The French have a reputation for creating gastronomic delights from the simplest ingredients.
Think pot au feu, a hearty beef stew whose literal name means pot on fire, or cassoulet, a slow-cooked white bean stew with various meat from sausage to duck or mutton.
The traditional French kitchen always has been stocked with the freshest ingredients, locally grown and produced. But, while most of us associate a typical French kitchen with savory and sweet delicacies, we usually don't recognize it for the place of economy and thrift that it is.
Generally, we think of luxury and expensive ingredients when we think of French cuisine. However, eating well shouldn't be a luxury and the French kitchen is the perfect place to learn this lesson.
In a recent conversation with Bistro de Leon restaurateur Jean-Stephane Poinard, the Paul Bocuse-mentored chef generously shared secrets of his kitchen - many learned in the kitchens of his Maman and Grand-mère, masters of French comfort food or la cuisine de nos mères.
Chef Poinard is a native of Lyon and a member of the elite Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaise. He currently is collaborating on a book about absinthe (including 18 of his recipes).
The French are reknowned for their inventive cuisine and for very little waste in the kitchen. What are some smart ways for home cooks to make the most of their food budget?
People used to cook whatever they wanted. They didn't worry much about its cost, where it came from or how it made them feel. Now people are beginning to realize that if they eat crappy food, they feel bad. They are interested in the long term plan.
Feeding yourself is a pleasure. We can do small things that make food more flavorful and more interesting and we can save too.
A baguette, if it is made with good quality flour and yeast, you have to see all the little bubbles inside like Swiss cheese, can be frozen if you are not using it all right away. Save half in the freezer and reheat it in the oven at 350º.
You recommend re-purposing day-old baguettes as well.
Don't throw away dry bread. There are many ways you can use bread. A plain salad is not very fun - even for kids. Make little croutons, add egg, a little lardon (thick bits of slab bacon). It's a little appetizer with lots of tasty treats.
You can dry the bread all the way through and process in the food processor to make bread crumbs. Mashed potatoes with cheese and bread crumbs make a nice gratin.
French toast is a good way to use the baguette. When the bread soaks in the milk and egg, it's very rich, very filling.
Just with the baguette, we can do a lot of stuff. Goat cheese melted on a crispy baguette makes a nice appetizer or crouton for a salad.
There are so many ways we can economize and make healthy flavorful foods, reducing waste.
Chicken stock is very flavorful when its made from the carcass of a roasted chicken. Don't throw out the bones. Why buy chicken stock when you can make your own? It's very cheap.
Add the carcass, garlic, celery, onions, thyme and carrots to water in a stockpot. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then strain through cheesecloth. Believe me, it will be delicious.
You can make a Bouillon aux petites pâtes to give people when they are sick and the kids like it. You add alphabet pasta or little stars to the chicken stock to make it even healthier.
Freeze the stock as well or reduce it a lot to make a glaze or base to flavor a lot of dishes.
We all would love to eat fantastic flavorful meals every evening, but the reality is that busy days and long commutes can cut into our time for cooking.
Cooking a big meal on Sunday, you have many ways to use the leftovers during the week. This saves time and money by using seasonal ingredients.
What is your favorite, quick meal that is simple to prepare, nourishing and fabulous?
Pot au Feu is a wonderful Sunday dinner. It's flavorful and healthy. Leeks, chard and celery are all very juicy vegetables. You make a little extra and you can make many nice meals during the week.
You can take the leeks and use a vinaigrette. Leeks are a great detox. The celery cleanses your liver.
You can make a Pistou or Pesto soup with the leftover vegetables and meat. Pistou is so easy to make and very inexpensive.
What are some inexpensive cuts of meat that can be prepared elegantly and simply?
London Broil is the cheapest cut of meat. It's pretty tough, but we cook it in the pressure cooker to make it very tender with stock, potatoes, turnips and carrots.
You can use the leftover meat for stuffed tomatoes or to make a dish like Shepherd's pie. You grind the meat to stuff the tomatoes, to use in a gratin with mashed potatoes. It's very nice.
Do you have a favorite recipe you would share?
Pistou. Compare the price in the store. Basil in season costs nothing. You make 4-5 times more for the same cost and you can store extra in the freezer.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 fresh ground black pepper
Process until smooth in a food processor or blender. Seal with a thin layer of olive oil.
Can you recommend some value wines and some menu items that pair well with them?
Don't buy wine according to the label. You pay for the label. Sometimes you get a very nice tasting wine for a very good value. In Lyon many people go to the domaine to buy the wine the winemakers declassify. They can't sell more than a certain number of AOC or appellation d'origine contrôlée bottles so they sell it as vins de pays or table wine. You get the same wine at a much lower price.
What are some wines you recommend?
I love Cote du Rhone. You can buy a Ville Fleurie for $6-7 a bottle. Another is the southwestern French Rosé, Costières de Nîmes. Viognier - this wine is amazing. It's very tasty, very floral.
Don't be afraid of the box. If you find a good value, you can buy three liters for about $19. Black Box is nice, the sauvignon blanc and the Merlot, a little more forte or strong.
People are focused on the label. It's not the label. It's what's inside the bottle. You serve it in the carafe. People love the carafe and it's good for the wine. It's oxygenated.
What are some exciting food combinations that home cooks can use to liven up their meals?
Strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar make a nice salad. An avocado mousse with shrimp and cumin mayonnaise.