Plat du Jour: French Recipes and Dinners Made Easy

Plat du Jour
French Recipes and Dinners Made Easy

Review by Linda Kissam

RECIPES INCLUDED BELOW: Chicken with Walnuts and Lemon, from the Dordogne & Curly Endive Salad with Hot Bacon and Goat Cheese

Missing travel? I think many of us are. But don’t worry – today’s cookbook review is a delightful culinary journey to France though its stories and recipes. Plat du Jour: French dinners made easy does by author Susan Herrmann Loomis fuses the most beloved traditions of French cuisine with innovative dishes that feature fresh pairing ideas.

I can sense some eye-rolling out there. What exactly is a “plat du jour“? According to Loomis, they are “the dishes you find on hand-written menus outside bistros or cafés, the dishes that beckon everyone inside to sample a restaurant’s irresistible, mouthwatering menu.”  They change daily and many are regional dishes that are the stars of France’s fixed price midday menus.  This special cookbook offers recipes for Appetizers, Poultry, Seafood, Beef; Lamb and Veal, Pork, Vegetables, Salads, Eggs, Side Dishes, Desserts and Basics – everything you could possibly want to create your own Menu Du Jour. It’s a must-have for any aspiring home cook with a craving for simple French cooking.

Author Susan Loomis

There are a number of things that make this cookbook so special.  There are stunning images of the food France, ingredients, markets, restaurants – it’s a treat for the eyes for sure as it shows you what success looks like.  Take for example the classic Boeuf Bourguignon. It is only 9 steps long. The “Astuces” (tips) to help you save time/ make substitutions or simply succeed with each recipe.

I could go on and on about this book, but I think I’ll hand it over to you to try two fabulous recipes.  This is a wonderful way to “taste travel” to France from the comfort and safety of your own kitchen until you can get there yourself. Highly recommended as an introduction to French food and cooking but with enough challenge for seasoned cooks also.

Bon appétit!

Recipe 1: CHICKEN WITH WALNUTS AND LEMON, FROM THE DORDOGNE
POULET AUX NOIX ET CITRON

Chicken with Walnuts and Lemon

SERVES 4 TO 6

EQUIPMENT: large heavy skillet with a lid, tongs

PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes if the chicken is in pieces; 20 if not

COOKING TIME: 40 minutes max

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: simple

This is a dish from a farm in the Dordogne, where the walnuts are sweet, fat, and buttery tasting, and they make a perfect complement to poultry. This is the kind of dish that you settle down to with comfort and anticipation, because it’s got all the right elements, from cloves of garlic bursting with their sweet flavor to the golden chicken and walnuts and the tang of lemon that lifts the dish out of the ordinary. Serve this with a lovely Chardonnay.

2 tablespoons olive oil

One 3½- to 4-pound (1.8 to 2 kg) chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 breast pieces, 2 wings with portion of breast attached, 2 legs, 2 thighs), giblets reserved

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1½ to 2 cups (375 to 500 ml) white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc

12 garlic cloves

1¼ cups (140 g) walnut halves or large pieces

Fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs for garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, brown the chicken pieces, seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper, until they are golden, about 5 minutes per side, using tongs to turn the chicken pieces.

 

  1. Add the lemon juice, ½ cup (125 ml) of the wine, and the garlic cloves to the skillet. Lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the chicken is nearly cooked through, about 15 minutes. Then stir the walnuts into the skillet, along with the giblets, cover, and continue to cook for about 8 minutes. Remove the cover from the skillet and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the pan juices have evaporated and the chicken, walnuts, and garlic are golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Be sure to watch the walnuts, for they tend to brown easily. If they are getting too brown at any point in the cooking, remove and return them to the pan just before serving.

 

  1. Transfer the chicken, garlic, and walnuts to a warmed serving platter and deglaze the skillet with the remaining wine, scraping the bottom to loosen any caramelized bits. Begin by adding the smaller amount of wine; if you need more, top it up with the remaining wine and cook until the sauce is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Then pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with the parsley sprigs, and serve immediately.

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Recipe 2: CURLY ENDIVE SALAD with HOT BACON and GOAT CHEESE

SALADE FRISÉE AUX LARDONS ET CHÈVRE

Curly Endive Salad with Hot Bacon and Goat Cheese

Curly Endive Salad

SERVES 6

EQUIPMENT: large heatproof salad bowl, baking sheet, large heavy skillet

PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes max

COOKING TIME: 10 minutes

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: simple

There is no salad more classic nor more delicious than frisée aux lardons et chêvre, perhaps the most popular in the French retinue of composed salads that are served as plats du jour. This is certainly one of my favorites, because it offers everything—crunchy, fresh, salty, nourishing. Since frisée—curly endive—is a winter green and goat cheese is best in winter, this is a winter dish, to be eaten in a cozy environment, accompanied by a lightly chilled Sancerre Blanc.

 

FOR THE GREENS:

11 ounces (330 g) curly endive (about 12 cups, loosely packed) or escarole, rinsed, patted dry, and torn into small pieces

1 large shallot (2 ounces; 70 g), cut into paper-thin rounds

1 garlic clove, cut into tiny dice

FOR THE TOASTS:

12 small slices baguette or other fresh crusty bread

1 garlic clove

3 small goat cheeses (3.5 ounces; 105 g each), such as Crottin de Chavignol, each cut into 2 horizontal rounds, or six 1-inch (2.5 cm) rounds of goat cheese

FOR SERVING:

8 ounces (250 g) slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1-by-¼-by-¼-inch (2.5 cmby-6 mm-by-6 mm) pieces 3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil, if needed

3 tablespoons (45 ml) best quality red wine vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt (optional)

 

  1. Preheat the broiler.

 

  1. Prepare the greens: Place the curly endive, shallot, and garlic in a large heatproof salad bowl, and toss to mix.

 

  1. Prepare the toasts: Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them on one side about 3 inches (7.5 cm) from the heat element for about 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and rub on both sides with the whole garlic clove. Place one round of cheese on the untoasted side of six toasted bread slices and place them, along with the remaining pieces of bread, untoasted side up, under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the bread is toasted, 2 to 3 minutes.

 

  1. Place the bacon in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, just until it is golden, about 5 minutes. Depending upon how much fat is rendered from the bacon, add up to 3 tablespoons oil because you want 4 tablespoons (60 ml) total of fat. Add the vinegar, standing back as it gives off steam. Stir, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then pour over the salad. Toss thoroughly, seasoning generously with pepper and salt if necessary, and toss again.

 

  1. Divide the salad among six warmed salad plates. Place a cheese-topped toast atop each salad, and one piece of plain toast on the side of the plate. Serve immediately.

 

Astuces (Tips and bits of extra information):

 

  • French bacon, and some American brands, are notably lean, so your bacon may need oil for cooking. Have oil at the ready if you need it. If you don’t and wind up with more than 4 tablespoons in the pan, simply drain any excess.

 

  • Cut the garlic into tiny dice rather than mince it. This is because the “bite” of a piece of garlic is necessary, and if it’s minced, it tends to disappear into the salad.

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Linda Kissam

 

Disclosure: I received a copy of Plat du Jour for review purposes from the publisher.  I was not asked to write about this book and am not being compensated for writing this post. All opinions are my own.