Around My French Table is the book that grew and grew and it grew to be so big that there wasn’t room for the glossary, so here it is. Like the glossary in Baking From My Home to Yours, this one will give you information on tools, techniques and ingredients. If you find that something’s missing – scream! The good thing about having it here, online, is that I can add and edit.
À la minute: Literally, à la minute means “this instant,” or, more practically when you’re in the kitchen, “at the last minute.” Anything that you do just before serving can be considered à la minute. The key to getting things done à la minute, is preparation: know what you’ve got to do and have everything you need to do it at hand. In other words, take the time to do a good mise en place.
À la mode: For Americans, this term translates to “ice cream on top,” as in pie à la mode. But for the French, it means “in fashion,” and the expression is often used to describe a trendy ingredient or dish. For example, anything flavored with rose is très à la mode these days.
AOC or Appellation d’Origine Controlée (Name of Origin Controlled): Agricultural products, wine included, that can only be produced in a specific geographic region using specific ingredients from that region can be awarded an AOC. So, for example, Champagne is an AOC wine, and the designation is printed on the label. If you have the same variety of grapes as those grown in the Champagne region and you vinify them the same way, but you’re not in Champagne, what you’ll have, in the eyes of French law, is a sparkling wine: true Champagne can only be made in Champagne. It’s all about terroir, or the land, and the difference that local conditions make. The AOC designation is meant to protect the integrity of local products as diverse as Roquefort and chickens from Bresse, and when a product has an AOC, it always sports the fact, since it’s a hard-won honor.
Armagnac: Like Cognac, whisky, and bourbon, Armagnac is a distilled (highly alcoholic) spirit. It is made from three types of white grapes, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard, and aged in oak casks in Gascony, the region in Southwest France best known as home to the Three Musketeers. Enjoyed most often, just as Cognac is, as a digestive after dinner, Armagnac is a wonderful spirit to cook with — see M. Jacques’s Chicken (Page 204-5) — and a good sip-along with rich desserts, especially the Coupétade (page 419-20), since it contains prunes, another specialty of the region and one that goes so well with Armagnac. Armagnac is not inexpensive (it sells from about $30 to well over $100), but stored upright (never on its side) away from light and heat, it will keep almost forever, even after you’ve opened it. You can replace Armagnac with Cognac or brandy in most recipes. The spirits are not the same, but they each add character to a dish.
Asparagus: Asparagus are culinary royalty in France, celebrated when they make their first appearance in spring and always treated very carefully and often very richly, since they pair so well with luxurious egg sauces like mayonnaise or hollandaise. Whether you’re buying green asparagus or the more unusual (and more expensive) white, look for spears that are firm to the touch (avoid those that are wrinkled) and have tightly closed tips. See page 128-9 for information on trimming and cooking asparagus.
Au pif (“oh-peef”): I love this expression, which is slang and which, when applied to cooking (as it most often is), translates roughly as “cooking by feel” or “by instinct.” Pif can mean nose, but cooking au pif doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with nose or scent. It’s more about just having a feel for a dish and cooking it without a recipe. If you take a look at the story about Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake (page 430-32), you’ll get a sense of what au pif can mean, since that’s the way she makes her cake. We’ve all got recipes that we cook au pif, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, you count your au pif recipes among your favorites.
Bacon: I’m convinced that the French were the original everything-tastes-better-with-bacon people. If you were stuck in the middle of nowhere in France with only a gas-station convenience store to shop in, you’d probably be able to find bacon and maybe even lardons (lahr-dahn), short strips of bacon that are about 1/4 inch thick. French cooks often buy their bacon in large slabs, so that they can cut pieces of any thickness to match the dish they’re making. At home, I mostly use sliced bacon, but I cut lardons from slab bacon. Once they’re cut, I blanch the lardons for a minute in boiling water, then drain and pat them dry and sauté them. Lardons make a good topping for soups and salads and are a prime ingredient in Quiche Lorraine (page 157).
Batterie de cuisine: Pots and pans, rolling pins, knives, cookie cutters, spatulas, brushes, and all the assorted tools and gadgets that we reach for when we’re cooking and baking are our batterie de cuisine.
Beurre noisette (“burre nwa-sette”): Beurre noisette translates as hazelnut butter, but the term is descriptive rather than actual, since no hazelnuts are involved; the butter is heated until it turns a nut brown and smells like hazelnuts and tastes ever so slightly like caramel. We call the same preparation brown butter. Heat brown butter a little more, and you get beurre noir (burr nwhar), or black butter (it shouldn’t turn truly black; rather it should be a deep brown). Beurre noir is most famously paired with skate.
Benriner slicer: This is a handheld slicer with an adjustable blade that allows you to thinly slice potatoes for a gratin or thickly slice truffles for a snack (if ever you find yourself with enough truffles on hand for snacking). Think of it as a more portable, less expensive (and, in some ways, less complicated) mandoline.
Blanch: Blanching is a way of quickly precooking greens, removing their raw taste, and keeping the green color. It’s also a way of softening a vegetable or fruit so that it can be peeled — about tomatoes and peaches. To blanch something, drop it into a large quantity of boiling salted water and cook it briefly — depending on what you’re cooking and whether or not you’ll be cooking it again, you might keep the ingredient in the pot for as little as 30 seconds or for as long as a couple of minutes. Immediately after blanching, the ingredient is “shocked” — dunked into a bowl of ice water or rinsed under cold water, to stop the cooking and, in some cases, set the color. I was a reluctant blancher for much of my adult life. And then one day I took the extra few minutes needed to blanch basil before turning it into pesto, saw how it kept its vibrant color, and I became a convert.
Bonne idée (bohn-ee-day): This means “good idea.” I use the term at the end of a recipe to introduce a variation, serving suggestion, or related preparation that you might find helpful, clever, delicious, or just plain bonne.
Bouillon cubes: As strange as it sounds, the French use bouillon cubes (chicken, beef, and vegetables) at home all the time — even chefs turn to them when they’re cooking at home. Except when a recipe calls for adding a cube to a dish as flavoring (rather than to create a stock or soup), you can always use homemade stock or store-bought broth, a product that is not easily found in French supermarkets, instead.
Bouquet garni: A bouquet garni is an herb seasoning for slow-cooked dishes like soups and stews. While there is no set combination of herbs in a bouquet garni, the most frequently used ingredients are parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. If you’ve got celery in the dish, you might add a few celery leaves to the bouquet. And if you’ve got a leek in the dish, then it’s neat, efficient, and flavorful to use a washed leek green as the wrapper for the herbs: tuck the herbs into the green and tie them up with twine. If your bouquet also includes dried spices, such as peppercorns and coriander seeds, it’s best to make a sachet by placing the ingredients in a double thickness of cheesecloth, folding the cheesecloth into a packet or sachet to enclose all the little bits of herbs and spices, and securing the sachet with kitchen twine. If you’re a gadget collector, you might want to purchase a mesh ball on a long thin chain — it looks like an oversized tea infuser — to replace the leek or cheesecloth.
