Bistro Cooking
by Patricia Wells
291 pages; Black and White Photography and Sketches; 15.95 US
Workman, New York NY, 1989
Reviewed by Jenny Sarpolis for Good Cooking, Inc. December 2006

The review---

With recipes gathered from bistro owners, French housewives, farmers, winemakers and bakers, Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking celebrates the French bistro “as a way of life.” Indeed, its reader is transported by vintage black and white photos and well chosen quotes. The book is also peppered with recommended menus, wine pairings and cooking tips providing a distinctive and authentic French flavor.

Yet for all of its easy charm, Bistro Cooking is not for the unadventurous or impatient cook. This is a cookbook for people who savor their time spent in the kitchen. I am happily one such cook, and because it is December and the month of my wedding anniversary, I decided to test The Left Bank Bistro: Table for Two menu as it promises to “celebrate romance, love, or the fact that you’re alive” (pg. 185).

The first course is a Potato Salad with Warm Poached Sausage (pg. 7). This dish is simple, quick and delicious. The finely minced shallots provide a sweet and pleasant crunch while the warm, vinegary potatoes stand in pleasant contrast to the second course of Chez Allard’s Roast Duck with Olives, which is a considerably more complicated recipe (pg.184). To properly prepare the dish it is necessary to make a homemade chicken stock (a good recipe is provided in the index) and cook the sauce for over three hours. The results were good, although not great. Duck is a rather uncommon ingredient; the book, and the reader, would benefit from some advice on the topic. The recipe calls for a trussed duck, yet provides no advice on its buying, trussing or carving. More straightforward is the dessert—a lovely Golden Cream and Apple Tart that is beautiful, fresh tasting and a pleasure to prepare (232). All considered, the menu is quite successful and indeed, makes a romantic meal.

Bistro Cooking is homey, challenging and romantic. As such, It'successfully embodies the spirit of the French Bistro.

Familiar bistro fare, a menu designed to celebrate romance, love, or simply the fact that you're alive and well. With this, try a Saint-Veran or a Macon-Villages.

SAUCISSON CHAUD POMMES A L'HUILE, Warm Poached Sausage with Potato Salad
CANARD AUX OLIVES CHEZ ALLARD, Chez Allard's Roast Duck with Olives
TARTE AUX POMMES A LA CREME, Golden Cream and Apple Tart

Chez Allard's Roast Duck with Olives

Chez Allard one of Paris' longtime popular bistros, has had this dish on the menu for decades. The recipe comes from the notebooks of Marthe Allard, the restaurant's first cook. While many recipes for duck with olives simply call for olives to be tossed into a warm sauce at the last minute, this version offers a more intense reduction of flavors, a subtle blending of herbs, wine, stock, tomatoes, and delicious green olives a perfect sauce to serve with the simplest roast duck. With this, sample a fruity red, such as a Beaujolais cru, Fleurie.

2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (or substitute 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter)
2 pounds (1 kg) chicken wings or backs, cut up
1 duck (about 4 pounds; 2 kg), well rinsed, patted dry, and trussed, with neck and gizzard reserved
3 onions, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons superfine flour
2 cups (50 cl) dry white wine
2 quarts (2 l) chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bouquet garni: 12 parsley stems, 8 peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed and 1 imported bay leaf tied in a double thickness of cheesecloth
1/3 cup (8 cl) tomato paste
8 ounces (250 g) brine cured green olives, pitted
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30 g) unsalted butter, softened

1. In a large nonreactive stockpot or stovetop casserole, melt the chicken fat over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces and reserved duck neck and gizzard. Cook, stirring over medium-high heat, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the wine, stock, bouquet garni, and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a nonreactive saucepan; discard the solids.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart (1 l) of water to a boil. Add the olives and boil over high heat for 2 minutes; drain and rinse under cold running water; drain well. Taste an olive. If It'still is very salty, repeat the blanching. Add the olives to the strained sauce. Set over low heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is just thick enough to coat a spoon, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 425'F (220'C).

4. Pierce the duck skin all over with a knife; rub the skin with the butter. Place the bird, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350'F (175'C); turn the duck breast-side up. Continue to roast the duck until the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh with a skewer, about 1 hour more. If you find that the breast is brown before the bird is cooked through, shield the breast by covering it loosely with aluminum foil.

5. To serve, carve the duck. Arrange the meat on a large serving platter and surround it with the green olives and sauce.

Yield: 8 servings

Tarte aux Pommes a la Creme

Golden Cream and Apple Tart

This beautiful, golden, homey apple tart is a joy. Typical of the simple fruit tarts one finds in bistros all over France, this version comes from the Savoy, where apples and cream can be found in abundance. The first time I made it my guests wanted to know where I bought the tart. Was I delighted to tell them it was fait maison!

3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup (18.5 cl) creme fraiche (see Index) or heavy cream
5 tablespoons (60 g) sugar
1 Pate Brisee shell, prebaked and cooled
4 cooking apples such as Granny Smith (about 1 1/2 pounds; 750 g)

1. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'c).

2. Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and beat with a fork. Add the creme fraiche and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Mix until well blended. Set aside.

3. Peel and core the apples; cut them in half. Cut each half into quarters. Starting just inside the edge of the pastry shell, neatly layer the apple slices-slightly overlapping them in 2 or 3 concentric circles, working toward the center. Pour the cream mixture over the apples. Sprinkle on the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

4. Bake the tart in the center of the oven until the cream filling is set and the apples are very brown, even slightly blackened at the edges, about 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

Saucisson Chaud Pommes A l'Huile Warm

Poached Sausage with Potato Salad

What would bistro food be without steaming, well-seasoned sausage served alongside warm potatoes bathed in oil and shallots? This dish always makes me think of one of my first visits to France, when my husband and I would sometimes just wander into places that looked interesting. It was on one of those visits, after exploring a narrow side street in Lyons, that I first sampled this dish. It's no wonder that six weeks later, we left New York and moved lock, stock, and barrel to France! With the potatoes and sausage, try a Burgundian white, such as a dry Rully, or Saint-Veran. If you prefer a red, make it Beaujolais.

1/2 - cup (12.5 cl) extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, finely minced
1 large fresh country-style pork sausage, or several individual fresh pork sausage links (weighing a total of about 12 ounces, or 360 g)
1 1/2 pounds (750 g) small new red skinned potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 cup (6 cl) best-quality sherry wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of fresh parsley

1. Combine the oil and shallots in a small bowl; set aside. As the shallots marinate in the oil, they will lose any bitterness.

2. Place the sausage in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring just to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat and simmer gently-do not allow the water to boil or the sausage casings may burst-until the sausage is cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. The sausage may be kept warm in its cooking liquid for up to 30 minutes.

3. While the sausage simmers, cook the potatoes in plenty of salted water, just until tender.

4. Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar into the oil and shallot mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Drain the potatoes. As soon as they are cool enough to handle but are still warm, cut into thin, even slices. Toss with the vinaigrette and sprinkle with the parsley. Mound in the center of a serving platter.

6. Drain the sausage. Cut into thin, even slices. Surround the potatoes with the sausage and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Patricia Wells