Quick now -- name the best French meatballs you ever had.
The Accidental Locavore was thinking about the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birthday and wondering what could be make with hamburger (since that was what was for dinner) that would be French. Other than steak tartare or bifteck haché (hamburger without the bun to you or me), not a whole lot comes to mind. In both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a mere three pages is devoted to hamburger (the ever-popular kidneys get six). Mind you, one of the recipes has the bifteck haché sautéed in butter and topped with cream sauce, but for the usually verbose Julia, hamburger goes virtually unmentioned.
This got me to thinking: What do the French make with ground beef? For a cuisine that does really amazing things with leftover bits and pieces, ground meat of almost any kind rarely makes a solo appearance. Meatloaf quickly becomes pâté and is usually a pork or poultry product. According to my French friend, MC, there are boulettes (meatballs) in the South and toward Alsace. She also mentioned hachis Parmentier, the French version of shepherd's pie. However, a quick scan of all my Julia books fails to mention it, although according to Dorrie Greeenspan's Around My French Table, it was a favorite of Daniel Boulud (but generally made with leftover beef).
But back to Julia. Most people I know grew up cooking with the Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer or possibly Betty Crocker as their go-to cookbooks. When I went off to college, I was armed with Volume One and a Cuisinart, both of which I still use many (many) years later. At RISD, I would play with souffles, make a mean poulet grilles à la diable. I learned hollandaise sauce and sole meunière from the book. Now, it's my go-to for basics like coq au vin and anything else where I want to get a sense of what the "vrai" dish would be. It's also interesting to see how some recipes transform from volume to volume. One of my early culinary disasters was the tarte tartin (upside-down apple tart) from Volume One. Later, in The Way to Cook (my personal favorite), it gets simplified/clarified and possibly because, according to Julia, it's the "definitive version," I haven't ruined a skillet since then!
So, Happy 100th, Julia! And even though you weren't much help with the hamburger, thank you for being a major influence on how I cook today!
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