Boulangerie: While some French pastry shops sell bread and some bread shops sell a few pastries, the most traditional place to buy bread is a boulangerie. If the bread maker, the boulanger, makes his own dough, kneads, shapes, and bakes it himself, there will be a sign that proclaims him an artisan bread maker. These days, many bakeries sell breads that are prepared elsewhere and just baked on the premises. These breads can be very tasty, but they are not considered artisan breads.
Braise: When cook meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables slowly in liquid, you are braising. The most common synonym for braise is stew.
Butter: All the recipes in this book were made using unsalted butter unless otherwise specified, and they were tested with Land O’Lakes butter, a fine-quality butter that is available throughout the United States. However, if you have a local creamery that makes butter, I’d suggest you use it. And if, by chance, you can get cultured butter, I’d urge you to use it, especially if you’re baking — you’ll get a flavor that will come much closer to the flavors of French butter. Unlike “regular” butter, cultured butter is made from cream that has been fermented, or cultured, for several hours, often for as long as 18 hours, before it is churned (a lactic culture, like that used for yogurt, is added to the cream). The result is a butter with a slight tang. Not all French butters are cultured — only the best ones, and often the ones that have an AOC (such as butters from Charentes, Isigny, or Echiré). Culturing accounts for one of the significant French-American differences in butter; the other is the higher percentage of butterfat in French butters. By law, American butters must contain at least 80 percent butterfat; in France, the minimum in 82 percent, and the great AOC butters usually have at least 84 percent. The more butterfat, the more flavor, and the less water. At home in America, I get the quality of small-batch churning, the flavor of culturing, and a high butterfat content from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s and Straus Family Farm’s (California) butters.
Canola oil: It took me a while to realize that the brilliant yellow flowers that grow in the fields near the vineyards of Burgundy are colza, a plant used to make the oil that is known as rapeseed and is almost identical to supermarket-prosaic canola. Friends of mine from the region refer to colza as old-fashioned, because it was the oil their Burgundian grandmothers always used, but now it’s an oil they seek out for themselves. Canola/colza doesn’t have a distinctive flavor (something not true of artisanally roasted colza oil, but that’s something else altogether) and that, along with the fact that it has a high burning point, is one of its virtues. It can be used for frying and for making sauces like mayonnaise, where the oil flavor doesn’t need to be front and center.
Celery: In most French markets, you can buy just a single stalk of celery if that’s all you need for your broth. My relationship to celery changed a couple of decades ago when I first saw someone, French, bien sûr, peel a celery stock. When I asked her why, her answer was, “To make it more digestible.” I’m not certain that peeling the curved side of the celery — you do it with a vegetable peeler — makes it more digestible, but I do know that it’s a pleasure not to have to battle with stringy celery in polite company. These days, I routinely peel celery if I’m using good-sized hunks of it. If I’m thinly slicing it (and the strings would be short and not too problematic), I peel it only when I’m in the mood.
Celery root: Although I can buy celery root, also called celeriac, in my local supermarket in Connecticut, it doesn’t seem to be as appreciated in the United States as it is in France — a judgment based on the fact that almost every time I buy it at Stop & Shop, someone asks me what it is. It’s a large, bulbous — okay, gnarly — vegetable with a rough exterior. The best ones are unshriveled and fresh smelling; they might be a little moist, and they might even be found in a bin with a little water in it. The flavor is mellower than that of stalk celery, and sweeter too. You can use it in any dish calling for root vegetables; you can puree it and serve in place of mashed potatoes, or mix the puree into mashed potatoes (I love it this way — see the recipe on page 000); and you can even shred it and serve it raw as a salad (just make sure to toss the celery root with a little lemon juice to keep it from darkening). Celery root must be peeled before it’s used, and this is probably what keeps it from reaching the top of the vegetable hit parade. You can use a regular (sharp) vegetable peeler on it or you can do what chefs do: cut a slice off the top and bottom of the root to level it, put it on a cutting board, and, using a sturdy knife, work your way around the root, slicing the skin off from top to bottom. What you lose in celery root (you’ll be cutting away a little of the vegetable with each slice), you’ll make up for in time.
Cheesecloth: I remember a French friend being as astonished by the fact that we can find cheesecloth in our supermarkets as I was by the fact that hers routinely carry ready-made all-butter puff pastry. Cheesecloth, which looks somewhat like first-aid gauze, is great for tying up a bouquet garni, straining anything really fine, and making a wondrous Coeur à la Crème (page 424-26). In general, it’s a good thing to moisten the cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess water before using it — it helps make it even less porous.
Chicken: If your market carries free-range, organic, or free-range organic chicken, that should be your first choice. When you get your chicken home, remove it from its wrapping if it’s in plastic, and rewrap it, then put it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Or, if you’re going to cook the chicken that day, unwrap it and let it air-chill, so the skin dries; it will help it brown. It’s best to use a chicken within a day or two of buying it. If you won’t be cooking it that soon, wrap the chicken well and freeze it for up to 1 month; defrost it, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator. Following the advice of experts who say that washing chicken merely splashes whatever bacteria might be on them all over and that cooking the bird destroys the bacteria, I don’t wash my chickens before I cook them (see page 201), but I do pat them dry with paper towels.
Chocolate: It’s a good thing that Franco-American relations don’t depend on chocolate, because if they did, diplomats would have their hands full. In America, the preference is for milk chocolate; in France the national sentiment is the darker and more bitter, the better. Of course you can find milk chocolate in France, but when you do, it’s darker and richer than what we get here. I’m a fan of bittersweet chocolate and that’s my go-to chocolate for baking. If you like a milder chocolate, you can substitute semisweet. However, unless the chocolate in the recipe is used like chips, I wouldn’t advise swapping milk or white chocolate for dark chocolates; the lighter, milkier chocolates don’t behave in the same way as their darker siblings, and you’re likely to throw off the results.
Cocoa percentages in chocolates: It’s trendy these days to talk about chocolate’s cocoa or cacao percentages. In France, all chocolate must be labeled with these percentages; in the United States it’s optional, but it’s becoming more common. However, even if you don’t see the percentages on the package, there are regulations that govern the amount of cacao that must be present for a chocolate to be labeled here as milk or semisweet chocolate. For example, although one company’s bittersweet may taste like another’s semisweet (the FDA makes no distinction between the two names), both must have at least 35 percent cocoa. Similarly, sweet chocolate (which is more a commercial designation) must have at least 15 percent, and milk chocolate must contain at least 10 percent. High-quality dark chocolates have upwards of 50 percent cocoa, and French milk chocolates have about 30 percent cocoa.
