My doorbell rang yesterday, and when I opened the door expecting company, nobody was there, just footprints in the snow leading up the steps to my door, and there at my feet nestled in the snow was a small parcel wrapped in brown paper tied with a string. I had been anxiously awaiting this package, which I quickly untied and tore into, and before I knew it two hours had passed as I sat in my chair engrossed in the pages of a new cookbook!
French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries and the Beautiful Food Along the Way by Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Moullé and his wife Denise Lurton Moullé is not only a cookbook, but an autobiography of their lives spent in France and in Berkeley, California. As I turned the pages I was taken back to the restaurants and cafes I’d visited in France, the richly detailed descriptions making my mouth water as I greedily sipped them up like a savory soupe l’oignon. As I read through the essays I was comforted by the fact that although time marches on, traditional French cooking was something that I can rely on. The style evolves, but the philosophy of simple ingredients, exquisitely prepared remains constant and untouched by time.
Sometimes daring, often comforting, and always elegant, French cooking is as deep an exploration of the western palate as you will find, and this cookbook presents each recipe with a story of it’s origins and the experiences of the authors, how they’d come to experience it, and is accompanied by richly detailed instructions that go far beyond merely telling you how to cook just make a dish, they teach you how to cook, in an authentic and soulful way. That is, the French way.
Dishes such as Bar au Four en Croûte de Sel (Baked Sea Bass in the Oven with Salt Crust), Crème de Céleri aux Truffes (Cream of Celery Root Soup with Black Truffles), Canelés de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Canneles) and Soufflé au Comté (Comte Cheese Souffle) are just a few I remember trying while living abroad. Many times while reading I close my eyes and recall picturesque rural villages with their cobbled streets and the deliciously prepared traditional French cuisine.
In French Roots, Chef Jean-Pierre and his wife Denise have not only written a cookbook but an autobiography, with stories of their childhoods in France and their lives in Berkeley California, highlighting these cuisines as prepared in the kitchen of the iconic landmark restaurant Chez Panisse where Jean-Pierre reigned as Executive Chef for more than 3 decades.
Chef Jean-Pierre and Denise are both natives of Bordeaux; having met on a street corner in Berkeley, California in 1980, and a short six months later they were married. Denise was born into the Bordeaux wine-making empire of the Lurton family, and she worked as a wine distributor in California for many years before opening her starting Two Bordelais in 1987, offering guided tours through France.
Since meeting nearly 35 years ago, Jean-Pierre and Denise have worked to bridge the gap between two food cultures, to define a common thread between two ways of life. Both retired, Jean-Pierre and Denise are currently working on their second book while offering cooking classes and tours in the truffle-bearing Cahors and Bordeaux regions of France.
For my first recipe I chose to prepare Épaule de Porc Braisée aux Chou; Braised Pork Shoulder with Savoy Cabbage from the chapter titled Dans la Cuisine de Chez Panisse (In The Kitchen at Chez Panisse). As Chef Jean-Pierre says, “Braised meat is a comfort food I never grow tired of. I like the subtle flavors that the vegetables, herbs, and meat develop as they come together, bubbling quietly in the oven while slowly working their magic.” I found this dish full of comfort, especially in the midst of a record-setting February deep freeze.
Épaule de Porc Braisée aux Chou
(Braised Pork Shoulder with Savoy Cabbage)
serves 6 to 8
1 (3-to-4 pound) pork shoulder, bone-in or boneless
Salt and black pepper
1 onion, cut into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head garlic, peeled
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
4 to 5 sage leaves
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 small savoy cabbage, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375’F. If using a pork shoulder with the bone in, trim a bit of the fat if desired. If working with a boned shoulder, simply tie it with kitchen string. Season the meat generously with salt and black pepper 1 hour before cooking and set the meat out to temper at room temperture.
In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, cook the onion and carrot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a heavy baking dish. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same saute pan and brown and sear the shoulder, turning frequently to give it a little color all over. This may take 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your stove. When the meat is browned, place it fat side up on top of the carrots and onions along with the garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, and bay. Deglaze the saute pan with white wine, scraping the pan to loosen the browned bits. Add the liquid to the pot with the meat along with the chicken stock. Place in the oven and braise uncovered for 45 minutes before turning the meat over to cook for another 30 minutes. Check for the doneness by inserting a skewer into the meat – if it slides in easily, the meat is probably done. If you have a thermometer, the temperature should read no less than 145’F at the center. Cook the meat longer as needed and remove it from the oven when tender. Transfer the roast to a platter, skim the extra fat off the braising liquid and pass the liquid and vegetables through a strainer to make the sauce.
Cook the cabbage wedges briefly in plenty of salted boiling water, drain well, and toss with the melted butter; I like to take the additional step of browning each wedge with butter in a hot pan to add a bit of color and develop some of the sugars. Slice the meat and arrange it and the cabbage on a platter. To serve, reheat the sauce and pour it over.