First loves are never forgotten. They tend to ignite a passion and open your eyes and soul to what you truly desire. This is definitely true for me. She was an older woman and she enticed me with wine and food. I discovered her on a rainy afternoon on a PBS station out of Boston. Much fanfare has surrounded Julia Child lately on the occasion of her centennial and she still inspires a deep passion for food in cooks and chefs of all differing abilities.
That was and is one of Julia’s enduring legacies the passion for food. She wasn’t the best technical chef. She would drop and burn things and even cut herself. Still, she persevered in the quest to create meals that nourished both body and soul. Julia preached that food was an event for the senses not just fuel for the human machine. The whole process of cooking was to be savored not just the dishes that ended up on the dinner table. Buying food is not a chore, but the starting point of creation that is as important as properly sautéing or braising. Finding a perfectly ripe tomato or the perfect cut of meat should bring the cook as much joy as tasting the final product. Enjoy every part of cooking and life to the fullest is one of the many lessons Julia taught me.
Mistakes don’t matter. Get over it and move on. There is much still to enjoy. Your soufflé looks like a flat tire? Start over. When you finally get it right, it will taste that much better. Perseverance was her hallmark. Just pour another glass of wine and soldier on. These memories of Julia have sustained me when dishes were total disasters. To a chef, the acronym WWJD means What Would, Julia Do. She taught me that the food and the process were larger than me. She taught that it was better to learn from our failures than to dwell on them. Crack a joke, then get back to the task at hand.
Any reminiscing about Julia would be incomplete without mentioning the world of food she exposed to us. I am often asked what my favorite Julia Child dish is. Without thinking, the words Coq au Vin pour smoothly out of my mouth like Bordeaux going from the bottle to the glass. For me transformed to chicken from boring to majestic. This has become my go to feel good dish it never fails to rejuvenate or inspire me much like the woman who first taught me how to make it. From there I learned the joys of boeuf Bourgogne, salmon en croute, oeufs a la neige (floating island) and many more dishes. I learned to appreciate their history and the skills and patience required to produce this magnificent legacy of cuisine.
Julia appeared at a time when Swanson’s and McDonald’s had co-opted our food heritage. She showed us the food legacy of the French. She taught us not only how to prepare food but how to enjoy it as well. This month, fill a glass with Cote du Rhone or Riesling and make these dishes that evolved from the ones I learned from the woman who taught me to love and appreciate food. Until next month, Bon Appétit and Save the liver.
- 1 hard cooked egg per person
- 6 olives per person
- ½ tomato per person
- 1 red potato per person, cooked sliced
- 6-8 blanched green beans per person
- Mesclun greens
(Serves 1½ cups)
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Whisk all ingredients.
- Chill one hour.
- Shake vigorously before serving
Olive Oil Poached Tuna
Traditionally, this salad is served with canned tuna, usually oil packed. Since fresh tuna is readily available around the Jersey shore, here is a way to prepare tuna for this salad.
- 1 lb tuna
- 3 cups olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- Heat oil with herbs and garlic.
- Cut tuna in chunks. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Let rest 1 hour.
- Poach tuna on medium heat 15-20 minutes until well done.
- Chill in oil or serve warm over niçoise salad set up.
Coq au Vin
This dish requires some extensive preparation, but is worth the work. Pour a glass of red wine for enjoyment as you cook – Julia would!
- Lardons 8 oz slab bacon, cut in 1 x 1/4” strips,
- 3 lb. old rooster or stewing hen, alas in modern times we must settle for a fryer cut into 8 pieces
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- Salt and pepper
- 16 each pearl onions, browned and braised in butter
- 12 each small mushroom caps, sautéed in butter, reserved
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 4 cups Zinfandel or Syrah young good table wine
- 1½ cups chicken stock
- Blanch lardons for five minutes in water, rinsed & patted dry. Then pan fry in sauce preparation.
- Season chicken and brown in same pan with pork fat, 4 minutes per side. Good color will yield a better looking sauce. Add a little oil if necessary.
- Add garlic and brown lightly.
- Deglaze with wine scraping pan with wooden spoon & add stock, thyme and bay leaf.
- Cover & cook in 300 degree oven and cook 35 minutes until tender.
- To make sauce, and this dish is all about the sauce, remove chicken to warm serving platter and top with warmed lardons, onions and mushrooms.
- Degrease braising liquid & reduce by a third.
- Mix 2 tsp softened butter with 2 tsp flour mix to form beurre manie.
- Whisk beurre manie into sauce.
- Add chicken and garnish into sauce to baste.
- Serve with chopped parsley, crusty bread and a couple of glasses of red wine!