Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes

Skirt Steak

I love French Bistro cooking; it makes me very happy. In fact, bistro cooking should make all of us happy. It’s comforting, generous, convivial and unpretentiously rooted in French tradition. How can anyone not like that?

I became familiar with bistros while living in Paris and Geneva for 10 years. Found in every neighborhood, the bistro was the go-to restaurant for consistently delicious food.  Welcoming, bustling and casually elegant, the bistro was home away from home: soothing in its predictability, its well-worn ambience and its dedicated timelessness. Now, years later, there isn’t a bistro in our neighborhood, but it’s the cuisine I seek out in restaurants and enjoy making at home.

Skirt steak with shallots or Bavette aux Echalotes is a classic item featured on bistro menus. The less expensive and very tasty cut of meat is pan-fried on the stove and then served heaped with sautéed, caramelized shallots. It’s quick to prepare, delicious to eat and economical on the wallet. Perfect bistro fare.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes

Serves 4

4 skirt steaks, approx. 8 oz. (250 g.) each
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 large shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1/3 cup (80 ml.) red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Prepare steak:
Use 2 skillets (or cook in 2 batches): Heat one tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in each skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 steaks to each skillet, making sure they fit in one layer without overcrowding. Cook, turning once, until seared and cooked through to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to platter and tent with foil to rest.

Prepare shallots:
Add one tablespoon olive oil to each skillet. Divide shallots between the two skillets and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Combine shallots in one skillet. Add red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is absorbed. Add one tablespoon butter, thyme and any juices from meat to the shallots. Cook, stirring, to incorporate, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange steaks on individual plates or serving platter. Top with shallots. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serve.

Frisée and Escarole Salad with Lardons

Frisée and Escarole Salad with Lardons

Salad Lardons tf

Don’t let the simplicity of this rustic salad fool you.  This is one hearty salad that demands respect.  Assertive frisée and escarole leaves are tossed with a sharp Dijon-vinaigrette and scattered with crispy lardons (bacon cubes) and croutons.

Frisée and Escarole Salad with Lardons
This salad is inspired by the french Salade Lyonnaise, which traditionally calls for sautéing the leaves in warm bacon drippings and topping the salad with a poached egg. Here is a lighter version which simply browns the croutons in the bacon fat and omits the egg.

Serves 4.

One medium head frisée, ends and outer leaves removed, washed
One half head of escarole, ends and outer leaves removed, washed
6 oz. (180 g.) slab bacon, rind trimmed, cut in 1/4″ cubes
8-12 baguette slices, 1/2″ thick
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place frisée and escarole in a large bowl.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add bacon.  Cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy golden. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.  Pour off all of the bacon fat except for one tablespoon.  Return skillet to stovetop.  Add baguette slices in one layer in batches.  Cook over medium heat until golden on both sides, turning once.  Transfer bread to another plate lined with a paper towel.

Combine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Slowly pour in olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify.  Pour dressing over salad leaves.  Toss to combine.  Arrange salad on serving plates.  Top with bacon and baguette croutons.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes

Bavette aux Echalotes

At the risk of repeating myself, I will tell you that I love French bistro cooking.  Simply put, it makes me very happy.  In fact, bistro food should make all of us happy.  It’s comforting, generous, convivial and unpretentiously rooted in French tradition.  How can anyone not like it?

I became familiar with bistros when I lived in Paris and Geneva.  Found in every neighborhood, the bistro was the go-to restaurant for consistent, delicious, and fun food.  Welcoming, bustling, and casually elegant, it was home away from home – satisfying and soothing in its predictability, its well worn ambience, and its dedicated timelessness.  Now, years later, there isn’t a bistro in my neighborhood, but I do seek it out in restaurants and cook bistro fare at home.  It’s perfect for entertaining and families, and since my family was raised eating bistro food in Europe, it’s one of our preferred cuisines  for home cooking.
So, needless to say, I was very excited when Johanna at the Passionate Cook announced Bistro Food as this month’s theme for the foodblogging event Waiter There is Something in My… (or WTSIM) – I knew I couldn’t miss it.  Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots or Bavette aux Echalotes is a classic item on bistro menus.  The less expensive cut of meat is pan-fried on the stove and then served heaped with sautééd, caramelized shallots.  It’s quick to prepare, delicious to eat and economical on the wallet.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes
Serves 4

4 skirt steaks, approx. 8 oz./250 g. each
2 tablespoons high heat oil (canola or grapeseed)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 large shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1/3 cup/80 ml. red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Steak:
Use 2 skillets or cook in 2 batches:  Heat one tablespoon canola oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to skillet and swirl around to brown.  Add steaks, 2 at a time to skillet.  Cook turning once until seared and cooked through to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare.  Transfer steaks to platter and tent with foil to rest.

