I recently listened with great interest to a well-known French chef and cooking instructor discuss working with his creative students. He spoke of their zeal to change every recipe, do “chemical experiments” with abandon, never respecting the original instructions as possibly the ideal. As he described one student making various adjustments to a French classic, he shook his head in wonder and said “Why would they do that?”
He was truly mystified. With many years in the culinary classroom myself, I sympathized with him as a teacher, but admit that I too make changes to many recipes, usually based on what is on hand, what is in season, what flavor profile I have in mind.
On the other hand, I’ve been faced with a roomful of students who are fearful of making changes, often deciding not to make a specific recipe if their kitchen lacks just one of the ingredients, even if that ingredient is a minor player. I encourage them to “lighten up” and find another ingredient that would make it just as good, if not better.
It was a French chef, Escoffier, who first wrote down specific recipes and passed them along so that any chef could make the same dish with the same ingredients, same techniques and same results. To this day, many of those old recipes are the standards and are truly classic.
Here is one example. Carotte Rapees is simply a grated carrot salad in which fresh carrot shreds are tossed with a traditional French-style vinaigrette. It can be a refreshing side dish, served in lettuce cups as a first course.
Make it exactly as the recipe directs. Or not.
If you want to experiment, I can guarantee that a few slivers of fresh leek give it a sweet and more colorful demeanor. A pinch of crushed coriander moves the dish from France to the Middle East. Try chopped mint on top instead of the parsley. Use lemon in the vinaigrette.
Just don’t tell a true French chef that you are messing with his classic recipe!
GRATED CARROT SALADServes 4
1 pound carrots
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ cup canola oil
Fresh ground pepper
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Grate carrots on the largest holes of a box grater or with a food processor
Make a vinaigrette by combining the mustard, honey, vinegar, then drizzling in the oil while whisking constantly. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Use a fork to toss vinaigrette with the carrots. Sprinkle with parsley and serve within 2 hours for best texture.
Try one of these variations:
• Add 1/2 cup finely julienned fresh leeks with the carrots
• Use fresh lemon juice instead of cider vinegar
• Add ½ teaspoon crushed coriander seeds when tossing
• Substitute minced fresh mint for the parsley
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
features the best of regional produce and products and hopes home cooks will do the same.Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago http://www.judithdunbarhines.com