All chocolate starts with the ground nibs of cacao beans, a substance called cocoa liquor, which is made up of equal parts cocoa butter (fat) and cocoa. Unsweetened chocolate, or what is sometimes called baker’s chocolate, is pure cocoa liquor and, therefore, 100 percent cacao. To produce the range of chocolates from bitter to sweet, sugar is added to the liquor, and usually more cocoa butter too. Technically, the higher the percentage of cacao, the more chocolaty and less sweet the chocolate will be. The reason I say technically is that you can’t really play chocolate by numbers alone. Like everything that starts with something produced by Mother Nature, what’s truly important is the quality of the primary ingredient, in this case the cacao bean — the way it is grown, the way it is harvested, and how it is dried, roasted, and blended. Knowing this, you can see why it’s not so much about loving a chocolate that’s 70 percent cocoa as it is about loving a particular chocolate. From here, it’s an easy jump to the idea that the best chocolate is the one you like best. My advice: taste, taste, and taste some more.
Storing chocolate: No matter what kind of chocolate you have, you should store it in a cool, dry place away from light. Don’t keep chocolate in the refrigerator — it’s too humid. And don’t worry if your chocolate develops what’s called “bloom,” a gray or white discoloration — it comes from heat and will disappear when the chocolate is melted. Dark chocolates can be kept for a couple of years, while white and milk chocolates are more fragile and should be used within a year.
Chorizo: A cured and smoked spicy pork sausage from Spain, chorizo is often found in dishes from the Basque region, where its chile-pepper heat is appreciated. Unlike Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and soft, the Spanish chorizo used in these recipes is bought fully cooked — one is not a substitute for the other.
Cocoa powder: Cocoa powder is made by pressing cocoa liquor (see Chocolate) so that almost all of the cocoa butter (fat) is removed, then grinding it. Cocoa powder should be 100 percent cacao and unsweetened. Cocoas that are Dutched, or Dutch-processed, are often mellower than cocoas called “natural.” While you can use Dutched or natural cocoas interchangeably in these recipes, my preferred cocoas — Valrhona and Droste — are Dutched.
Comté: A dense, ivory-colored, nutty-flavored cow’s-milk cheese, comté is made in the Jura, the mountainous region that straddles France and Switzerland. In fact, it’s that straddle that accounts for the differences between Comté and the more widely known Gruyère, since the process of making the two cheeses, the look of the cheeses, and their flavors are almost identical. The difference? Comté is French, Gruyère is Swiss. For a Comté to comply with the French AOC designation, it must have holes (like — dare I say this and confuse things further? — what we call Swiss cheese), while a Gruyère, to be a true Gruyère, must not. Both cheeses are made in large wheels and bought by the thick slice or wedge. They are excellent solo — I always have a Comté or Gruyère on my cheese platter (my favorites are Comtés and Gruyères that have been aged, so that they are firmer and slightly saltier) — and terrific in the kitchen, because they melt smoothly. In fact, they are the cheese of fondue, whose name means melted. You can use Comté and Gruyère interchangeably in these recipes.
Confit: The word confit has both a sweet and a savory meaning. On the savory side, a confit is a dish in which the food, most famously duck, is cooked slowly in its own fat. (For modern takes on this technique, see Tuna Confit, page 305-7, and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, page 342-43.) On the sweet side, fruit, such as lemon zest that is cooked in sugar, or candied, is considered confited.
Cooling racks: Almost anything that you bake (certainly almost anything sweet) needs to cool before you serve it, and so you should have at least two (three’s even better) cooling racks in your batterie de cuisine. Racks keep whatever you’ve baked above the counter so that air can circulate around it — it’s the way to prevent soggy bottoms. Cooling racks should have closely spaced metal grids or bands and little feet that are about 1/2 inch high.
Cornichons: These are very small pickles that are always stored in brine. You can think of them as French gherkins, although unlike some U.S. gherkins, cornichons are never sweet. Cornichons are tucked into simple sandwiches, chopped and folded into sauces (try them in the mayonnaise the next time you’re making tuna salad), or served as a condiment; often alongside mustard, with spice-them-up-yourself mild dishes like Boeuf à la Ficelle (page 248-50).
Coulis: A coulis is a pureed sauce. While the term is most often used for fruit purees (think raspberry coulis), an herb puree can be a coulis as well.
Couscous: As simple as couscous is, it can be a taxonomic challenge, since the word refers to both the ingredient and the finished dish that includes it. Couscous looks like a golden cousin of millet, but, in fact, it’s a tiny pasta made from semolina. A staple in Northern African cuisine couscous (the dish) consists of cooked couscous (the pasta), an assortment of vegetables, usually including chickpeas, often a star ingredient such as chicken, lamb, and/or spicy merguez sausage, and the broth everything cooked in. The dish is served in parts: the couscous pasta, the moistening broth and the chunky meats and vegetables with raisins, almonds, and harissa, a fiery red pepper paste, which are offered as condiments. Traditionally couscous (the ingredient) was cooked over steam and then repeatedly raked until each little granule was separated from its neighbors. It is a long process and one that demands not just patience, but practice. Today couscous is used in many untraditional dishes and it’s more popular, in part because a quick-cooking version is available on supermarket shelves. That is the type I use whether I’m making a big chicken couscous or a small side dish to accompany a chop.
Crème fraîche: While its name translates as “fresh cream,” crème fraîche is almost the opposite of that: it’s heavy cream that’s been cultured or fermented, rendering it not fresh, but alluringly tangy. Crème fraîche’s closest American relative is sour cream, but crème fraîche is thicker (the best crème fraîche pulls from the tub like taffy), denser, silkier, and slightly sweeter. It can also do two things that sour cream can’t: it can handle heat without curdling, making it a terrific sauce thickener, and it can be whipped. In cooking, heavy cream is the best substitute for crème fraîche — you won’t get crème fraîche’s tang, but you won’t have any separation anxiety either. In baking, the best substitute is heavy cream, although sour cream will work in some recipes. But when you want the texture and slight sourness, crème fraîche is the choice. While it’s expensive and not always easy to find here, you can easily make a faux crème fraîche at home, you just have to plan ahead (page 491).
Daube: What the French call a daube, we call a stew. Technically a daube is cubed meat braised in wine and cooked in a daubière, a heavy covered casserole, or Dutch oven.
Dutch oven: A heavy covered casserole, a Dutch oven (aka daubière) is indispensable in a French kitchen. Certainly it was indispensable to me in my first Paris apartment. While we lived at a chic address in a ritzy neighborhood, our apartment came sans oven, as many apartments in old buildings in old Parisian neighborhoods still do. It was only then that I realized that a Dutch oven truly is an oven, albeit a small one. While I never baked in it, although ovenless French friends of mine did, I used it to roast chicken, beef, and vegetables and, of course, to make soups and stews, the dishes I pull it out for most often now that all my kitchens are fully equipped.
