Chef Jacques Pepin Reflects On Career From Howard Johnson's And Beyond

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Chef Jacques Pepin places silverware on a plate with an omelette at his home in Madison, Conn. (AP)
Chef Jacques Pepin places silverware on a plate with an omelette at his home in Madison, Conn. (AP)

With over 60 years in the food business, 76-year-old French chef Jacques Pepin has become a legend in the culinary world.

He's cooked for French President Charles de Gaulle, hosted numerous cooking shows, taught at the French Culinary Institute and Boston University and written over twenty books, including his latest, "Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites."

Here and Now Resident Chef Kathy Gunst caught up with Jacques Pepin who reflected on his long career.

He says that when he first came to the United States in 1959, markets carried little fresh produce and he rejoices at the variety that can be found now.

Pepin also tells Kathy that though he has worked at numerous high-end restaurants, he prefers to cook simple good food: he's often telling young chefs not to torture the food with artistic presentation. For him, it's always been about how food tastes.

See Pepin's recipes for Gratin Dauphinois, Baked Salmon in Green Herb Sauce, Skillet Duck with Red Oak Lettuce Salad, Spaghettini with Spicy Basil Pesto, Mémé’s Apple Tart and baguettes.

Gratin Dauphinois (printer friendly/pdf)

Serves 6 to 8

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]This dish is my version of a classic from my youth. My mother always makes her gratin exclusively with milk and tops the potatoes with grated Gruyère cheese before baking. Sometimes I use grated cheese in this dish, but other times I don’t, depending on my mood. It is important not to rinse or soak the potatoes after slicing them. Rinsing would remove most of the starch, which is needed to thicken the mixture as it comes to a boil on top of the stove. The gratin goes well with a salad of frisée or escarole dressed with a mustardy garlic dressing. One of the greatest treats of this dish is the leftovers, which can be enjoyed cool or at room temperature the next day.[/sidebar]

1¾ pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
2½ cups milk
2–3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped (1½ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and slice them ¼ inch thick, by hand, with a vegetable slicer, or with the slicing blade of a food processor. Do not rinse the slices.

Combine the potato slices, milk, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring gently to separate the slices and prevent the mixture from scorching. It will thicken as it reaches a boil.

Pour the potato mixture into a 6-cup gratin dish and pour the cream on top. Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until half of the liquid is absorbed and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Let the potatoes rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Spaghettini with Spicy Basil Pesto (printer friendly/pdf)

Serves 4

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]Conventionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but here I use pecans, along with a jalapeño, for a distinctive effect. You may want to double or triple the recipe for the pesto. It is very good on grilled fish or meat, as a delicious flavoring for baked potatoes, or as a topping for other pastas. It will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Be sure to cover it with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing it down so it touches the surface of the pesto. “Blanching” the basil and parsley in a microwave helps prevent them from discoloring when the pesto is held for a few hours.[/sidebar]

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup pecans
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small jalapeño pepper, cut in half and seeded
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound spaghettini
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot.

MEANWHILE, FOR THE PESTO: Put the basil and parsley in a plastic bag and microwave on high for 1 minute. Transfer, while still hot, to a blender and add the Parmesan cheese, nuts, garlic, and jalapeño pepper. Process for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is finely pureed. Add the oil and process for a few more seconds. (You should have about 1½ cups.) Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Add the spaghettini to the boiling water, stir well, and cook for 8 to 9 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente.

Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid and mix it with the pesto. Drain the pasta well and add it to the sauce, along with the salt, and black pepper to taste. Toss and serve immediately, with hot pepper flakes, if desired, and the grated Parmesan cheese.

Baked Salmon in Green Herb Sauce (pdf/printer friendly)

Serves 4

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]The sauce for this dish is best made at the last moment. Before the spinach and herbs are pureed in a blender, they are blanched in the salmon cooking liquid, which contains wine. When fresh from the blender, the sauce is a beautiful dark green, but the color begins to fade after an hour or so (the taste is not affected), because of the acidity in the wine. The salmon is best served lukewarm or at room temperature.[/sidebar]

3 shallots, chopped (1/3 cup)
1 cup fruity dry white wine
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 skinless center-cut salmon fillet (about 1¼ pounds)
1½ cups loosely packed spinach leaves (about 3 ounces), washed and dried
1¼ cups loosely packed fresh herbs (a mixture of chopped chives and parsley and tarragon leaves)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the shallots, wine, half the salt, and the pepper in an ovenproof stainless steel or other nonreactive skillet. Arrange the salmon on top of the shallots and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake the salmon, uncovered, for about 12 minutes, or until it is medium-rare. Remove the salmon from the skillet and place it on a plate.

Add the spinach and herbs to the liquid in the skillet and cook over high heat for about 2 minutes, until the herbs are wilted and soft.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend into a smooth puree. Add the mayonnaise, cayenne, vinegar, and the remaining salt and blend for a few seconds. Add the oil and continue processing for about 10 seconds.

Spoon the sauce onto a large platter, arrange the salmon on top, and serve.