Prepare shallots:
Add one tablespoon olive oil to skillet.  Add shallots and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, about 6 minutes.  Add red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is absorbed.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, thyme and any juices from meat to the shallots. Cook, stirring, to incorporate, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange steaks on individual plates or serving platter.  Top with shallots and serve.

Gigot de Sept Heures – Seven Hour Lamb

Gigot de Sept Heures – Seven Hour Lamb

The precise translation of this recipe is Seven Hour Leg of Lamb, but do not let the name of this dish intimidate you. This slow-cooked leg of lamb can be put in the oven at noon and essentially ignored until dinner.  In the meantime, the meat will slow-cook at a low temperature in its juices and red wine, perfumed and infused with herbs, root vegetables and lots of garlic.  The finished result is comfort food at its best: meat falling of the bone, so tender you can eat it with a spoon, accompanied by a rustic sauce consisting of the braised vegetables, wine and pan juices.

The preparation of Gigot de Sept Heures was originally meant to make use of tough older mutton meat.  Long slow cooking would tenderize it, allowing the connective tissues to break down, creating a rich sauce when cooked.  (This method is similar to the origin of Coq au Vin, which makes use of roosters or coqs.)  Some may argue that this preparation does not do justice to a leg of lamb, which is also delicious simply roasted or grilled with garlic and herbs.  If you feel this way, then try preparing this recipe with a stew or braise cut of lamb such as the shoulder or shank.


Gigot de Sept Heures

1 hour to prepare + 6 hours in the oven

Serves 6-8

1 leg of lamb with bone, 5-6 lbs. (2.5-3 kg.)
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup (60 ml.) olive oil
3 large carrots, peeled, cut in chunks
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, quartered
2 tomatoes, peeled*, seeded, quartered
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bayleaf, parsley)
1 cup (240 ml.) red wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs

Prepare the lamb:

Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.)

Trim fat from lamb, leaving 1/4″ layer.
Mince 3 garlic cloves and smear over lamb.  Generously salt and pepper lamb.  Place in a Dutch oven or baking pan.  Surround lamb with carrots, onion, tomatoes, remaining garlic cloves.  Drizzle olive oil over lamb and vegetables.  Roast in oven, uncovered, 30 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. (180 C.)  Roast additional 30  minutes.

Remove pan from oven and reduce oven temperature to 250 F. (125 C.)
Transfer lamb to a plate.  Add bouquet garni and red wine to baking pan. Bring to a boil on stove over medium heat, scraping up caramelized bits from bottom of pan.  Return lamb to pan.  Cover pan with lid or aluminum foil.  Return to oven.  Cook 6 hours.

When lamb is finished, remove pan from oven.  Transfer lamb to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Discard bouquet garni from vegetable mixture.  Blend or purée vegetables, wine and collected lamb juice in batches.

Slice lamb and arrange on warm serving platter or dinner plates.  Spoon some of the sauce over.  Garnish with rosemary or thyme sprigs. Serve with remaining sauce in a bowl on the side.

A French Country Menu: Beef Bourguignon

 

Beef Bourguignon

During the winter season I like to prepare rustic peasant-style food from the French countryside. These hearty dishes are made with staples from the land such as potatoes, root vegetables, bitter winter greens, cured meats and cheese.  My favorite is Beef Bourguignon, a stew consisting of a tough cut of beef slow-cooked in Burgundy wine until falling-apart tender, mingling with carrots, onions and mushrooms in a rich, savory stock.  It’s a delicious one-pot meal perfect for a cold night.  Try to make it one day in advance, so the flavors can develop overnight, and then enjoy the meal before a roaring fire.