Eau de vie: Literally “water of life,” an eau-de-vie is a clear distilled spirit made from fermented fruit. It can be made in almost any flavor, but the most popular eaux de vie are kirsch (cherry); framboise (raspberry); poire, particularly poire William (pear); mirabelle (a type of yellow plum); and quetsche (a purple prune plum). Normally served chilled after dinner, eaux de vie are often used to add extra punch to desserts (in place of or in addition to extract), syrups, and sauces. Like aquavit and slivovitz, eaux de vie from other cultures, French eau de vie used to be made at home. One of the loveliest gifts Michael and I ever received was a bottle of mirabelle that our friend’s grandfather had made in 1947. When we brought it out at a dinner for French friends in Paris, the sight of the bottle, with its carefully printed label, brought back such powerful memories of times past that a few people’s eyes filled with tears.
Eggs: All of the recipes in this book were tested with large eggs, or what the French would call moyenne, medium or average, eggs that weigh about 2 ounces (60 grams) — about 1/3 ounce (10 grams) for the shell, about 1 ounce (30 grams) for the white, about 2/3 ounce (20 grams) for the yolk, and Unless otherwise noted, eggs should be at room temperature when they’re added to a recipe. While it’s always best to refrigerate eggs as soon as you get them home, they should be removed from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours, before you’ll be using them. Whenever possible, choose organic eggs, which, because of the high standards regulating the way the chickens are raised and fed, are less likely to have problems related to bacteria. This is particularly important if the eggs will not be cooked or if you’re poaching, coddling, or soft-boiling them. (See page 151 for information on extra-fresh eggs.)
En papillote: When you see a dish that’s “en papillote,” you know immediately that whatever it is — and it can be almost anything from chicken to cherries — has been encased in a parchment or foil packet and cooked, usually in the oven. It’s an old and very healthful way of cooking, and while the packet might be baked, the food inside is really steamed. Because everything you put in the packet stays there — the juices, aromas, and nutrients — you can cook many things en papillote without oil. However, I usually add a smidgen of oil or butter to the packet for flavor and to help the juices form a more coherent sauce.
Extract: The extract used most commonly in these recipes is vanilla, and I use only pure vanilla extract — it makes a world of difference. All extracts should be kept tightly closed in a cool, dark cupboard. Check on them every once in a while, sniffing them to make certain that their fragrance is still powerful.
Flour: All of these recipes were made using regular all-purpose flour, not unbleached. In working to re-create recipes I’d made in France, I found that our ordinary all-purpose flour came closer to the finer-grained, weaker flour that the French use at home.
Foie gras: Foie gras, the fattened liver of specially raised ducks or geese, is always expensive and never served without a little fanfare. It’s truly a special-occasion ingredient, one usually reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. Foie gras is available everywhere in France but only at a limited number of specialty markets in America. However, the same high-quality foie gras used by chefs is available to us online (see Sources, page 514). Always buy your foie gras from a reliable merchant who does a lively business in it or who has special-ordered it for you, and when you get it, use it — it’s not an ingredient that keeps well.
Food mill: Technically a vegetable mill, or moulin aux légumes, a food mill is an old-timey tool that belongs in every super-modern kitchen. A food mill looks like a high-sided metal (or plastic nowadays) ring fitted with a crank and, at the base, grating blades (usually fine, medium, and coarse). It’s simple, but it does two things at once and it does both of them very well: it both purees food and separates the pulp from skin and pits or seeds. Cook apples or tomatoes for sauce without peeling or coring them, run them through the mill, and you’ll have sauce in a bowl and the peel and pits and core in the mill. Or use the mill to make lovely mashed potatoes, other vegetable purees, or any kind of smooth (or roughly smooth) soup. It’s not the same as a blender or food processor — food passed through a mill is less homogeneous and therefore often more interesting — and it won’t replace these tools, but it’s simple, inexpensive, efficient, green, and, to my mind, very satisfying to use.
Fromage: Say cheese! See page 388-89 for information on serving.
Ganache: For anyone who loves chocolate, ganache, a mixture of chocolate and heavy cream, and sometimes a little butter, could be its own food group. Thick ganache, when rolled into balls, chilled, and dusted with cocoa, becomes truffles. When poured into a crust, it becomes a luxurious filling (page 474). Thinner ganache makes an elegant glaze for a cake. The secret to making ganache is to chop the chocolate very fine, to have the cream at a full boil, and to make certain that the butter, if you’re using it, is soft and creamy, almost like mayonnaise. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let it sit for a moment, and then gently stir the mixture, taking care not to beat air into it. Finally, stir in the butter. Ganache to be used for a glaze should rest until it is the pouring consistency you want. Ganache for a filling should be poured into the crust and chilled until set, then served after it’s had a little out-of-the-fridge time. Truffles should be served chilled.
Garlic: I think it’s fascinating that while French food is often closely associated with garlic, the French like the flavor of garlic most when it intrudes least. In fact, garlic is rarely used raw, and very frequently it is blanched and/or the germ is removed to tone it down before it’s added to a preparation. To remove the germ, split the garlic clove lengthwise, then use the tip of a paring knife to lift away the little sprout in the center. Eliminating the germ makes garlic less potent and more easily digestible.
Grapeseed oil: Not to be confused with rapeseed oil (see canola oil), grapeseed oil is a neutral oil that can tolerate high heat, making it perfect for sautéing and for vinaigrettes and mayonnaises in which you don’t want to distinguish the flavor of the oil. The oil does, in fact, come from grapes — specifically from the seeds, the solids that are left over after the grapes’ juice has been pressed for wine.
Gruyère: Swiss cousin; see above.
Gourmet versus gourmand: While we often use the words interchangeably, the French are usually careful not to confuse the two. To be correct, a gourmet is a connoisseur, someone who knows and appreciates fine food, while a gourmand is someone with a hearty appetite.
Herbes de Provence: A mixture of dried herbs from Provence. While the mélange is variable, the stalwarts are usually thyme, fennel, savory, and marjoram, and often basil and bay. Some mixes contain lavender and I love that, although the herb is strong and immediately recognizable and not always everyone’s favorite.
Hors d’oeuvre: The literal translation of the term is “outside the work” and in the case of a meal, the “work” is the dishes you eat, from the first course, through dessert. Although we often refer to hors d’oeuvres, in French the expression is always singular.
Jus: I want to translate jus as goop, but that wouldn’t cover all that jus is. Jus can be juice, as in jus d’orange (orange juice), or it can be jus de cuisson, as in the cooking or pan juices that accumulate around a roast or chicken, in which case I (at odds with the Academie Francaise, I’m sure) think it’s perfectly fine to refer to that light, luscious liquid as goop.
Lemongrass: This herb is a common ingredient in Vietnamese cooking, and the name describes both its fragrance and look: the scent is intensely lemony (more like the smell of zest than fruit), and the plant looks like a wild grass. In the markets, what you get is a tight bulb that extends into a firm stalk. The prized portion is the bulb, but you must peel away a couple of the rough outer layers to get to the best part. You must also lightly crush the bulb or finely chop it to release its full flavor and aroma. While most recipes tell you to discard the stalk, I save it, cut it into inch-long pieces, and steep it with fresh ginger and honey to make an invigorating tea that is good hot or cold.
