The 20 best French recipes: part 3 | French food and drink (2024)

Observer Food Monthly's 20 best recipes

Classic dishes from top chefs, including boeuf bourguignon and filet au poivre, selected by Observer Food Monthly

  • The 20 best French recipes: part 4

Elizabeth David, Henry Harris, Gregory Marchand, Bruno Loubet, Jane Grigson

Wed 1 Mar 2017 08.00 GMT

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email

Elizabeth David’s boeuf à la bourguignonne

This is a favourite among those carefully composed, slowly cooked dishes which are the domain of French housewives and owner-cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs. Generally supposed to be of Burgundian origin (although Alfred Contour’s Cuisinier Bourguignon gives no recipe for it) boeuf à la bourguignonne has long been a nationally popular French dish, and it is often referred to, or written down on menus, simply as “bourguignon”. Such dishes do not, of course, have a rigid formula, each cook interpreting it according to her taste, and the following recipe is just one version. Incidentally, when I helped in a soup kitchen in France many years ago, this was the dish for feast-days and holidays.

2 lb of topside of beef, 4 oz of salt pork or streaky bacon (unsmoked for preference), a large onion, thyme, parsley and bay leaves, ¼ pint of red wine, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ pint of meat stock, preferably veal, a clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon flour, meat dripping. For the garnish, ½ lb of small mushrooms, a dozen or so small whole onions.

Cut the meat into slices about 2½ inches square and ¼ inch thick. Put them into a china or earthenware dish, seasoned with salt and pepper, covered with the large sliced onion, herbs, olive oil and red wine. Leave to marinate from 3 to 6 hours.

Put a good tablespoon of beef dripping into a heavy stewing-pan of about 4 pints capacity. In this melt the salt pork or bacon, cut into ¼ inch thick match-length strips. Add the whole peeled small onions, and let them brown, turning them over frequently and keeping the heat low. Take out the bacon when its fat becomes transparent, and remove the onions when they are nicely coloured. Set them aside with the bacon. Now put into the fat the drained and dried pieces of meat and brown them quickly on each side. Sprinkle them with the flour, shaking the pan so that the flour amalgamates with the fat and absorbs it. Pour over the strained marinade. Let it bubble half a minute; add the stock. Put in a clove of garlic and a bouquet of thyme, parsley and bay leaf tied with a thread. Cover the pan with a close-fitting lid and let it barely simmer on top of the stove for about 2 hours.

Now add the bacon and onions, and the whole mushrooms washed but not peeled and already cooked in butter or dripping for a minute or so to rid them of some of their moisture. Cook the stew another half-hour. Remove the bouquet and garlic before serving.

There should be enough for four to six people.

If more convenient, the first two hours’ cooking can be done in advance, the stew left to cool and the fat removed; it can then be reheated gently with the bacon, mushrooms and onions added. There are those who maintain that the dish is improved by being heated up a second time; the meat has time to mature, as it were, in the sauce.

To make a cheaper dish, chuck (shoulder) beef may be used instead of topside, and an extra 45 minutes’ cooking time allowed. And when really small onions are not available it is best simply to cook a chopped onion or two with the stew, and to leave onions out of the garnish, because large ones are not suitable for the purpose.

For formal occasions a boned joint of beef may be cooked whole and served with a similar sauce and garnish, and then becomes pièce de boeuf à la bourguignonne.
From French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David (Grub Street, £15.99). To order a copy for £12.74, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Jane Grigson’s pâté de campagne

Makes 1.2kg
1½ lb (680g) lean, boned shoulder of pork
3 oz (85g) veal, ham, or lean beef
½ lb (227g) flair (leaf, flead, body) fat
½ lb (227g) back fat, cut into strips, or streaky bacon
½ lb (227g) belly of pork
½ lb (227g) onions, chopped
3 oz (85g) butter or lard
¼ pint (142ml) dry white wine
2-3 oz (57-85g) brandy, calvados, marc or eau-de-vie
1 level tablespoon flour
1 large egg, beaten
seasonings – salt, pepper, quatre-épices, nutmeg, mace, crushed juniper berries, thyme, parsley, garlic, etc

If the butcher won’t cut the back fat into thin slices, and you can’t do it without slicing yourself, cut it as thin as you can safely manage, then beat it out with a wooden mallet. Salt and pepper lightly, leave in the cool. Caul fat, softened in tepid water is a good substitute.

