It was a decade ago that I sat in front of Prof. Jon Lang in his class People & Urban Space as a student of Graduate Studies at UNSW and through the course he has said a great many things - all of which important and one of which for me, most memorable.
"The role of a critic, is not to judge a body of work by what he (the critic) wishes the work to be but rather what the author, the creator wanted the body of work to be and if he has in fact achieved it, his goal, his dream" - Prof. Jon Lang
Richard Grausman, before being the first US representative of Cordon Bleu to the US, before being a celebrated author, before being the founder of C-CAP, is first and foremost a teacher.
And that my friends makes all the difference in the world.
As most of you know I have been cooking since I was 9 so more than most I understand what it is like to have to be on your own and muddle through a recipe - hoping and praying for the best. Worst of all, after all that effort, the results may either be mediocre or an all out flop! There are a few TV celebrity chefs I admire, who are great cooks but can't write a book. Why? Because they can't teach.
With this book, no more.
French Classics Made Easy is a distillation of Richard Grausman's knowledge, a knowledge that can only be gained through time and true grit experience. If there is a trick to a technique, he shares it, if there is a step that is out dated, he omits it, if there is a method to cut time, he uses it. This isn't a book that was written so it may adorn a book shelf. Here is a book that is meant for the serious amateur - a cook like you and me who wants to create the Classics with that signature French flair without the redundant information from a long lost era.
I came to learn of Richard Grausman through his first book, At Home with the French Classics' - long before he knew of me, long before his comment on my boeuf bourguignon, during my early days of blogging that knocked the breath out of my chest and certainly long before his publisher asked me to do this book review.
Just like Richard Grausman, let me cut to the chase. If you are going to buy a book on French Cooking and you are not Cordon Bleu, Pepin, Escoffier or Alain Ducasse trained, then buy this and here's why -
- Richard Grausman writes simply and with excruciating detail which guarantees that you cannot fail in the kitchen.
- He presents a tutorial on French cooking in an easy-to-follow manner that takes all the mystery out of French cooking.
- What separates his books from the pack is that Grausman's recipes don't require you to search far and wide for some exotic ingredient and he has taken great pains to ensure that virtually everything you will ever need is available at your local supermarket. For example, his brown stock made from easy-to-find beef bones rather than the more traditional and exotic veal bones.
- Along with the recipes, he presents personal anecdotes & sketches of his cooking techniques which means more satisfying 'aha moments' than brain addled confusion.
- If it were possible to write a book on French Cooking for the times, for every household, on every budget and be able to do so without diluting the essence of the traditional cuisine and to do so with respect, then French Classics Made Easy would be that book.
And if you are still unconvinced to run out out and pick up a copy and gift it to your friends and family, then this might just do it for you! It is said, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" and what better way to put French Classics Made Easy to test than with technique ridden, adapted for the modern home kitchen, Bouillabaisse Americaine?
For most people , the very name has them scurrying past the dish on the menu for the fear of having to actually pronounce the word. Those who show courage, save themselves the embarrassment (in front of the stiff upper lipped waiter in the starched white apron) by pointing, using their index finger and saying "I'll have that, please" all the while carefully avoiding the waiter's eyes for the fear of seeing condescension.
I was one of those people - the pointer. Then one day, I grew up and decided life was to short to not make a fool of myself as long as I learned in the bargain so I said to the waiter, "I want to eat this (still pointing) but how do I pronounce it?" There - problem solved!
Bouillabaisse (pronounced bui-aa-besse) has most cooks running for the hills. Imagine cooking a dish where not only can you not pronounce the name of the dish, neither can you pronounce the name of half the fish in the dish nor do you have any idea what the heck those fish are!
Needless to day, for most of us in the real world, Bouillabaisse, takes a back seat.
But thanks to Richard Grausman with his modern adaptation, using ingredients readily available in our neighbourhood supermarket gives us a Bouillabaisse that though makes no claim to being the 100% authentic Marseilles recipe (because unless yours has sea urchin & scorpion fish in it, it's not), comes quite close to the original and in itself makes for one sensational soup!
I think of Bouillabaisse as a tale of 2 soups - It consists of the soupe de poisson (fish soup) which forms the base to the Bouillabaisse. To call the soupe de poisson a fish stock would tantamount to what the stepmother did to Cinderella. And so without further ado I give you Richard Grausman's Bouillabaisse Americaine.
Step 1 - Prepare the soupe de poisson - fish soup: (see make ahead tips)
Due to the nature of the soup, plan on serving Bouillabaisse to a minimum of 6-8 people as a main course.
The main ingredients are - 5 lbs fish heads, large onions, leeks, ripe tomatoes, garlic cloves, fennel bulbs and leaves, bay leaves, fresh parsley, dried thyme, white wine, water, olive oil and salt.
Cook's Note - I used a large halibut head which I purchased at the Asian fish market. They also cut it up for me in small pieces.
Prepare the ingredients:
Fish heads - Soak the cut up fish heads in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain away the water and set aside.