Lentils: French lentils are small, gray-green (sometimes they are called lentilles vertes, or green lentils), and less prone to turning mushy when cooked than their paler-colored cousins are. The lentils that come from Puy (lentilles vertes du Puy), in the Auvergne region (smack in the center of France), have their own AOC and are thought to have been grown in the area since Roman times. Like all legumes, lentils of any kind should be stored in a cool, dry place (they’ll keep almost indefinitely) and must be rinsed thoroughly and picked through for bits of stone and field dirt. (For basic instructions on cooking lentils, see page 367-68.)
Mandoline: A professional mandoline looks like a mini children’s slide and has a blade as sharp as a guillotine’s — it’s a tool for adults only. Mandolines are perfect for slicing hard vegetables like potatoes into wafer-line slices for gratins, and with a change of blades, you can julienne vegetables or waffle them. Once you get the hang of using your mandoline, don’t think you can manage without the guard: a mandoline demands precautions and respect. For an efficient tool that’s still serious but doesn’t seem to inspire the need to have a first-aid kit at hand, think about a Benriner slicer.
Milk: All of these recipes were tested with whole milk.
Mise en place: I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if you want to do just one thing to make yourself a better cook, get into the habit of preparing a mise en place for every dish. Mise en place means, literally, “put in place,” or “set up.” Think of a television cooking show and of the trays of ingredients with each ingredient measured out and ready to use, and you’ll know what a mise en place is. Invest in some pinch bowls and custard cups. Then, when you cook or bake, measure everything out, put all the little bowls of ingredients on a baking sheet or tray, along with ingredients like eggs and lemons and bottles of wine or extract, channel your favorite Iron Chef in competition, and set to work. The time you put into this preparation will reward you in the end — you’ll cook faster and more efficiently, and you won’t ever find yourself in the horrible (and common) position of being halfway through a recipe and discovering you’re missing a key ingredient.
Mustard: This ingredient is to the French what ketchup is to us: the go-to condiment — it comes to the table at every café along with the salt and pepper. The best-known mustard is named for the Burgundian city of Dijon (actually, Dijon mustard refers to a style of mustard, one that’s smooth, sharp, and strong), but mustard didn’t originate in France: it appears to have arrived with the ancient Romans. The fact that the French didn’t invent mustard didn’t stop them from adopting it and manufacturing their own, and by medieval times, it was a kitchen staple. Pope John XXII, living in Avignon in the fourteenth century, established the position of “Pope’s First Mustard Maker,” and two centuries later, the Sun King, Louis XIV, took to traveling with his own mustard pot in tow. In fact, mustard pots are still traditional wedding presents in France, and you can still bring your own little pot to shops like Maille for a refill. The two mustards that I keep on hand at all times and used in these recipes are Dijon and grainy, known as moutarde à l’anciènne, or old-fashioned mustard, but if you’re a mustard lover, I urge you to experiment. Mustard with green peppercorns makes a wonderful addition to vinaigrettes and horseradish mustard is great with steak . . . and frites.
Niçoise Olives: Named for the city of Nice, these mild, oval-shaped olives are very small and very dark, with a color that can vary from deep purple to black. They can be eaten plain as a nibble with an aperitif or used in salads (see Salade Niçoise, page 125-27), breads (see Provençal Fougasse, page 48-50) and even cookies (see Olive Sablés, page 12-13).
Nutella: Although Nutella comes from Belgium, that hasn’t dampened the French passion for the chocolate and hazelnut spread. It’s got the consistency of peanut butter and, like peanut butter, it’s most commonly found atop bread — and often found on the menus of famous chefs, who love to play with the childhood favorite. (See the tartine inspired by Pierre Hermé, page 414-15.) Once you’ve got a jar in your cupboard, you’ll find lots of uses for it. For starters, try using it as a frosting for a simple cake (it’s particularly good on the Visitandine, page 436-37) or as the surprise base of a chocolate ganache tart (page 468).
Nuts: Nuts are prized in the kitchen for their flavor, texture, and oils, but those oils can trip you up — as good as they are fresh, nuts can be shiver-making horrible when they go rancid — and they can go rancid quickly. Make sure you buy your nuts from a supplier who has a good turnover, and when you get them home, if you’re not going to be using them soon, pack them airtight and store them in the freezer. Always taste a nut or two from the package before tossing them into a recipe — it could save your dinner.
Nut flour: Sometimes called nut meal, this is simply nuts ground as fine as flour. Nut flours and meals are available at some supermarkets and many health food and specialty stores (see Resources, page 514), but you can make your own by grinding the nuts in a food processor. Because nuts are so oily, though, you’ve got to watch them — process them a few seconds too long, and you’ll have nut butter. To give yourself a little hedge against overprocessing, add some of the sugar in the recipe to the nuts, and once the nuts are pretty well chopped, start working in short pulses and make sure to scrape the work bowl, particularly the bottom edges. You can make nut flour from blanched or unblanched nuts. Unless I need the nut meal to be light colored (because I want to keep the paleness of a dish), I use unblanched nuts — the meal is coarser and darker, but I like the fuller flavor, and the color adds a nice rustic touch to desserts.
Toasting nuts: Toasting enhances the flavor of just about any nut. If you’ve got a very small quantity, you can toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat. For larger amounts, spread the nuts out on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and toast them in a 350-degree-F oven for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times and keeping a nose out for their aroma: if you catch the whiff of the nuts, it’s a sign that they’re browned or almost browned and that you should be vigilant about watching them.
Oil: Olive oil is my standard oil. I use extra-virgin olive oil (first cold-pressed oil) when the taste really matters, as it does in dishes that are not cooked or are only slightly heated. For instance, I use my best extra-virgin olive oil (often an AOC oil from the South of France — I love the oils made from olives harvested in Nyons) to dress greens and to drizzle over finished dishes. But in dishes in which I know that the other ingredients would overpower the lovely flavor of the oil, I’ll use a less expensive extra-virgin oil or an olive oil that is not extra-virgin. (Some extra-virgin oils, like Colavita, which is a fine oil and used by many chefs in America, are less expensive but more flavorful than some plain olive oils.) For high-heat cooking, I use grapeseed, canola, or peanut oil (I often fry with peanut oil). And I always have a variety of nut oils in the refrigerator (or the wine cellar — nut oils, like the nuts they are made from, can turn rancid and should be kept in a cold, dark place) for making vinaigrettes, drizzling over vegetables raw and cooked, finishing soups, or adding pizzazz to almost anything steamed. My favorite nut oils and the ones I use most often are walnut, hazelnut, and pistachio, although I also have almond oil in the refrigerator too.
