‘Tasting Paris’ is a cookbook beyond compare

Every year, dozens and dozens of cookbooks cross my desk. Many are good. Some are better. A few are better than better.

"Tasting Paris’ is a cookbook (Penguin Books)
"Tasting Paris’ is a cookbook (Penguin Books)

Credit: Penguin Books

Credit: Penguin Books

And then there is the rare occasion, maybe once every couple of years, that a cookbook is truly exceptional.

I have one here. It is called “Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local,” by Clotilde Dusoulier. I was sorting through a rather large stack of new cookbooks, and it called to me.

I sat down and looked at every single recipe on every single page. How often do you do that?

Here is the tally: The book has 100 recipes. I want to make all 100.

OK, to be perfectly honest, I really only want to make 97 or 98. I just can’t see a peanut fish stew with spinach in my future. And there’s something about the French endive casserole that I find vaguely unpleasant.

But otherwise, I want to make them all. And I’ve had a good start. The book has been in my possession for three days and I’ve already used it to make five things.

Two were entrées: an impossibly moist, tender and flavor-packed roast chicken with herbed butter and croutons, and a steak with a peppercorn sauce (it’s not just peppercorns, it is cream and cognac, too). Either one would be perfectly at home at a charming bistro in the 5th Arrondissement.

Nothing goes with a French steak like frites, so I served the fabulous steak with some oven-fried potatoes. These fries are first blanched and shaken, to make their surface absorbent (“fuzzy” is the word the book uses), and then baked with a relatively small amount of oil, which makes them marvelously crisp. It’s a brilliant technique, and I had never heard of it before.

As an appetizer, I guess, I made an olive and goat cheese quick bread, a lovely savory bread that would have been even better had I used green olives that were a little less assertive. I had pimento-stuffed olives at home, so that is what I used; next time, and there will most definitely be a next time, I will use olives that are not quite as briny.

And while the book does not feature many cocktails, I decided to make a sidecar to see how it fares against the version I already make.

Although it has the same ingredients, it is almost a different drink altogether. My sidecar employs equal amounts of brandy (or cognac) and Cointreau, and half as much lemon juice; the tartness of the lemon is countered by sugar on the rim of the glass. But the book’s sidecar is somehow more French; it is essentially cognac (or brandy) that is flavored with some Cointreau and rather less lemon juice. It needs no added sugar.

The rest of the recipes are just as tempting, if not more so. They already have me buying ingredients that I do not ordinarily have in the house, such as grapeseed oil, chickpea flour (you can’t make carrot chickpea crepes without it, obviously) and garlic flakes, which Dusoulier seems to use in place of fresh garlic. If it works for her, I’m willing to give it a try.

I’m already planning to make the Turkish lamb flatbreads, the chicken and pistachio terrine, the oven-puffed pancake (the picture of it is stunning) and the rich chocolate ice cream with nuts and raisins.

As soon as I get some camembert cheese, I’m going to make the baked camembert with honey and apple cider. And when I pick up some potato chips, I’m going to make the potato chip and chive omelet.

Think of that: an omelet with potato chips. It’s salty and crunchy, with a delicate taste of potato and chives.

I also want to try the easy version of puff pastry, which is used in several of the recipes. I’ve tried making puff pastry the hard way, which is why I buy it at the store. But if Dusoulier’s easy way works — it borrows the idea of pea-sized nuggets of butter that is used to make flaky pie crusts — I will be a convert for life.

Butter can be a problem; so far the only problem that I see. She uses a lot of butter, and I mean a lot of butter. No wonder everything tastes so great. And French.

My only other quibble with “Tasting Paris” is that it is all too enticing. I can’t decide what to make next.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds boneless beef steak, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick, your choice of cut

Fine sea salt

2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as sunflower seed, grapeseed or canola

1/3 cup cognac or other brandy

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon white or black peppercorns, cracked, see note

Note: Crack peppercorns in a mortar with a pestle; or use a grinder that gives you the option of a large grind; or put them in a pile on a cutting board, top with a heavy pot, and apply your weight to crush.

1. About 1 hour before serving, remove the meat from the refrigerator and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle on both sides with 1 teaspoon salt.

2. In a large, heavy pan, preferably cast iron, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is just beginning to smoke. Add the meat and cook without disturbing for about 3 minutes until a golden crust forms. Flip and repeat on the other side. Flip again and then cook, flipping and basting with the juices, every 20 to 30 seconds, until the meat is browned on the outside and cooked to your liking, a few minutes more. If you have a meat thermometer, aim for 130 degrees for medium rare.

3. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, preferably with grooves around the edges to collect the juices. Cover with foil and let rest while you prepare the sauce.

4. Reduce the heat under the pan to medium. Pour in the cognac, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to loosen the good bits. Stir in the butter to emulsify, and cook for 1 minute. Add the cream and cracked peppercorns and stir until warmed through.

5. Cut the meat into servings if needed, and divide among 4 to 6 plates. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat. Serve with the fries, if making them, and the remaining sauce in a warmed bowl or small pitcher.

Per serving (based on 4): 553 calories; 39 g fat; 20 g saturated fat; 177 mg cholesterol; 36 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 83 mg sodium; 53 mg calcium

Recipe from “Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local,” by Clotilde Dusoulier


Yield: 4 to 8 servings

21/4 pounds white potatoes, any kind, peeled or simply scrubbed

Fine sea salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered duck fat

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut the potatoes into long strips, each about 1/2 inch thick. Put in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, drizzle the oil or fat onto a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven to heat.

4. Drain the potatoes, return to the saucepan and put the lid on the pan. Holding up the saucepan with the lid firmly on, shake for 5 seconds, until the surface of the potatoes is fuzzy.

5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully pour the potatoes onto the sheet (the fat may splatter), sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and toss to coat with the oil. Bake for 20 minutes, flip the fries over and bake until golden and crusty, an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 4): 257 calories; 5 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 45 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 54 mg sodium; 53 mg calcium

Recipe from “Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local,” by Clotilde Dusoulier