Legendary French chef Paul Bocuse died Jan. 20. He was 91 and will long be remembered for not only serving spectacular French cuisine in his restaurants, but for inspiring others around the world to cook it, including me.
When I was in my early 20s, I was training to be a chef and a large part of the curriculum was learning classic French cooking techniques.
To enhance what I was learning at school, I decided it would be wise to buy some good French culinary reference books and cookbooks.
Most students back then knew all about Paul Bocuse and were awed by his skill and stature in the food world.
A cookbook penned by him seemed like a logical one for me to buy so, 30-plus years ago, I purchased Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, first published in English in 1977.
One thing I liked about that 518-page hardcover book was that it offered recipes for some of Bocuse’s most famous dishes, such as la soupe aux truffes Elysée (truffle soup) and loup de la Mediterranée en croute (sea bass in puff pastry) — inspired creations that inspired me to try to create my own dishes that would make diners happy every time they were served.
But as a young chef, before I could do that with any prowess, I needed to refine my cooking skills and Bocuse’s book helped me with that.
His recipes are all about using the proper technique and offer practical tips to ensure the dish turns out the way it should.
For example, in a recipe for breaded lamb chops, he says to make sure you cook them slowly, so that browning of the bread crumbs and cooking of the thick chops are completed at the same time.
Another thing I like about many of Bocuse’s recipes is that ingredient lists are often fairly short. That showcases his desire to use a few quality ingredients and not mask their fine flavour by adding too many other tastes, something young chefs — and even old ones — tend to want to do to prove how creative they are.
A recipe for tournedos forestière in Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking is an example of keeping the ingredient list simple. Tournedos — small beef tenderloin steaks — are seared, set on round croutons, topped with a simple sauce made from veal stock and accompanied with an assortment of sautéed mushrooms. The only seasoning is salt and pepper.
I decided to make the dish and enjoyed it with my wife, also a trained chef. Before digging in, we made a toast to Paul Bocuse for inspiring us to cook better.
It was very a tasty meal with rich-tasting beef, a simple but rich sauce and a flavourful array of almost smoky-tasting seared mushrooms. We quickly understood why Bocuse kept the seasoning simple.
That said, there was one other key ingredient that I haven’t mentioned yet: butter.
Paul Bocuse called it his favourite ingredient, which is on full display in his recipe for tournedos forestière. Butter is generously used in all aspects of that recipe, from the browning of the croutons to the flavouring of the mushrooms and searing of the meat. It’s even added to the simmering stock poured over it. No wonder is tasted so good!
This is my adapted version of Paul Bocuse’s recipe for this dish. I wanted it to serve two, I did not have veal stock and I could not find the fresh types of mushroom his recipe called for, so I adjusted things a bit.
To make the recipe, small, tender steaks are deeply seared until succulent, then set on croutons and topped with a rich, but simple sauce and accented with mushrooms cooked until golden in butter.
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus mushroom soaking time
Cooking time: About 25 minutes
Makes: Two servings
1(14 gram) pkg. sliced dried mixed mushrooms (see Note)
6 Tbsp butter, divided
4 (3/4-inch thick) slices of French bread, cut into crustless rounds about the same diameter as the steaks
4 small (each about 90 grams), 1 1/4- inch thick beef tenderloin steaks
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
1/3 lb assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced (see Note)
2 tsp chopped freshly parsley
2/3 cup beef stock
Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with the 1 cup warm water. Let mushrooms soak 90 minutes, until plumped up and reconstituted. Drain the mushrooms well, then dry on paper towel.
Place 2 Tbsp of the butter in a nine or 10-inch skillet set over medium heat. When butter is melted, add the bread rounds and cook until toasted and golden on all sides. Set these croutons on a plate.
Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp of the oil in a clean nine- or 10-inch skillet set over medium-high. When oil is smoking, add the fresh and dried mushrooms and season with salt.
Cook mushrooms, stirring frequently, five minutes, until tender. Spoon mushrooms into a shallow bowl. Set the skillet you cooked the mushrooms in aside for now.
Preheat oven to 200 F. Place 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp butter in another nine- or 10-inch skillet set over medium-high heat.
When butter is melted and skillet is very hot, add the steaks, cover and cook three minutes. Turn each steak over with a spatula and season with salt and pepper.
Cover and cook steaks on the other side two to three minutes, or until about rare to medium-rare. Set steaks on a plate and keep warm in the oven.
Remove fat from the skillet the steaks were cooked in. Now add the stock to the pan, bring to a simmer and reduce by half.
While that occurs, set the pan the mushroom were cooked in over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 Tbsp butter.
When butter is sizzling, put the mushrooms back in the pan and cook until lightly browned. Remove pan from the heat.
When stock has reduced by half, remove pan from the heat, then whisk in the remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter, creating a sauce.
To serve, set two croutons on each of two heated plates. Top each crouton with a steak. Now set some mushrooms around each steak. Spoon sauce over each steak, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Note: Dried mixed mushrooms are sold in small bags in the produce department of many supermarkets (see Eric’s options). I used Champ’s Mushrooms brand and it contained an exotic mix of mushrooms, such as lobster and chanterelle.
For interest, use a mix of at least two different types of fresh mushrooms in this recipe. I used brown (cremini) and shiitake mushrooms. Before slicing the caps of shiitake mushrooms, remove and discard or compost the tough stems.
Eric’s options: If you can’t find dried mushrooms or prefer just to use fresh, omit the dried ones from the recipe and double the amount of fresh mushrooms used.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.