Ovens: All of the recipes in this book were tested in a still (nonconvection) oven. If you use a convection oven, I’d suggest you test whatever it is that you’re baking (or roasting) a little earlier than the recipe suggests. In fact, no matter the type of oven, it’s good practice to check on dishes early and often. I worked hard to give you the most accurate baking (and cooking) time ranges I could, but ovens vary wildly. Even two ovens that hit 350 degrees F precisely may take different times to bake a cake because of the way the heat cycles on and off (affecting just how long the oven keeps the prescribed temperature, how low it dips before it sends out more heat, and how long it takes the heat to bring the oven back up to temperature). Also, keep a thermometer in your oven, get to know your oven’s little quirks, and trust yourself — even if I say the cake should be done in 20 to 25 minutes, test the cake for doneness at 18 minutes, and don’t be afraid to keep it in the oven longer if it needs it.
Pastis: Licorice may be a love-it-or-loathe-it flavor in America, but in France it’s a given, like chocolate and vanilla, and certainly it’s beloved in the South of France, where pastis is the local drink. (It was even in the title of a Peter Mayle novel.) A liquor containing anise, licorice, and sugar, pastis may be what you think of when you’re daydreaming about men in berets drinking in a small café or playing pétanque, but it’s a relatively new addition to the culture, having been introduced in the 1930s, after absinthe was banned. While I love licorice and I love the ritual of pastis — you pour a little into a tall glass and then fill the glass with water and watch as the liquor turns milky — I’ve never drunk a glass of it. However, each one of my kitchens stocks a bottle of Ricard pastis: you never known when the urge to make a Riviera fish soup (page 92-94) might strike, and without a splash of pastis, the soup just wouldn’t pack any memory-evoking pow.
Parchment: Just because I’ve splurged on a bevy of silicone baking mats (see page 514) and rarely use parchment paper to line my baking sheets doesn’t mean I don’t always keep a roll in the kitchen. When I want to get a little fancy, I’ll use parchment packets instead of foil for anything en papillote — often I’ll draw the paper up around the food, so it looks like a hobo’s sack and close it with a wooden clothespin. Also, sometimes when I’m making a stew that must simmer for a long time, I make a little parchment lid for the pot to help ensure that the liquid in the casserole doesn’t bubble away. To do this, fold a square of parchment into a quarters and then into a triangle. Position the point of the triangle over the center of the pan and then cut the overhang so that it’s just a tad larger than the radius of the pan. With the paper still folded, snip the short side, the base of the triangle into a fringe 1 to 2 inches deep. Open the triangle and place the fringed circle of parchment directly on top of whatever you’ve got bubbling away in the pan; cover or not. This is also a nifty trick to have in your arsenal when you find yourself without a proper lid for a pot.
Parsley: I always use flat-leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley. If all you’ve got is curly, don’t make a special trip to the market — just use it.
Parsley root: Like celery root, parsley is an underappreciated vegetable. It is, indeed, the root of the parsley plant, and when you buy it (it’s not always easy to find in the supermarket), you’ll often find parsley growing at the top (although not the same variety that’s grown as on herb). The root itself, which looks like a parsnip or a small white carrot, needs to be scrubbed and/or peeled before you slice or chop it. Parsley root adds a somewhat sweet parsley flavor to soups and stews and is fun to toss into any mix that includes carrots and celery.
Pâte: When you see the word pâte on a menu, which is directly translated as paste, you should take it to mean pasta. However — and this can be a little confusing — several kinds of dough are also considered pastes, so you’ll see the word in pâte brisée (tart dough), pâte sucrée and pâte sablée (sweet tart doughs), pâte feuilletage (puff pastry) and pâte à choux (cream puff dough).
Pâté: It’s easy to confuse pâte and paté, but when you see the accent over the e, you know the word refers to chopped food — most especially meat, but more and more often poultry, fish, or vegetables — cooked in a mold and usually served in the mold.
Pâtisserie: The French name for a pastry shop.
Pepper: For years the rule of thumb, perhaps a chef’s rule of thumb, when it came to pepper was to use white pepper for fish and poultry and black pepper for meat. In other words, the color of the pepper should match the color of the food — and it’s a rule that makes perfect aesthetic sense. But these days, chefs and lots of home cooks are forgoing aesthetics and making their pepper choices based on flavor. Just as it’s fun (and chic) to offer fleur de sel at the table, it’s fun to vary your pepper. The peppers I use most often are white Sarawak peppercorns, which are more spicy than hot; Penja peppercorns, which come in white (most common) and black (harder to find and very fragrant and quite hot); and Tellicherry and Malabar, which are large black peppercorns that have a nice balanced flavor. I can’t urge you strongly enough to use only freshly ground pepper — the difference in freshness, flavor, and fragrance between preground and freshly ground is immeasurable. The red chile peppers I always stock are piment d’Espelette and Aleppo, a sweet-spicy chile pepper from Turkey that’s sold dried and crushed. Finally, I always keep a tin of pink peppercorns in the cupboard. Although they’re not really in the pepper family (they come from the baies roseplant and baies rose is what they’re called in French), they make a pretty garnish for fish and salads. If you’d like, crush them lightly between your fingertips before sprinkling them over a dish.
Phyllo: Phyllo dough is a Middle Eastern specialty available in Greek boutiques in Paris and, as in America, at supermarkets. It’s very much like strudel dough and very good for b’stilla (page 222-224) and as a base for fruit desserts (see page 458-59).
Piment d’Espelette: An AOC chile pepper from the Pays Basque, piment d’Espelette is harvested, dried, and ground. Its flavor is both mildly sweet and mildly hot, and when you’re in the Pays Basque, it may be the only pepper you’ll get. From simple cafés to elegant restaurants, you’ll find the chile in a teensy bowl with a spoon; occasionally it will be served in a pepper mill. And if you go to the piment’s hometown in the fall, you’ll see the peppers drying everywhere, hanging against the whitewashed walls of houses. The sight looks like it was stage-directed for tourists, but as picturesque as it is, the method is equally practical.
Potato starch: In the United States, potato starch seems to be an ingredient used most often during Passover in lieu of wheat flour to thicken sauces and bake cakes — you usually find it in the kosher section of the supermarket or in health food stores — but in France is it often used in pastries where we’d use cornstarch. Potato starch is a very delicate thickener (more delicate than cornstarch) and is used in conjunction with regular flour in pastries to produce a tender sweet.
Potimarron: This is the French name for what we call Red Kuri squash. As French as the squash sounds, it comes from the New World, but, as with so many other things culinary, the French have made it very much their own, starting with giving it a hybrid name that combines the two flavors they find most prominent in the vegetable: potiron (pumpkin) and marron (chestnut). The potimarron has much to recommend it: in addition to its lovely flavor, its flesh is fine and tender, and its shell is edible (not just edible, but tasty too), making it as practical as zucchini.
Preserved lemons: Known as citrons confits in France, preserved lemons are a Moroccan and Middle Eastern specialty made by cutting deep slits in lemons and burying them in salt and their own juices for at least three weeks. The result is a pickled or brined lemon, prized for its rind (often the pulp isn’t used), which is soft and has a sharp and, yes, salty flavor. I like to use preserved lemons with chicken and with meaty fish, like tuna and swordfish; they’re also wonderful with bitter greens and even beets. Preserved lemons are available at specialty stores (see Resources, page 514).
