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Simple French Food Paperback – June 2, 1992
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Richard Olney, best known as a general food writer, is one of America's most erudite experts on authentic French cooking, but it's difficult to find anyone who knows much about him, except for such authorities as Patricia Wells and the late James Beard. The reprinting of Olney's classic and indispensable Simple French Food offers readers the chance to learn more about this most idiosyncratic and accomplished of cooks. No pared down, paint-by-numbers recipes here: Olney is obsessed not only with showing you how to cook, but how to see, smell, feel, listen, and taste as well. Read, for example, Olney's description of Scrambled Eggs and you will understand what you are missing when they are not properly prepared (as they almost never are): "correctly prepared, the softest of barely perceptible curds held in a thickly liquid, smooth, creamy suspension." To scramble eggs, Olney insists on a wooden spoon, a generously buttered copper pan or bain-marie, and a precise control of the temperature--very simple to accomplish, as all his recipes are, as long as you take care to absorb fully his sensuous and exact instructions. --Sumi Hahn Almquist
From the Back Cover
Simple French Food
"For twenty years Richard Olney's Simple French Food has been one of my greatest sources of inspiration for cooking at Chez Panisse." —Alice Waters
"I know this book almost by heart. It is a classic of honest French cooking and good writing. Buy it, read it, eat it." —Lydie Marshall
"I need this new edition badly because Simple French Food is the most dog-eared, falling-apart book in my library. Here it is newly bound to enrich one's life." —Kermit Lynch, author of Adventures on the Wine Route
"Simple French Food has the most marvelous French food to appear in print since Elisabeth David's French Provincial Cooking.... The book's greatest virtue is that the author...really teaches you to cook French in a way I've never seen before. Here you acquire the methods, the tour de main, the tricks that are the heart and essence of French food, unforgettable once acquired in this book because of their logical, well-explained presentation." —Nika Hazelton, The New York Times
"I am unable to find an ad equate adjective to express my enthusiasm.... I find Simple French Food marvelous. I have never read a book on French cuisine that has so excited and absorbed me." —Simone Beck
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Perhaps to save space, his recipes are presented in narrative form rather than as enumerated instructions. This may require extra scrutiny sometimes, but I've found that with a couple of perusals, it all becomes clear. So far, the recipes have all turned out wonderfully.
But more than the recipes, I value his insights and creative flair. He not only encourages us to experiment, but he gives us the reasons and information to do so, while not assuming that we have much knowledge to begin with. And now that the ingredients he calls for are becoming more commonly available, the exciting culinary vistas he describes can become reality.
The fact is, being retired with modest means, I may never get to France, or many other places. Except through the pots-and-pans symphony in my kitchen.
Following Mr. Olney's directions in this book, mine was a dismal failure. :)
"THREE LARGE sweet onions, halved and finely sliced" to only THREE eggs? How can this possibly be correct, I wondered?
Pulling out the egg volume from the Time-Life series of cookbooks that Mr. Olney edited, I found a recipe for Omelet Lyonnaise and realized what the problem was -- this isn't for my idea of an omelet (light and foldover style) but for a sort of egg/onion flat/thick pancake. (Mr. Olney gives no indication of this whatsoever in the instructions in Simple French Food, but there's a photograph of an omelet in this style in the Time-Life book.)
And herein is my only criticism with this book. Mr. Olney can be a little vague in the directions he provides at times.
If you want to give this alternative recipe for Omelet Lyonnaise a try, the recipe from the Time-Life books Mr. Olney edited is as follows:
1. Heat butter in a large omelet pan over low heat (until bubbling stops but before butter begins to brown).
2. Put in onion (THINLY chopped) and some chopped parsley, and season with salt and pepper. (That's all there is -- no idea how many onions, but that's okay, you can use your judgment. One large one should do.) Cook the onions until they are translucent and lightly browned. (The Simple French Food book says to cook them until just before they begin to brown and not to allow them to brown.)
3. Pour 3 eggs (presumably stirred with a fork first to break them up) over the onion mixture and heat until the underside is lightly brown and the top side almost set.
4. Turn it over (like a pancake) and cook for one minute, then transfer to a serving dish that's been pre-warmed in an oven.
5. Heat a bit of butter in the pan and when it stops foaming (but before it browns) drizzle the butter over the omelet. (This step is borrowed from the recipe in Simple French Food and does not appear in the Time-Life instructions.)
6. Add white wine vinegar to the hot pan, bring it quickly to a boil, and sprinkle it over the omelet just before serving.
Also, because I loved these books so much, but they're little known (and they may appeal to people who like good cooking and things French or Italian), you might want to check out At Home in France by Ann Barry and also Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes.
Both are absolutely wonderful and somewhat hidden gems here in the U.S.