Brie du Monde

I’m not at all sure why more folks aren’t madly in love with Brie. After all, it once was quite literally declared the cheese of Kings. In late 1814 through mid 1815, the Austrians hosted the Congress of Vienna, a meeting of representatives from virtually all the European powers of the time, intended to forge a long term peace plan, subsequent to the Napoleonic wars. During the event, the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, suggested a break in the negotiations, by way of a friendly cheese competition, with each country and state putting forth their finest, to be judged by all. Legend has it that Talleyrand-Périgord slyly waited until the end of the competition to bring forth Brie, after sixty some odd other cheeses had been sampled. A vote was held, and Brie de Meaux was declared, ‘Le Roi des Fromages’ the King of Cheeses.

Brie - Creamy, ethereal cheese with a delightfully bitter rind.
Brie – Creamy, ethereal cheese with a delightfully bitter rind.

Brie, like its popular cousin Camembert, is a soft-ripened cheese, (as opposed to soft, fresh cheeses, like cream, cottage, Neufchâtel, mozzarella,and ricotta). While the fresh, soft varieties are eaten right away, soft ripened spend some time gaining depth and complexity, as well as a thin rind that some find delicious and others quite literally cannot stomach – The rind is a bitter counterpoint to the creamy, buttery cheese itself – probably why there’s such a love/hate relationship with it – More on that in a bit.

Real deal AOC Brie - Look for the label
Real deal AOC Brie – Look for the label

Brie de Meaux, and Brie de Melun, which both hail from the Seine et Marne region, a Department due east of Paris, are the real McCoys, protected by the vaunted French AOC label, the Appellation d’origine Contrôlée, which means only Brie from that place may be called Brie de Meaux or Melun. That said, just plain old Brie is not a protected name, and can be made anywhere – Think of it as the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne – Both can be good, (and frankly, occasionally quite meh), but in either case, it behooves the consumer to know what it is they’re buying, and from whence it came, d’accord?

Bries are made with whole or partly skimmed cows milk, cured for a couple of days, and then placed in a cave at roughly 54° F. it’s during this aging period that the characteristic white rind forms. That rind consists of a hardened layer of cheese and some form of mold, one of the Penicillium varieties for both Brie and Camembert, plus some yeast, or a fungus such as Geotrichum Candidum. That might sound unappealing, but I assure you that you can indeed eat the rind without harm, and naturellement, the French claim it’s good for your gut. The rind is, in fact, absolutely critical to the final form of the cheese – it’s a living, breathing thing that actively works to break down the cheese, creating the creamy, (and sometimes, downright runny), texture that we love so much. Brie ages for anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks to reach maturity, during which it is lovingly turned by hand, assuring even aging. Brie de Meaux And Melun both do the full Monty at 60 days, which is why they’re the Champagne, if you will.

So, how does one chose Brie? Well, again, if you want the real deal, you need to look for Brie de Meaux, or Brie de Melun, and the accompanying AOC seal, or the words Appellation Contrôlée, on the label. Chances are what you get will be sublime and lovely, assuming you’ve bought from a scrupulous seller. Both versions are made from raw, (unpasteurized), milk. A whole round of Brie de Meaux weighs about 6 pounds, and is around 14” in diameter. Brie de Melun is smaller, at slightly over 3 pounds and roughly 11” in diameter. In general, Brie de Meaux is milder than Brie de Melun, which has a notably stronger taste and smell. The pinnacle of that trend is Brie Noir, Black Brie – It’s not Black at all, although the rind and cheese are distinctly brown, as opposed to the light creamy cheese and white rind we’re used to. Black Brie ages for up to a full year, and is much more pungent, with a dry, almost crumbly texture.

Black Brie, aged and oh so gnarly.
Black Brie, aged and oh so gnarly.

Now, all that does not mean, by any sense of the word, that Brie from other places isn’t good. Brie is made in America, Great Britain, Australia, and Brazil, that I’m aware of – There may well be more. There are herbed Brie’s, blue Brie’s, double and triple Brie’s (meaning, much higher milk fat percentage used in their making), and Brie made with milk from goats or sheep. There are also French non-AOC Bries, including Brie de Montereau, Île-de-France, Brie de Nangis, Brie de Provins, Brie fermier, Brie d’Isigny, Brie de Melun bleu, Brie petit moulé, and Brie Laitier Coulommiers, just to name a few. Again, just as you can get sparkling wine that doesn’t hail from Champagne, these alt Bries are well worth exploring.

As mentioned previously, if you buy from a reputable seller, you’re good to go, 99% of the time. Keep in mind that you’re unlikely to find, or afford for that matter, a whole wheel of Brie, so as with any other foods, let your eyes and nose and, if possible, mouth do the investigative work when choosing. Brie should have a white rind and a light, cream colored cheese, (not withstanding Brie Noir) – Don’t buy anything that has an off-color rind or flesh, or knew that smells bad. Lots of markets have expanded cheese shops these days – I mean, here in the Great Pacific Northwet, even the lowly Fred Meyer chain has a pretty damn fine cheese department, so go figure.

Store Brie in an air tight container, in the coldest section of your fridge, but better yet, plan on eating it right after you buy it – Soft ripened cheese has a short shelf life, indeed. If a stored Brie has an off-color mold on it, toss it, even if you don’t see the mold everywhere on the cheese – Trust me when I say that it’s there, and you shouldn’t eat it .

And what to do when we eat it? Many, many wonderful things. As part of a picnic lunch or dinner, Brie is delightful with good crackers, toast points rubbed with garlic, or straight with fruit – The tang of the fruit is a perfect contrapuntal note to the subtly sweet, creamy cheese – And again, the bitter rind adds a delightful third note to the chord. Apples, pears, and berries (straw, blue, black, and Marion are all lovely), figs, and apricots are great choices. Along that same vein, fruit preserves, dried fruit, and chutney are all very nice accompaniments.

If you prefer something more savory, good bacon, or pork belly is wonderful (big surprise there, huh?). Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts are lovely, crunchy additions. Fresh mushrooms, like shiitake or morels, lightly sautéed, sun dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions shine as well. Fresh herbs, like basil, marjoram, garlic chive, rosemary, lemon thyme, or lavender are great choices, too.

Brie en croute with slivered almonds, sun dried tomato, and fresh rosemary
Brie en croute with slivered almonds, sun dried tomato, and fresh rosemary

My favorite way to incorporate these accoutrements is the venerable Brie en croute – Brie with a puff pastry or pie crust shell, baked and stuffed with whatever you like, (or, for that matter, straight up plain – If you’ve got good Brie, it’ll be plenty decadent, believe me). You can use single notes, or combine two or three for a truly lovely appetizer. Making puff pastry from scratch is truly laborious, but fortunately, you can get decent pre-made stuff almost anywhere these days, usually in the frozen food section of your local market. Here’s a few combinations to give a try to – Then branch out on your own.