Beef Bourguignon
Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cognac

4 large carrots
1 large yellow onion, cut in large chunks
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 – 750 ml. bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme

10 oz. (300 g.) pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof pan with lid or Dutch-oven. Season beef all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add beef to pan in one layer and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl. Add cognac to pan and deglaze pan over medium-high heat, scraping up bits. Allow to reduce by half. Pour cognac over beef and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.)  Coarsely chop 2 carrots.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan. Add chopped carrots, onion and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes over medium heat. Add beef, wine, stock, tomato paste, and thyme. (Beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more wine or stock to cover.)  Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes.  Cover and place in oven. Bake until meat is very tender 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

About 30 minutes before beef is done, cut remaining carrots in 1/2″ slices.  Steam or blanch carrots until crisp tender; drain. Sauté mushrooms and onions in a skillet with one tablespoon olive oil until light golden brown.

Remove beef from oven.  Strain liquid from stew into a saucepan. Separate meat from vegetables and discard vegetables. Boil liquid until sauce is reduced by 1/2 and has a sauce consistency, skimming fat from surface. Add sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce back over beef.   Add carrots, mushrooms and onions to stock. Simmer 15 minutes. Serve.

Beef bourguignon can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove solidified fat from surface before reheating. Reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop, or in a 325 F. oven.



Before and After

I confess that when I first moved to Paris to study cooking, I was somewhat inflexible in terms of feeding myself.  Here I was, twenty-something, educated, professional, and, at least in my opinion, worldly. Now, this is my own small story, but I will dare say that I conformed to a rather structured, and, perhaps American, way of viewing diet and exercise: compulsive, rigorous and disciplined. This translated to a philosophy that excluded butter, red meat, caffeine, little alcohol and included fresh fruit, veggies, fish and so on. It also included a regimen of daily exercise, even if it meant rising at 5 a.m. to squeeze a workout into an active, fully-booked life. A day without exercise was unthinkable; deviation from my super healthy diet bordered on cataclysmic.

So, wouldn’t it make perfect sense that I would apply to cooking school in Paris? Not only cooking school, but the revered, classical, traditional French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. Goodness knows what I was thinking. Perhaps it was a subconscious acknowledgement of the starkness of my present routine and the need to just live a little; the gap of an ocean and the excuse of a new culture to step away from life as I knew it. Or perhaps it was the lack of meat protein in my diet that impacted my reasoning skills. Whatever the case, off I went to cook and eat in the land of butter, cream, pastry, runny cheese and terrines, at a school that for over 100 years held the distinguished and elite position of teaching classical French cuisine et pâtisserie.

And guess what? Nothing untoward happened. In fact, lots of delicious, sensual, pleasurable, yummy, gooey, and rich experiences befell me. The foods I wistfully admired from the sidelines of my healthy regimen back in the U.S. became the daily staples of my new Parisian life. I had an encyclopedia of cheeses at my disposal, bakeries on every street corner displayed gorgeous oven-baked breads and flaky croissants, cafés dotted every neighborhood serving comforting French bistro fare. Open air markets peppered the city, and depending on the day I could alter my route to school to pass by stands displaying a rainbow of fresh seasonal produce, glistening fresh meats and a sea of fish. Cheeses, pâtés, and more breads were prominently displayed along with a kaleidescope of cut flowers readily available for the finishing touch to the table.

For exercise I walked to school every day – literally across town – from the 18th to the 15th arrondissement. I risked life and limb crossing streets and boulevards, skirting the occasional mob of striking postal workers, protesting students and subsequent swarms of police, allowing 20 minutes at the minimum to navigate across the sweeping Place de la Concorde as I would officially cross from the right to the left bank over the Seine. Each day I would change my walking route, either purposely or more often erroneously, discovering new streets, neighborhoods, shops and cafés. I had a short list of favorite cafés where I would stop for my morning tartine (avec beurre) and café au lait (avec caféine.) Outside of the school I learned which bakeries had the best sandwiches – simple, satisfying packages with thickly sliced Comté cheese or paper-thin tongues of jambon sechée, a little butter and mustard, and perhaps a cornichon for garnish on a crusty, airy baguette the length of a forearm. So satisfying and so uncomplicated. An afternoon pick-me-up between classes or along my walk home would include an espresso and perhaps a tarte au citron – a dollop of perfectly balanced sweet, tart and very lemony curd nestled in a palm-sized shell of pâte sucrée. If I could bear to make dinner after a day of cooking in class, I would improvise a light dish with some of the purchases from the market or head out to a bistro or restaurant on my un-ending list of new places to try. Simply put, my life in Paris revolved around eating, cooking, walking and eating more.  I was very happy.  Bon Appétit.

