Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
One Pot French: More than 100 Easy, Authentic Recipes
By Jean-Pierre Challet
With Jennifer Decorte
Allen & Unwin
October 2008, ARP $35.00, Paperback, ISBN
If you’re anything like I am, the idea of a single pot dinner is very appealing. For one thing, it’s much easier to make a one pot dinner than it is to make multiple dishes. For another, the simplicity makes for a much easier serving process, not to mention decreased electricity costs. But one pot French? Well, there is Cassoulet, and Coq Au Vin (though we always serve that with roast potatoes), but most times when we do a French meal, it’s because we want to impress our guests and usually have a fair amount of fuss, last minute hassles, and multiple dishes. So the idea of a cookbook that offers dishes that have the same kind of rich, flavoursome and fancy quality that French food has with the ease and simplicity of a single pot, is one which is hard to resist. Jean-Pierre Challet is the executive chef at Cuisine at The Fifth in Toronto, and teaches cooking as well, so he knows both how to make food look and taste wonderful, but also how to demonstrate how to others.
Although I chose the book based on the title, One Pot French is a bit of a misnomer, as not all of the dishes are one pot. Some are, such as the delicious, Frenched-up version of Shepard’s Pie – Hachis Parmentier, the Pot-Au-Feu, or the Jarret D’agneu Braise Aux Epices (Moroccan-style braised lamb shanks), all of which are easy to make, and fancy enough to serve at your next dinner party. Others like Cassoulet look like one dish, but the ingredient list calls for things like duck confit legs that are a whole different recipe, though you could just buy them from a competent deli if you live in a city. There are no delis like that where I live though, so I have to either make them, or leave out this fairly critical ingredient (even duck is hard to find). I did make this without the duck, and only pork sausage, and my family were happy enough with it, but I know that this isn’t quite the dish that Challet had in mind. To his credit, Challet actually provides a confit recipe, and it sounds easier than I always imagined, but I still wasn’t game (no pun intended) to take it on. Other recipes are one pot, but require an additional dish or dishes to serve up. The Gratin Dauphinois, for example, is a lovely, relatively light version, but it isn’t enough for a meal – you still need some kind of salad or vegetable accompaniment. The Cotes Levees De Boeuf Bourguignon needs some kind of starch – potatoes or rice or crusty bread – to make a complete meal. The crepes and quiches require crepes or pastry as one of the ingredients, which is another recipe (albeit an easy one). But really, these are very minor criticisms, as the book isn’t really about how to cook well with only a single pot. Instead, it’s how to cook well without too much effort, and that’s really what title is suggesting, though if you buy this book looking for crock pot type solutions you might be disappointed.
The opening chapter is particularly useful, containing well structure recipes for classic basics that every serious French cook should know how to make. In addition to the confit (and maybe one day I’ll find a good duck supplier and get my nerve up), there’s sweet and tart pastries, a range of sauces, vinaigrettes and pestos, croutons, and even a recipe for ketchup, which I may well try, if only to know what is going into the food product my children consume most of. Then there are appetizers (entrees, or starters, depending on what country you live in), soups, salads, and sandwiches. Another useful section is one on egg and cheese dishes, especially as we have plenty of free ranging hens. The crepes, quiches, fondues, and soufflés are lovely, relying more on the quality of the ingredients than on fancy techniques, though there are a few secrets provided which I won’t share here. The dessert section also shines with classic offerings like Tarte Tatin, banana cake and lemon tart. All in all, this is a nice offering for the beginning or intermediate cook looking to take on the world of French cuisine in a non-pretentious, easy to learn form. You might need more than one pot, but not many more, and the overall results will certainly be worth it.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.