Brie en Croute

1 8 Ounce wheel Brie
1 Sheet prepared Puff Pastry
1 Egg

If you’re adding goodies:
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter

For Toppings:
3 Tablespoons slivered Almonds
2 Tablespoons dry Sun-dried Tomatoes
1-2” spring fresh Rosemary

Or
2 Tablespoons chopped Hazelnuts
2 Tablespoons dried Cranberries
2 teaspoons Honey

Or
2 Tablespoons Bacon Lardons
2 Tablespoons chopped dried Apricots
1” – 2” spring fresh Lemon Thyme

Thoroughly thaw frozen puff pastry sheet – Don’t screw with it in any way, shape, or form until it’s completely thawed, or you’ll get thin sections at the folds, and you don’t want that.

If you’re doing bacon lardons, sauté those over medium heat until they’re crisp and much of the fat has been rendered. Dry on a clean paper towel and set aside.

If you’re using nuts, sauté them in melted butter over medium heat until they begin to turn golden brown, then onto clean paper towels to drain off the excess fat.

For the dried fruit or tomatoes, sauté them after the nuts are done, in the remaining butter. Dry on a clean paper towel and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in the center position.

NOTE: For all these options, you really don’t need to add much fat, so do dry them off prior to adding them to the Brie.

Unwrap the Brie and inspect to make sure all is well. If you’re squeamish, you may gently cut away the rind, but I strongly advise you to buck up and not do so.

Brie en croute, ready to wrap, with toppings added
Brie en croute, ready to wrap, with toppings added

Unfold the thawed puff pastry and drape that over a sauté pan, baking dish, etc, large enough to hold the wrapped Brie with some space to spare.

Add goodies to the top of the Brie.

Crack egg into a small mixing bowl and whisk to an even consistency.

brie en croute, wrapped, egg washed, and ready to bake
brie en croute, wrapped, egg washed, and ready to bake

Fold one corner of the pastry over the top of the Brie. Brush the outside of that corner with the egg wash, then brush egg on the bottom (facing) side of the next adjacent corner, and fold that onto the first. Continue with that process until you’ve got a nice, snugly wrapped parcel.

Evenly coat the outside of the puff pastry with the remaining egg wash.

Slide the Brie into the oven and bake, undisturbed for 30 minutes.

Remove the Brie from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Brie en croute
Brie en croute

Serve with crackers, toast points, etc, and be ready to totally ruin your dinner in so doing.

Beef Bourguignon – France’s legendary beef stew

The National Weather Service announced back in the fall of last year that winter here in the Pacific Northwet would be colder and wetter than normal, and they’d be right. We’ve had snow on the ground, in places, for weeks here already. Just north of us, ponds around Vancouver, B. C. have frozen hard enough to skate on for the first time in decades. This cold snap has, in fact, hit a lot of North America. I’m sure this is why I’m so obsessed with hearty, rich comfort foods right now – Stuff like Beef Bourguignon, France’s legendary beef stew.

Bourgogne - Where the magic starts
Bourgogne – Where the magic starts

Just reading the name Beef Bourguignon is enough to know it’s French, but more to the point, it’s from Bourgogne – Burgundy – And that’s what Bourguignon means, d’accord? About 100 km southeast of Paris and stretching for some 350 km toward Switzerland, Burgundy is crossed by a series of working canals, and rightfully famous for deep, complex red wines that bear the regions name, (as well as Pinot, Chardonnay, Chablis, and Beaujolais.) There are also stunningly lovely chateaus, legendary mustard from the regional capitol of Dijon, and Charolais cattle – Some of the finest beef in the world.

Late in the sultry month of August, the commune of Saulieu holds the Fête du Charolais, a paean to meat lovers, a celebration of Charolais beef featuring, naturellement, Boeuf Bourguignon. With a distinct taste reflecting its stunning terroir, Charolais beef has perfect tenderness that yields great beef bourguignon. All that said, most of us probably won’t have Charolais Beef available, (Although there are American Charolais cattle raisers out there, FYI.) Regardless of the beef you’ll use, when you combine it with wine, spirits, fresh veggies and herbs, you’ll be hard pressed to go wrong.

While the roots of beef bourguignon go far back in time, it was Auguste Escoffier who made it famous. Of course, dishes that would bear the Maestro’s stamp couldn’t be rustic, (perish the thought!), so his 1903 recipe upgraded the dish to haute cuisine, utilizing a rather large chunk of beef. It took Julia Child, some seventy years later, to return things back toward the rustic again, advocating the use of cubed stew beef.

Like so many iconic regional dishes, there really is no definitive beef bourguignon recipe, regardless of what anyone tells you – Including bourguignon chefs. Why? Because like spaghetti, or mac and cheese, everybody does it a bit differently – What goes into the mix is, as often as not, what’s good that day – And this is exactly as it should be. What is set in stone is the cooking process, and that’s what I’ll share with y’all today. I’ll also note that there are things assumed to be seminal to the recipe that just really aren’t – Mushrooms for one, and pearl onions for another – Sure, those can and should go in the pot if you like them and they’re readily at hand, but if they’re not, it doesn’t mean that what you’re making isn’t authentic.

The techniques employed to make beef bourguignon correctly are braising and stewing, and that requires a bit of clarification to separate those techniques from searing and roasting, their higher heat first cousins. Searing beef, to get a nice caramelized crust on it, is done in a dry pan over high heat. Braising, from the French verb braiser, is a semi-wet, medium heat cooking method, designed to brown meat and infuse it with the flavors of the wet adjuncts that share the pan. Stewing, when done in the oven or on the stove top, is a relatively low temperature, wet cooking process, while roasting is a high heat, dry method. The high heat techniques work best for lean cuts, (like a roast, of course). Tougher, fattier cuts benefit most from braising and stewing – The lower, slower methods that provide the time needed to break down connective tissue, making things nice and tender.

Here’s our take on this iconic dish. Feel free to make it yours. Pay attention to the techniques and the order of operation – That’ll get you where you want to go – And again, everything else is free reign. Take note of our choice for the spirit employed – We don’t have cognac in the house, and I ain’t buying it just for a recipe – You could use brandy, Armagnac, or frankly, any spirit that floats your boat – Bourbon would go great, too. Another case in point – We served ours over rice, while tradition holds that you use thick slices of good country bread rubbed with garlic – If I’d had good bread on hand, I’d have done that, but I didn’t, so – get the picture? Innovate, whenever you want to or must – A recipe is a template, not gospel, so tweak it to your liking. If parsnips or turnips or some other great winter root veggie floats your boat, throw it in there – It’ll still be tres bien when you’re done.

