November 20, 2009


I KNOW HOW TO COOK, a French cookbook by Ginette Mathiot  

This ‘’bible’’ of French home cooking since the early thirties is finally translated and nicely adapted to suit the needs of the English-speaking average cook Stéphane, My grandmother, my aunts, my mother were all very good cooks and I learned a lot from watching them in their respective kitchens in both Geneva, Switzerland and in the various French cities where we lived in the fifties. But I have never seen them looking at a cookbook. Their knowledge of the ‘’cuisine’’ was transmitted from generation to generation. As far as I am concerned, I knew how to cook a few essential dishes when I was a student like a steak, an omelet, sautéed potatoes, or pasta. But it was not until we got married in Paris in the sixties, that your mother and I started to cook. In fact we had so little time in Paris and such a small kitchen, that our cooking and entertaining was relatively limited. It was not until January 1970, when we moved to Chicago and got a large kitchen that we started to entertain friends and colleagues during long and elaborate dinner parties, which implied cooking more complex and varied dishes. Your mom, who turned out to become a very good French cook, had an old copy of Julia Child’s first masterpiece and also had brought her small book of Provençal recipes written by her Provençal cooking class teacher in Aix-en-Provence where she was studying when she came from the U.S. in 1961. Me, I had only brought from Paris a very modest pocketbook version of Ginette Mathiot’s LA CUISINE POUR TOUS published in1955. I still consult it from time to time even though it is falling apart and is covered with handwritten notes, and seriously stained. It contains all the basic recipes and cooking tricks that any French home cook should know.

I had bought that book because it was a best-seller and it was cheap. At that time I could not afford Ginette Mathiot’s most famous big book, JE SAIS CUISINER that was offered to practically every new French bride between 1932 when it was published for the first time and the late seventies. Since that time it was re-edited and amplified many times and more than 6 million copies have been sold. During my last trip to Paris in September, I have seen many copies on my favorite bookstore shelves. It still sells like cupcakes.

Ginette Mathiot, who was born in 1907 and passed away in 1998, was essentially a teacher even though she published more than 30 books. She taught not only cooking, but also what I would call ‘’home management’’ in public schools for many years. She ended her career as the General Inspector for House Cooking and Management for the French Ministry of National Education. She was rewarded with the medal of Officer of the Legion of Honor. The reason for her immense popularity is very obvious: She managed to calm down the anxieties of generations of French women who were very apprehensive about cooking home meals and feared the disapproval of their husbands, mothers in law, and guests, by explaining in very simple terms what they should know about making basic dishes, sauces, condiments, pastries, etc, as well as how to use cooking utensils and choose the right product at the market, as well as how to set the table.
Her motto was: Let’s simplify everything and suppress any info that is not essential to the preparation of a dish. The application of this principle is very obvious in the way she wrote her recipes that never contain anything more that what is important to know in order to be able to complete the task. In some ways she was sort of an anti-Julia Child who wanted every American home cook to be as well-versed in every food specialty as a French scholar would be, and therefore discouraged many readers who felt totally submerged by the over-abundance of information that she supplied for every bit of food to prepare.

Anyway, I had completely forgotten the existence of Ginette Mathiot when an American friend of mine, Shirley Baugher, presented me last week with a wonderful and unexpected birthday present: a copy of the recently published English version of Ginette Mathiot’s Je Sais Cuisiner, I Know How To Cook
I was taken by surprised because I was completely ignorant of the fact that this book, published by Phaidon, (from England) had been released. But knowing Shirley, who is a very good cook herself and knows a few extra things about French cooking since she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, one of the most famous cooking schools in the world, I should not have been surprised. The shelves in her beautiful kitchen in Old Town in Chicago are literally filled with hundreds of cookbooks. It is almost an addiction. She has herself published a very nicely illustrated recipe book that is a compilation of her famous and sometimes less famous neighbors and friends in Old Town: ``A Taste of Our Old Town``.