Puff pastry: The French have the edge over us when it comes to easily available good-quality pastry doughs, and this is particularly true with puff pastry, since every market carries ready-to-use all-butter (the all-important words) puff pastry, already rolled into a circle just the right diameter and thickness for a tart crust. In the United States, I usually search out Dufour Pastry Kitchen’s all-butter puff pastry. That said, the puff pastry recipes here were tested with the most easily available brand, Pepperidge Farm. Pepperidge Farm pastry works beautifully — it’s very forgiving and you get a great rise — but, since it’s made with vegetable shortening, it lacks the rich flavor of butter.
Quenelles: You’ll often see quenelles on a French menu, and when you do, it usually connotes small poached dumplings made from pike. However, quenelles can be made from just about anything, since the term has come to refer primarily to the shape of a food. A quenelle, big or small, is shaped like a football — chubby in the middle and pointed at the ends. Forming quenelles isn’t hard, but it takes practice. (I practiced with mashed potatoes.) Take two tablespoons, scoop up a rounded spoonful of whatever you’re “quenelling” with one spoon, then run the edge of the other spoon under the food so that you transfer it from one spoon to the other (with a little snap of the wrist, which I’m not sure is absolutely necessary, but it’s the way most chefs work the motion). Do this a few times, transferring the food from spoon to spoon, and you should have a nicely shaped quenelle.
Quatre-épices: Ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice are the four spices in this blend, which is usually found in meat pâtés and rillettes. A little quatre-épices goes a long way; it takes just a pinch to give new flavor to roasted vegetables (it’s particularly good with squash, since it’s almost like our pumpkin-pie spice) or meat stews.
Rillettes: Traditionally rillettes, which are served as a spread, are made by slowly cooking cubed pork in its own fat (in this respect, it’s similar to confit), shredding it, and then packing it into crocks and covering it with some of the fat. While Tours, a city in the Loire Valley, is famous for rillettes, the dish is made throughout France and not always with pork: today you can find rillettes of goose, duck, tuna (page 28), and salmon (page 26-27).
Room temperature: Unless I note otherwise, I start all my baking recipes with the ingredients that are at room temperature. This is especially important if you’re beating butter (it has to be soft to beat well), eggs, or egg whites (which beat to greater volume when they’re at room temperature) or adding melted chocolate to a mixture (if the chocolate comes in contact with a cold batter, it will seize). I also bring meat and poultry to room temperature before cooking it. If your food is cooler when you start, it might need a little more time to cook, so check just before the time I suggest, and keep checking until you get just the degree of doneness you like.
Rum: Rum is a very popular flavoring for sweets in France, where the rum of choice is dark, never sweet, and often aged. This kind of rum is not used for mixed cocktails, but is sipped as a digestif after dinner. While your desserts will be delicious if you use a dark rum from Myers or Bacardi, two brands that are affordable, and easily available here, they will be fabulous if you splurge on an aged brown rum. Aged rum is expensive, but it can be kept for a long time (in a cool, dark place), and, while it is used sparingly, its effect is dramatic.
Sablé: The word sablé means sandy, which could lead you to believe that when you see it, you should steer clear, but do that, and you’ll miss delicious butter cookies, sablés, and a terrific tart crust, pâte sablée (see page 500-01). When it comes to sweets, the word should make you think of something tender and shortbread-ish.
Saffron: Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. Produced from the stigmas of saffron crocuses that are harvested by hand and dried, saffron comes to us in short, extremely slender threads (and thread saffron is superior to powdered). Its color, a burnished red, is as prized as its fragrance, which I’m sad to say I cannot describe, and its flavor, which is somewhat bitter and, once you know it, unmistakable for anything else. (It’s the iconic flavor of bouillabaisse and its cousin the Riviera Fish Soup, page 92-94.) Given the price of saffron, it’s good that a little goes a very long way — and it will go longer if before you add it to anything, you crush the threads between your fingertips. Depending on the recipe, you might also want to soften the saffron in a little warm water or broth first (and, of course, add the liquid to your dish).
Salt: If you could have only one spice in your arsenal, I’d urge you to make it salt — nothing enhances the flavor of foods, both sweet and savory, as much as a pinch of salt. I keep a lineup of salts on my counter so I can have the fun of picking a special salt for each dish. Among my daily salts are
Flake salt: The most famous flake salt comes from England, Maldon sea salt. It is dazzlingly white and it sparkles as though it has little bits of mica in it. It is very salty (much saltier than fleur de sel) and should be used sparingly to finish a dish. I like to sprinkle just a few flecks of flake salt over meat, fish, and vegetables and even over a chocolate ganache tart.
Fleur de sel: This is a rare, expensive salt, moist, grainy, not as salty as most salts, and, at its finest, hand-raked and harvested, which is the way it’s produced in Guérande, a town in Brittany. It is a salt to use sparingly, the way you’d use a condiment, and there are many who refer to it as such. Don’t toss it into boiling water, and don’t use it when you’ve got lots of bold spices in a dish — it’ll get swamped. Instead, sprinkle it over a finished dish and over salads, so that its subtle, minerally flavor and slightly crunchy texture can shine.
Fine sea salt: I’ve always got it at the ready for general salting. When a recipe says salt, I reach for this.
Kosher salt: Inexpensive and sold in big boxes at the supermarket, kosher salt is what I use whenever I need a large quantity of salt — for example, when I’m salting water for pasta and vegetables or making the cure for gravlax (page 000).
Sel gris: This is a moist, grayish sea salt that’s rather salty (not all salts are very salty) and coarse; in fact, some sel gris is so coarse that, depending on what you are using it for, you might want to crush it or mill it. Sel gris is good in the break-up cookies (page 400-01), and my friend Marie Nael uses it in her wonderful pork stew (page 274-75). Sometimes when I’m making a steak, I’ll heat a cast-iron skillet, scatter a little sel gris over the base of the hot pan, and sear the meat on the bed of salt, so that the salt turns toasty and flavors the steak.
Sauté: We’ve come to use the word sauté anytime we’re cooking something on the stovetop in a skillet in which we’ve heated a fat, such as butter or oil. This is a fine practical definition, but technically the term, which comes from the verb sauter, meaning to jump, refers to a method of cooking in which the heat is high, the fat minimal, the action fast, and the food cut into small pieces and tossed and turned as it cooks. Rather than use specific terms, I’ve written the recipes with instructions telling you how much oil to use in what size pan over how much heat for how long.