Beef Bourguignon a la UrbanMonique

1 Pound Stew Beef
4 slices thick cut Bacon
3-4 Carrots
1 medium Sweet or Yellow Onion
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Bottle Pinot Noir, (Yes, that’s what red Burgundy is, in fact)
2 Cups Beef Broth
1 1/2 Ounces Reposado Tequila
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (Olive is just fine too.)
2 California Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour

Always start with your mise en place
Always start with your mise en place

Rinse and peel carrots and onions.

Place the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the garlic cloves and smack the blade with the palm of your hand to smash the garlic – It doesn’t need to be pulverized – you just want to get the skin loose. Peel and trim garlic.

Cut the onion in half, then cut each half into quarters. Carefully cut the carrots in half lengthwise, then into half rounds about 1/2″ thick. Mince the garlic.

Preheat oven to 250° F.

Place a Dutch oven, (or heavy stock pot with a tight fitting lid), over medium heat and add the oil – Allow to heat through.

Cut the bacon into lardons – Chunks about 1/2″ square.

Rendering the lardons
Rendering the lardons

Sauté the bacon in the oil until the lardons start to crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer the bacon onto a paper towel with a slotted spoon.

Beef goes in after bacon
Beef goes in after bacon

Add the beef to the hot fat and braise until the beef is lightly browned on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the meat onto the towel with the bacon.

The beef, nicely browned, ready to set aside
The beef, nicely browned, ready to set aside

If you’re left with a fair amount of beef juice and fat, as we were, carefully pour that into a small bowl and set aside.

Save that beef juice and fat to reincorporate
Save that beef juice and fat to reincorporate

Add another Tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and allow to heat through.

Veggies into oil for a quick sauté
Veggies into oil for a quick sauté

Add the carrots and onions to the hot oil and sauté until the onions are slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.

Veggies sautéed until the onions are slightly browned
Veggies sautéed until the onions are slightly browned

Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.

Add the tequila to the veggies and flambé (light it) to burn off the alcohol – Be careful – Don’t get your face or hands close to the Dutch oven when you do this!

With a wooden spoon, scrape all the dark stuff from the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Add enough beef broth to almost cover the stew
Add enough beef broth to almost cover the stew

Add the wine, beef, reserved beef juice and fat, and bacon back into the Dutch oven and stir.

Add enough beef stock to almost cover the mix.

Add the tomato paste, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir to incorporate.

Seasoning added, ready for oven stewing
Seasoning added, ready for oven stewing

Cover the Dutch oven and place on a middle rack in your oven. Stew the bourguignon at 250° F for 75 to 90 minutes, until the meat and veggies are fork tender.

Remove from the oven and uncover. Combine butter and flour in a measuring cup, then add a cup or so of broth. Mix with a fork until the blend thickens. Pour back into the bourguignon and stir in thoroughly to incorporate.

Monter au beurre - Adding cold Butter to a Sauce or stew at the end of cooking
Monter au beurre – Adding cold Butter to a Sauce or stew at the end of cooking

Serve over crusty toasted bread rubbed with garlic, or rice, or egg noodles. Garnish with fresh parsley if you like.

Beef Bourguignon - Heaven in a bowl
Beef Bourguignon – Heaven in a bowl

Goes great with a glass of that red, and it’ll be spectacular the next day.

bon apetit.

A NOTE ON THAT LAST PIC –

i posted this on social media, and a friend of a friend wrote this in responses – “I can tell you’re an accomplished chef, so why would you post such a poor picture of your work?”

It’s a fair question, so here’s the fair answer. This site is, as it’s subtitled, about real food in real kitchens. For a time, to get something accepted at the most swanky food porn sites required professional level photography – I for one think that’s total bullshit. I posted this because it’s the bowl I ate that night. Expecting all of my images to be professional, or all your meals to turn out incredibly photogenic, has nothing to do with cooking – certainly not at home. It sets up an impossible level of expectation that gets in the way of learning to cook. If and when presentation is important at home, we do it,  but we do so because we like to, not because it must be done. This site is about real cooking, and real cooking isn’t always perfect. And besides, I’ll bet you’d bloody swoon over that bowl if I’d handed it to ya – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The French Mother Sauces

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For ease of use and reference, here are links to all five of the French Mother Sauces, as codified by Auguste Escoffier. Master these, and you’re well on your way to not only a working understanding of the heart of classic French cuisine, but to a lifetime of culinary discovery and invention all your own.

If you’ve not tried them, do, and may you have as much fun in your exploration as we’ve had in presenting them.

Allez cuisine.

Sauce Velouté

The classic Velouté - Light and creamy
The classic Velouté – Light and creamy

Sauce Béchamel

Béchamel - Creamy goodness!
Béchamel – Creamy goodness!

Sauce Espagnole

Sauce Espagnole
Sauce Espagnole

Sauce Hollandaise

Sauce Hollandaise - Gentle is the word
Sauce Hollandaise – Gentle is the word

Sauce Tomate

Sauce Tomate
Sauce Tomate

Sauce Tomate

And finally we arrive at the last of the five Escoffiere French Mother sauces – Sauce Tomate.

Tomate fresca
Tomate fresca

Tomatoes aren’t often associated all that much with classic haute French cuisine, but they wee indeed on the scene, as we noted with sauce Espagnole. Here again, we have a clear cut case of adoption of a great ingredient from the neighbors. All that considered, the roots of the tomato plant may not hail from where many of us think they do. I’ve heard a lot of folks claim that the Europeans, specifically the Spanish, brought tomatoes to North America – that’s more or less correct, but in a very round about way – The Aztec people, who ate and cultivated tomatoes as far back as the eighth century, are actually where the Spanish got tomatoes from, in a very nasty manner.

Tomatoes are far more diverse than we might realize. There are tens of thousands of variants cultivated all around the world – there’s even a Siberian one designed to be grown indoors. There are thirteen recognized wild species, and probably well more than that – There is much we do not yet know of their area of origin. Of the known wild species, three will readily cross with domestic varieties, and nine more can do so with certain caveats.

But I digress – Back to the Spanish. The horror show that was Hernan Cortez and the Spanish campaign destroyed all things Aztec from 1519 to 1521. Cortez took seeds from what was called, in the Nahuatl (Aztec), language ‘xitomatl’ seeds back to Spain, where they were called tomate, and the European introduction was made. Spain’s relatively temperate Mediterranean climate agreed with the tomato, and cultivation began forthwith. Yet for roughly a hundred years, tomatoes were grown purely as an ornamental crop – the Spanish though they were pretty, and adorned their tables with bowls of reddish fruit – It would not be until the early 1600s that they began to actually eat them.