I spent some time last week-end to go through the 975 pages of I KNOW HOW TO COOK and I have to admit that the English adaptation of that beautiful book is very well-done, and should encourage many American home cooks to try and prepare French dishes. I should mention at this stage that this enormous task of not only translating, but also adapting and modernizing its content to suit the abilities of any American housewife (or man), and modernizing it, has been accomplished by CLOTILDE DUSOULIER,with the assistance of a team of translators and editors. This French woman has delighted millions of English-speaking Internet visitors worldwide since 2003 with her famous blog ‘’Chocolate and Zucchini’. She started it when she was a computer software engineer based in MountainView, CA in Silicon Valley. She lived there 3 years and then went back to Paris where she published 2 best-sellers in English : Chocolate and Zucchini in 2007, and the marvelous ‘’Clotilde’s Edible Adventure in Paris’’. Clotilde Dusoulier therefore knows from her own "on site" experience what the American cook likes and can or cannot (and will not) do. And she is a very creative cook who loves to innovate with recipes that are bold and healthy at the same time. I have to admit that I have been a fan of her blog from the beginning.  

My first impressions:
On the plus side: This book is very easy to read because its print is very sharp and very black , on a good quality very white paper. Its typesetting is practically perfect and leaves lots of space between recipes. It keeps the essence of Mathiot’s original French recipes, but adapts them for Today’s busy contemporary cook and uses Anglo-Saxon measurements and descriptions of food components and utensils The 1400 recipes are very clearly organized in 15 distinct groups: Sauces and Basic recipes, Hors d’oeuvres, Milk, eggs, and cheese, soup, fish, meat, poultry, game , vegetables and salads, legumes rice and pasta, fruit, milk and egg desserts, ice creams, cakes and pastries, candies, preserves and drinks. The cuts of meat are described the British and (sometimes) American way, not the French way. But some Americans may not recognize some of the terms she uses that are very British. After all publishing house is English and it is quite obvious in some of the language used. But I understand that this book was published and edited for an English-speaking readership at large, meaning the U.K, Australia, New Zealand, etc, not solely American. The recipes cover a very wide spectrum of products and dishes from very old-fashioned like Garbure soup, ‘’Croquettes of calves’s sweetbreads’’, Rice puddding, or Eel ‘’matelote’’, to more traditional like Coq au vin, Fish quenelles, Bouillabaisse, and Norwegian omelet (a kind of baked Alaska). These chapters are preceded by a very useful glossary, description of herbs and flavoring agents, explanation of various cooking methods, utensils, wines, and a very interesting month by month chart of seasonal food products that you can use all year long. The last section offers recipes of well-known French and Foreign chefs both in France, the UK and the US. There are also some good practical pieces of advice about Table Setting, and Dining Etiquette Last but not least there is a very useful index at the end. Once again everything is very simply explained in plain English. The book contains several beautiful photos of various types of dishes.

On the Minus side: The recipes, in my opinion, are sometimes a bit too simplistic and cryptic for somebody who has absolutely no notion of what French cuisine and cooking is all about. Often it becomes obvious that the original version of this book has been written by a French woman assuming that all her readers (French women) have already a basic traditional French cuisine knowledge in their genes. The new American cook will sometimes have to do a lot of guessing work before figuring out how to move forward to the next step when trying to execute a preparation. Some American home cooks will certainly regret that there are no more precise step- by- step explanations on how to proceed with some recipes. The lack of technical ‘’how to’’ illustrations might be of concern to many users, especially for more unusual or complex preparations. The photos are too often blocked in one section instead being shown directly after the dish that has been described in the corresponding recipe.

As I said earlier some translations are perhaps too ‘’British’’ or still too ‘’French’’for the average American reader. Nobody on this side of the Atlantic knows what an "entrecôte'' (rib steak) is and would never call Veal chops in papillotes ''Veal chops in parcels'' (parchment paper) . The book cover is, at least for my own taste, rather ugly. I suppose it has been designed for the purpose of attracting younger readers. But the majority of drawings and illustrations are charming. I would have preferred more photos shot in various areas and restaurants in France. But altogether it is a very informative and useful book that fills a void that Julia Child had left open.

November 18, 2009

Crus du Beaujolais

Crus du Beaujolais: These very flavorful and quite distinguished red wines are unjustly unknown and underrated in the U.S. 

On November 19, forget about the overblown celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau, an often not very exciting unfinished wine, and open instead a good bottle of Morgon, Chiroubles, Julienas, or Moulin à Vent.

