Cycle 3 – Item 137
21 (Mon) May 2012
-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
At long last, I’ve finally gotten around to the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. It was always on my list, of course, though perhaps the prospect of approaching such a legendary tome seemed too daunting. While helping to sort inventory at my father’s warehouse over the weekend – his company imports/distributes English-language publications of various sorts – I came across a new shipment of the books and swiped a copy (of the 53 cookbooks in my current collection, 51 were acquired under similar circumstances). I immediately got to it.
Much to my surprise, the recipes were much simpler than I’d feared. That goes for both the ingredients and the techniques involved. Certainly, precision is required, the cuisine being French. But Julia, with commentary along the way, makes everything easy to understand and follow and appreciate. It’s more like a textbook than a cookbook, though entertaining and enlightening and captivating throughout, even without photos. The foreword from the original 1961 edition describes the target reader as a “cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chaffeur-denmother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.” That’s me.
I started with the first recipe from the first chapter: this potage parmentier (leek/onion and potato soup). All it took was water, leeks and onions and potatoes, salt, butter. On that basis, I couldn’t imagine how it would turn out. The only technique, other than slicing and simmering the main ingredients for 50 minutes, was to mash and strain everything into a smooth broth at the end – using a food processor would activate the starch in the potato and render the soup into a gluey slop. It turned out amazing, especially amazing for its sheer simplicity. Rich and creamy, light yet substantive, the round flavor of the potatoes balanced by the sweetness of the leeks and onions. Talk about synergy. After a single taste, W declared that I could open a restaurant with the dish. DJ loved it, too. (I regret the stupid celery leaf garnish, which was decidedly unsimple and, even stupider, had nothing to do with the dish.)
Another thing is that the book organizes certain dishes into families, providing a foundation recipe and derivations based thereon. For example, the soup above can be turned into a vichyssoise by substituting stock for the water and chilling it at the end, or a variety of other soups featuring other vegetables, such as potage au cresson with the addition of water cress; instructions are provided as to when specific vegetables should be added to the mix (e.g., at the start, after pureeing, just prior to serving). Thus, getting the hang of one thing leads to many more. Efficient.
It’s the dawn of a new day.