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Classic French Food, Fast!
on April 23, 2011
Writing and broadcasting in the first half of the 20th Century, the food scientist Edouard de Pomiane encouraged French housewives to 'cook their heritage' while facing the increasing complexity of life for a modern French woman. Moving beyond the classic all-day cooking of the housewife, Pomiane pointed to the need to simplify meal preparation in the home. It is not surprising that Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic for the New York times and Editor of Gourment Magazine, selected this book for a Modern Library edition. The introduction is by Elizabeth David, the outstanding British food writer who also wrote a major book on French cuisine. Pomiane's 'hasty cooking' formula also inspired French-born chef/author Pierre Franey to create his landmark New York Times column 'Sixty Minute Gourmet.' This is a significant cook/food book and it is also highly readable. Pomiane's writing persona is evident on every page of his text: he is an avuncular uncle who wants you to eat sensibly and to eat well. He intends for you to be successful in realizing the recipes for the dishes he presents. He knows that every penny (centime) counts at home but that attractive and tasty meals are still imperative.
This is not Julia Child's Art of French Cooking. In 276 pages (plus a good index, organized by courses),Pomiane starts at the beginning. He reminds us of the duties of both host and guest and the importance of preparing and sharing digestible food. He sets out simple explanations of the major cooking processes: boiling, frying, grilling, roasting and braising. He offers some sensible remarks on the application of various levels of heat in cooking. As a 'first cookbook' on the preparation of homestyle French food, only a few select recipes are offered in each of the categories we might choose from in making a dinner or a small repast: soups, eggs, cheese dishes, savory tarts and crepes, salads, common sauces and sweet dishes. He concludes with a chapter on a few memorable meals: 'a lunch in the country,' 'supper in the high mountains,' 'two good dishes for two 'little' wines,' 'lunch by the sea' and even 'food for camping.' This section is written as a reminscence and we feel that we are accompanying Pomiane as he ponders what to serve, then shops for ingredients and then tells how he prepared the meal under each set of circumstances.
A typical American reader will be transported to France, surely, but one needn't be a Francophile to find recipes in each section of the book that are easily prepared with American ingredients, sound tasty on the page and are described in a way that promises 'pretty on the plate.' Pomiane offers three poached egg dishes: one seasoned with paprika butter and presented on a canape of bread, one sauced with canned tomato puree spiked with a little fresh garlic and a good olive oil and one sauced with browned chopped mushrooms in cream and herbs. There is a simple Basque-style omelette (with sweet red peppers and garlic.) Favored ingredients among the French may be underappreciated here but, in addition to a splendid 'poule au pot' (poached chicken with beef and vegetables), Pomiane offers some very tasty preparations for rabbit and hare. My meat market here (in Texas) always has farm-raised rabbit available and I enjoyed learning about a meat more commonly enjoyed by my ancestors. Pomiane's method with carp would work equally well with bass or trout. There are a bequiling number of 'mousse a la creme' variations: orange, Cognac, Curacao, Hazelnut, Montmorency Cherries, Chocolate mousse and even a coffee mousse!
All of this is wrapped up in a volume that bears reading and rereading whether you are searching for inspiration for dinner or just looking for some pleasant companionship.