for other sauces and innumerable soups and stews requiring a rich, beefy base such as a demi-glace. One of the sauces you might be familiar with that is made with this would be Madeira.

  • Where Veloute is the base for poultry gravies, Espagnole is the base for beef or veal. It is the meat and potatoes gravy of choice.

  • The original recipe was eight times as large. If you choose, you can attempt it at its full size and will indeed be easier to do at the larger amount. However, materials are for an equal amount of sauce per type, so you might need to supplement slightly.

Main Course No. 4

Sauce Tomate

As edited & adapted from Escoffier.edu for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Olive Oil

  • 1.5 oz Carrots, peeled and small-diced

  • 1.5 oz White or yellow onion, small-diced

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 sprig thyme

  • 1 oz all-purpose flour

  • 1, 28-oz Tomatoes, canned, crushed

  • 1 cup Vegetable stock

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a saucepot over medium heat.

  2. Add the carrots and onions, and allow to sweat until the onions are soft and translucent.

  3. Add in the flour to make a roux, and cook for about a minute or two until it is blonde in color.

  4. Stir in the bay leaf and thyme.

  5. Add in the crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 90 minutes, stirring often to ensure the sauce does not burn.

  6. Once it has reduced and the flavor has had time to concentrate, remove the sauce from the heat. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stem, and pass through a food mill.

  7. Serve warm as desired or rapidly chill to store sauce until ready to use.

Notes

  • This is a more traditional sauce tomate. Many modern chefs rely on emulsifying and cooking down the tomato instead of thickening the sauce with flour. Give it a try this way and if you choose otherwise, you will be in good stead.

  • Sauce Tomate is the basis for many tomato sauces and isn't too far removed from an Italian or Spanish tomato sauce.

Main Course No. 5

Hollandaise Sauce

As edited & adapted from Escoffier.edu for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup clarified butter

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Start by clarifying the butter: In a small saucepan, melt unsalted butter over low heat. Skim off and discard the foam that rises to the top. Gently pour the clear, clarified butter into a separate container, leaving the milk solids behind. Set the clarified butter aside.

  2. Fill the bottom of a double boiler* with a few inches of water and bring it to a gentle simmer over low to medium heat.

  3. In the top part of the double boiler, whisk together the egg yolks and lemon juice until well combined.

  4. Place the top part of the double boiler over the simmering water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the top pan.

  5. Slowly drizzle in the clarified butter into the egg yolk mixture while continuously whisking. Make sure to add the butter very gradually, so the sauce emulsifies properly.

  6. Continue to whisk gently as the sauce thickens. This should take about 10-15 minutes, and you want the sauce to reach a temperature of about 160°F (71°C).

  7. Season the Hollandaise sauce with a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Adjust the seasoning to your preference.

  8. Once the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency (it should coat the back of a spoon), remove it from the heat.

  9. Serve the Hollandaise sauce immediately over poached eggs, vegetables, or your choice of dish. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Instead of a double boiler, you can place an inch or two of water in a pot and place a bowl over it, being careful that the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Then bring that to a boil

  • Remember to maintain a gentle and steady heat, and to whisk continuously to prevent curdling and ensure a smooth sauce

  • Hollandaise is probably one of the two most recognizable French mother sauces to retain their name in the English language, both of which use egg instead of flour for thickening. It is closely linked with its sister sauce, Mayonnaise, and is the mother of Béarnaise Sauce, Dijon Sauce, and a host of others. Use it on everything from fish to beef to eggs to vegetables. It is insanely versatile.

Main Course No. 6

Sauce Mayonnaise

As edited & adapted from Saveur.com for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 1 cup cup oil (canola, sunflower, olive, or a combination)

  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

  • Mustard powder

Directions

  1. To a medium bowl, add the yolks and whisk until smooth. Slowly begin drizzling in the oil a tablespoon or so at a time while whisking continuously, being sure that all the oil has been emulsified into the yolks before adding more. Once all the oil has been added and you have a thick and creamy emulsion, whisk in the vinegar. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and mustard. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Notes

  • Remember, unlike the other mother sauces, mayonnaise is not cooked. Raw egg is a key ingredient. If you do not feel comfortable consuming raw egg, you have two options: 1) make sure the eggs you buy are pasteurized prior to purchase or 2) sous vide your eggs for 2 hours at 130-135°F

  • We probably don't need to say much about its use. There is one other thing to remember: Many lists do leave off Mayonnaise from the official mother sauces lists. This is because in a 1907 translation of Escoffier's recodification of French cooking, it was accidentally left off and subsequent editions continued with what was already in the book. Many therefore don't consider it a mother sauce. Some will even confuse Hollandaise and Mayonnaise and claim one or the other can be made from the other. While similar, they utilize slightly different methodologies to achieve their unique tastes and textures including whether heat is applied at all.

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