This classic French bistro menu is easier to pull off than you’d think.
Sure, I like gastronomy as much as the next food lover, but at least once every few weeks, I head to a traditional café or bistro to partake in the classics.
If you’ve travelled to Paris at all, you know the style of food I’m talking about: These are those reassuringly predictable menus that kick off with a choice of pâté maison, an assiette anglaise (charcuterie platter), oeufs-mayo, or perhaps a potage purée de legumes (pureed vegetable soup). Main courses are equally simple: Perhaps poulet-rôtie, steak-frîtes, a slice of roasted pork or leg of lamb– or maybe a plat du jour, such as blanquette de veau or boeuf aux carottes.
For dessert? Glace (ice cream), mousse au chocolate, or crème caramel. Or, choose a cheese course.
Whether you’re far from Paris and you’re missing bistro-style charm, or you’re in France and want to enjoy bistro cooking at home, here’s my classic French bistro menu that’s simple to make for family and friends.
1. The First Course
Three easy options:
• Oeufs-mayo: I love this humble-yet-satifying dish of hard-cooked eggs dressed with a little mayo and served with cornichons and olives. Simply doll up the mayo with some fresh herbs (tarragon, chervil, parsley, and/or chives), a little Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper, and drape it over halved hard-cooked eggs. Be sure to serve the eggs, olives, and cornichons on top of a butterhead lettuce so that it has a refreshing, salad-like effect.
• Assiette Anglaise: If you live near a charcuterie counter, serve an array of cured meats, such as proscuitto and salami; be sure to serve them with sliced baguette and butter. The combo of sweet butter and salty cured meats is heavenly.
• Pâté: No, you don’t have to make your own (and truth is, a lot of French bistros and cafés don’t either. Simply purchase the best you can find from a local market; serve with olives, cornichons, bread, and butter, and a touch of vinaigrette-dressed arugula or other spicy greens for contrast.
2. Le Plat Principal (The Main Course)
While there are many ways you can go here–from poulet-rôtie to a simply sauced steak, I suggest you go a little off the beaten path and make your own plat du jour. Here’s my recipe for pork chops with a quick pan sauce of herbes de Provence and either capers or cornichons (choose capers if you’ve served cornichons in the first course).
Pork with mustard sauce/ Wini Moranville
Pork Chops with Mustard and Herbes de Provence Sauce
4 bone-in loin pork chops (1/2-inch thick)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon dried herbes de provence
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons capers or 1/4 cup thinly sliced cornichons
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
1. Season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the pork chops, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, turning once, until slightly pink inside (145°F), 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the pork chops to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
2. Drain off all but a sheen of fat from the skillet. Add the shallot and herbes de Provence to the pan and sauté briefly, until shallot is translucent. Add the broth and the wine to the skillet, stirring with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup—this should take 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size. Whisk in the mustard and butter; continue cooking a few seconds until sauce is thickened. Add the capers and parsley.
3. Divide the chops among four dinner plates; spoon sauce over all and serve. Makes 4 servings.
3. Fromage ou Dessert
The final course of the classic French bistro menu usually brings a choice of cheese or dessert. I adore the cheese course. All you have to do is choose three great French cheeses, put them on a platter, and pass the platter with some bread. For my cheese course, I love to “bring home the barnyard”–that is, serve cheese from the three animals: a cow’s-milk cheese (such as Comté), a sheep’s-milk cheese (j’adore Ossau-Iraty from the Pyrenées), and a goat’s-milk cheese (any of the semi-ripened Loire valley cheeses would be great).
If your meal isn’t complete without something sweet for dessert, there’s still no need to knock yourself out. You can’t go wrong with a cherry clafoutis— it’s foolproof, and people love it. Or, do what most French home cooks I know do: Pick up something beautiful from a local pâtisserie.
The famous cheese course/ Wini Moranville
Lead photo credit : Oeufs Mayo/ Wini Moranville