La Salade Niçoise

Any French brasserie worth the ink on their menu or chalk on their board will include an entrée dish named Salade Niçoise. Originating in the Provence city of Nice, the niçoise salad combines many tastes of the Mediterranean to create this meal-worthy mélange.

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The Salade Niçoise at Brasserie L’Oustau de Provence.

At Brasserie L’Oustau, Chef quickly sears a fresh thick tuna steak and places it sliced on a base of lettuce, brine-cured black olives, fingerling potatoes, tomatoes, haricots vert, boiled egg, capers, anchovy and fresh herbs all drizzled with his signature vinaigrette of aged wine vinegar and oil.

Salade Niçoise was popularized in America in the nineteen sixties by the celebrity cook Julia Child. Salads of that time for the most part had been simple greens sometimes daring to add a slice of avocado, but you might also have found one of the popular salads that had been formed in a gelatin mold. Julia introduced an entire country to the idea that a salad can be more than a side dish (or dessert). In fact, Americans learned that a salad can be really quite good.

Restaurants in the US sometimes include the Salade Niçoise but you will most often find the entrée salads are Grilled Chicken Caesar, Cobb or the old stand-by Chef’s Salad. None of these other salads encompass the tastes and essence of a region’s harvest the way the Salade Niçoise does Provence.

Fun Mouth Appetizer

If you’re wondering about this title, it’s a literal English translation of the French “Amuse Bouche” which is a restaurant term for a little tasting sent from the kitchen before the appetizer course. It is common in fine dining restaurants and usually an unexpected surprise for the diner, a special tease for the palate while the meal is being prepared. Depending on the restaurant’s style and regional cuisine, it could be as simple as a tapenade toast or as extravagant as, well, as you might imagine.

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Currently, diners at Brasserie L’Oustau receive a bite-size cheese and choux pastry called gougères. Believed to have originated in Burgundy and most definitely French, there is really no comparison in other cuisines of the world. The gougère has a subtle flavor of cheese in an airy, moist, tender and lightly browned pastry. The flavor can be modified by the type of cheese, herbs or fillings but at Brasserie L’Oustau we use one of the classic cheeses — gruyere, emmentaler or comté — and serve them warmed.

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We have developed a reliable recipe and bake them using a practiced procedure. It is quite often the simplest foods that present a challenge, and the gougère is a good example of this. We’ve included a link here to a site that will take you to gougère recipes and ideas to try at home, but you are certainly welcome to come taste ours anytime.

http://www.tastespotting.com/tag/gougère

Steak Tartare Done Well

There are all kinds of theories as to why a mound of finely chopped uncooked beef mixed with raw egg yolk was ever put on a plate for the first time. At the end of this article there are links to sites that offer extensive information to the possible origins of steak tartare, but we will provide just a quick history of the dish in France.

Steak tartare (once referred to as “steak a l’Americaine”) was first officially acknowledged in France in the 1911 Oxford English Dictionary. Because words would have taken some time to be incorporated into recorded vernacular, the dish most likely began to be served around 1900. This coincided with the expansive growth of urban areas across the country where brasserie restaurants would add this newly popular dish to their menus. To this day steak tartare remains an established and expected dish on the brasserie menu.

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Today’s “raw food movement” includes uncooked meat products for the same reason it recommends uncooked plants, arguing the act of cooking changes many of the healthful benefits of most foods. If fresh cut meat is handled and prepared properly there is very little chance of illness from food-borne bacteria, and Brasserie L’Oustau’s steak tartare is one of our most trusted and popular dishes.

Our Chef is very careful with the preparation of his steak tartare beginning with the choice of farm that provides our beef. By using the regional purveyor Northeast Family Farms, we are able to work quickly and directly with the fresh meat to protect it against bacterial exposure. We use the tender and mildly-flavored top butt cut of beef and immediately portions it into pieces large enough for 4-5 servings. Wrapped tightly and frozen until needed, it is then partially thawed and hand chopped into a fine texture.

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To flavor our steak tartare, raw egg yolk and various flavorings are added to the chopped beef right before serving. The combination of ingredients – yolk, mustard, capers, parsley, Tabasco, Worcestershire, brandy, salt and freshly ground pepper – is a signature recipe that results in a light and multi-leveled flavor.

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We are pleased and proud to offer Brasserie L’Oustau’s steak tartare on our menu with a lightly poached quail egg, greens, toasted thinly sliced baguette and olive tapenade. You can choose an appetizer portion as well as a larger entrée portion served with pommes frites. This is steak tartare done well.

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmeats.html#steaktartare
.pdf for a Knol archive article on the history of steak tartare

It’s In The Baguette

In researching for this article, I discovered that Americans have reserved March 21st as National French Bread Day. For a Frenchman, bread is celebrated every day, all day and for good reason. The French have mastered the art of baking bread; whole towns have suddenly disappeared when the resident baker passed away and there had been no offspring to tend the ovens, or so I’ve heard.

When my husband and I visited Paris some years ago with our young daughter, a morning ritual was to get “deux baguettes” from the boulangerie (bakery) located a few streets away. My French-born husband explained that one should always buy 2 loaves for the day, but even with that we sometimes found ourselves revisiting the boulangerie for a re-fill. A favorite photo from the trip is of Michel and our tiny Alana clutching the yard-long loaves with whirls of snow dotting their smiling, hungry faces. During our time in Paris there was nothing more reliably satisfying than our warm, crusty baguettes!

At Brasserie L’Oustau we slice fresh-baked baguettes and serve them in baskets with room-temperature sweet butter; when requested, we serve “deux baskets”!

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The shape of the baguette is thought to have originated in France when high-heat steam ovens were introduced in the early 1800’s, the name translated as “wand” or “stick”. The shape allows the maximum amount of surface area to be exposed to the high baking temperature. The speed of cooking and the maximum surface of the loaf allows the bread to have a wonderful crispy crust balanced with the soft and lightly spongy flesh.

Prior to the baguette the majority of French breads were most likely the large, thick, flattened ball-shaped loaves called “boules”. The quick-baked baguette may be an indicator that the French lifestyle was becoming caught up in the faster paced industrial age where lunch was a matter of what was easiest quickly rather than a more leisurely time to enjoy food and socializing. To accommodate today’s ever more hectic urban lifestyle, an enterprising baker in Paris has introduced a baguette vending machine which quickly heats and vends a steaming loaf for less than $2 US! It remains to be seen if Parisians buy into the idea.

If you are to ask almost any French citizen about their country’s bread and pastries, cultural passions will rise faster than proofing yeast. Memories of morning croissants with fresh butter and marmalade shared with family before rushing into the day, crusty baguettes resting in Grandmere’s pantry ready for a quick snack with cheese or paté, warmed sweet milk poured over chunks of day-old brioche in a favorite bowl before bed… Some form of flour is in their blood and their stomachs 24/7.

http://www.punchbowl.com/holidays/national-french-bread-day
http://about-france.com/french-bread.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boule_(bread)
http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/08/11/introducing-the-baguette-vending-machine/