|1992 Edition of Simple French Food,|
which I recently purchased.
I bought my first copy of this (or any other) Olney book this week. I can't really explain what took me so long, but let's face it, the number of classic cookbooks out there is very large, especially French cookbooks by American authors. Other than my own favorite, Julia Child, I usually tend to stick with cookbooks by actual French authors.
Some of the recipes in Simple French Food actually do appear simple, though in some cases, I think Olney complicates dishes that in actual French homes and restaurants really are simple. Consider cruditès, the simple plate of raw or blanched vegetables that makes quite a lovely hors-d'oeuvre. Olney suggests quite a few embellishments for these that I've never seen in France. But he did live there for almost 50 years, and I have only lived or stayed there from a week to 12 months on various occasions.
Aside from simple things made more complicated, there's plenty of real complication in Olney's book. The chapter titled "Cold Terrines, Pâtes, Mousses," for example, has recipes that are just as elaborate as any I've seen elsewhere for these scrumptious but labor-intensive delicacies. Take the first recipe, "Rabbit Terrine," which makes 20 portions. It starts with the ingredient "1 rabbit, approximately 3 1/2 pounds, skinned and cleaned;" however, the entire previous page explains the other possible choices, such as domestic ducks, or any "small game, furred or feathered." The preparation requires a marinade (5 ingredients), stock (5 ingredients and 5 herbs/spices), and forcemeat (around 12 ingredients plus a number of spices and seasonings). Not what I would call simple!
Bravely, I tried one of the simplest chicken dishes, Braised Chicken Legs with Lemon, which is said to be borrowed from French Catalan cooking. This requires around an hour of intense prep and cooking, including carefully peeling 25 garlic cloves, and more time for simmering sauce and oven-baking the dish, as well as preparing a rice pilaf to accompany the dish.
20 to 25 large, firm, crisp garlic cloves, peeled without crushing, par-boiled for 5 minutes, and drained
2 1/2 cups veal or chicken stock
4 chicken legs (I used 6)
3 tablespoons butter
1 lemon, peeled (all white inner peel removed), thinly sliced, seeds removed
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
After par-boiling the garlic cloves, you simmer them in the stock for 40 minutes in a small saucepan.
Meanwhile, you slowly brown the chicken legs in the butter, and arrange them in a baking dish with the poached garlic cloves (being very careful to keep them whole and perfect) and lemon slices. Then you remove the excess fat from the pan, blend the flour and fat, add the wine and then the stock, and return the entire sauce to the small saucepan to boil down for another 15 minutes or so. After adding the sauce to the baking dish, you bake it in a 400º oven for 40 to 45 minutes.
|Out of the oven. You can see the garlic cloves and lemon slices in the sauce.|
The recipe concludes: "The lemon will have almost completely disappeared into the sauce; the garlic cloves should be absolutely intact with a consistency of melting purée; the sauce must be tasted to be believed."
|Yes, it was an exceptional dish. I made the recommended rice pilaf to go with it,|
and added some undocumented tomatoes for color.
To conclude, here's a quote from Olney's obituary by Julia Child:
''I think he enjoyed being difficult,'' she said. ''But on the other hand, he could be absolutely charming if you treated him like the genius he considered himself to be.''