In June I had the good fortune to attend a very professionally organized wine tasting of “BEAUJOLAIS CRUS”, at the very pleasant wine shop and wine seminar center of JUST GRAPES located on West Washington Blvd. in Chicago. That event that was repeated in 2 other U.S. cities in 2009, Washington DC and New York City, is put together under the sponsorship of EXPRESSIONS D’ORIGINE, Domaines et Châteaux en Beaujolais, a trade and promotion association comprised of 14 privately-owned wine-growing estates located in the 10 Crus du Beaujolais AOC production areas.
I was very happy to participate in that event since it allowed me to get reacquainted in a very positive perspective with the wines of some of these ‘’crus’’ that I did not have many opportunities to taste over the last 10 years in Chicago. Most of them unfortunately are not very commonly found in local wine stores and shops.
A very different and much more complex and interesting wine that the ‘’ Beaujolais Nouveau’’ that Americans enjoy so much for no valid reason, which will be pour on Thursday November 19.
It is very unfortunate that the “Crus du Beaujolais” are relatively unknown by the American public at large since they are very flavorful, well made, and in any case gazillion times more interesting that the over-hyped and over-marketed ‘’Beaujolais Nouveau’’ that you find in every store and bistro in town every year, when it is released on the third Thursday of November after midnight.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh,fruity, sometimes aromatic, wine but, for my own taste, it is deprived of any real personality and structure. It first appeared in French cafés and bistros after its production was approved by the French government in 1951. In the fifties and early sixties, it was quite amusing and charming to drink that ‘’new wine’’ pressed a few days after harvest time, from a small barrel or a glass jug located at the end of the bar. You would drink a glass while eating some ‘’charcuterie’’ or a piece of cheese, and it would be an occasion to chat and laugh with other regulars of the café in a merry and relaxed atmosphere.
That tradition started in the bistros and cafés of Lyon, Villefranche sur Saône, and of course in the nearby producing villages of the Beaujolais region. But pretty soon it became popular first in Paris and then in other large cities where the ‘’négociants’’ (wholesalers and brokers) of Beaujolais wines where commercially active.
In the early 50s you did not find Beaujolais Nouveau in its present bottled form in wine stores. And its consumption was limited to a few cities in France, in Geneva, Switzerland, that is close to Lyon, and whose citizens have loved Beaujolais for several generations, and a few cafes in Brussels, Belgium, and that was it.
In 1966 the famous NICOLAS company, that has hundreds of wine stores all over France, organized for the first time special ‘’Beaujolais Nouveau’’ events in its 250 Paris stores.
Pretty soon, the famous advertising slogan ‘’ Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé’’ was posted on the windows and counters of every café and wine shop of France.
That type of wine is made by wine-growers producing the regular appellation ‘’Beaujolais’’ in 72 villages of the Southern and Eastern portion of the Beaujolais region, and in lesser proportion by wine-growers of the appelation ‘’Beaujolais- Villages’’ located in 38 townships . These wines are sold with a ‘’Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau’’ label. 

It is in fact, like all the red Beaujolais wines, made exclusively from GAMAY NOIR à JUS BLANC grapes. The Nouveau is hand-harvested. The not-destemmed whole bunches of grapes are then macerated for a very short time, 4 or 5 days at the most. (‘’Beaujolaise’’ vinification is almost always done through carbonic maceration).
After a first fermentation, the juices drawn from the vats and those resulting from pressing are assembled, an put in vats for a second cycle of fementation. The vinification last about one month from harvest time.
The well-known “négociant’’ Georges Duboeuf built a large part of his reputation in the U.S. on that Beaujolais Nouveau, when in fact several of his ‘’crus du Beaujolais’’ wines are much better and more interesting to drink all year long
In fact I am sad to say that the craziness about Beaujolais Nouveau, which started in the U.S. in the mid-seventies and lasted until the mid-nineties, probably killed the reputation of Beaujolais in general and of Crus du Beaujolais in particular.
Many trade people started to wonder where all this “Nouveau” consumed from Melbourne to Tokyo and from Vancouver to Rio was coming from, since simple math could allow you to calculate that more of that mediocre stuff was drunk than the legally allowed production would permit.
Several scandals regarding dubious production,blending, and distribution methods, (the most infamous one touching Georges Duboeuf, the largest négociant of that area), that were revealed in the 80’s and 90’s, had a negative impact of the marketability of good Beaujolais and Crus made by serious small producers.