Tomatoes spread quite rapidly across Europe. Italy began tomato cultivation in the mid 1500s, but didn’t eat them until the late 1600s. England, and subsequently the North American colonies, received seeds around 1600, but wouldn’t eat or cook with the fruit until the mid 1700s. The problem, of course, was the tomato’s family ties.

Solanum lycopersicum, AKA the tomato plant, belongs to the family Solanaceae, AKA Nightshade. When we hear the word Nightshade, we assume bad things, but the fact is this family is incredibly broad, sporting everything from herbs and vines to shrubs, trees, and even epiphytes. Many variants are cultivated, (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and chiles, for instance), even some of the ones that contain potent and highly toxic alkaloids. Others, like Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna), not so much.

In any event, once folks got the clue that tomatoes not only could be safely eaten, but were downright delicious, culinary experimentation got underway. It became readily apparent just what the tomato was especially good at – Their high liquid content, coupled with a natural ability to thicken when cooked without the need for adjuncts, (like a roux, or bread crumbs), made them a shoe in for sauces. Care to give that a test? Chop up some good fresh tomatoes, preferably from your garden, and sauté them over medium heat with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, until the raw tomato smell dissipates. Eat them warm, maybe with a hunk of fresh bread and a glass off decent red.

Boom – Any questions?

Some 300+ years later, tomato sauce in one form or another is found everywhere, and widely claimed as indigenous dish, or a favorite import. A veritable cornucopia of good things are added to the root fruit to make sauces – water, wine, stock, veggies, other fruit, nuts, meat, poultry, and fish, bean curd, and many more – a veritable pantheon of tomato versatility.

The French version, as championed by Escoffier, is quite different from most other variants you might be familiar with – In addition to the usual suspects, Escoffier included pork belly, veal stock, a ham bone, and a roux. Those deceptively simple adjuncts yield a sauce of surprising depth and complexity. It’s not a sauce you want to use all the time, given the added calories and potential for clogged arteries, but it’s a real treat for a special occasion.

For our recipe, I’ll call for canned tomatoes, since that’s what we have to work with most of the time. I prefer whole tomatoes, because it’s my belief you get more flavor from them. If you don’t have a stick or conventional blender, (Gods forbid!), then you can certainly sub crushed or diced. If it’s that time of year for fresh tomatoes and you’re of a mind to use them, you’ll want 8-10 cups.

If you get a sudden wild hair to make this stuff and don’t feel like a trip to the store, bacon will work just fine as a sub for belly and bone; just add a tablespoon of good olive oil to compensate and you’re good to go.

Sauce Tomate
2 28 ounce cans Whole Tomatoes, (or 8-10 cups fresh)
4 Cups Veal Stock, (Chicken is fine)
2 Cups diced Onion
1 Cup Diced Carrot
1 Cup diced Celery
2 Ounces Pork Belly
1 Ham Bone
1 clove Garlic
2 tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Flour
8-10 Black Pepper Corns
3-4 sprigs fresh Parsley
1 Bay Leaf, (Turkish preferred, California is fine)
1 sprig fresh Thyme, (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Sea Salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 300° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Combine the pepper corns, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine – This is your bouquet garni.

Bouquet Garni
Bouquet Garni

Cut pork belly into 1/2″ cubes, (lardons).

In a cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat, sauté the pork belly until the fat is liquified and rendered free.

Pork belly renders much more fat than bacon
Pork belly renders much more fat than bacon

Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent but not browned,about 3-5 minutes.

Mire poix - 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery
Mire poix – 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery
Onions just turning translucent
Onions just turning translucent

Remove tomatoes from cans and pulse with a stick blender in a non-reactive mixing bowl until they’re evenly crushed but not liquified, (or process in a conventional blender). If you’re using fresh, just rough dice everything you’ve got, removing tops and bottoms, of course.

That's a lot of fresh tomatoes...
That’s a lot of fresh tomatoes…

Add tomatoes, ham bone, stock, a pinch of sea salt, and the bouquet garni to the Dutch oven, and mix with a large spoon to incorporate. Stuff the bouquet down into the middle with your spoon.

Sauce Tomate ready for the oven
Sauce Tomate ready for the oven

Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.

Add butter to a microwave safe measuring cup and melt. Add the flour and combine to form the roux. Ladle a cup of liquid from the sauce into the measuring cup and blend thoroughly with a fork. Add this to the sauce and stir to incorporate.

Transfer the Sauce to the oven. Reduce oven heat to 250° F, and cover with the top just slightly cracked. Roast for 2 hours.

Roast for 2 hours, top slightly cracked
Roast for 2 hours, top slightly cracked

Remove the sauce from the oven and uncover.

Sauce Tomate
Sauce Tomate

You can leave the sauce rustic, or give it a few pulses with a stick blender if you prefer a smooth consistency – just don’t forget to fish out the bouquet and the bone in either case!

You can now use what you need and allow the rest to cool to room temp prior to freezing.

Use the sauce straight, add additional stuff, or create a daughter sauce if you like – Barbecue, calamari, creole, Espagnole, and a la Vodka are all made therefrom. Here are a few of those to set you on your way.

Penne with Sauce Tomate
Penne with Sauce Tomate

Sauce Creole
2 Cups Sauce Tomate
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup fine diced Green Pepper
1/2 Cup diced Green Onion
2 Tablespoons fresh Basil leaves, cut a la chiffonade
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2-3 shakes Tabasco Sauce
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Unsalted butter
Sea Salt to taste

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and butter and heat through.

Add the green pepper and onion, and season lightly with salt. Sauté until the onions start to brown slightly.

Add the tomate sauce, stock, basil, thyme, oregano, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, and stir to incorporate.

Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce heat to just maintain that.

Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed or desired.

Serve hot.

 

Sauce a la Vodka
2 Cups Sauce Tomate
1 Cup heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Vodka
1/4 Cup fresh Basil leaves, cut a la chiffonade
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic, minced
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through.

Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown lightly.

Add the vodka to the hot pan and scrape all the little dark bits free with a fork.

When the booze smell has dissipated, add the sauce tomate, and basil and stir to incorporate.

Season with a pinch of sea salt and 2-3 twists of pepper.

Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

Bring heat back up to medium. When the sauce is simmering vigorously, add the cream and stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Sauce is now ready to be ladled over and tossed with fresh pasta, or cooled to room temperate and frozen for future use

 

Sauce Calamari
2 Cups sauce Tomate
1/2 Cup Red Wine
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red Chile
Sea salt
Black Pepper

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat through.

Add the garlic and sauté until it become to brown slightly.

Add the Ted wine to the hot pan and scrape all the little dark bits from the pan with a fork.

When the raw alcohol smell has dissipated, add the sauce tomate, and crushed chiles.

Season with a pinch of sea salt and 2-3 twists of pepper.

Reduce hat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, or allow to cool for freezing.

