Vive le France!

“I need to eat more French food,” my wife, who has lived in both the Alps and Paris, announced the other day.

As it so happened, the day after she made this proclamation was Bastille Day. And always good for an occasion to build a theme meal around, I pulled out what is and will always be the best French cookbook of all — Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry.”

The master at work

The master at work

I don’t use cookbooks so much for recipes as for inspiration. I had picked up three plump soft shell crabs a few days before, and wanted to see if any of Keller’s preparations caught my eye. Sure enough, there was a Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Crab “Sandwich” — the quotation marks being Keller’s and indicating that the recipe was a playful riff on something you might be familiar with.

In the case of the soft shells, inspired by crab sandwiches he’d gotten in Chesapeake Bay, he piled crispy soft shell crab on top of a brioche crouton with confit tomato, and drizzled an egg yolk emulsion “tarter sauce” of very elevated sorts around the base. Although I would make adjustments based on taste as well as what ingredients I had on hand, this would be good enough for me!

Soft shell crab pile, inspired by the French Laundry cookbook

Soft shell crab pile, inspired by the French Laundry cookbook

Mostly, his recipe called for one crab for two people. Being something of a glutton for soft shell crab in season, I opted for THREE crabs for two people — and held out the hope that my wife would not rise to the occasion of eating her 1.5 crabs, and I might get whatever she didn’t finish.

I had also purchased a lovely marbled prime rib eye steak with the intent of doing a steak frites. There was no steak frites in the cookbook, but I did find “Yabba Dabba Do” — his massive Flintsone-esque rib steak served on the bone with pommes Anna and sauce Bordelaise. It was close enough to inspire me — I made a similar Bordelaise, and went my own way on the rest, blanching and then frying my golden potato fries in duck fat, pan-searing my pepper-crusted steak in a bit of clarified butter with shallots.

Steak frites with Bordelaise sauce

Steak frites with Bordelaise sauce

Even though I had spent two consecutive days partying at World Cup parties, and the two nights previous to that had 1) made a Japanese feast with beer and sake, and 2) gone to a gastropub and then out to a concert, I still rallied and opened a nice bottle of wine. I hadn’t planned to drink this evening, but it was Bastille Day. And I was reminded of something my brother had said to me a few days before: “You’re IRISH!”

It might’ve been more helpful to my readers to publish this post before Bastille Day. But I didn’t realize it was Bastille Day until Bastille Day. And the way I see it, any day is a good day for a celebration of la cuisine de France, oui?

(And my wife did eat all 1.5 of her crabs.)

A votre santé, et bon appetit!

*    *    *

Bastille steak with duck fat-fried frites
serves 4

1 lb. prime or dry-aged rib eye
2 lbs. golden potatoes
1/2 cup duck fat (or light olive oil)
1 tbsp. clarified butter (or light olive oil)
1 cup red wine
1 cup duck or veal stock
2 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 leek, white part only, chopped
4 sprigs Italian parsley
1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
1 tsp. truffle salt
salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle salt on your steak, wrap with paper towels and set on a plate in the fridge for 5 or 6 hours, or overnight.

Cut your potato into steak fry-size batons (I cut the potato into four 1/2-inch thick slices, then stack and cut through four or five times lengthwise to make the frites). Bring a pot of water to boil, and blanch the frites for 5 minutes. Remove to an ice bath. Drain, and place on dishtowels to dry off.

Make your Bordelaise sauce: Combine wine, stock, shallots, carrot, leek, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and cook until reduce to about a thick half cup. Remove from heat, strain through a fine sieve into a smaller pan, and set aside.

Fry your frites: Heat duck fat or olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add frites and begin pan-frying. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to fry, shaking pan and flipping fries as needed, until crisp and browned — 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the heat of your flame. Remove to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with truffle salt, place on a large piece of foil on a baking sheet and set in a 170-degree oven to keep warm.

Cook your steak: Crack about 1 tsp. fresh black pepper over one side of the steak. Brush a cast-iron skillet with a little oil and heat it over high heat until it begins to smoke slightly. Cook the steak, non-pepper side first, for about 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the steak and how rare you like it. (Remember, it will continue cooking for another minute or so on the cutting board.) Remove to a cutting board, top with a pat of butter, and let rest for 4 or 5 minutes.

While you’re letting the steak rest, reheat your Bordelaise sauce over medium heat. Slice the steak across the grain about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle some Bordelaise on each plate, then arrange a stack of steak sluiced with the butter and meat juices onto each plate. Add a similar size stack of frites, and serve.

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