Chop all the other meat finely. Put it through the mincer if you must, but the ‘Moulinette 68’ is better. Mix in the seasonings you have chosen, and the alcohol, and leave to marinade overnight.

Next day cook the onions gently in the butter or lard until they are a golden hash. Do not brown them.

Beat the flour and egg together to a smooth paste, and add with the onions to the meat mixture.

Grease a terrine with lard. Any oven-proof dish will in fact do – there is no need to buy one of those dramatic dishes with dead hare lids, and simulated pastry sides. Provided it holds two liquid pints (1.2 litres), it doesn’t matter what shape it is. If you like, you can divide the mixture between several smaller dishes.

Some people line the terrine next with shortcrust pastry, and cover the meat with a decorated pastry lid. But unless you want that kind of a showpiece (which adds considerably to your labour), a lining of pork fat strips is quite enough.

The seasoning of pâtés is a personal affair, but allow for the fact that foods to be eaten cold need more seasoning than foods to be eaten hot. It’s prudent to try out a small rissole (fried or baked), before irrevocably committing the pâté to the oven. Should you have overdone the seasoning, add more chopped meat, or – in desperate situations – some breadcrumbs.

Fill the terrine absolutely full, and mound over the top – it will shrink in the cooking. Lay a lattice of fat pork strips on top and cover with foil.

Stand the terrine in a larger pan of hot water, which should come about halfway up the side, and bake in a slow oven for 1½-3 hours, according to the depth of the dish: small but deep dishes of pâté take longer than wide shallow ones. Oven temperature should be about 340F (170-180C), Mark 3 or 4. The pâté is done when it appears to swim in fat, quite free of the sides of the terrine; you can also test it with a metal knitting or larding needle – if it comes out clean the pâté’s cooked.

You can also cook pâtés like steamed puddings, on top of the stove. If you want an addition to the store cupboard, try bottling the pâté in preserving jars like fruit. It needs two hours’ cooking. This is widely done in France.

Pâté can be served straight from the cooking dish. If you do this, remove the foil 20 minutes before the end of cooking time so that the top can brown appetizingly. Cool for an hour, then weight it gently.

Remember that it will taste better the next day.

For very elegant meals, the pâté is finished with meat jelly. If there is much fat, pour it off, add the jelly in a liquid state, and don’t weight the pâté until the jelly is beginning to set. Be careful to eat the pâté within three days if you have a refrigerator, within two days at most if you haven’t, for jelly sours quickly.

If the pâté is to be the main dish of a meal, serve a green salad with it, and some small pickled gherkins. In France crusty bread is always served too, but English factory bread is flabby and needs toasting, or, better still, baking in thin slices to a golden brown crispness.

Although bottling is the best way of keeping pâté, it also keeps well under a half inch layer of lard, in a cool dry larder. A month is a safe length of time. To do this, allow the pâté to cool for an hour, then weight it not too heavily (a dish with a couple of tins on top, or a foil covered board). Next day melt plenty of good quality lard and pour it over the pâté’, so that it is completely covered to the depth of half an inch. When the lard has set cover it with silver foil, smoothing it on right close to the fat. Then put another piece of foil over the top, as if you were finally covering a jam pot. Store in the fridge if possible.

*La panne (flair, flare, flay, flead, flick, leaf fat), a sheet or layer of fat forming an interior covering to the loin, and enveloping the kidneys. Best taken from bacon pigs, and used for the best lard, boudin blancs, and fine pâtés.
From Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery by Jane Grigson (Grub Street, £14.99). To order a copy for £12.74, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Gregory Marchand’s oeuf meurette

Oeuf meurette is a traditional French dish from the Burgundy region. It was born from the leftovers of a boeuf bourguignon sauce to which poached eggs were added for lunch the next day. At Frenchie Covent Garden this features on our weekend brunch menu. This is French brunch at its best!