Skillet Duck with Red Oak Lettuce Salad (pdf/printer friendly)

Serves 4

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]Easy and delicious, this duck is cooked in much the same way as Southern fried chicken — fried in its own fat in a covered pot so steam develops, making the meat very moist and tender and the skin crisp. Be sure to use a very large skillet or a lidded saucepan. Some of the rendered fat, a bonus from this recipe, is used in the salad dressing. (You can use the rest for sautéing potatoes.)[/sidebar]

1 duck (about 5 pounds)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup fruity dry white wine

1 medium garlic clove, crushed and minced (½ teaspoon)
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons duck fat, peanut or olive oil, or a mixture of the fat and oils
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 head red oak leaf lettuce, leaves washed and dried (about 6 cups)
1 bunch arugula, trimmed, washed, and dried (about 2 cups loosely packed)

2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs, beaten with a fork
Pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Reserve the duck neck, gizzard, liver, and heart for another purpose. Using a sharp heavy knife or poultry shears, cut the duck lengthwise in half, slicing through the carcass bones. Then cut each half into 2 pieces: the leg and the breast, with wing attached.

Heat a large skillet or saucepan, either nonstick or heavy aluminum, until hot. Place the duck pieces skin side down in one layer in the pan, sprinkle with the salt, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Lift the pieces to dislodge them from the bottom of the skillet and then lay them, still skin side down, back in the skillet. Add the duck neck and gizzard, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes. The duck should be cooking in a deep layer of fat and its skin should be very brown at this point.

Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 30 more minutes. (The duck pieces should be almost immersed in the fat.) Add the liver and heart, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Remove the duck pieces to a large baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Pour the fat from the skillet into a bowl and let cool. (Covered and refrigerated, the fat can be used as needed for up to 2 months for sautéing potatoes or other vegetables.) There will be a small residue of glaze, or solidified juices, in the bottom of the skillet. Add the wine to the skillet and stir to melt the solidified juices. Keep warm.

FOR THE DRESSING: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir gently. The dressing should not be homogenized but should look separated.

Toss the salad greens with the dressing and arrange the salad on four serving plates. Place a piece of duck in the center of each and sprinkle the pan drippings on the pieces of duck.

FOR THE GARNISH: Heat a skillet for 1 minute. Add the butter, and when it is hot, add the beaten eggs and stir gently over high heat to scramble. Season with the salt and pepper. The eggs should still be runny.

Arrange spoonfuls of the egg around the duck on each salad. The pieces of duck will be lukewarm to warm, the salad at room temperature, and the eggs warm. Serve.

Baguettes (printer friendly/pdf)

Makes 4 baguettes

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]The long rising time in this recipe gives the baguettes a better texture and a more pronounced flavor.

To have fresh-baked bread whenever you want it, you can partially bake the baguettes, for about 25 minutes, until they have achieved maximum size but are not yet brown. Let the loaves cool until lukewarm, then wrap tightly and freeze. When needed, unwrap a frozen loaf, place directly on the center rack of a preheated 400-degree oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, until brown and crusty.[/sidebar]

4½ cups bread flour, preferably organic, plus 2½ tablespoons
for sprinkling
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
2½ teaspoons salt
2 cups cool water (70 degrees)
2 tablespoons cornmeal

Put the 4½ cups flour, the yeast, salt, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Alternatively, process the ingredients in a large food processor for 45 seconds.

Transfer the dough to a plastic bucket or a large deep ceramic or stainless steel bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 70 degrees) for at least 4½ hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Break down the dough by bringing the outer edges into the center of the bowl and pressing down to release the air inside. Form the dough into a ball. Sprinkle the work surface with 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour, place the dough on top, and press down to form it into a rough rectangular shape. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 4 equal strips. Roll each strip under your palms into an 18-inch length.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat and sprinkle with the cornmeal. Place the baguettes on the baking sheet. Let the baguettes rise, covered with an upside-down roasting pan, in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Sprinkle the tops of the risen loaves with the remaining ½ tablespoon flour. Cut 4 diagonal slits in the top surface of each loaf with a serrated knife or razor blade and place in the oven. Using a spray bottle filled with water, mist the inside of the oven to create steam and immediately close the door. Bake the baguettes for 35 minutes, or until brown
and crusty.

Cool the baguettes on a rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing.

Mémé’s Apple Tart (pdf/printer friendly)

Serves 6

[sidebar title="Jacques' Note" width="600" align="center"]This is my mother’s famous apple tart that she made almost every day in her small Lyon restaurant, Le Pélican. Her dough, unlike any other, achieved its tender, crumbly, airy texture from a combination of vegetable shortening or lard, baking powder, and warm milk. Since the dough is too soft to roll, it is pressed into the pan by hand.[/sidebar]

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or lard, at room temperature
¼ cup milk, heated to lukewarm

2 pounds Golden Delicious or McIntosh apples (6 medium)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the center.

FOR THE DOUGH: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the shortening or lard and mix with a spoon or your hands until the mixture feels and looks sandy. Add the warm milk and stir rapidly for a few seconds, until the dough is well mixed.

Using a sheet of plastic wrap to help you, fit the dough into a 9-inch quiche pan or tart pan with a removable bottom. With your fingers, press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: Peel the apples, quarter them, and remove the cores. Arrange the apple quarters, cut side up, in circles on top of the dough and sprinkle the sugar evenly over them. Cut the butter into small pieces and dot the apples with the butter.

Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the apples are browned and crusty.

Let cool to lukewarm, then cut into wedges and serve.

All recipes excerpted from ESSENTIAL PEPIN, © 2011 by Jacques Pepin. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

This segment aired on January 18, 2012.


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