Jacques Pépin Celebrates

439 pages; Color photography

Albert A. Knoff, New York  2001

Reviewed by Christina Grace for Good Cooking

November, 2001

Jacques Pépin Celebrates

Master Chef Jacques Pépin 's latest cookbook and companion to the KQED series, Jacques Pépin Celebrates, is for those of us who enjoy bringing family and friends together over good food. Written for the novice, expert, and all cooks in between, Jacques Pépin Celebrates is more than a cookbook. It is a compilation of detailed recipes, basic cooking techniques, sample menus, and excuses (if needed) to cook and eat in good company.

The first section of the book is a list of helpful if not ambitious sample menus for holidays, annual celebrations, and just because. The menus include wine pairings from Jacques's sidekick and daughter, Claudine Pépin. Recommended wines are easily accessible, delicious, and reasonably priced.

The book contains creative preparations for typical holiday recipes such as Roast Turkey with Bread-and-Mushroom Stuffing, Ham Georgia with Peach Garnish, Chocolate Yule Log with Mint Leaves and Chocolate Bark, Lamb Loins in Ambush with Fava Beans Neyron and Pecan Pie in Puff Pastry. But Jacques Pépin Celebrates’s true focus is on the French classics such as Onion Soup Gratinée Lyonnaise, the Fines-Herbes Omelet, Salmon Tartare, Country Pâté, Bouillabaisse, Cassoulet with Pumpkin Seed Sausage, and Pate a Choux. Pépin provides all the required steps and techniques to make potentially intimidating French cuisine manageable. His techniques for mastering the most frustrating of cooking tasks are especially helpful, i.e. how to:

make and roll the perfect puff pastry dough

peel and seed tomatoes

fillet a salmon

julienne a leek

shell oysters

stuff and truss a chicken

chop an onion

assemble a make-shift bread dough proofing box

The level of recipe difficulty ranges from the simple and delicious Farmer's-Style Soup (recipe follows) to the more complex artistic Stuffed Salmon in Flaky Dough. Most recipes do take time to prepare and require planning. Many of us have become accustomed to living at a 100 mph pace, eating meals on the fly, and losing touch with friends and family due to busy schedules. This book is a reminder that wonderful food requires effort, cooking together is fun, and there are few things more enjoyable than sharing great cuisine and conversation across the table.

Jacques Pépin leaves little to chance. Recipe and technique instructions are clear and accompanied by many photographs. With a few exceptions, ingredients are readily available in most supermarkets. The book includes substitutes for harder to find items.

In Jacques Pépin Celebrates, the author has compiled his favorite recipes, the most fundamental cooking tips from his famous La Technique, wine pairings, and beautiful visuals. If you only own one Jacques Pépin cookbook, this should be the one.

We found this recipe for Farmer's-Style Soup easy to follow resulting in a very satisfying dish. It even cross-references instructions for cleaning and julienning a leek. It is hard to go wrong on flavor with a soup that includes salt pork. The last minute addition of the parsley and basil add a wonderful fresh balance to the salt and starch of this soup.

Farmer's-Style Soup

For the classic version of this soup, use the five vegetables listed below, but otherwise make substitutions as you wish, using whatever vegetables you have on hand. The soup doesn't require a long time to cook and can be made ahead, then reheated and served with the croutons. Any leftover soup can be pureed in a food processor, giving it another look, texture, and taste.

6 ounces lean salt port, or pancetta

3 medium carrots (about 8 ounces)

1 large rib celery

1 medium turnip (6 ounces)

2 medium potatoes (12 ounces)

1 medium leek (about 8 ounces), trimmed, split lengthwise, washed, and cut into 1/4-inch slices

7 cups of water

1/2 teaspoon salt or more, depending on the saltiness of the salt pork

To Finish:

1 clove garlic, peeled

About 1/4 cup (loose) parsley leaves

About 1/3 cup (loose) basil leaves

Cut the salt pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then pile the slices together, and cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick strips, or lardons.

Peel the carrots, and cut them into length-wise slices and then into a 1/4-inch dice. Peel the celery, turnip, and potatoes, and cut them into a 1/2-inch dice.

Place the lardons in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot, add enough cold water to cover them, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute. Drain through a sieve, and wash the lardons under cold running water. Rinse the pot, and return the lardons to it. Cook the lardons over medium to high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Add the leek, celery, and carrots to the pot, and sauté them gently over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the water, and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 5 minutes, then add the turnip and potatoes. Return to the boil, cover, and boil gently for about 20 minutes. Taste for saltiness, and add a little salt if necessary, depending on the saltiness of the salt port.

At serving time, chop the garlic, parsley, and basil together. Stir into the soup, and bring to a strong boil. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes, and serve.

The Stuffed Salmon in Flaky Dough (Jacques does warn) is an undertaking. The most complex step is making the ideal pastry dough. If you are comfortable with this, it is a fairly simple dish. If not, the instructions are very detailed and with care you will roll a successful crust. To save time the day of serving, the recipe suggests preparing the pastry, stuffing, and boning the salmon the day head. The dish can be assembled ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to bake it. One tip we would add to the recipe is to use a thinner, 1/2 to 3/4 inch-thick salmon fillet. Ours was closer to an inch in many parts. The resulting dish tasted quite good, but our presentation resembled a chubby goldfish more than a salmon. Although the stuffing is very flavorful, the lemon sauce makes this dish. The salmon does not absorb the flavors from the stuffing and requires the sauce to give it life.

Stuffed Salmon in Flaky Dough

1 small salmon (about 5 pounds with head on), yielding about 2 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless salmon flesh.