Serves 4
For the meurette sauce
lardons 200g
button mushrooms 200g, quartered
salt to taste
unsalted butter 50g
baby onions 100g, peeled and sliced in half
flour 1 tbsp
red wine 300ml
port 200ml
veal or beef stock 250ml
red wine vinegar 1 drop

For the poached egg
eggs 8 extra fresh, free-range, at room temperature
vinegar 2 tbsp

For the toast
garlic 1 clove
sourdough bread 4 slices
parsley chopped, to serve

Sauté the lardons in a pan then put on paper towel making sure you leave the fat in the pan. Fry the button mushrooms in the lardon fat in the same pan until golden brown, season with salt then put next to the lardons on the paper towel. In the same pan add the butter and sauté the onion, add the flour and cook for a few minutes, add the red wine, port and reduce by half, add the stock and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red wine vinegar. Add the mushrooms and lardons to the sauce.

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the vinegar. Crack the egg into a cup and pour it into the simmering water. Repeat with all eggs. Let cook for 2-3 minutes in the simmering water, then drain the eggs on paper towel. Keep aside.

Grill 4 pieces of sourdough bread and rub with garlic.

Reheat the poached egg in a pan with the sauce and spoon on the toast, finish with chopped parsley, cracked black pepper and fleur de sel.
Gregory Marchand is chef-patron of Frenchie in Covent Garden, London, and Paris

Henry Harris’s filet au poivre

I have been cooking this dish for 25 years and never tire of it. Fillet is not often the preferred cut for a chef but for a peppered steak no other will do. Dense rich meat offset by the sharpness and piquancy of the pepper is brought together by the comfort of the cognac and the silkiness that good veal stock brings to a sauce. Veal stock is not easily made at home, though there are some versions available in the shops that give a passable result. Alternatively, at the flambe stage just stop there and spoon the buttery, brandy-infused liquor over the steak, perhaps with a slice of Fourme d’Ambert cheese placed alongside the steak as a condiment.

Serves 2
fillet steaks 2 x 250g
cracked pepper 3 tsp
clarified butter 2 tbsp
butter 50-75g
cognac 50ml
veal or beef stock 100ml

To prepare the cracked pepper, take 75g of whole black peppercorns and 75g of whole white peppercorns and place them in a blender or mini food processor. Run the machine for 15-30 seconds or until the peppercorns have broken into coarse pieces. There should be a fair amount of dust but no whole peppercorns. Transfer the mixture to a sieve and shake out the dust over a bowl. Use your fingers to work the dust out. Discard the dust and keep the cracked pepper in an airtight jar until needed. Do this well in advance of cooking your steaks as the dust is pretty strong.

Preheat the oven to 100C/gas mark ½. Take the two fillet steaks, place them on a dish and press the pepper onto one cut side of each steak only and press it into the meat with the heel of your hand to ensure it is well attached. Then season with salt.

Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan and add the steaks pepper side down and cook briskly for three to five minutes or until that first side is crusted and brown. Then turn over the meat and cook for one minute. Tip out the clarified butter from the pan and slip in half of the regular butter. Turn down the heat to a medium temperature and let the butter foam and cook to a gentle hazelnut colour. Baste the meat with the butter regularly. If the butter appears in danger of turning too dark then just lower the heat. Continue this process for three to four minutes. Add the cognac. Cook off the alcohol and then add the stock, bring to the boil and add the remaining butter. Reduce to a syrupy consistency. Remove the steaks from the pan and transfer them onto a dish to rest in the oven for at least ten minutes. Transfer the steaks to warm plates and add the juices that seeped out of the meat to the pan. Adjust the seasoning and then spoon the sauce over the steaks. Serve immediately with chips and salad or buttered leaf spinach and crispy roast potatoes cooked in duck fat.
Henry Harris was chef-patron at Racine in London

Bruno Loubet’s pot au feu

Pot au feu is an icon of French cooking and one of the most popular classics.

