Indy Day

2009.Jul.12 Sunday · 7 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“A great step towards independence is a good humored stomach.”

– Seneca, Roman philosopher

Buenos Aires – Growing up, 4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays. It was the evening picnic in the park followed by a fireworks show at dusk. It was just something magical, and to this day I love watching fireworks. Amazingly, most of my friends seem not to – you’d think I’d have included this among the criteria, no? Still, as I look back over my four years here, I haven’t exactly gone out of my way to participate in Independence Day activities – not that they’re numerous, but they do exist here within the expat community… last year, 2008, I spend the morning and early afternoon on a wine tasting panel, then I think Henry and I went out to dinner; 2007 I had lunch with my friend Jerry, who was visiting from Canada, at Teatriz, spending way too much, and then I think Henry and I headed off to the movies in the evening; 2006 I had lunch at Mítico Sur, checking out little Patagonian tapeos, and though I noted on the blog I was trying to decide which expat event to go to, I know I never went to one; and 2005 I’d literally arrived 48 hours earlier and Henry and I were still really getting to re-know each other after quite a few months apart… we likely didn’t leave the apartment.

So this year, what to do? The 4th fell on a Saturday, part of our weekly dinner schedule, and Thursday and Friday we were planning on our Palio dinners that I just wrote up, keeping Saturday as a possible third night. Some friends who lived here for a couple of years and have now moved back to the States were down for a couple of weeks, and wanted to have a big dinner, asking if they could have it here. Why not? Only they wanted a French dinner – classic brasserie sort of fare – dishes that I haven’t cooked since I went to cooking school to refine my cooking skills, 18 years ago. Why? Well, the male half of the couple had gotten into cooking while down here, and it turns out, partially due to something I wrote up back in September of 2006 in a review of the French brasserie, Rabelais:

“When I was in cooking school, somewhere in the midst of my culinary career, one of our instructors said that there were three true tests of a French chef’s skills – a basic vinaigrette, a coq au vin, and a tarte tatin – if they can prepare those well, they can cook anything.”

And that’s what he wanted – those three dishes. We had a bit of back and forth discussion – the latter two dishes being ones that in general I’m neither fond of nor, as noted, have I cooked them in a very long time. But then, I experiment with cooking every week, so why not treat this as an experiment? I relented, and added in a couple of other dishes to round out the menu.

Salade Vert

First up, the salad and vinaigrette – the salad a “composed” one, of endive, frisee and arugula, garnished with some toasted hazelnuts and cherry tomatoes, and a solid, basic vinaigrette – half olive oil and half neutral oil, good red wine vinegar, a dab of dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and some finely chopped parsley, tarragon and dill added at the last moment.


From there, moving on to a soup – I’d considered going with a classic “French Onion Soup”, that ubiquitous brasserie dish with slow cooked onions, good veal broth, and topped with gruyere – but was simply in the mood to revive the panade that I’m a fan of. I’ve refined it a bit over the last couple of years to give it my own touches, but it basically remains pretty true to the original recipe.

Next up, caramelized sweetbreads with honey and spices, a dish I’ve made quite a few times and which the hosts had tried and really liked – the photo didn’t come out well, but you’ve seen it before. The biggest difference is that, having gone back to the restaurant where I got the idea, I’ve added in some cracked coriander and fennel seed along with the black pepper.

Coq au vin

Sorry about the photo, this was the best of several – I must have been shaking with anticipation. Or something. As I said, I haven’t made coq au vin in about 18 years, and this required a trip back through my cooking school notes, along with some ideas I’d jotted down at the time – as I said, it’s not a favorite dish, so even then I felt like it needed something to boost the flavors – then again, I doubt that anything I did hasn’t been done before….

Coq au Vin


1 chicken carcass, broken up in pieces
2 carrots, unpeeled, in thick slices
2 celery ribs, cut in 2″ sections
2 onions, unpeeled, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, smashed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs each of thyme and parsley

Brown the chicken carcass pieces on all sides in a deep pot. Remove and set aside in a bowl. In the rendered chicken fat, brown the carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Add the tomato paste and wine and cook until the liquid is pretty much evaporated. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, add the spices and herbs, and top with water that just covers it all by about a half inch. Bring to a simmer, skimming the fat off if necessary, and cook over low heat, just bubbling away, for an hour and a half. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to get out as much liquid and flavor as you can. Voila, you have Brown Chicken Stock! (You can let it cool and chill it and remove the fat that congeals on the top if you want to at this point.)

