The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
COOKING THE BOOKS
Putting recipes to the test
Susan Herrmann Loomis is an American food journalist and author based in Paris. Plat Du Jour: French Dinners Made Easy (£19.99; Countryman Press) is her ninth book, focusing on the much heralded bistro tradition of the meal of the day, dishes you’ll find scribbled on a pavement blackboard in a sunny French square. With such a wide range of regional delicacies, it makes for a wonderful topic of exploration.
Initially, I was worried. “French dinners made easy” are four words that feel as if they are tiptoeing towards the bland realm of all the three-ingredient, twominute cookbooks that have flooded the market. This, thankfully, isn’t that kind of book. The recipes are generally simplerthan any you’d find at the fine-dining end of the spectrum; the focus is more on hearty, fussfree French cooking. Over several chapters (appetisers, poultry, seafood, meat, eggs and so on), Herrmann Loomis takes us on a Gallic tour, and there is no better time to join the ride.
While a few recipes might be new to all but the most ardent of Francophiles, there are plenty of classics, too – beef bourguignon, niçoise, fish with sauce vierge. I wanted to recreate the big hitters, i though there were intriguing dishes I’d never heard of, too.
This Marseille classic is a fish soup of heft and might, bold flavours like orange and saffron and unsightly Mediterranean fish. It is rather full-on, testing the book’s “made easy” mantra, but the result was more than worth it. I combined monkfish, hake and bream in a rust-coloured liquor, and the garlicky rouille and fresh bread made it a wonderful wintry meal.
Chou farci (cabbage with pork stuffing) There are many versions of stuffed cabbage in France, and this simple, if slightly laborious, version combines minced pork, garlic, chives and onions with chard and plenty of savoy cabbage.
Slow-cooked with a generous helping of butter, the cabbage wilted and sweetened, though there was still some bitterness at the end.
I absolutely loved this concoction. Cooked until just tender, the peppers are stuffed with a whizzed up pâté of albacore tuna, the jar’s oil, garlic, parsley and capers. It’s potent – your breath will compel strangers to cross the road – but, frankly, when it tastes this good, who cares?
With its extensive range of mouthwatering French classics (a godsend during the worst winter months of lockdown), Plat du Jour quickly won me over. It strikes the right balance between history and explanation, has useful guides to crucial French ingredients, and includes a broad array of French fare, from the windswept Breton coast to the snow-peaked Basque mountains.
The recipes are thoroughly researched and each comes with a boxout of helpful tips. Some of the author’s previous essays, on topics such as French vegetables or “the French pig”, punctuate the chapters, and will entice those who want greater depth behind their cookery books. Although the “easy” part of the title may not always be entirely accurate, anyone who loves French food won’t care – this book delivers results.