Sauce Hollandaise

Onward with the Mother Sauces – Today, it’s Sauce Hollandaise. Note how, thus far in our quest, these legendary pillars of classic French cuisine seem to all hail from elsewhere? That’s not a slight or a slam. It is, rather a paean to ingenuity, and to wholehearted adaptation of good things to eat.

Hollandaise, like many of its sisters, has somewhat veiled roots. The name implies Holland, of course, and one school of thought has the original version brought to France from the Netherlands some time in the 17th century, where it was used a sauce for fish. My Larousse Gastronomique, on the other hand, claims it as French from the get go, and printed French recipes are found as far back as the mid 1600s; some are quite close to the modern iteration, while others come from farther afield – There are even green versions mentioned, flavored with fresh parsley. The recipe that yields Hollandaise as we now know it, employing a rich emulsion of egg yolks and butter, was institutionalized in the late 1800s, commensurate with Auguste Escoffier’s reign. Regardless of from where and when it stems, it’s delicious, decadent, and something you just gotta have every now and again.

Hollandaise is an emulsion, which means one of two things in cooking – either fat dispersed into water, or water dispersed into fat. Hollandaise is the former, and that’s important to understand when considering that it’s made with egg yolks. While both yolk and whites are protein rich, it’s the cooks ability to unravel and mesh those proteins that allows us to turn a bunch of fat into an emulsion, (perhaps more importantly, one that will hold long enough to use in a dish without breaking). In this regard, yolks present a distinct disadvantage over whites – They have almost no water, and their proteins are wound far tighter. The best illustration of this is provided by separately whipping yolks and whites in order to increase their volume, as you would for Belgian waffle batter.

Egg yolks need water to expand
Egg yolks need water to expand

While egg whites will whip and expand quite readily, virtually no amount of whipping will appreciably increase the volume of yolks with nothing else added. This happens because the proteins in egg yolks are too dense to expand when they stand alone, even when coaxed by mechanical beating – water is what is needed to do the deed – add a tablespoon to the yolk of a large egg and it’ll expand with vigorous whipping, but the resultant foam will be quite short lived. Those yolk proteins are so tightly packed that, even though you’ve introduced a bunch of air and force expansion, they’re still fundamentally disinclined to truly relax. In light of this fact, you might be surprised at the fact that most recipes for Hollandaise don’t call for water, and frankly, I don’t get that, either.

Acids, like lemon juice or vinegar, will also relax yolk proteins to some degree, but the most effective catalyst is gentle heat, with an emphasis on gentle. To the chagrin of many a home cook, (and plenty of Pros, truth be told), if you heat those yolks too fast, you get scrambled eggs, and nothing will take the wind out of a cooks sails faster. Overcooked hollandaise is easily the Number One Fail for home cooks. My solution, (and believe me, it’s as much for my peace of mind as it is for yours), is to use far less heat than most recipes, and no direct heat at all. Doing so solves the overcooking problem, and the overall fussiness of preparing Hollandaise. The simple truth is that indirect, (mostly steam), heat within a double boiler, coupled with the latent heat from the melted butter, is more than sufficient to get the job done. Here’s how you do it.

Sauce Hollandaise - Gentle is the word
Sauce Hollandaise – Gentle is the word

Painless Hollandaise

4 large, fresh Egg Yolks

1/2 Cup fresh Butter

1 Tablespoon Cold Water

2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Juice

2-3 shakes Tabasco Sauce

Separate eggs. Place whites in an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze for future projects.

Put about 2″ of water in a sauce pan sized such that a mixing bowl or double boiler will fit within. You want the bottom of the bowl you’ll work in to be above the water by a good 2″. Not doing this right is a primary cause of failed hollandaise – Too much heat, and/or heating too fast.

Turn heat to medium low.

In a separate sauce pan, melt butter over medium low heat.

When the water starts to simmer, turn off the heat.

In a small mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, water, and lemon juice.

Whisk briskly by hand to combine, until blend thickens and the volume has increased notably, about 2 minutes.

Place bowl over the hot water pan.

Gently but steadily whisk the egg yolk mixture to heat it through, about 1 – 2 minutes.

Begin slowly adding butter in a thin stream; add a few seconds worth, whisking gently but constantly, until the yolk mixture has incorporated the butter, then add a little more, and keep doing so until all the butter is absorbed.

The sauce will thicken somewhat, but possibly not as much as you like it to end up, but don’t sweat that point; as the sauce sits while you prep the rest of the dish, it’ll thicken a bit more.

Whisk in the Tabasco, then set the whole double boiler rig on the back of your oven, and cover with a clean towel.

traditional Eggs Benedict
traditional Eggs Benedict

With that, you should make, if nothing else, Eggs Benedict, and fresh asparagus, right?

Asparagus with Hollandaise
Asparagus with Hollandaise

Sauce Espagnole

Onward with the Mother Sauces! Today, it’s sauce Espagnole. As intimated by the moniker, this mother sauce has its roots in Spain. As with Béchamel, Espagnole is another example of French innovation, adapting and refining the neighbor’s good works. The roots of this venerable sauce were documented in Spain in the late eighteen hundreds, and several derivatives are noted in regional cookbooks from back then.

Espagnole is potent stuff – While you certainly can enjoy it straight, it’s more often used as a base for derivative sauces, like Bourguignonne, (Espagnole, with red wine, shallot, and a bouquet garni), sauce charcutière, (Espagnole with chopped cornichons), and sauce Africaine, (Espagnole with tomato, onion, bell pepper, basil, thyme, and bay leaf), to name a few.

In a very real sense, the preparation of espagnole mirrors what is done to make dark stocks – bones, veggies, beef, and seasonings are allowed to get quite dark, which effectively magnifies the strength and breadth of flavor in the final product.

There are, of course, dueling origin stories for this legendary stuff. One popular version has Spanish cooks preparing the wedding meal for Louis XIII and Queen Anne, adding tomatoes, (introduced from Spain), to a typical French brown sauce. Another claims that the Bourbon kings time in Spain created the necessary amalgamation, and brought it back to France thereafter. However it appeared, Espagnole has never left, to our great benefit.

Making Espagnole is not terribly difficult, with one glaring exception – The true, classic version requires veal or beef demi-glacé – And that presents a bit of a catch 22. See, to make classic demi-glacé, you need – you guessed it – sauce Espagnole. Neat, huh? On top of that, you’ll also need somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds of bones, a gallon of water, a quart of red wine, and many, many cups of prepped veggies – Oh, and 7 to 8 hours of cooking time to boot – Sound like fun? Actually, it is, and more importantly, making demi-glacé from scratch has much to teach us about patience, reduction, and chemistry, but that’s a lesson for another day. Therefore, we’ll need a sub or a reasonable cheat – fortunately, both are easy to come by, and either will work just fine.

