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Farewell, "Gourmet'

Published Jan. 6, 1994|Updated Oct. 6, 2005

Editor's note: After 17 years of writing the "60-Minute Gourmet" column, French chief Pierre Franey hangs up his apron for other duties.

It may be difficult for some readers to remember, but back in November 1976, when the 60-Minute Gourmet appeared in the first Living section of the New York Times, the notion of preparing an entire home-cooked meal in less than an hour was formidable.

Today, with so much time-saving equipment available and the predilection of Americans for simpler, lighter fare, meals in half that time are almost routine.

This column is the final installment of a 17-year journey for me, one that has seen my style of cooking _ and that of America's _ change in ways that I never imagined back then. The early 60-Minute Gourmet recipes were decidedly French in style; in recent years they were just as likely to be Italian, Greek, Moroccan, American or some hybrid.

If I had to point to one significant development in home cooking (and restaurant cooking for that matter) over the years it would be the melding of international cuisines. Cooks today are not timid about combining in one meal flavors and textures from several national pantries. That would have been close to heretical a generation ago.

It has been immensely gratifying writing this column, but, inevitably, the time has come to concentrate on other challenges at The New York Times. Above all, I have tried to make the 60-Minute Gourmet accessible and rewarding to all level of home cooks. The very first recipe, which is updated here, reflected that. It was a whimsical combination called Shrimp Margarita, calling for lime juice, avocado, shallots, tequila and cream.

As I look at it now, it seems quite contemporary. If I were creating this recipe today, I might substitute, for public relations purposes more than anything else, half-and-half for heavy cream.

Those who have followed the column realize that my recipes today call for far less butter and cream than they did 17 years ago, which is good. Yet I still believe that cream and butter are unsurpassed agents for binding flavors and enhancing texture.

What we have learned over the years is that a little bit of butter or cream can go a long way. While extremists recoil at the mere mention of those words in recipes, in reality the quantities are often so small that they pose a scant health risk.

In the recipe for Shrimp Margarita, the broth was finished with } of a cup of heavy cream, or less than \ of a cup per person. That is a very small amount of cream per person. Nonetheless, in this updated version, I have replaced cream with half-and-half for those who want to cut down even more on fat.

Another recipe from that first year that I have revised _ and one of my all-time favorites _ is called Henri Soule's Poule au Pot (chicken in the pot), a popular offering from my days as chef at Le Pavillon restaurant in Manhattan.

This aromatic and restorative dish was also a favorite of Henri Soule, the legendary owner of Le Pavillon. My 1993 rendition carries some fennel and chervil, two au courant flavors, but is otherwise intact.

In folding the 60-Minute Gourmet tent I would like to thank the countless diligent readers who have kept me on my toes with suggestions, comments and criticism. In many ways you were my culinary compass, telling me where American cooks were heading.

I suppose that writing a column is much like preparing a fine meal: You pour your heart and soul into the task, taking the time to do it right, only to watch it be devoured in minutes. All that's left are delicious memories.

Fortunately, I have a deep stockpot of savory memories because of my association with the 60-Minute Gourmet, and, while this chapter of my professional life is closing, my knives are hardly collecting dust. I am already at work on other exciting cooking projects for The New York Times. The pursuit of refined cooking for busy lives remains on my front burner.

Shrimp Margarita

1 pound (about 20) medium-size shrimp

\ cup fresh lime juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small ripe avocado

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

\ cup tequila

} cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro or Chinese parsley (optional).

Shell and devein shrimp. Butterfly shrimp by splitting them partly down the back, starting at the head and stopping short of the tail. Flatten them lightly. Place shrimp in a bowl and add lime juice, salt and pepper. Let stand briefly until ready to cook.

Peel the avocado, and cut it into half-inch slices. Discard pit. Use as soon as possible or the flesh will discolor.

Heat butter in a skillet; when it is quite hot but not smoking add shrimp, stirring rapidly. Cook about two minutes. Sprinkle with shallots and cook, stirring, about 10 seconds. Carefully add the tequila, which may flare up. Add half-and-half and cook over high heat about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add avocado, and cook just until the slices are piping hot.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp and avocado pieces to hot serving dishes. Bring the sauce to a full rolling boil for about 1{ minutes and add the chopped cilantro. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and avocado. Serve with rice. Yield: 4 servings.

Henri Soule's Poule au Pot

1 3-pound chicken

3 carrots, scraped, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1{-inch lengths

3 ribs celery, trimmed, split lengthwise and cut into 1{-inch lengths

2 or 3 turnips (about half a pound), trimmed and cut into pieces about the same shape as the celery and carrots

1 cup leeks, white section only, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1{-inch lengths

1 fennel bulb, cut into \-inch slices

1 zucchini, trimmed, quartered and cut into 1{-inch lengths

5 cups fresh or canned chicken broth

\ cup rice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fresh chervil for garnish.

Truss the chicken and place it in a kettle. It should fit in the pot snugly or else too much water must be added and the soup will be weak and watery. Cover with water, and add carrots, celery, turnips, leeks, fennel and zucchini. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and drain well.

Return chicken to kettle; add chicken broth. Add all vegetables except zucchini. Simmer 20 minutes, uncovered. Add zucchini, simmer 5 minutes longer, skimming foam from top periodically.

Add rice, salt and pepper. Cook until chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.

Untruss chicken. Cut it into serving pieces, serve in four hot soup bowls with equal amounts of vegetables and rice in each bowl. Garnish with fresh chervil, serve. Yield: 4 servings.


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