Mastering the Art of Julia Child's Minimalist French Cuisine
Plus, 10 life and kitchen lessons learned from the French Chef herself
What makes a meal "successful"? It might be a highly subjective matter—most of the time anyway—but for me, a successful dinner table is spread with dishes that have just the number of ingredients they need—no more, and no less—because quality always trumps quantity. It's also important that the ingredients are as seasonal and local as possible, because they won't only taste better, they're also better for the environment. Where did I pick up these ideas about a successful meal? French cuisine. By definition and at their finest, French cuisine is made up of simple dishes, executed perfectly, and fragrant with a wealth of flavor from quality ingredients. Minimalist recipes reduced to the essentials—because less is more, especially on the plate.
These rules apply to nearly any meal, whether you're preparing pizza, pasta, or classic French dishes like artichokes with lemony vinaigrette or juicy roast leg of lamb. This minimalist French cuisine was shaped by an extraordinary woman, who taught many Americans (and plenty of others!) how to master the art of French cooking—Julia Child.
When I think of Julia Child, I think of a cozy, happy, tall and at the same time lively (and funny!) woman who doesn't take herself too seriously. I'm thinking of Meryl Streep, whom I think perfectly embodied Julia Child in the 2009 film Julie & Julia. And in my thoughts, I often thank both of them for bringing the great French cuisine into our consciousness and everyday life and making it accessible to everyone. A short musical excursion: Édith Piafs Padam padam is this articles soundtrack — for the feeling of France in your own four walls.
For those who don't know her: Julia Child is a legend. That's actually everything there is to say, but here are some more details: Not only from the moment on she appeared on American television in the 1960s and brought French cuisine in American kitchens, but also today, we would like to find out at least as much about Julia Child as a person as about her dishes (boeuf bourguignon or sole à la meunière for example), which manage with few but high-quality ingredients. So to speak: The big and noble French cuisine made simple & minimalistic.
This is what life is about – by Julia Child
I'm obviously a big Julia fan. But if you search the internet, you'll find many more voices that say: "Julia Child is my heroine and my absolute role model in the kitchen." It is hard to imagine how the kitchens of this world survived without her live-saving advices — just like an enduring cast-iron roaster. It's worth inhaling her worldly wisdom and simple but valuable tips the survival in the kitchen. Please apply immediately! So here are a few wise tips à la Julia Child:
« The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude. »
She says, "When it comes to cooking, you should train yourself in whatever attitude you don't already have. If you don't take yourself as seriously in the kitchen as in life, everything will work out."
« Don't just cook, it's important that you educate your palate by dining in fine restaurants. »
Julia was convinced that in order to become a good cook you have to train your tongue, your palate, your taste. This works best in (noble) restaurants, but also in everyday life by trying every now and then to determine every ingredient, spice and method of preparation. Practice makes perfect.
« Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile—and learn from her mistakes. »
Maybe some of you or others know it: Even before the first bite finds its way into the mouth, the cook apologises to the guests for the apparent disaster on the plates. However, most of the time it tastes better to the others than one would have thought and if a recipe is a complete flop: put a good face on, smile, and learn from your mistakes. It's that simple and above all it's usually only half as bad.
« Everything in moderation, including moderation. »
She means: Not too much, not too little of everything. Always keep your balance and then always go over the top. Otherwise it's no fun at all.
« People who love to eat are always the best people. »
This is a well-known quote — probably not new to anyone, but of course it should not be missing!
« I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even put it in my food. »
Let's appreciate this quote without any comment and be happy about Julia Child's wonderfully carefree nature.
Julia´s indispensable kitchen tips and tricks
Because Julia Child was a remarkable and influential cook, here are some practical tricks for your (refined French) cuisine:
What brings taste to my food?
Julia´s opinion: Do not simmer with water, rather with cream, wine, broth, lemon juice or anything else except water. This makes every dish much tastier. It has my approval. And another tip: "Everything is better with butter". Just in case you haven't been completely convinced: "If you're afraid of butter, use cream." Just use cream if you're afraid of butter. What else is there to say...
How do I avoid mushrooms becoming muddy?
Julia says, "Don't crowd the mushrooms." Don't fry them all in the pan at the same time, but give them room to breathe. They need that because mushrooms lose a lot of water when they come into contact with heat. So if the pan is too full, they are cooked instead of turning crispy brown.
You need milder shallots for a recipe, but you only have spring onions or vegetable onions left?
In her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it is virtually impossible to cook without shallots because they bring an incomparably mild and sweet aroma to the dishes. Almost everyone always has normal white onions at home: cut them very finely and boil them in water for 1 minute to soften their heat or use the white part of spring onions.
How can I refine broth from the glass?
Julia suggests: Add some white wine and celery, carrots and onions each finely chopped. Simmer for 15 minutes - much better! By the way, this also works with ready-to-serve sauces such as Sauce Hollandaise. For this you can use white wine, lemon juice and a shallot.
What to do when there are too many egg whites left?
Simply freeze in muffin trays! The egg white of two eggs results in about ¼ cup/61 g. As soon as the portions are frozen, you can store them in the freezer without a tray and defrost them if necessary. You can still whip them up.
5 classic French techniques for everyday cooking
The French cuisine is the basis of everything we, you included, do in the kitchen. It laid the foundation for all the methods of preparation that are used today in small talk or in the large-scale kitchens. But at the same time it is also considered to be very noble, fine, extravagant and for some (hobby) cooks also inaccessible. And just like art, it is made for everyone and, above all, can be accomplished by everyone. If you have not already used the following 5 techniques to this day or even mastered them, then you have at least already picked up their names before:
Poaching is a moist heat and gentle cooking method. By submerging food, like eggs or fish, in some kind of liquid at a low temperature, it enhances flavor and keeps delicate food from turning tough.
The term derives from the French word "confire" which means to pickle, to preserve or to reduce. Who confits usually simmers meat at low temperature in oil or in its own fat. The result is tender texture, concentrated flavor, and it just tastes amazing (because of the fat). The disadvantage is that it is not the healthiest of all preparation methods (again because of the fat). Goose confit is particularly famous, but fruit or vegetables can also be preserved in sugar syrup or vinegar.
The French word sauter can be translated as jump. Pieces of vegetables, meat or fish are stirred over high heat in a pan or a pot and swivelled and therefore "jump" up and down in the hot oil.
Ingredients are heated on very high temperature and poured over with high-proof alcohol such as brandy or rum, which then burns very quickly. Usually there is also a small flame involved, which then leaves a special aroma to the dish.
When caramelizing, you're working with sugar. For caramel, sugar is heated so much that not only its colour (brownish) and consistency (viscous), but also its taste (sweet-nutty) changes. But not only white sugar changes this way, but also the natural sugar in e.g. onions. These also caramelise and turn brown when sauteed at high heat.
That's the theory! Now it's your turn to get cooking! Bon appetit! – How Julia Child would probably exclaim shrill and happy at this point.
What is your lesson learned from Julia Child? Tell us all about it in the comments – we are excited to read you tips, tricks and worldly wisdom.
Published on October 19, 2019