The first option is a substitute, of which there are many. The current resurgence in home cooking has spawned a lot of gourmet accoutrements, and as such, bottled or boxed demi-glacé is abundant. That said, they’re not all created equally, so read your ingredients carefully – One of the most popular dried products includes all this bounty – ‘Wheat flour, corn starch, natural flavour, sugar, beef fat, salt, tomato powder, hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein, monosodium glutamate, white wine solids, maltodextrin, onion powder, colour, guar gum, citric acid, spice, yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, silicon dioxide and sulphites. May contain traces of milk ingredients.’ Yummy, huh?

If you’re of a mind to buy demi-glacé, I’ll recommend Williams-Sonoma. It’s not cheap, but it’s organic, and there’s no bullshit in it – It’s made right, from good stuff, hence the cost – That said, a little goes a long way, so it’s worth the splurge.

The second option is a cheat, and for my mind, this is your best bet. The version I like is what the venerable Julia Child called a “semi-demi-glace,” which cracks me up – Fact is, it works great, and is easy and quick to make. Here’s the drill.

Element Fe Forge and Ganesh Himal - Good stuff Maynard!
Element Fe Forge and Ganesh Himal – Good stuff Maynard!

Semi Demi Glacé
4 Cups Beef Stock, (homemade is best, good quality bought is fine)
2 Tablespoons Red Wine, (Burgundy does nicely)

In a heavy sauce pan over high heat, combine the stock and the red wine and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting you’ve got, and allow the stock to simmer gently for 3-4 hours, until the stock has reduced to roughly 1 cup in volume. When it’s done, the demi-glacé should nicely coat the back of a spoon.

Skim any scum that rises to the top off and discard.

Remove from heat and allow to cool in a non-reactive bowl.

Demi glace will last refrigerated in an air tight container for a couple of weeks. If you want to go longer, freeze it in an ice cube tray. Just pop out a cube to add to a sauce, and you’re good to go. For our use, we’ll reconstitute it in water – That may seem sort of silly, but all that reduction has changed the flavors mightily, so fear not. When you use demi-glacé in that manner, a ratio of 1:4 glacé to water will do the trick. You can adjust with more water or glacé as you see fit, of course.

OK, with that handled, it’s time to make the mother sauce.

Sauce Espagnole
Sauce Espagnole

Sauce Espagnole
4 Cups reconstituted demi-glacé concentrate
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Tomato Purée
1 medium Onion
1 small Carrot
1 stalk Celery
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf, (Turkish is best, California is fine)
Pinch of Sea Salt
A few twists ground Pepper

Rinse, trim, and dice the onion, carrot, and celery.

Trim, peel, and mince the garlic.

In a large, heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add the butter and melt completely.

Add the flour and combine with a whisk. Cook the roux for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the roux has a nice, brown color and a nutty smell.

Begin adding stock in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Let the roux absorb a dose of stock and reheat before adding more – I refer to this as not breaking the roux – it’ll start out like thick mashed potatoes and gradually get to the liquid sauce phase – Take your time and let that happen rather gradually.

Once all the stock has been added to the roux, toss in the veggies, including the tomato purée and stir to incorporate.

Add the bay leaf, and season with a pinch of sea salt and a few twists of pepper.

Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes more.

Remove the sauce from the stove, and carefully pour it through a single mesh strainer or chinoise, into a non-reactive bowl.

Allow to cool.

Rockin' my Ganesh Himal fair trade apron!
Rockin’ my Ganesh Himal fair trade apron!

So, what to do with this stuff? Well, how about those derivatives I mentioned up yonder? Bourguignonne is great for beef (or veggies if you tweak the stock – See below), sauce Charcutière is fabulous with pork, and sauce Africaine pairs wonderfully with chicken or veggies. Here’s how.

Sauce Bourguinonne
3/4 Cup dry red Burgundy Wine
3/4 Cup Stock (Beef is traditional, chicken or veggie are just fine)
1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup chopped white button Mushrooms
2 Tablespoons diced Shallot
2 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
2 strips thick cut Bacon, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
4-5 leaves fresh Basil, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 Turkish Bay Leaf (California is fine too)
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Pinch of Sea Salt, a couple twists of Pepper

Combine basil, bay leaf, and thyme in a tea ball or tied into cheese cloth – This is a bouquet garni.

In a heavy sauté pan over medium high heat, add the oil and allow to heat through. Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they’re soft.

Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the garlic has browned.

Add the wine, stirring to break up the dark stuff attached to the pan. Sauté for 6-8 minutes, until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%. Add the stock and stir to incorporate.

Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a bare simmer. Add the bacon, a pinch of sea salt, and a couple twists of pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the sauce Espagnole and the bouquet, then increase the heat to medium, and stir to incorporate. Once a simmer has been restored, reduce the heat to low and whisk until the sauce is heated through.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer, into a non-reactive bowl, (discard the solids and the bouquet).

Serve hot.

 

Sauce Charcutière

2 Cups dry White Wine

1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup diced Onion
2 tablespoons diced Cornichons
1 Tablespoon unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/4 teaspoon Sugar
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes until they soften, (but don’t let them brown).

Add the wine and heat through until it starts to simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%.

Add the sauce Espagnole and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer into a non-reactive bowl.

Add the mustard, lemon juice, sugar, and cornichons, stir to incorporate.

Serve hot.

Sauce Africaine
2 Cups dry White Wine
1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup diced Tomato
1/4 Cup diced Onion
1/4 Cup diced green bell Pepper
2 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
1 clove minced Garlic
4-5 leaves fresh Basil, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 Turkish Bay Leaf (California is fine too)
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Pinch of Sea Salt, a couple twists of Pepper

Combine basil, bay leaf, and thyme in a tea ball or tied into cheese cloth – This is a bouquet garni.

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat add oil, and heat through. Add the onion and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add the tomato and garlic! and sauté for another minute or two, until they’ve softened.

Add the white wine, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%.

Add the sauce Espagnole, stir to incorporate, and allow to return to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to the low, add the bouquet garni, and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer, into a non-reactive bowl, (discard the solids and the bouquet).

Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

A NOTE TO OUR READERS –

I’m sure you noted that I did what is commonly referred to as a product plug a couple of times in this post. In the words of Tricky Dick, let me say this about that…

We enjoy a steady readership of something over 10,000 genuine visits a week here. We’ve been picked up by sources as cool as the Basque national tourist board for our work, along with followers from all over this blue marble.

As such, we’ve been approached about things like getting paid for ads, getting free products in exchange for reviews, (with implied favorability, of course), and other stuff from which we could actually generate income from our work here. Fact is, we don’t accept any of those offers and never will.

