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Monday, September 16, 2013

Eating with Ann Mah

     As a parody to Julia Child’s scholarly written work Mastering the art of French cooking, Ann Mah has written her own story of life in France, one of an American diplomat’s wife that makes me dream of what could have been for me, had my parents not died when they did and I’d achieved that dream of becoming a diplomat myself.  The dream of living in Paris, or even in France for that matter, is an elusive one for most of us, yet when one really wants it, anything that can get you closer to it is worth holding on to.

     Ann Mah’s story is that element (read her blog here).  Set in Paris, with some travels within France – the Auvergne, Burgundy, Provence, Alsace - that she mainly took to overcome a year of solitude when her husband was posted to Iraq during his then current assignment in Paris.  They had another 2 years after that in the City of Light, which they used productively to buy their own pièd-a-terre, while indulging in French food and culture.

     This is a very lovely memoir with a recipe typical of the region written about at the end of each chapter.  To me, the best one is that of aligot, which sadly I cannot make at home as the main ingredient, a cheese curd by the name of tome fraîche, is not found in the US; but one to go on my bucket list of things to try when visiting France.  The story of her visit to Aveyron is also the crown jewel of the book, providing a cozy, comforting end to a year of stories as an ex-pat foodie in France.

     Being an inveterate Francophile myself, and currently trending the way Parisians cook and live, I found her recipe for bavette aux échalotes a nice take on my entrecôte Vilette (see my recipe here).  The main difference is the cut of meat used.  Whereas for entrecôte one would use ribsteak, for the bavette one uses skirt; which is a thin, rather fibrous cut.  It makes for an incredibly tasty piece of meat.  You may accompany it with the ubiquitous frites (recipe also here), a fresh salad or even some warm legumes.  Of course when in France, serve it with aligot.  This recipe serves 2.

Bavette aux échalotes:

  • 1 skirt or hanger steak, about 12 oz. trimmed of fat and patted dry
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. sunflower oil

  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 large minced shallots
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Sprig of fresh thyme
  • ½ cup beef stock

     Trim the steak of any excess fat and season it with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  It must be sizzling hot.  Place the steak in the pan and cook for 2 minutes, until the underside is seared and browned.  Turn the steak over and cook the other side for about 50 seconds.  Bavette is thin cut, so it cooks quite fast.  The best way to eat this dish is medium-rare, so do not overcook!  Transfer the beef to a warm plate and cover loosely with foil in order to keep it warm.

     To make the sauce, heat 1 Tbsp. of the butter in the same skillet used for the steak.  Add the shallots and sauté over medium heat for 7 minutes.  Add the red wine vinegar, thyme and beef stock; bring to a boil.  Cover and cook until the shallots have softened and the liquid has almost disappeared.  Swirl in the remaining Tbsp. of butter and add any juices released from the meat.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding a few drops of vinegar if needed.

     Slice the steak against the grain into thin strips.  Serve with the shallots spooned on top.


  1. I'm now craving skirt steak! I hope you try aligot in France -- until then, the recipe in the book is a pretty good substitute!

    1. Can't wait for the aligot. And the steak was superb.