So, as of Christmas Day 2015, I am the happy owner of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Happy, despite the fact that this book was first published in 1961 and has not been updated since 1983. Happy, because watching Julie and Julia, the movie inspired by the book, always brings a smile to my face, an appetite to my stomach and a very strong desire to prepare a dish of French food.
But, with 524 recipes – I take the publisher’s word on this – where to begin? With sauces, of course, French cuisine’s unassailable legacy to the world’s cooks. These are to be found at the base of the J-for-Julia curve. To the left, there are aspics, savoury mousses and terrines; not sure we’re going to go there. To the right, up the long leg of the J, are soups, entrees, mains and desserts; many of these use a sauce.
So, working backwards, we looked for the first dish we would prepare and plate up and let it point us to a sauce recipe. We went to the section of escalopes de veau recipes, found one that included a sauce flavoured with tarragon – currently abundant in our kitchen garden – and that took us to brown sauce (1) (there are three versions of brown sauce and at least 10 further variations).
The introduction to brown sauce (1) states “this is the best of the group and the one most nearly approaching the traditional demi-glace. Its preliminaries are somewhat exacting, and it requires at least two hours of simmering; the longer it cooks the better it will be.”
The recipe used 6 American cups of beef stock; we chose to scale it back to 2 cups, so one-third of the quantity for each ingredient. I won’t go into all the detail but I can report that, indeed, the longer it cooked, the better it was, coming together beautifully with respect to both consistency and flavour in the last 15 minutes of the two hours of simmering.
After deglazing the surface of the sauce, we used some to prepare Escalopes de veau a l’estragon, which, accompanied by some fresh beans and kipfler potatoes, looked like this:
We’re not convinced that the tarragon worked well with the veal – we normally use tarragon in partnership with chicken, eggs, fish and ham – but the sauce was otherwise delightful, with a richness that could not have been achieved by using a short-cut.
Inspired by this success, we made another batch of brown sauce yesterday, using twice as much volume of stock and other ingredients as the first time. This gave us double the reward for much the same effort. We also made a couple of minor variations to suit our own palates.