This is a labor of love, plain out and simple. When we plug or recommend something, it’s because we tried it, own it, like it, and think maybe you will too. We’ve never been compensated for that and will never be. That’s simple not what we’re about. We’re about passion for sourcing, cooking, and preserving great food, and passing those things on to y’all.

Element Fe Forge made all our knives, and for the record, we bartered a little and paid for the rest. Ganesh Himal Trading Co. is the long-term effort of a dear friend to see that folks from Nepal are treated fairly, and you can’t ask for better motivation than that. If you like these things, look them up and honor them with your business.

The Mother Sauces – Béchamel

Alright, enough screwing around – Back to the Escoffier version of the French Mother Sauces, as asked for and promised! We covered velouté, so it’s time for béchamel, (and down the line, espagnole, tomate, and hollandaise).

Béchamel - Creamy goodness!
Béchamel – Creamy goodness!

Béchamel is arguably the most versatile of those magic five, (although tomate might dispute that claim). So many derivatives come from it. Béchamel is a cream sauce, with a heart of roux, the combination of flour and fat that gives its richness to all variants. As much as it may pain French cuisine to say so, béchamel’s roots are predominantly Italian. In that country, besciamella, (or balsamella, or bechimella), have been around for hundreds of years prior to their cropping up in French cooking. In everything from pasta primavera to lasagna and cannelloni, besciamella has been used to tie many an Italian dish into a coherent whole. The secret weapon to those Italian cream sauces? A dusting of fresh ground nutmeg – Not enough of the latter to taste like nutmeg – rather just enough to hint at something exotic. Béchamel variants are found literally everywhere, but those roots run deepest in the heart of Europe.

Béchamel in its French incarnation first appeared in print in the mid seventeenth century, within François Pierre La Varenne eponymous work, Le Cuisinier François, the bible of early French haute cuisine, (that tome was so popular that it enjoyed some thirty editions, over three quarters of a century). That first sauce, named after the Chief Steward to King Louis XIV, was a veal based velouté with a copious amount of fresh cream added. The essence of béchamel is simplicity itself – butter, flour, milk, salt, and white pepper – That’s it.

From béchamel comes many famous derivatives. There’s mornay, with cheese added, and mushroom. There’s crème sauce, with cream replacing milk. Nantua adds an essence of shellfish, mustard seed in mustard sauce, and soubise, which adds minced onion. And of course, the basic sauce itself can be varied widely merely by altering the ratio of roux to milk – from a relatively thin and easily poured sauce containing one tablespoon each of butter and flour to one cup of milk, right up to three tablespoons of each roux constituent, which will yield a very thick sauce, indeed.

Fresh herbs are all you need for amazing béchamel
Fresh herbs are all you need for amazing béchamel

Really though, the sky is the limit. Have some lovely fresh herbs in your garden? Add a few whole leaves of basil, or sage, a stem of rosemary, or thyme – That silky net of gently simmered dairy fat will embrace and enhance whatever you add. Smoked salmon, kalamata olives, capers, fresh lemon juice and zest – one or two, maybe three such things are all you need to make exquisite sauce.

One important caveat, though – Something as simple as béchamel demands good, fresh ingredients. Old, low quality, or past their prime constituents will tube a béchamel faster than anything. On the contrary, fresh butter, flour, and milk will sing a far more complex tune than their simple roots might suggest.

How you make a béchamel is, for my mind, easily as important as what you make it with. This isn’t a sauce to just be dumped in a pan and heated. There are steps and rules, if great results are what you expect. For my mind, there are four guidelines you simply must follow.

Great ingredients and patience is the key to béchamel
Great ingredients and a little patience is the key to béchamel

1. Cook the roux first, and make sure that it remains a white roux – This means medium low heat, constant whisking, and paying close attention to the look and smell of the roux as it cooks. There’s nothing wrong with darker roux, many things demand the nuttier, more intense flavors they bring – But classic béchamel is a white sauce and should stay that way. Consider also this – the lighter the roux, the greater it’s thickening power – it takes considerably more of a dark roux to thicken an equal amount of whoever you’re working with.

2. The milk must be scalded prior to adding it to the roux – This is critical to a smooth, homogeneous sauce, and to fully integrating the milk without breaking the roux.

3. Don’t break the roux – the roux should be heated through and starting to bubble a bit before milk is gradually added. Rather than dumping a cup of milk in all at once, you need to slowly add a little milk and stir it into the roux – allow that to heat through and start to bubble, then add a little more milk and repeat – Doing this controls the splitting of starch chains and the forming of new bonds as the sauce is heated and milk is slowly introduced. The breaking of those starch chains means that the starch molecules don’t thicken as effectively, but by the same token, they’re less likely to reconnect to each other, which will leave a nasty, congealed mess instead of a lovely sauce. Think of it as if the milk is stretching a net of fat and starch – You want that net to hold a lot of liquid, not break and lose it – n’est pas? Take a look at the pics in this post on mac and cheese and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

4. Cook the sauce long enough to achieve a slightly less thicker final product than you want, then do whatever you’re going to do with it. Chances are good that might involve more cooking, so don’t overdo it in the formative phase of things – That sauce will continue to thicken if it’s made into mac and cheese, lasagna, or stroganoff.

Classic Béchamel Sauce

1 Cup Whole Milk
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground White Pepper
OPTIONAL:
1 or two grates of fresh Nutmeg
In a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, add the milk. Watch the milk closely and whisk occasionally, until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan where it meets the milk. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a heavy sauce pan, add the butter and melt thoroughly.

Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook while gently but constantly whisking, until the blend has stiffened up a bit, (this is caused by some of the moisture from the butter being driven out of the mix). This will take about 2 to 3 minutes or so.

Drizzle about a quarter cup of hot milk into the roux, and whisk steadily. The results will look like mashed potatoes. Whisk gently but constantly, until the heat of cooking causes the mix to bubble.

Add another quarter cup of milk, whisking gently but steadily, and allow it to heat completely through before adding more milk. Repeat with the he remaining half cup of milk.

Add the salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. NOTE: If you’re adding herbs, proteins, etc, this is the time to thrown them in there.

Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for up to 5 minutes. Stop when your sauce is a bit less thick than you want it. Remove from heat and do what you’re gonna do.
So, what are ya gonna do with that?

There’s Mac and Cheese, of course

And Beef Stroganoff,

How about Pasta Primavera, with whatever fresh veggies float your boat saluted in a little olive oil and butter, and angel hair pasta, thrown into a sauté pan with your sauce, tossed to coat and incorporate, and served with crusty bread and a fresh, green salad?

The rest of that journey is yours to take.

