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Traditional Bistro Fare Gets Colorful and Refreshing New Treatments

October 22, 1987|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington. and

In France, the home of the bistro, the revolution has arrived at last. No longer need you take for granted the hearty pork, cabbage, potato and beans that were the bistro diet of yesteryear. The names may be the same, but with luck the traditional confit and cassoulet, ramekin and ragout will conceal a refreshingly new approach to traditional dishes.

Consider that favorite, escargots a la Bourguignonne, for instance. Snails with garlic butter can be hard on the digestion, but not when combined with scrambled eggs, as I found them recently. The eggs offer a soothing background to the pungent, meaty snails, making an offbeat dish to open dinner or serve alone as a quick snack.

The name confit brings to mind rich duck and goose dishes preserved in their own fat, but the word can apply to any method of preserving, including salted cod. In this typical new-style variation on an old theme, the fish is salted less than an hour to flavor rather than preserve it. After the fish is poached in stock, a sauce is made of reduced cooking juices, cream and pink salmon caviar. It is simple and delicious.

In the old days, fish in a cream sauce always came with boiled potatoes, but the new style decrees something more colorful. I laughed when, in a particularly showy bistro, my ragout of "noble root vegetables" arrived. It proved to be nothing more than carrots, potatoes and parsnips baked together in a remarkably tasty melange. They nicely balance the obtrusive taste of salt cod, with the carrots adding a touch of color to pick up caviar.

Chilly Winds of Fall

Bistro food at its best always looks to the seasons. When I tasted pears baked in sweet Sauternes, they seemed a perfect counter to the chilly winds of fall. The wine evaporates, leaving its essence behind, then the pears are topped with sugar and browned to caramel.

Contemporary bistro cooking, with its heartiness laced by a quick surprise, demands an equivalent wine. I'd suggest the newly popular red Sancerre, from the French district famous for its white wines, or a native white Zinfandel, a grape usually devoted to red vintages. Neither are great wines, but they'll add just the touch of novelty that this menu demands.


DINNER FOR 6 Oeufs Brouillesa la Bourguignonne

(Garlic Snails With Scrambled Eggs) Confit de Cabillaud au Caviar

(Salt Cod With Caviar) Ragout des Racines Nobles

(Ragout of Root Vegetables) Gratin de Poires Caramelisees au Sauternes

(Gratin of Carmelized Pears With Sauternes)

Suggested wine: French red Sancerre, or domestic white zinfandel.

Like so much new-style cooking, this menu calls for last-minute preparation.

Up to two days ahead cook snails, then refrigerate.

Bake pears, then refrigerate.

Up to one day ahead make fish stock, then refrigerate.

Cook vegetable ragout, then refrigerate. Chill white wine.

About 45 minutes before serving, salt cod.

About 15 minutes before serving, poach fish.

About 10 minutes before serving, drain cod, then keep warm. Reduce cooking liquid to glaze. Reheat snail mixture. Scramble eggs.

After serving snails reheat vegetable ragout. Add parsley. Finish sauce for cod and serve.

After serving cod caramelize pears under broiler.

OEUFS BROUILLES BOURGUIGNONNE (Garlic Snails With Scrambled Eggs)

3/4 pound canned snails

1/2 cup butter

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

18 large eggs

French bread

Drain and rinse snails. Halve each. Melt 1/2 of butter in skillet. Add snails, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook gently 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in walnuts and parsley. Snails can be refrigerated up to 2 days.

If necessary, reheat snail mixture over low heat. To scramble eggs, whisk eggs with salt and pepper to taste in large bowl 1 to 2 minutes until frothy and smooth. Melt remaining butter in large heavy skillet. Add eggs. Cook over low heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly with wooden spoon until mixture begins to thicken. Continue cooking over very low heat, scraping cooked egg from bottom and sides of pan so eggs thicken creamily.

When eggs are thickened to your taste, stir in snail mixture. Remove from heat. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Divide equally among 6 (1-cup) ramekins. Eggs will continue cooking in heat of pan. Serve at once with French bread. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Snail-and-walnut filling can be served on its own with crusty French bread, if desired.


1 pound fish bones

2 cups water

1 carrot, sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Bouquet garni of 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, 6 sprigs parsley

1/2 cup white wine

2 pounds skinless cod fillets, divided into 6 pieces

Salt, pepper

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons red caviar

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