Even in France the consumption of Crus du Beaujolais has been on the downside for more the last 15 years and has suffered from that unjust drop in reputation and favor on the part of wine lovers.
To be honest the fact that some of them have become increasingly expensive at the retail level did not help them either.
And that’s a shame since Crus du Beaujolais are excellent wines that deserve the same respect as wines from the Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Loire, Alsace, Languedoc, Southwest, or Provence areas.
When I was much younger my father would often open a bottle of Moulin à Vent, or of Saint Amour to accompany a good roasted chicken or some “vols au vent”, for birthdays or special occasions. I think he got that taste and tradition from my Grand Papa Laplanche, his father in law, in Geneva, where as I said earlier, this kind of wines have always been loved by the locals.
When I was a student in Paris in the eraly sixtes and did not have much money I would sometimes treat myself to a good camembert with a bottle of Morgon, almost a luxury for me at the time.
I remember that when I was an adolescent in Reims a well-known couple of ‘’’clochards’’ (hoboes) in our neigborhood, when they had collected a few coins, would go to the nearest café and order a glass of ‘’Beaujolpif’’, the somewhat vulgar knickname that was often used by blue-collar people to call Beaujolais after the war.
But later on, during trips to Lyon, I would enjoy drinking that wine in the traditional ‘’pot’’ de Beaujolais (a small bottle of around on pint) when eating charcuterie and other Lyonnaise specialties in the famous ‘’bouchons’’ (small bistrots in Lyon), like the Café des Fédérations.

A few facts about Beaujolais:

The vineyards of this AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée) officially recognized in 1936, have been producing wine since the days when the Roman legions occupied Gaule and planted vineyards.
The AOC Beaujolais-Villages was registered in 1950. It was the firtst time in the old history of French wines that the word ‘’village’’ was coupled with the name of an appelation. 39 villages were registered in that particular segment of the Beaujolais production.
The Beaujolais was named after the city of Beaujeu in the Western part of this area that was created by some local dukes in the 10th century. Beaujeu was for several centuries the capital of Beaujolais.
Nowadays it is accepted that the city or Villefranche, located more or less at the center of the appelation, is the main hub of that region.
It is located on a relatively narrow strip of land, South of Burgundy per se, 34 miles long and only 8 miles wide. The Southern part of the zone of production is located in an area just Northwest of Lyon, and the Northern part touches the region of Macon.
The vineyards are found in the Northern part of the Rhône Department and the Southern part of the Saône et Loire department.
The climate not as cool as in Burgundy, offers a good mix of sun and humidity.
The soils of the Northern hilly part of the region consist maily of schist, granite, and a little bit of limestone. The Southern part has more sand and clay.
The whole ‘’vignoble’’ covers about 55,000 acres. A little more than 20,000 acres poduce the basic Beaujolais.
There are approximately 3,000 producers
98 to 99% of the wines are red and made from the Gamay Noir à jus blanc.

The relatively rare Beaujolais-Villages Blanc is made of Chardonnay and sometimes Aligoté, and comes from vineyards way North not too far from the Maconnais. The even more rare rosé are made from Gamay.
There are 12 appellations of Beaujolais in 3 groups: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and the 10 Crus du Beaujolais appellations.
Most regular (basic) Beaujolais (half of the total production) are produced in the Southern area (Bas-Beaujolais).
Some of the best Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Crus are produced in the hilly areas of the North (Haut-Beaujolais).
In years when the alcoholic level might be too low winegrowers are authorized to add sugar, a process called ‘’chaptalisation’’.
All together these wines represent an average yearly production of 130 millions of bottles

Les Crus du Beaujolais

From South (north of Villefranche) to North (at the border with the Maconnais) there are only 10 of them:
Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly,
Moulin à Vent,
Each of them have a different type of aroma and flavor. Some like Chiroubles , Fleurie and Saint-Amour are softer, fruity, and are considered as ‘’tender’’, elegant charmers easy to drink, and some would say ‘’feminine’’.
All of them are very fragrant