Tarte au Citron

Lemon Tart – Tarte au Citron

Makes one 9″ tart

For the pastry – Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in 1/2″ pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor.  Add butter, using on/off turns until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Stir together egg yolk and water in small bowl.  Add to flour mixture.  Pulse until dough begins to clump together.
Press dough into bottom and up sides of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Trim edges.  Pierce crust all over with fork.  Freeze 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line crust with foil.  Fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake until crust is set, about 15 minutes.  Remove foil and beans or weights.  Continue baking until crust is lightly golden, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to rack to cool while preparing the filling.

For the Lemon Filling:

6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium sauce pan.  Mix well to combine.  Add remaining ingredients, except for the lemon zest.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  (Do not allow to boil or the mixture will curdle.)
When the mixture changes to a bright yellow color and thickly coats the wooden spoon, remove from heat.  Pour through a fine strainer.  Discard the residue.  Stir in lemon zest.
Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell; it will continue to thicken as it sets.  Let it sit at least one hour.  Serve at room temperature or cold.

Border Crossings

 

As mentioned, Switzerland is a landlocked country bordering a handful of countries. From Geneva, you can be in France within 10 minutes, Italy in an hour, and from Basel and Zurich you are close to Germany, Leichtenstein, Austria. To an American this is just nifty. I mean, honestly, the most common border to an American is a state border, and crossing from California to Nevada or Massachusetts to New Hampshire is not nearly as thrilling as driving across a Swiss border to another country! When you cross a Swiss frontière, suddenly you enter another culture with another language, another way of making very good espressos, another set of road signs that you don’t understand. Crossing a U.S. state border, you mostly find speed traps.

 

The first house I lived in was in a small village between Geneva and Lausanne. In this small hamlet, there was a marie, or town hall, a boulangerie(no self-respecting village would be without one) and a douane, or border guard. We lived one mile from the French border and could easily drive to and fro between Switzerland and France to our hearts’ content. On Sundays we would shop the open air market in Divonne-les-Bains, purchasing fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, roasted chicken, artisan cheese, paté and foie gras. We would then head to the local tearoom and recharge ourselves with a luscious croissant d’amandes and cappuccino before crossing back over the border to our home in Crassier.

 

When I first arrived, I loved casually inserting into a conversation with friends or family back in the U.S. that I had just shopped for groceries that morning in France, or that I would dine that evening in a French countryside auberge. My friend Kingsley arrived from the U.S. to visit me, and one of our first outings was to walk to France. Now, mind you, this was not the most scenic walk to do in the area, but, by golly, what a good story to talk about after. We nonchalantly waved bon jour to the Swiss border guards as we strolled past their guardhouse and casually glanced at the decidedly empty French border guardhouse (the guards were most likely fortifying themselves over a 2 hour lunch break) and then voilà! We were officially in another country! We trudged on to our destination, a simple café in a French village where we ordered Salad Lyonnaise a glass of wine and the French version of very good espresso. We then walked back over the border and still are, clearly, talking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend Deb came to visit from the U.S., and emboldened by our frequent forays into France, we decided to drive to Milan from my house – a mere 4 hour drive. Oh, what fun. We laughed and marveled at our 3-country route (Switzerland to France to Italy) as we exited the Mt. Blanc tunnel and arrived at the French-Italian border. I showed off my improved French language skills as I greeted the French border guards, and accelerated right past the Italian border guard preparing to view my passport. As Deb and I continued chattering away (most likely about Italian shoes), I noticed a very angry guard in my rear view mirror running after our car and shouting, I presumed, Italian epithets at me. I stopped, displayed my non-existent Italian skills, tried to smile and figured he was just as rattled by my perceived audacity as I was by seeing a drawn gun in his hand. (This border crossing story has not been as frequently re-told.)

 

Salad of Mixed Greens with Goat Cheese Crostini
Salade aux Crottins de Chavignol
Serves 4

 

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Assortment of mixed greens such as friseé, arugula, lambs lettuce, mustard greens
8 slices peasant bread (pain paysan) or baguette, sliced on the diagonal
4 Crottin de Chavignol (small French goat cheese balls), halved horizontally

 

Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic together in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat broiler. Brush bread slices with olive oil. Broil until golden brown. Remove from oven and place goat cheese halves on each bread slice. Return to oven and broil until cheese turns golden and bubbly.

 

Toss salad greens with dressing. Arrange salad leaves on individual plates. Top each serving with 2 slices of bread with cheese. Grind fresh black pepper over salad.