Hamburger a la Julia Child

April 27th, 2011 / comments 9

As I was reaching for my copy of  Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, a book written by Julia Child and published in 2000, I started to think of food before she came into my life.

thyme Hamburger a la Julia Child

Before Julia, salad was a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with bright orange salad dressing poured on top. Cakes, either chocolate, yellow, or spice came as a mix. Mayonnaise was not something one ‘made’. Onion soup was a brown powder to be mixed with sour cream as a dip for potato chips. Cheese was American, Swiss or cheddar. Seasoning consisted of salt and pepper and perhaps a decorative sprig of curly parsley that was pushed to one side before whatever it was decorating was eaten. Shallots, capers, garlic, leeks, fresh herbs, and olive oil were exotic ingredients found in foreign kitchens.

In 1967, newly married and living across the road from The French Market, in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, I considered lunch from the French Market a treat. It might be a sandwich on a crusty baguette with rare roast beef, salami, brie, or pate, with butter, or Dijon mustard. Some days I chose an assortment of salads – mushrooms a la Grecque, carrots in mustard vinaigrette with fresh dill, marinated green beans with olives, and potato salad in lemon vinaigrette. I was hooked.

I loved the scent of garlic, lemon rind and parsley that the market’s butcher minced for the lamb roasts he skillfully turned into perfect replicas of duck decoys that waited in the meat case until clever cooks roasted and served them.

Another man prepared escargot. He pushed cooked snails into shells and then filled them with a mixture of sweet butter, garlic, parsley, and ground almonds. I knew I was a foodie, an term that did not exist in 1967, when I bought two metal snail pans, two small forks, and two snail holders, metal tools that looked like eyelash curlers gone wrong. Snails were easier than macaroni and cheese.

Other than snails, I cooked simple dinners, familiar fare – pork or lamb chops, hamburgers, or chicken breasts, boiled, baked or mashed potatoes and frozen corn or green beans. The only cook book I owned was a paperback called Cook Book.

Then, on September 27th, 1967 Julie Child came into my kitchen when a friend gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Until that moment, I hadn’t occurred to me that I could cook the sort of food that came from the French Market. I began reading and discovered that I had already met the first requirement – I was indeed “servantless”.

I read ‘Mastering’ as if it were a novel, struggling with the weirdness of spelling and pronouncing French words such as pâte à choux and crème pàtissèrie. I discovered that vegetables could be carefully cooked, and sauced, and read about complex desserts with amazing names.

I decided that bifteck hachè à la Lyonnaise would be my first Julia dinner. Yes, I was feeling bold, but after all, its English subtitle was Ground Beef with Onions and Herbs. French hamburgers!

Here’s how I did it. … read more

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