You can laugh at me all you want, but Julia Child’s legendary “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” has got to be one of my favorite books of all time. It’s not just because French food is amazing, and this was written way before anyone was health conscious, but the writing is fantastic. Certainly, none of the current celebrity TV chefs could pull off a masterwork like this. Just look at the opening sentence:
This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.
Cookbooks don’t read like this anymore, and it’s a darn shame.
For those of us who are food snobs, we know that presentation is just as important as the taste of the meal itself. If you have some unsightly plating, or food that just looks unappetizing, chances are you’ll skew the person’s expectations, and they might start to taste imperfections that aren’t even there. Such is what’s happening with modern cookbooks. It’s all about what the ingredient list is, and how quickly we can get this from package to plate so that we can Netflix and (hopefully) chill.
Though the number of recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is overwhelming, there are many dishes in the book that stand out. The simplicity of the garlic mashed potato recipe is laughable, but when you taste them, they are divine. Maybe it’s because there’s a pound of butter and an entire head of garlic in them, or perhaps it’s because you’re wearing a funny chef’s hat and an apron, but you’ll feel like a culinary superstar no matter what. The sponge cakes with orange rind and rum are nothing like you find in bakeries today. They’re soft and delicate, and not overly sweet; an entirely unfamiliar feeling for the modern American palate that’s trained for granular frostings smushed between cardboard layers of gluten.
The real standout of this almost 700-page wonder is Filet De Boeuf Braise Prince Albert
(Or, for those of us who aren’t worldly, braised filet of beef stuff with foie gras and truffles.) This dish is unique because typically filet is roasted or seared, not braised. Braising amplifies the filet’s natural tenderness to a level which I’m not comfortable explaining, in the event that young children are reading this. It’s shockingly good. Mix this with a great bottle of Bordeaux, and to paraphrase the words of famed TV anchor Veronica Corningstone, you’re going to Pleasure Town.
Truffles alone are enough to make most people weak, but when you marinate them in Madeira wine, they get an otherworldly flavor. Shift gears and you’re cooking shallots with cognac and foie gras, with fresh sprigs of thyme. At this point, your house never smelled so good. Ivan Pavlov is smiling in his grave right now. Then, the star of the show appears - a trimmed three-pound filet of beef.
After cutting a deep valley into this exquisite piece of meat, you line it with the foie gras stuffing, and then gently place the truffles along the base of the cut. Then, my favorite line of the recipe reads, “Lay the pork fat or bacon strips the length of the closed slit.” I feel dirty, and dirty feels so good right now.
Searing browns the proteins and caramelizes the sugars present in meat, so that’s the logical next step.
But it’s then that we divert from the usual preparation and fill the cast iron pan with stock, bouillon, or a nice white wine sauce to let the meat braise to its final temperature. Braising is like going to stew in the hot tub, it’s completely satisfying, and your muscles feel amazingly relaxed afterward. Well, what is filet of beef if not a muscle? You let that sucker braise in the sauce for a while, and it is worth the hour wait. Plus you’ve got a bottle of wine, right?
Once the meat has rested, carve it into slices about half an inch thick, and serve it with sautéed mushrooms, perhaps some brussel sprouts with cheese sauce, or even those garlic mashed potatoes. The leftover juices from the braising, mixed with a touch of arrowroot and a splash of Madeira wine, along with some diced truffles, makes the most heavenly sauce. Say what you will about the French, but they know their sauces.
By now you’re not only hungry as hell, but also wondering what any of this has to do with Mass Effect: Andromeda.
A Filet De Boeuf Braise Prince Albert costs you about $60 to make, which is oddly the same amount that the fourth release in the Mass Effect franchise will run you. But the filet of beef has an incredible amount of thought, love, and passion; none of that was present in the making of Mass Effect: Andromeda. 2/10. You could waste $60 on one of the most reviled titles in recent history and log countless hours playing alone in the basement, or you could spend the same amount on the most fabulous dinner you’ve ever made, and more than likely get laid.