A true classic himself, world-renowned chef Jacques Pépin graced us with his presence during his “Essential Pépin” seminar at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic in June which was très magnifique.
Pépin’s illustrious culinary career has now spanned six decades. His 27th book, Essential Pépin features more than 700 updated recipes from his life in food which included service as personal chef to three French heads of state and working at New York’s famous Le Pavillon restaurant in the early days of his culinary career. Pépin demonstrates many of these recipes on his PBS series Essential Pépin.
Accompanied by his spunky daughter Claudine, Jacques served up classic deliciousness reminiscent perhaps of the way in which he used to cook with his longtime friend Julia Child. Drawn together in 1949 by a shared love of French cooking, Julia and Jacques maintained a lifelong friendship. Highlights included teaching together at Boston University and starring in their PBS series “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” filmed at Julia’s house in Cambridge where they cooked like friends: cooking, drinking and enjoying themselves, not always following the recipes.
Fearless Claudine, who worked in the wine industry for years, got the party started by showing us how to saber a bottle, joking that we should never try this at home and then demonstrating exactly how to do it.
“Find the seam. It’s the weakest part of the bottle,” Claudine said, holding up the bottle of champagne for all to see. “And use your friend’s knife.”
Reminding us that this was tennis, not hockey, she sheared the top of the bottle clean off in one fell swoop. A surprising opening, but impressive nonetheless, I later learned that this was a trick Julia had done years ago at an early Food and Wine Classic in Aspen.
“Well, we drink to you,” Jacques said, raising his glass and beginning to share a taste of his vast and comprehensive knowledge of French cooking and techniques with the audience.
“If you keep your mind open, you learn all the time,” Jacques said. The first technique shown was slicing an apple by holding it upright on the cutting board and cutting ½ inch slices off the outside of the apple, working inward toward the core and then rotating 90 degrees to repeat for the other three sides.
“Slice the apple, 1,2,3, to get to the core,” he said, getting ingredients prepped for his Apple Fritters.
“That thing is not 300,” Jacques remarked, sticking his finger into the oil heating in the pan, adding that the Chinese use the handle of a wooden spoon to check if the oil is hot. “If it bubbles around the wood, it’s hot,” he said.
Whipping up the fritter batter was as easy as dumping most of a Stella Artois (and sipping on the rest) into the bowl with the flour and whisking together until smooth, then adding the apples. “I’m not married to the recipe,” Jacques said as he mixed the fritter batter together and began cooking them in the hot oil.
Getting ready to remove cooked fritters from the oil, he scoffed at the use of paper towels when draining fried food. “Hmmph! I always put them on a rack,” Jacque said, “It allows them to breathe from underneath.”
Another use for this beer batter would be to make a big pancake and add zucchini and fresh basil, he said, suggesting a great way to showcase seasonal vegetables fresh from your garden.
When the fritters had cooled, he tapped powdered sugar out of a strainer to liberally sprinkle the tops with a touch of sweetness.
Effortless, straightforward and très français, it was a simple joy watching Jacques Pépin cook with his daughter Claudine and one I will enjoy revisiting every time I open his Essential Pépin and think of him cooking, drinking and enjoying himself, surely a classic role model for all of us home cooks.
Pop- or saber, if you dare- a bottle of bubbly, invite some friends into your kitchen and enjoy yourself with this week’s Special of the day: French Classic Jacques Pépin and recipe for French Apple Fritters. Bon appétit!
Recipes and food photography by Sydne George
French Apple Fritters
Inspired by Jacques Pépin
(makes 8 3-inch fritters)
*note: I added the cinnamon and you obviously would omit this ingredient if you were using the beer batter for a savory recipe.
1 cup flour
1 cup Stella Artois beer
2 Pink Lady apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of salt
2 cups canola oil or more depending on skillet size
½ cup powdered sugar
In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour and beer. Whisk until completely smooth.
One at a time, stand apples up on cutting board and cut vertically into ½ inch slices, stopping when you reach the core. Stack apples slices and cut into ½ inch sticks. Then cut the sticks into ½ inch cubes. Repeat with other apple. Add apple cubes to batter and stir to combine.
Heat 1 inch canola oil in large heavy skillet to 300 degrees. Scoop 1/3 cup batter into hot oil to form fritters. Cook for 2-3 minutes on a side until golden brown and then turn and cook other side for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove from oil with tongs and let cool on wire rack.
Put powdered sugar in strainer. Using a spoon tap the side of the strainer to dust fritters liberally with powdered sugar. Serve warm. Enjoy!
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.