French Cuisine, Tour d'Argent

Potage Tour D’Argent

It's just bean soup. But it is so much more than that. Chef Pierre Descreux's childhood is buried in the depths of this dish. I can taste it. I can see him as a child sitting at the kitchen table while his mother or his grandmother simmers this pot of legumes on the stove. I can see him working in his handwriting manual, doing his math work, reading a book–until she finally sets a thick earthy bowl before him, a hunk of bread on the side.

Why include this dish? There are plenty of great recipes from the Tour. Yet Price seems to waste precious page space on bean freaking soup. It's simple. It's rustic. It requires little skill. Surely Descreux handed this off to one of the kitchen boys. But I realized, entertaining someone at the table is more than just laying a beautiful plate under their nose. It's the story of the chef's relationship with ingredients, with terroir, with his city and his profession and his kitchen. Of course, my extrapolation is wildly cavalier but I submit that this humble potage may have been the foundational dish for this chef's entire career.

Yes, that is a mirepoix in the potage

The Treasury was written for American cooks of the 60s. As a rule, American cooks were women, homemakers, and due to the lack of access to exotic ingredients, not very adventurous. Immigrants (meaning everyone) brought their ingredients with them and grew their special herbs and vegetables in their tiny backyards or in pots on the landing. But your average American basically cooked meat and potatoes. America ate the Irish/German/English/Scottish hit parade.

So Price doesn't talk about the great flavor bases and instead of just saying use a mirepoix, he breaks it down. However, his breakdown is instructive if you've never used a mirepoix. Or any other flavor base. It's not only about the ingredients, it's about the ratio.

A flavor base is the foundational taste of a cuisine. A cook knows these ingredients by heart. But it's not just about the ingredients–it's about the ratio. The French flavor base is three ingredients in a 2-1 ratio: 

  • 2 onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk

These are diced and sautèd to form the base for nearly every French dish. You'll recognize this ratio if you've ever made gumbo. It's the holy trinity:

  • 2 onions
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 celery stalk

Potage Tour D’Argent

Ingredients

  • 1 pound red kidney beans
  • 1/2 pound lentils
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon, plus 5 tablespoons butter
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups finely shredded (chiffonade) sorrel
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Soak the kidney beans overnight.
  • Price says soak the lentils too, but I've never found this necessary sine they cook fairly quickly
  • Add the mirepoix, parsley sprigs, garlic, salt, stock, and the 1/4 teaspoon of butter.
  • Bring up to a boil, cover, cook over low heat for 1.5 hours, or until beans are very tender.
  • (pro tip, add the lentils about halfway through)
  • Blend a few cups at a time in a blender or with an immersion blender (you badass)
  • Price says to strain this slurry into a new pan. So do that if you want to be authentic to the book, but don't do it if you don't give a shit about super smooth soup. It's an extra step that doesn't add much in my opinion. The result is there are no little pieces of bean shell. Whatevs.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan.
  • Add sorrel and minced parsley (or chervil if you can't find sorrel) until the sorrel is wilted.
  • Add the sorrel mix to the beans and stir it in with the remaining butter
  • Pepper to taste
  • (Bull's addition: season with the barest hint of cayenne)
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http://www.eatingvincentprice.com/blog/potage-tour-dargent/

is an award-winning author and columnist from Chicago. His newest book is The Full English, a humorous travel memoir. His previous book, Death By Children, was IndieFab's 2013 Humor Book of the Year. Bull is the founder and senior writer for Creative Writer PRO, and the impresario, host, and owner with his wife, Colleen, of Chicago's premier private supper club, Eating Vincent Price.

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