Chicken Paillard

Twice in recent editions of The New Yorker magazine, I read about folks out to eat in the city so big they had to name it twice ordering Chicken Paillard. That struck me as odd, because that’s not even remotely a modern dish. You won’t find it on the menu in Seattle or Boston, I’d bet, (Although now that it was in the New Yorker twice, you just might). The dish got me thinking, and then, naturally, I felt compelled to dive into it a bit.

That Chicken Paillard is going to arrive at your table as a thin cutlet, most likely pan seared or butter poached. You’d think, at first glance, that this will be a fairly unremarkable dish. Yet when you take that first bite, your surprise and delight alarms go off – This chicken is tender, juicy – Remarkable, in fact. How does that work in something that looks so pedestrian? What we have here is a classic example of making something look simple. There’s more than meets the eye.

Paillard is a relatively old French term, and the really odd thing is that the root meaning is ‘bawdy’. How that segued into a trendy dish, I don’t know – the culinary variant refers to a thinly sliced or pounded piece of meat. Nowadays, the process is most often called escalope, (or escallope, if you like). That term first appeared in French cooking back in the 1600s, and harkens back to the mollusk that shares the name. A l’escalope meant, in the style of an escalope, such that whatever was being prepared thus was flattened to resemble that noble sea creature.

Doing this to a piece of flesh has practical benefits other than visual legerdemain. Thinning chicken, beef, or pork to an even thickness equates to even cooking, which is of course, always desirable. Secondly, thinner also means faster cooking, and that means easier; also a desirable thing. Thinner also, as strange as it may sound, equals juicier as well; faster cooking time enables that trick. And finally, the amount of pounding I’ll advocate for does indeed tenderize your proteins as well. All of that means that this is a technique definitely worth doing.

The process of escalloping is generally perceived as whacking on a hunk of protein until it’s flat, but that’s frankly not a best practice. Take a nice plump chicken breast like the one I’ll work with herein. That thing is a good 2″ thick as it comes from the butcher; flattening that out with a meat hammer would wear out a veteran roofer, let alone a home cook. Secondly, that much pounding goes well beyond tenderizing and enters the realm of making meat jelly – not very appealing, that. With all those warnings in mind, here’s how it’s done right – A slicer or carver works best for this operation, but any well sharpened blade of 5″ or more will suffice.

On a cutting board, lay the chicken breast skin side down.
Carefully remove the breast from the bone, (bag and freeze bones for future stock production.)
Trim any excess fat, skin flaps, etc.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Make a single cut, lengthwise, roughly half way through the thickness of the breast.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Turn your knife 90°, (parallel to the breast), and slice evenly from that first cut toward the outer edge of the breast, stopping when what’s left uncut is roughly equal to the thickness of the remaining breast.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Repeat that cut on the other half of the breast.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Now you can gently unfold the breast to one roughly uniform butterfly.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Cover with parchment or waxed paper, and use the flat side of a meat hammer to gently pound the beast to uniform thickness.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
Turn meat hammer to the pointy side and very gently, evenly tap the top surface of the breast to tenderize.

Escaloped Chicken, Step by Step
You can and should keep skin intact if you’re going to butter poach or pan sear, for added flavor and moisture retention.
If you’re doing a roulade, remove the skin and save it for making schmaltz.
There you have it – a perfectly escalloped breast ready for cooking. Again, the method allows you to cook the protein as is, or roll it up into some thing a bit fancier if you wish. Here are a couple recipes covering both options. Another fringe benefit of the method is that it notably stretches your yield – A single, plump chicken breast will feed two well, potentially with leftovers remaining.

Classic Chicken Paillard
1 – 2 fresh Chicken Breasts, bone in and skin on.
1 small Lemon
3 Ounces Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
Pinch fresh Lemon Thyme
Sea Salt
Grains of Paradise

Escalope the chicken breast(s) as per above directions.
Chiffonade fresh sage, (dried is fine too).
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, combine butter and oil and melt/heat through.
Slice breast into halves lengthwise.
Season lightly with sea salt and grains of paradise.
Lightly dust breasts evenly with Wondra.
Carefully place breast skin side down in hot sauté pan, and gently press to create full contact with the pan.
Allow to cook for about 2 minutes, then lift one side of pan slightly to pool the butter and oil blend.
Spoon hot butter and oil evenly over the top of the breast for about another 2 minutes, until pan side of breast is nicely browned.
Remove breast from pan and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes, and serve.

There’s the deceptively simple way to take advantage of this wonderful method. Now, here’s one that sounds fussy, maybe even difficult, but truly is neither – It’s easy, fun, and oh, so rewarding. Roulade en Croute means simply rolled and covered with a crust. It’s delicious, offers myriad variations, and quite lovely. While house made is always preferable, I’ll share a dirty little secret about pie crust – Check out Pillsbury refrigerated crusts – There’s virtually nothing bad in them, they taste great, and if you’re pressed for time, they’ll more than do in a pinch.

Chicken Roulade en Croute
1 Large Chicken Breast
Single Pie Crust
1/2 Cup Aged Provolone, shredded
1/2 Cup chopped dried, sweetened Cranberries
1/2 Cup roasted, chopped Hazelnuts
2 teaspoons fresh Sage, (dried is fine)
Jane’s Crazy Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Prepare escaloped chicken breast.
In a dry sauté pan over medium heat, toss chopped hazelnuts until lightly browned. Remove from heat, set aside to cool.

Aged provolone, cranberries, roasted hazelnuts, and fresh sage for Chicken Roulade
Spread even layers of cheese, nuts, cranberries, and sage over the breast.

Chicken Roulade with aged provolone, cranberries, and roasted hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Roll out pie crust to roughly 10″
Gently grab one of the long edges of the breast and form a roll.
Transfer rolled breast to center of crust.

Sealing the roulade en croute
Lap edges of crust over breast, seal with a little water.

Sealing the roulade en croute
Fold crust ends in on themselves neatly.

Sealing the en croute
Place breast on a heavy skillet.

Chicken Roulade en Croute
Lightly rub a little butter over surface.
Season with Jane’s and pepper.
Poke a few lines or holes in crust – You can also cut some small pieces and do a nice design over top – a flower, plant, etc looks pretty cool when done.

Chicken Roulade en Croute
Place pan on a centered rack in oven.
Bake for 20 minutes, then check internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. When temp reaches 155° F, remove roulade from heat and allow to rest in the pan for 10 minutes.

Chicken Roulade en Croute
Cut generous slices and serve.

Chicken Roulade en Croute
Although you won’t need it, a simple pan sauce certainly doesn’t hurt anything.
Over medium heat, deglaze the pan you cooked the roulade in with a half cup of dry white wine. Stir up all the little cooked bits, then add a quarter cup of chicken stock, (or demi glacé, if you heeded our stock making post). Allow that to simmer and reduce for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.
Melt in and incorporate a tablespoon of butter, and drizzle hot over the roulade.