Tomatoes - Wash, and roughly dice.
Leeks - Cut away the roots and thick green leaves. Roughly dice the rest of the leek and set aside.
Onions - Peel, discard ends and skin. Roughly dice and set aside.
Fennel - Slice off the root tip and the top leaves. Retain the leaves and Cut into 2" pieces. For the fennel bulb, roughly dice and set aside.
Parsley - Cut way the stalks, wash and set aside.
Garlic cloves - Peel and smash the cloves. Set aside.
In a large stock pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, fennel bulb and the leeks. Saute for about 5 minutes till the onions sweat but do not brown.
Add the fennel stalks and stir.
Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, smashed garlic, bay leaves, parsley stalks & thyme. Stir to combine.
Add the fish heads, water, wine and salt. Increase to high heat and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-high heat again and cover the stock pot with a tight fitting lid. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Allow the soup to cool. Strain the soup through a sieve. Aggressively push the solids in the sieve to capture all of the juices from the vegetables and fish. Discard the solids and set the soup aside or in the refrigerator or freezer for future use.
Step 2 - Bouillabaisse:
Though you can do the cutting and chopping before hand, begin cooking ONLY 20 minutes before you are ready to eat.
I started the soup at the same time I served the salad course at my dinner party and that worked really well.
Also use a timer to make sure the fish is not overcooked.
Prepare the ingredients for the Bouillabaisse:
The main ingredients are the large variety of seafood and shell fish : You can use any number of white fish & stay away from oily fish such as mackerel or blue fish.
Fish & sea food: Halibut fillets, red snapper fillets, peeled and deveined shrimp manila clams or mussels, sea scallops, live lobster - cut into serving pieces at the fish market.
Fish Fillets - remove any bones. Cut into 2" pieces and set aside in the refrigerator till ready to use.
Clams & mussels - Scrub away any dirt from the shell. Soak the clams or mussels in water for 2 hours before using to remove sand.
Keep all the seafood in the refrigerator till ready to use.
Vegetables, herbs and spices: Used are onions, leeks, fennel bulb, garlic cloves, dried thyme, bay leaf, parsley stalks, tomato, orange, saffron strands, salt, pepper and olive oil.
Onions - Peel, discard skin and finely chop
Leeks - Discard thick green leaves and root tip. Use only the white and very light green parts. Halve and thinly slice.
Fennel bulb - Discard the stalks and fronds. Cut away the root tip. Halve and finely chop.
Tomato - Peel with a vegetable peeler, de-seed and finely chop.
Orange - Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin and set aside. Also juice the orange and set aside the juice.
Parsley - Discard the stalks and finely chop the leaves.
Garlic cloves - Peel, discard skin and finely chop.
In a large stock pot, add olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions, leek and fennel. Cook about 5 minutes until the onion sweats but does not brown. Add the garlic, parley, tomato, bay leaf, thyme, orange peel, saffron strands, salt and pepper. Saute for about a minute.
Place the lobster, mussels or clams and fish fillets in the pot. Cover with the cool soupe de poisson (fish soup) previously prepared & the orange juice.
Bring to boil over medium heat. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and cook for 20 minutes (use timer)
Add the shrimp and scallops. Bring to boil for 1 minute. Once the soup comes to a boil the shrimp and scallops should be done.
Taste and adjust seasonings in the soup. Serve the seafood in individual soup plates and pour the soup over it. Serve the remaining soup in a tureen.
Also be sure to serve the bouillabaisse with toasted french bread and rouille - mayonnaise mixed with 4-5 cloves finely chopped garlic cloves and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
Serve hot toasted french bread with this rouille. It is out of this world!
Make Ahead tips -
What makes Bouillabaisse so perfect for the home kitchen is that the soupe de poisson can be made 1-2 days in advance to be stored in the refrigerator or even a month in advance in the freezer.
The actual Bouillabaisse this point on takes only a total of 25 minutes!
Also, begin toasting your french bread as an accompaniment the same time the lobster etc goes into the pot. Slice the bread into 1/4" thick slices & toast in a preheated oven at 400 deg F.
The rouille can be made earlier in the day and left to chill in the refrigerator.
So light and refreshing is this soup infused in wine, herbs, seafood liqueur, the scent of oranges and saffron. Marvelously understated in it's flavors, the varied sea food and shell fish is a feast nestled in the fragrant broth.
It is obvious that if you make this soup without the soupe de poisson and the saffron it will still be a fish soup but certainly not bouillabaisse! This is without doubt one of the most memorable meals I have ever prepared and served.
It is also a wonderful meal to share in the company of good friends with some excellent burgundy or a chilled rose de Provence and you too will feel like you have been transported back to Cote d'Azur!
Undoubtedly, Richard Grausman's - FRENCH CLASSICS MADE EASY will forever take up it's rightful place on my kitchen counter-top near his previous, dog-eared, in tatters & beurre-blanc stained one!
As for me, something tells me that as long as I keep cooking & writing, I will be making reference to this author & his books for many years to come!