Shallots: There’s something about the flavor of shallots that always makes me think, “Ah, this is a French dish.” Shallots look like copper-skinned onions, and, indeed, they have the taste of a mild onion with a touch of garlic thrown in. Depending on the variety, shallots can be small and shaped like a teardrop or long and thin, but no matter the shape, when you buy a shallot, it should feel firm and shouldn’t have any sprouts at the top. Store shallots as you would onions, in a dark, cool, dry place. Just as I do with onions, I like to rinse and dry shallots after I’ve sliced or diced them — rinsing washes away the bitter liquid that often seeps from the shallot when it’s cut. If you don’t have shallots, use regular onions and a little chopped garlic.
Sifting, Sifters, and Strainers: Being a lazy cook, I try not to sift ingredients unless absolutely necessary (as it is with fine textured cornstarch, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa) and when I do sift, I’m more likely to use a strainer than an old-fashioned sifter. I like the open area of a strainer and the fact that it’s easy to clean.
Silicone baking mats: I’ve fallen for silicone baking mats in a big way, such a big way that, little by little, I’ve outfitted each of my (many) baking sheets with its own mat; I store my baking sheets with their mats in place. Silicone baking mats are reliably nonstick, easy to clean (just wipe them down or wash them with soapy water), happy to withstand heat up to about 475 degrees F, and reusable a couple or three thousand times. I bake almost everything on silicone mats, and I use a mat-lined baking sheet under anything that I think has even the slightest chance of bubbling over in the oven — a precaution that has saved me much scrub time.
Spring onions: Looking like fat scallions and sometimes marketed as Texas or salad onions, spring onions are white with long, thick (scallion-like) green stalks. (They’re not always available in all markets in all seasons.) They might have a skin that needs to be peeled away and depending on their age and variety, they’ll be mild or strong, although never as strong as bulb onions, which is one reason I like to use them. Another is their texture — firmer than scallions, softer than onions and therefore very good raw. While it is only the onion bulb that is called for in most recipes, you can chop the light green parts of the stalks into salads or use the darker parts to add more flavor to soups — just toss the stalks into the pot the way you would leek greens. If you can’t get spring onions, substitute white onions and for salads, sweet onions like Vidalia, Maui, or Texas sweets. AU OKAY?
Tagine: Like couscous, which has a double meaning, the word tagine is used to refer to two things: a finished dish and the pot in which you cook it. A tagine pan is a lovely thing. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its cone-shaped lid, designed to capture and return the aromatic steam to the dish that simmers below. Traditionally made of pottery, tagine pans — consisting of a rounded base and the tall, tapered cover — are now made in many materials. The ones I have are not as beautiful as the originals, but they are very practical: the bases are metal and the tops are pottery (see Sources, page 514).
Tartine: The verb tartiner means to spread, and the noun, tartine, is what you get when you spread something on bread. So, buttered toast can be a tartine, but so can an open-faced sandwich. The French have a knack for tartines, finding ways to turn a slice of bread into a pretty lunch, a nice first course, or a good dessert. For more on tartines, see page 41.
Tart Pans: All of the tart recipes were tested in metal pans with fluted sides and removable bottoms. Because tart pans like these are manufactured in both Europe and America, and therefore made in centimeters and inches, I’ve specified that they be between 9 and 9 1/2 inches in diameter.
Tomatoes: The French love tomatoes, but they really love them only when they’ve been peeled and when all the little seeds have been scooped out. The thought is that tomatoes are more digestible minus the pesky peel and seeds. (For more about peeling tomatoes, see page 120.)
Tourte: A covered pie, a tourte can be sweet or savory. It’s not a stretch to call a b’stilla (page 222-24) a tourte, nor is it technically incorrect to dub the gâteau Basque (page 470-72) a tourte. The word tourteau, traditionally used to refer to a goat cheese cake (page 449-51), is a variation of tourte and shouldn’t be confused with the word tortue, the name for a turtle.
Truffles: It would be hard to underestimate the French sentiment for black truffles, specifically Tuber melanosporum, the gnarly fungi ferreted out from under oak trees by pigs and dogs in the South of France and bought and sold in village markets the way drugs are probably bartered elsewhere in the world. In the truffle-blessed town of Richerenches, in Provence, the Saturday market looks more like a used car lot than a venue where tens of thousands of dollars will trade hands in the course of a few hours. Buyers park along the sides of the street, , while anyone with a truffle to sell, professional or lucky farmer, walks from car to car looking for his best deal. It’s fascinating, and as quaint as it sounds, and it’s also big business. I got a hint of how big the business is when I attended the Truffle Mass at Richerences’s Catholic Church held at the end of January. When the alms basket was passed on that Sunday, it wasn’t coins that get tossed into it, but truffles, lots of them and some of them the size of my fist. After the mass, everyone gathered outside the Hotel de Ville (the town hall), wine and canapés were passed, and the truffles were auctioned off, with the proceeds — they topped 1,000,000 Euros — going to the church. Even people who have truffles growing in their backyards understand how rare and valuable they are and put them in the same class as caviar and lobster, saving them for special occasions or using them sparingly where their powerful aroma, dark, woodsy, slightly musky, and very sexy, can be most appreciated. If you buy a truffle (see Resources, page 514), store it in a container of rice or a jar full of eggs until you’re ready for it (it should be used in couple of days) and you’ll get a bonus: the rice or eggs will take on the flavor and aroma of truffles. The taste and fragrance of black truffles is enhanced by warmth, but it can be destroyed by too much heat, so it’s best to slice or shave the truffle into a dish just before it’s finished cooking or as you’re bringing it to the table. Truffles pair well with rice and eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, celery root, and butter. If you have just a few bits of truffles, even little shavings, you can work them into some softened butter, and you’ll have a terrific topping for mashed potatoes, steak, or toast.
Vanilla: I use pure — always pure — vanilla extract in my recipes. You can substitute a vanilla bean for the extract — figure 1 bean for each tablespoon of extract — but just make sure your bean is in good shape: vanilla beans should be plump and pliable, bendable actually, and moist. When a recipe calls for vanilla from a bean, it’s the pulp you’re meant to use. Lay the bean on a cutting board and, with a sharp paring knife, slice it lengthwise in half, then use the knife to scrape out the seedy pulp. Don’t toss the bean — stick it in a jar of sugar, and soon you’ll have vanilla sugar, or dry it on the counter or in a low oven, and then toss it and some sugar into a food processor and process until the bean is pulverized. Alternatively, you can use the pod to flavor anything you’re poaching.
Zest: Zest is a term reserved for the brightly rind of citrus fruits. Directly under the thin layer of zest is the white, cottony, bitter pith, which is to be avoided. Depending on the recipe, you might remove the zest in wide strips, slice it, dice it, or grate it, which is sometimes referred to as zesting. I use a Microplane grater to remove zest — it’s the quickest, most effective tool for the job — but you can use a zester or an old-fashioned box grater, if that’s what you’ve got. With zest, it’s the volatile oils that carry the flavor, so to make the most of them when you’re baking, grate the fruit over the recipe’s sugar, then use your fingertips to blend the sugar and zest together. Do this for about a minute, and the sugar will be moist and powerfully aromatic; best of all, all that fragrance will turn up in your dessert.