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Bistro: French Country Recipes for Home Cooks

Laura Washburn

By   Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2005
Category: Food and Wine

A bistro is your neighborhood local. It’s where you go when the other choice is take-out. It’s a home-cooked meal served by mom and pop — though not, happily, your mom and pop. It’s where the wine glass and the water glass look the same. It’s where the ingredients to any dish could fit comfortably on a 3 by 5 card. It’s where the chef’s name is not likely to appear on a line of products. It’s where, when you go there, they have to take you in.

When it’s bitter cold, there’s nothing like the warmth of a bistro meal. When it’s like the Sahara or Havana, you want to kiss the chef for serving up a hot meal you can actually stand to eat. In Spring, the bistro is for young lovers, with their hopes and dreams, and for you, you beautiful old geezer, whose dreams are still quite real. In Fall, it’s where the conversation quickens and the food is cheap enough to be a minor player.

There are many books featuring bistro cuisine. I’ve always been fond of Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells. I’m even fonder of this new book by Laura Washburn, who once worked with Ms. Wells — it may have fewer recipes, but it has more winners. I mean, it starts with six great soups, and then you turn the page and there is a gorgeous goat cheese tart. But then, every recipe gets a full-page color photograph that makes you want to prepare it — and eat it — immediately. Really, you should put on dark glasses before you read this book, or you’re likely to get over-stimulated.

In the grand tradition of offering samples, here’s a recipe you can cook easily. It’s got just enough herbs to let you know you’re not in Kansas, but snooty it ain’t. Serve it with a brutally chilled white wine — I’m thinking a Hogue Fume Blanc, usually less than $11 a bottle — and some frozen peas, with a loaf of French bread to sop up the gravy. Swoon.

Chicken with Tarragon
(serves 4)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 free-range chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into 6-8 pieces
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped shallot or 1/2 chopped onion
a sprig of thyme
3 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
a bunch of tarragon
3 tablespoons sour cream
coarse sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Melt butter and oil in a large pan with a lid. Turn heat up until butter/oil sizzles, then add the chicken pieces and brown them (about 5 minutes). Remove chicken, season well with salt and pepper.

Add carrots and shallot/onion to the pan and cook, stirring, for a minute. Return the chicken to the pan, and add water until it’s half-covered. Add thyme, parsley and a few sprigs of tarragon. Cover. Simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, strip the leaves from the remaining tarragon, chop them finely and set aside. Add the stems to the cooking chicken.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put in a serving dish. Remove and discard the tarragon stems.

Raise the heat and cook the sauce until it’s reduced by half. Strain and return the sauce to the pan. Stir in the sour cream and the chopped tarragon. Heat briefly (don’t boil) and pour over the chicken. Serve immediately.

And one more thing: tell me how it was.

To buy ‘Bistro’ from, click here.