Flaky Butter Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces), placed in freezer for 2 hours to cool, plus 1/4 cup cold flour for rolling the dough

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices and kept very cold in the refrigerator

1/2 to 2/3 cup ice-cold water (amount depending on the moisture in flour)

Mushroom-Shrimp Stuffing:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/3 cup sliced shallots

1/2 pound wild or cultivated mushrooms (chanterelles, oyster, cremini, shiitake, or a mixture), sliced (about 3 cups)

4 ounces shrimp, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons chopped chives

For Finishing:

1 large egg

For the flaky butter dough: Put the cold flour in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and butter, then pour in a little less than 1/2 cup of the cold water, and mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface, and, using a dough scraper, coarsely mix the ingredients together, adding a little more ice water (no more than 2/3 cup total) if needed to make the dough hold together. Try to work quickly to prevent the butter from softening.

Place the dough on a lightly floured cold surface, preferably marble or granite. Press lightly at first with your hands, then roll the dough to extend it into a rectangle about 16 inches long and 10 inches wide. Fold the length of the dough in on itself into thirds, like a letter. Then, with one of the folds facing you, roll the dough again into another rectangle, this one measuring about 18 inches long by 11 inches wide. By this time, the dough will be starting to get elastic and rubbery. Fold the long sides once again into thirds, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then repeat the two rolling and folding procedures described above, flouring the marble lightly as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. You will notice that when you are first rolling the dough the pieces of butter are quite visible, but by the fourth turn the pieces of butter will have practically disappeared from sight. Wrap the dough and refrigerate it until ready to finish the dish.

For the mushroom-shrimp stuffing: Heat the tablespoon of butter in a skillet. When it is hot but not smoking, add the shallots. Sauté for about 1 minute, until the shallots have softened, then add the mushrooms, and cook over medium to high heat until they have released their juice. When that juice has evaporated and the mixture starts sizzling again, add the shrimp, and cook for about 1 minute, just long enough for the shrimp pieces to change color. Season with the pepper, salt, and chives. Cool.

When ready to assemble the dish, line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 16-inch square. Cut a 16-inch-long strip from the dough measuring 5-6 inches wide, and place it on the diagonal on the parchment paper. Place one of the salmon fillets on top, and sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the cooled mushroom-shrimp stuffing evenly on top, then cover the stuffing with the remaining salmon fillet.

Take care to arrange the fillets so that the thinner part of the fillet on the bottom corresponds to the larger, thicker part of the fillet on top (tail to head and head to tail), and the shape and thickness are the same throughout. This way the salmon will cook evenly.

Roll the remaining, wider strip of dough up onto your rolling pin, then unroll it on top of the second fillet. Brush off any flour from the surface of the dough, and press it all around the edges, so it conforms to the fish shape underneath. The larger top layer of the dough will stick around the edge to the layer of dough underneath. Press the two layers of dough gently around the edge so they adhere well together, then place in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up the dough. This will make trimming and decorating the "fish" easier. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

After 10 minutes, remove the "fish" from the freezer, and trim the excess dough all around the edge to create a fish outline with dorsal fins as well as a tail from the extra dough around the salmon. Make a gill with a strip of the trimmed dough, and cut and position a round piece of dough for the eye. Continue decorating as you fancy.

Break the whole egg into a small bowl, and remove about half the white. Beat the remaining egg in the bowl with a fork to make a wash for coating the "fish." Brush the salmon with the egg. Holding the tip from a pastry bag (large end down) at an angle, press it lightly into the "fish" to simulate scales. Bake in the 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove and set aside, uncovered, in a warm place while you make the sauce.

Foamy Lemon Sauce:

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon potato starch

3 yolks from large eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

dash cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Whisk together 1 cup of the chicken stock and the potato starch in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Whisk the egg yolks and the remaining chicken stock in a bowl, then pour into the hot stock, and whisk constantly over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and foams, but don't let it boil. It should reach a temperature of 180 degrees, the temperature needed to cook the eggs and the starch and to thicken the sauce. Whisk in the salt and cayenne, then remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside. The sauce should have doubled in volume.

To serve: Using two long hamburger spatulas, transfer the "fish" to a serving platter. To serve, cut into 1-to-1 1/2 inch slices and arrange on warm individual plates. Spoon some sauce around the slices, and serve immediately.

Jacques is a lovely person.  Good Cooking has had the opportunity to work with him and chat about cooking.  Our paths have crossed at Boston University and many years ago at the Boston Ritz-Carlton when he was on a tour de-emphasizing  the importance of roux in thickening sauces.

To Peel & Seed a Tomato

Here is Jacques' method!

There are several ways to peel a tomato. Holding it over the flame of a gas stove not only chars the skin, which then will peel off but also gives the tomato a mildly smoky taste. If the tomato is a hit firm, you can peel it with a good vegetable peeler or a knife. If, however, you have a lot of tomatoes to peel, the easiest way is first to remove their stems with the point of a knife, and then to drop the tomatoes into boiling water to cover. Leave them in the water from 10 to 30 seconds, depending on their ripeness, with the ripest ones needing the least time. Remove with a skimmer, and cool for a few minutes at room temperature.

To peel a tomato: When cool enough to handle, remove the skin with the point of a knife; it will came off easily. Conventionally the tomatoes are cooled in ice water, but in my opinion that "washing" takes away from their taste.

To seed a tomato: Cut the tomato crosswise not through the stem into halves, which will expose all the little pockets of seeds. Holding a tomato half upside down over a bowl, squeeze it gently to extrude some of the seeds, then turn it 45 degrees in your hand, and press it again in the same way to remove any remaining seeds. Repeat with the other tomato half. You now have pure tomato flesh; the seeds and skin can be used in stock, and the flesh can be diced, julienned, or chopped for sauteing or for use in a fresh tomato sauce, salad, or or as a garnish.