Many moons ago, a man in Paris wrote me an e-mail and told me about his food blog with a link at the bottom. I clicked it dubiously–we food bloggers get e-mails like this all the time–only when I clicked, the blog it took me to was unusually impressive. More importantly, the man behind it wasn’t just some striving up-and-comer, he was the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and the author of several books. His name, as you are all aware, was David Lebovitz and soon after that early exchange we became friends: I visited him in Paris, he visited me in New York. We figured out food blogging together. And then a funny thing happened: he become wildly famous. People line up around city blocks to meet him and the David who was relatively obscure ten years ago is now an international phenomenon. What’s so great about it is that David is so deserving of his success; he’s a terrific cook, yes, and a wonderful writer, but what makes people love him so much, I think, is his heart. You can feel it beating in all of his work–on his blog, in his recipes, even on Twitter–but never has it been better represented than it is in his new, absolutely stunning cookbook My Paris Kitchen. It’s the kind of cookbook you need to rush out and get right now.
What I love so much about this book is that it’s not a bland pean to one of the world’s most celebrated cities; instead, it’s Paris as seen through David’s eyes. The images softly evoke the world that David inhabits and the words paint beautiful portraits of the people David knows, the stores he frequents, the ingredients he likes to work with and the recipes he makes for his family and friends.
Though the book features some traditional French dishes (there’s Cassoulet, Madeleines, Oeufs mayonnaise) the majority of the food is David food, meaning food that’s inspired by his travels, his personal experiences, the people he’s met, the cuisines he enjoys, and anything and everything that makes sense to him and his palate. So many dishes called out to me as I flipped through the pages, but the one that I was most eager to make is the quintessential David dish: something American elevated with international ingredients and a sophisticated French flair.
When I say American, we’re talking BBQ and David begins his recipe for Caramel Pork Ribs with a celebration of Texas BBQ and the French take on it: “The ribs [in France] are a little more refined than in Texas, and you won’t see anyone in Paris picking up their ribs with their hands at the table (unless they want to be seen as outlaws) as Americans do, but it’s nice to know that Parisians can get down with a rack of ribs, albeit in their own way.”
For a dinner party last week, I picked up 4 pounds of ribs at Lindy and Grundy (so they were ethical) and set about making David’s recipe. Step one is just what you’d expect from a pastry chef with a rib recipe: you make a caramel.
But instead of adding cream to make caramel sauce, you add beer. Watch out!
That’s the only scary part of the recipe (it boils up violently). After that, it’s smooth sailing. You add brown sugar, bourbon, cider vinegar, ketchup, ginger, soy sauce, Sriracha (or another hot sauce), Dijon mustard and black pepper.
You stir in the ribs…
…cover, and cook in the oven for two hours at 350 covered, then 30 more minutes uncovered. I mean, come on.
It’s like a mini-miracle happens right there in your oven. David, you’re The Miracle Worker.
While that’s happening, you can follow David’s general instructions for slaw. He has two dressings for you to try, one garlicky mayo one and one less garlicky vinaigrette. I kind of combined the two because I was almost out of mayonnaise. But essentially you add minced garlic to mayo, along with Dijon, red wine vinegar, pepper, and–in my case–olive oil.
Then you slice a bunch of vegetables, any combination of cabbage (red or green), radicchio, endive, carrots, beets, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, fennel, kohlrabi, avocados, hard-cooked eggs, parsley or chervil or tarragon. I chose red cabbage, fennel and tarragon.
The garlic really packs a wallop and makes the slaw memorable. And it goes great with the ribs, just like David promises in the rib recipe headnote.
My dinner guests all raved (“Is there any more?” somebody asked sadly when they finished their plate; there wasn’t) so surely I will make these again.
It’s rare to find a new cookbook that’s indispensable but David’s book cuts the mustard, so to speak. And it’s not just because the recipes are killer (did you see those ribs?) but because of the man behind those recipes, the man who I’d gladly stand in line to meet (and I may have to these days), David himself.
Recipe: Caramel Pork Ribs
Summary: From David Lebovitz’s “My Paris Kitchen.”
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, light or dark
- 3/4 cup beer
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 (1/2-inch/2cm) piece ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons harissa, Sriracha sauce, or another hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 4 pounds pork ribs, cut into 3- or 4-rib portions
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Spread the granulated sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large pot with a cover, such as a roasting pan or a Dutch oven. Cook the sugar over medium heat until it starts to melt around the edges. When the liquefied sugar just starts to darken to a pale copper color, gently stir the sugar inward and continue to cook, stirring until the sugar is completely moistened. Continue to cook the sugar, stirring infrequently, until all of it is a deep copper-colored liquid, similar in color to dark maple syrup, and smoking (but not burnt). Turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar, then add the beer. The mixture will seize and harden, which is normal.
- Let the mixture cool down a bit, then stir in the bourbon, cider vinegar, ketchup, ginger, soy sauce, harissa, mustard, and pepper. Put the ribs in the pot and turn on the heat until the sauce boils and bubbles up. Turn the ribs a few times in the liquid, cover, and roast in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the ribs are tender. During the roasting, remove the pot from the oven and turn the ribs over two or three times.
- Remove the lid from the pot and continue to roast, turning the ribs a few times, for 30 minutes more, or until the juices have thickened a bit. Remove the ribs from the oven, skim any visible fat from the surface of the liquid, and serve.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 2 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
Recipe: Garlicky Slaw
Summary: From David Lebovitz’s “My Paris Kitchen.”
- 1 cup mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
- 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups sliced and hand-shredded raw vegetables (any combination of cabbage (red or green), radicchio, endive, carrots, beets, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, fennel, kohlrabi, avocados, hard-cooked eggs)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- To make the dressing, mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, garlic, mustard, and pepper in a small bowl until smooth. Cover and chill for several hours (if possible).
- To assemble the salad, toss the raw vegetables in a large bowl. Add the parsley and chives, toss with the dressing, and mix well. (At this point, I adjusted for salt and vinegar.) Garnish with additional chopped parsley and chives.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
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