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Precision In The French Kitchen

Aug 17, 2007
Here are a few general principles that should be followed in the creation of delicious French dishes. I trust that experienced cooks will forgive me for mentioning what, for them, must appear to be obvious. Nevertheless, I feel that insistence on the artistry of a profession or a hobby, be it painting or cooking, can bear repetition if it is for the benefit of those who may feel that they have not yet mastered certain techniques.

I recommend earthenware pots and copper and enamel pans. But it is not every home that is in possession of such ware. So, if it has to be aluminum, then use the heavier kind, so as to be able to cook these dishes d la minute (i.e. for the exact time given). If thin aluminum pans are employed, then care must be taken to adjust accordingly the prescribed cooking time; for the food in the thin aluminum pan will heat centrifugally and cook too rapidly, instead of heating gradually and retaining a steady, even, overall temperature. This is of major importance in cooking.

Careful timing in cooking contributes greatly to Alexandre Dumaine's insistence on precision in the kitchen. A kitchen alarm clock and a keen interest in preparing food are about all that are required - provided the ingredients are of the best quality - to be able to succeed in perfecting simple dishes. A good test is to be able to prepare the fillets of John Dory and the accompanying sauce hollandaise so that they are ready to be served together the minute that both of them are just cooked and no more.

It really is worth the effort to spend the little extra money, time and trouble in buying and cooking just the required amount of top-quality food, instead of playing around with an unnecessary amount of the second-best. It should be borne in mind that the presentation of a carefully prepared dish is of considerable importance. For example, it can make a great deal of difference as to how my Indo-Chinese curry dish is arranged and set on the table. It can easily be made to look both attractive and appetizing. Lack of interest or imagination will result in the opposite, distressing, effect.

Often times the sauce should be reduced, or cooked gently, until it thickens. Careful and closely watched reduction and blending of a sauce can make all the difference to a dish which, in itself, may have required exacting measurements and preparation. So, surely, as far as sauces are concerned, it is worth both time and trouble to stay in the kitchen and to cook the sauces cautiously without having to go off to attend to other household matters.

That little extra patience in the kitchen will also be rewarded if you wish to please your guests by preparing your own sauce tomate, sauce mayonnaise, sauce hollandaise (according to the easy recipes given here) instead of buying tasteless, commercial "concentrated" substitutes.

Whenever possible, use dry white wine, wine vinegar, and fresh, unsweetened cream in cooking. And when you need to use butter, use pure butter and not a substitute. Butter can make or break a French dish. This is an area where you should not cut corners.
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