Alain Ducasse and bistro classics

Acclaimed French chef Alain Ducasse is usually associated with Michelin-friendly fare. But he also keeps bistro traditions alive...

26 September 2018
By Connexion journalist

Alain Ducasse is one of the most renowned chefs of his generation. He is also a restaurant designer, hotelier, and teacher of the culinary arts. He is the first chef whose restaurants have been awarded three Michelin stars in two different cities. He is the author of numerous best-selling cookbooks.

In his latest, Bistro: Classic French Comfort Food, Ducasse has carefully selected the most popular recipes from his roster of critically acclaimed bistro-style restaurants: Aux Lyonnais (in Paris), Benoit (in Paris, New York, and Tokyo), and Allard (in Paris).

Aimed at anyone who has aspired to haute cuisine but has been scared off by its technical intricacies and reputation for heaviness, the recipes are based on traditional, regional French dishes inspired by local agriculture and terroir, but with Ducasse’s signature treatment bringing them up-to-date with contemporary twists and an eye toward healthier eating.

The recipes demonstrate that simple ingredients, simply prepared, can give a result as good as using ingredients that are heavier or more expensive. Soulful classics, they are perfect for cosy dinners with family and friends, as well as entertaining for special occasions. 

Keeping bistrots alive

A traditional eatery founded in 1890, Aux Lyonnais was taken over in 2002 by Ducasse, who has kept its character intact. Behind the famous red facade, the atmosphere is warm and authentic and the restaurant captures the ambiance of the traditional bouchons of Lyon.

“While respecting tradition and preserving flavour combinations, we wish to reinterpret Lyon cuisine by adding a hint of modernity to make it lighter, more accessible, and even more flavoursome,” explains chef Francis Fauvel. Cervelle des canuts, quenelles with crayfish, and Lyon-style rabbit leg confit pay tribute to the cuisine created by the legendary female chefs of that city, the Mères Lyonnaises.

Opened in Paris in 1912, a stone’s throw from the Hôtel de Ville, Benoit has been welcoming lovers of fine traditional French cuisine for more than a century. Alain Ducasse took over from Michel Petit in 2005 and continues to delight gourmets from all over the world.

The leg of lamb, tournedos Rossini, and pot-roasted pork chops interpreted by chef Fabienne Eymard continue to reflect the restaurant’s motto: Chez toi Benoit, on boit, on festoie en rois (“Come over to Benoit, where you’ll drink and feast like a king”).

When you sit on the red velvet chairs, at the bar or facing the mirrors, you’ll experience the warmth and friendliness that reigns supreme at Benoit.

With a history spanning more than eighty years, Allard is one of the finest eateries in Paris. Located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, it is one of the last authentic bistros in the French capital.

Alain Ducasse took over management in 2013, and insisted on preserving Allard’s authenticity. Frog’s legs, roasted Challans duck with olives, pâté en croûte, and rum baba lavishly perpetuate this tradition.

Chef Laëtitia Rouabah now continues with the sincere and generous cuisine de terroir initiated by the Allard Family.

  

 

 

Duck confit with Sarlat potatoes

serves 4

Ingredients

DUCK CONFIT

  • 4 duck legs
  • 200g coarse salt
  • Black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1kg duck fat

 

SARLAT POTATOES

  • 1kg Agria or other yellow-fleshed, floury potatoes
  • 100ml duck fat
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic

 

Method

1. Place the duck legs on a tray and season with the salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover the tray with plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for 6 hours. Remove the legs from the tray and wipe carefully with a cloth. Melt the duck fat in a Dutch oven (cast-iron casserole) and add the legs. Simmer for about 2 hours. When cooked, drain the legs well and filter the fat through a fine strainer (sieve) into a container.

2. Peel and wash the potatoes and cut off the ends. Use a vegetable peeler to trim them into 3cm – 11/4 inch-diameter cylinders.
Immediately cut the cylinders into uniform 3mm – 1/8 inch-thick disks. Rinse, drain, and dry the slices with a cloth. Heat the duck fat in a skillet or frying pan and sauté the potatoes for 15 minutes. When cooked and golden, drain them and season with salt and pepper.

3. Pluck the parsley leaves. Peel the garlic cloves. Chop the garlic and parsley; set aside. Return the duck legs to a skillet or frying pan, skin side down. Brown them over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the skin is crisp. Arrange the duck legs in the centre of a platter with the potatoes around them. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and garlic.

Sautéed porcini (ceps)

serves 4

 

Ingredients

  • 20 young porcini (ceps)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Leaves from several sprigs
  • flat-leaf parsley
  • 30g butter
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 10ml dry white wine
  • 50ml chicken stock
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Fleur de sel
  • Olive oil

 

Method

1. Use a knife tip to remove the earth-encrusted parts of the mushroom stems.
Use a dry brush to remove any impurities. Set aside two mushrooms for finishing.
Halve the mushrooms to check that they are not worm-eaten. Peel the garlic and finely chop with the parsley. 
Melt the butter with the oil in a Dutch oven (cast-iron casserole).

2. Add the mushrooms, cut side down, and brown them. When the cut side is golden, turn the mushrooms over, add the thyme, and cook for a few more minutes before deglazing with the white wine. Reduce the liquid until it becomes thicker, then deglaze again with the chicken stock and cover for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

3. Arrange the mushrooms on a plate and season with a pinch of fleur de sel and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Chocolate mousse

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cacao)
  • 125g butter
  • 60g egg yolks (about 3–4 large)
  • 300g egg whites (about 10 large)
  • 65g sugar
  • For topping: 50g dark chocolate (70% cacao)

 

Method

1. Finely chop the chocolate and melt it over a bain-marie together with the butter. When melted, remove from the heat and add the egg yolks, one by one, beating until the mixture is smooth. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar while beating to stiff peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the choclate mixture.

2. Transfer the mousse to a large bowl or individual ramekins, and refrigerate for 5 hours.

3. Make shavings by scraping the chocolate with a knife. Take the mousse out of the refrigerator 1 hour before serving and sprinkle with the chocolate shavings.

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