I always love a good French cookbook – more so when I cannot travel to France – so when I saw that Susan Herrmann Loomis had a book coming out this January, I had high hopes for a culinary journey to France though its stories and recipes. Plat du Jour: French dinners made easy does not disappoint!
From the publisher:
Discover the pleasures of cooking—and eating—with this French approach to everyday meals. Featured on bistro menus and dinner tables throughout France, the plat du jour is the centerpiece of a two-course meal, a formula that Susan Loomis cleverly presents here. By pairing substantial main dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon, Poule au Pot, and Bouillabaisse, with just the right starter, side, and/or dessert, Plat du Jour makes getting dinner on the table as easy as un, deux, trois!
This is a long-awaited collection of classic recipes by Loomis, an American-born cooking teacher and author who resides in Paris. She has perfected these iconic dishes and shares what she’s discovered while living in France, cooking for family, friends, and students. In addition to the recipes, the cookbook includes helpful tips and intriguing details about French culinary history. It’s a must-have for any aspiring home cook with a craving for simple French cooking.
What is a “plat du jour” anyway?
So, what is a “plat du jour“? According to Loomis, they are “the dishes you find on hand-written menus outside bistros or cafés, the dishes that beckon everyone inside to sample a restaurant’s irresistible, mouthwatering menu. They change daily, a litany to the abundance in the French culinary repertoire.”. These are classic French dishes, many of them regional dishes that are the stars of France’s fixed price midday menus (a “menu” is actually a fixed price offering while if you’re looking for a menu, you’ll need to ask for “la carte”) which begin with a small starter (a salad, maybe) and then a more substantial main course and always end with dessert. As such, this cookbook offers recipes for Appetizers, Poultry, Seafood, Beef; Lamb and Veal, Pork, Vegetables, Salads, Eggs, Side Dishes, Desserts and Basics – everything you could possibly want to create your own Menu Du Jour.
There are a number of things I love about this book – first of all, the beautiful images both of the food but also many images of France, ingredients, markets, restaurants – it’s a treat for the eyes for sure. The recipes themselves are clear and easy to follow – even the Boeuf Bourguignon (aka The Ultimate Beef Stew) is only 9 very do-able steps. There are “Astuces” (tips) to help you save time/ make substitutions or simply succeed with each recipe. And there is truly something for everyone in terms of the recipe selection (so many French classics!).
But as well as the recipes and the armchair travel to France through the gorgeous images, I loved reading the stories behind the dishes. The anecdotes and information about the recipes and ingredients are fascinating and you’ll find yourself engrossed in them just as much as you will find yourself marking most pages as “to make” 😉 I learned a lot and here are…
Ten things I learned about French food from Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Plat du Jour
1. The first public eating establishment opened in Paris in the 18th century and was called a “bouillon” and was legally only allowed to serve one dish (chicken boiled with root vegetables and later, lamb’s foot in white sauce). This was, arguable, France’s very first “plat du jour”.
2. Seasonal eating in France is not a trend – rather, it’s seen as simply good sense. Why? Because seasonal foods “have more taste, are more abundant and are more cost effective”.
3. Rationality and the notion of terroir (where an ingredient or food comes from/ is made) is very important to the French, so much so that they have a classification system that highlights ingredients coming from a specific region. In order to qualify for the classification, producers must adhere to strict standards of quality.
4. It is said that France’s best lamb is raised on the salt marshes around Mont-Saint-Michel and has been since at least the late 1600s.
5. More than one million pigs are produced artisinally (that is, outdoors on farms) in France each year. The pig has been a staple in French meals since before Roman times and has a category of shops devoted to it – Charcuterie.
6. The Pan Bagnat sandwich (a vegetable sandwich from Nice) has an official list of ingredients which are allowed and not allowed!
7. A chicken eats nearly its own weight in produce trimmings, resulting in better-tasting eggs and towns all over France are offering two chickens to each household in an effort to reduce compostible waste in landfill (those kitchen scraps chickens love to eat!).
8. Farmer’s Markets are not a trendy addition to the shopping scene but, rather, the backbone of rural France.
9. The French love ice cream and you’ll often see this as a choice on a “Menu du Jour” – une boule ou deux!
10. The heart of all French sauces and soups is a really good stock or broth. Loomis explains when to use stock, broth or even water for the best results.
Of course, I could go on and on about interesting factlets I learned from this book but… I have a bit of cooking to do. This is a wonderful way to travel to France from the comfort and safety of your own kitchen until you can get there yourself. Highly recommended as an introduction to French food and cooking but with enough challenge for seasoned cooks too. A treat!
Disclosure: I received a copy of Plat du Jour for review purposes from the publisher. I was not asked to write about this book and am not being compensated for writing this post. All opinions are my own
Buy Plat du Jour – French Dinners Made Easy by Susan Herrmann Loomis
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