1 pound of slab bacon, smoked and salted
12 chicken thighs
3 carrots, cut in ¼” dice
3 celery stalks, cut in ¼” dice
1 large white onion, cut in ¼” dice
6 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup of flour
¼ cup of brandy
1 bottle of strong red wine (I used a Tannat)
6 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 dozen pearl onions, peeled
1 pound of small mushrooms
4 dozen small potatoes

Cut the bacon in batons about ¼” thick and 2″ in length. Brown them in a deep casserole dish over moderate heat. Remove and set aside. Add the chicken pieces – unless you have a huge pot, do half of them at a time so you don’t crowd the pan – browning them on all sides. Remove and set aside with the bacon. Add the diced carrots, celery and onions and cook until just softened and the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook another 2 minutes. Return the bacon and chicken to the pan, add in the herbs, wine and cognac. Top up the pot with the brown chicken stock you already made, enough to just cover everything. Cover the pot, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for about 45 minutes – the chicken should be tender, but not to the point of falling off the bone (check it around the 30 minute mark). Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, brown the onions and mushrooms in butter and olive oil – they should be nice and golden brown, and the onions cooked through but still firm. Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked through. When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the sauce and set aside. Add the browned pearl onions and mushrooms, along with the potatoes, to the pot, turn the heat up high, and cook to reduce the volume of liquid by about half. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Mixed fruit tarte tatin

I do like puff pastry and working with it, and it’s one of the things not available here that I miss having easy access to. I’m also not overly fond of making my own, but, if I was going to do a tarte tatin right, I may as well make it. I went with the “express” version as it tends to be called, which comes out a bit more like a very flaky shortcrust than a full puff crust, but I tend to like that version better anyway (and, the original tarte tatins were actually made with shortcrust, not puff pastry, by the Tatin sisters). I decided on a mixed fruit version – quince, apple and pear. I peeled and cored all the fruit and cut it into sections of roughly equal size. I cooked them separately, they take different lengths of time to cook, in a bit of butter, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla, until they were lightly golden and cooked through but not falling apart. I made a straightforward caramel with sugar and a splash of water to help it dissolve, and then when it reached the light to medium caramel stage, whisked in some cold butter. I ladled that into individual cazeulita dishes, or ramekins, placed one piece of each type of fruit in, fitting them in to cover the bottom. Rolled out the pastry dough, cut it in rounds that just barely fit inside the dishes and tucked it in slightly around the edges of the fruit. Into a hot oven for about 15 minutes, flipped them out onto plates, and served.

Next year, fireworks and maybe a hamburger cookout!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara July 12, 2009 at 12:05

I think exquisite French cooking on the 4th of July could be a GREAT new tradition! Why would you want to have fireworks and hamburgers? You can always do that on Christmas Eve, when it’s warm outside. During the winter, we all need well-balanced (French) meals to fight off the ferocious viruses in circulation!

dan July 12, 2009 at 19:10

Yes, but ten days later France gets its due with Bastille Day. Perhaps I could do the hamburgers then? You are right, however, they’d be better when it’s warm out…

Bonnie July 12, 2009 at 19:59

Is this the same panade served this past weekend? I am still dreaming about it.

Cliff Batuello July 12, 2009 at 20:53

Dan, if you’re in the states again for the 4th, give us a call. Our neighbor uses our spot (on a hill) to let off a 30 minute show that is amazing. I hate to quantify anything with $, but he spends about 4-5,000 on stuff he brings up from South Carolina. quite impressive, and I am a BIG sucker for fireworks.

dan July 12, 2009 at 22:22

It’s slightly different this weekend in that I used half the amount of onions and then about half a head of thinly sliced garlic in place of it. Other than that, the same recipe. I’ve tried doing it with all garlic, but even after “mellowing out” in the slow cooking, it’s still too strong. This seems to come out the right balance.

dan July 12, 2009 at 22:23

See, I knew I liked you for some reason.

Should I find myself there during early July, I’ll take you up on it!

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