Chiroubles, the highest in altitude, is very ‘’gouleyant’’, meaning that it goes down your throat in a very easy and soft manner. It is calles a very tender wine.
Fleurie is very elegant and has a velvety body. It often develops a lovely aroma of violet.
The Saint-Amour, with its very seductive blend of cherry, peach, red berries, aromas, and a definite floral nose, is called the ‘’lovers wine’’
Some like the Morgon, Chénas and Moulin à Vent are more assertive, have a stronger structure and body, and could be called ‘’masculine’’.
Morgon is perhaps the most often found Cru in bistros and wine bars both in the U.S and in France. It has a very dark purple color and its aromas can be a powerful mix of prune, and dark cherry. Very robust, it can in good years be cellared for 5 to 10 years. It has such typical ‘’terroir’’ characteristics that people say sometimes ‘’that wine morgonne’’.
Some of the best are harvested around the Mont du Py.
Chénas It was Louis the XIII ‘s favorite wine. I love its sometimes explosive mix of aromas and spicy tones that change from year to year. It can be very floral, slightly woody, often spicy, and alays very fragrant. With a good body structure, it can age gracefully for 5 to 7 years. But it always remain pretty elegant and suave.
Moulin à Vent It always had the most prestigious image. It is in some ways the closest to a Burgundy. It can be quite tannic and spicy. Always quite strongly structured and complex in its finish. But it never loses its typically floral and fruity ‘’Beaujolais’’ qualities. Can aged for up to 10 years.
The new kid in town: Regnié: This appelation was created in 1988. This very aromatic and mineral wine is produced by only 80 winemakers from soils composed essentially of pink granite. Very long finish. Nice tannins. I love its subtle but very sexy aromas of small red berries. A well balanced wine practically ignored by most wine merchants in the U.S.
Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly
The first one is a very pleasant wine that is as aromatic, soft, and subtle without being too floral or jammy. It got its name from an officer in the Roman legions, Brulius,who was posted there. It is the largest (in terms of hectares) of all the crus du Beaujolais. Redolent of small red fruits and prunes, it reflects perfectly the fresh qualities of the Gamay. Its tannins are quite soft.
The second one has a much smaller acrage. It is a rather elegant wine with fresh aromas and a delicate finish. To be honest it is not one of my favorites.
Julienas One of my 2 favorites. It has lots of muscle and an ever changing personality, due in part to the large diversity of its soils. It offers a very good balance of structure, spice, aromas, and has a great finish. It is much better after 3 or 4 years.

Good vintage years: The 2007 is very pleasant
I would recommend the 2005 and the 2003.

What kind of food to eat with crus du Beaujolais
Pot-au-Feu, Poule-au-pot, Coq-au-vin, Roasted chicken and turkey, Rabbit stew, Charcuterie, Partridge, Quail, and small birds, stuffed baked vegetables, Hachis Parmentier, Camembert cheese 
Service temperature:
Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages should be served slightly cool, around 55-56 degrees, and Crus du Beaujolais, especially the more robust and full-bodied ones, at 60-62 degrees.
Beaujolais wines do not need to be decanted.
An 8 year-old Moulin à Vent will benefit from being opened 30 to 40 minutes before pouring.

Some producers of crus du Beaujolais I can suggest:

Domaine Marcel Lapierre
Domaine Dominique Piron
Domaine Louis-Claude Desvignes (Côte de Py)
Domaine Jean Foillard
Georges Descombes
Brouilly :
Château de la Chaize
Côte de Brouilly :
Château Thivin
Fleurie :
Domaine du Vissoux
Domaine Michel Chignard
Domaine de la Madonne ( perhaps not yet distributed here)
Domaine du Clos de la Roilette
Moulin à Vent:
Domaine du Vissoux
Chateau des Jacques
Paul Janin
Michel Tête
Clos de Haute Combe
Domaine de Colette
Domaine Piron (Chenas Quartz)
Clos de la Brosse- Paul Baudet
Chiroubles :
Georges Duboeuf
Availability and prices

As far as prices are concerned, you can, in the Chicago area at least, find Crus du Beaujolais for prices varying from $ 14.00 for a Morgon to $30.00 for a Moulin à Vent.
But as usual Trader Joe's offers a decent Morgon ( producer unknown) for $ 5.99. Quite a deal.
Unfortunately, once again in the Chicago area, it is getting more and more difficult to find Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Regnié, Chenas, and Julienas from independant producers.
Several wine stores managers told me that there is practically no more regular demand for these wines.
If all you can find are wines bottled by some of the ''négociants'' try and limit your choice to good houses such as Tête, Jadot, Drouhin, Fessy, Mommessin, Latour, and Duboeuf.