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French Lessons
recipes and techniques for a new generation of cooks
Justin North
Published by Hardie Grant Books, deluxe P/B $45

Despite the fact that my book shelves groan under the weight of a hefty French section I find anything about French cooking utterly irresistible and whilst the complication of Michelin Three star cookbooks remains fascinating they are not the books I turn to for either every day cooking or entertaining friends. Justin North has captured the essence of the shift in contemporary French cooking. A lot less cream and butter, some classic dishes are lightened to suit modern tastes without losing the essence or the original dish. Dishes like a velvety chocolate mousse remain stoically indulgent. This is a book that does not shy away from technique and classic techniques as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago are succinctly explained. From the basics, stocks and sauces through the full spectrum to petit fours North has written with clear precise instructions and whilst this book is a fabulous gift for anyone new to a fascination with the French kitchen it will be equally as popular with professional cooks……this is a gorgeous book! AO

PS try the macaroons they work and so easy compared to most recipes!

poaching pears

Before we start with the recipes, really only tips and ideas, it is important to understand that it is impossible to give a precise cooking time for pears. It depends on the variety and how ripe they are and if you blindly follow the recipe you may well end up with a disaster. Recently when cooking our toffee poached pears, they were Duchess and very ripe. We made the sauce first, brought it to the boil, added the peeled and cored pears and immediately turned the heat to the lowest point. As soon as it came to a simmer we turned the heat off and let them stand at room temperature in their syrup overnight. If you boil ripe fruit for any length of time, especially the Duchess and Packham, you will end up with mush. You can always reduce the poaching syrup after you have removed the pears,
but common sense must be applied.

Poaching Beurre Bosch Pears
for Savoury Purposes

for 6 pears

2kg water, more as required
50g Vine Valley white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
2 pinches good saffron
1 lemon, strip of lemon rind, strained juice
1 clove
6 firm Beurre Bosch Pears, peeled and cored

Weigh the water, vinegar and sugar into a large saucepan. Add the saffron, lemon rind and juice and clove and place on high heat and stir just long enough to dissolve the sugar. Add the pears and sufficient water to just cover them. Contact cover with a disk of baking paper and weight the pears under the liquid. Turn the heat to the lowest possible point and cook until they are translucent and cooked. Depending on how ripe they are this can be anything between 30 minutes and a couple of hours. See what I mean!!

A recipe for the classic French pear and almond tart can be found in just about every good French cookbook and before you dismiss this as being common place because a bad version is available in just about every coffee shop in Adelaide, try starting from scratch and eating it fresh from the oven and you’ll be bound to agree this is one of the best ever tarts. Larousse Gastronomique is a fantastic resource for recipes that when carefully followed always work, and contains every possible classic pear dish from the French kitchen.

Equally you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to make pears poached in red wine, but badly done, left sitting uncovered in a service fridge for way too long this is another simple dish that has fallen into disrepute. Start again and don’t start with cheap nasty wine, use a bottle of your favourite red (maybe not Grange ……but if you do I’m up to cast an educated opinion as to how luscious it might be) add nothing more than a strip of lemon rind and a little sugar and cook in the same manner as described previously. For sweet pear dishes there needs to be some ripeness and sweetness in the pears before you start to work with them or the pear taste is lost to the poaching liquid. This dish is ruined with embellishment (or modernity) and is at its most glorious served only with some rich pure cream.