Often, depending on the region in France, an ingredient could be added. For example, my mother used to add large chunks of pumpkin with the potatoes and my grandmother used to add savoy cabbage and French peppery dry bacon. It’s only a question of taste. In this recipe, colouring the onions in a dry pan gives this dark colour which helps to achieve a beautiful golden colour in the bouillon but also an extra layer of taste.

But the idea is to use three different cuts of meat that bring something different to the dish in terms of texture and depth of flavour. One cut that is on the bone with good layers of fat (rib), a piece of gelatinous meat like the shin or cheek and a lean piece like the brisket.

Serves 6
chuck steak or brisket 600g
ox cheeks or shin 600g
flat rib or oxtail 600g
marrow bone 6 pieces, approx 6cm high (the marrow quantity per person should be the size of a walnut)
onions 2, peeled
cloves 2
leeks 3, cut into 5cm chunks (reserve a small piece of green to tie up the bouquet garni)
bay leaf 1 fresh or 2 dry ones
parsley 5 stalks
thyme 6 sprigs
carrots 4 large, peeled, cut each carrot into three chunks
celery 3 sticks, cut into 5cm chunks
turnips 3, peeled, cut each turnip in quarters
potatoes 3, peeled, cut each potato in 4 large chunks
garlic 4 cloves, peeled
black peppercorns 4, cracked

To serve
sourdough bread 6 slices, grilled
garlic 2 cloves
cornichons 250g
dijon mustard

Clean the meat under cold water, then place in a large pot and pour 3 litres of cold water in. Under-season with salt as the liquid will reduce during cooking and concentrate. Bring to the boil, then add the marrow bones. When boiling, lower the heat to simmering point and skim the top of all impurities. Leave for 10 minutes then take out the marrow bones. Extract the marrow from the bones and place in the fridge. Add the bones back to the meat.

Cut the onions across in two, then place the flat side in a dry frying pan or on a plancha to colour to a dark brown, nearly black. Stick the cloves in the onions and keep aside.

Use the fibrous green part of the leek to tie up the bay leaf, parsley and thyme together for the bouquet garni.

Add all of the prepped vegetables except the potatoes to the meat with the herb bundle, garlic and black peppercorns. Leave to simmer for about 2½ hours then add the potatoes and leave to simmer for another 30 minutes.

To serve, cut the meat and place on a large serving platter with the vegetables next to it, serve the bouillon in a very hot soup dish.

Grill the bread, rub with the fresh garlic, and then spread the marrow on each slice. Season and place in the oven at 170C/gas mark 3 for 20 seconds. You just want to warm it. If you cook it, the marrow will melt and become oily.

Serve the toast along with the cornichons and the mustard.

Maldon sea salt and a fine mignonette of pepper should be on the table as well.

Tips: It is paramount for the moisture of the meat and the clarity of the bouillon to simmer the liquid during the whole of the cooking.

At the end, if you like it, you could drain 80% of the bouillon in a clean open pan. Cover the pot with the meat with a lid and reduce the bouillon to get it more concentrated.
Bruno Loubet is executive chef of the Grain Store, King’s Cross, London


  • French food and drink
  • Observer Food Monthly's 20 best recipes
  • Food
  • Meat
  • recipes
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Share on WhatsApp
  • Share on Messenger
View comments

View on

The 20 best French recipes: part 3 | French food and drink (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Maia Crooks Jr

Last Updated:

Views: 5731

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Maia Crooks Jr

Birthday: 1997-09-21

Address: 93119 Joseph Street, Peggyfurt, NC 11582

Phone: +2983088926881

Job: Principal Design Liaison

Hobby: Web surfing, Skiing, role-playing games, Sketching, Polo, Sewing, Genealogy

Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.