Alain Ducasse is larger than life. He is both a man and a brand name. Although much of the world thinks of him as simply a chef, he prefers to be thought of as a chef-creator who radiates ideas and leaves their fulfillment to others. Twenty-five restaurants are now associated with this man, who at 33 became the youngest chef to attain three Michelin stars. Besides restaurants, his empire includes hotels, country inns, a publishing company, a cooking school, a consulting business, and an online store.
Just as the man is larger than life, so are some of his cookbooks. The Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse weighs in at over 5 kilograms (11 pounds), contains 1056 pages, measures 30 by 24 centimeters (12 by 91/2 inches), and costs a mere €215 (about $275). For those who don’t need to practice weightlifting at the same time they practice cooking, there’s a paperback version in a smaller format that costs only €70 (about $90)—still a lot of money for a cookbook that is poorly edited, poorly printed, and poorly photographed. Although Ducasse’s name is part of the title, five of his chefs are listed as the authors on the cover, but it is under his name that the book is always listed in the various book lists I’ve seen. It seems that the chef-creator was mostly creator and not author of this tome.
There are no simple recipes in the Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse. That is not to say that all the recipes are complicated, the recipe for ortolan dans sa graisse has only two ingredients: ortolans and fleur de sel. The complication found in this recipe is not the preparation but obtaining half the ingredients. Most recipes in the book are really a collection of many smaller recipes that come together as part of a finished preparation. Ducasse’s mantra that cooking is 60% ingredients and 40% technique comes through loud and clear as many recipes include large numbers of ingredients, many of which are expensive or difficult to procure.
In the recipe demonstrated below, one of the ingredients required is jus de bœuf. Checking the appendix, we find that Ducasse specifies that in order to prepare this ingredient, the cook will require 5 liters each of fond blanc de veau and bouillon de pot-au-feu along with a couple of hours of preparation. Each of these preparations in turn require 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of meat and another few hours of preparation. The jus specified in the book are essentially reduced fonds prepared with other fonds as the liquid instead of water. All of these preparations are common ingredients in the fine restaurants under Ducasse’s mantel, but not the sort of things one commonly prepares in the home.
So I have made a number of changes and simplifications to Ducasse’s recipe côte de bœuf du Charolais poêlée, palets de céleri-rave et échalotes confites, châtaignes, jus gras de braisage d’une queue de bœuf. (Even the title is overly complicated.)
To start with, obtaining a côte de bœuf du Charolais can be difficult even in France. Charolais are the famous white cattle of France and their meat is not usually available at your local hypermarché. Supermarkets in my area don’t sell the equivalent of a côte de bœuf, but specialty butchers do sell rib roasts. I was able to talk a butcher into slicing a rib steak that consisted of one complete bone from his largest roast. Even though it came from a large roast and measured a full 5 centimeters (2 inches) in thickness, it still weighed barely half of the 1.4 kilograms (3.1 pounds) that is specified in the original recipe. I assume that when this piece of meat is sold in France, it includes a much longer bone because this amount is supposed to be just enough for two people to eat. The picture of the finished dish in the book shows maybe 100 to 150 grams (3.5 to 5.3 ounces) of meat in the serving and I’m sure the bone doesn’t weigh a full kilogram. So my trimmed rib steak weighing in at 800 grams (1.8 pounds) should be sufficient.
If you are not planning to present the meat intact to your guests before carving, as is done in a restaurant, there’s not much reason to even use a rib steak with a bone still attached. A 5-cm (2-inch) thick entrecôte will work just fine.
The recipe calls for the beef cooked totally in a frying pan on top of the stove. Although I know this to be possible, I prefer to start the meat on top of the stove, and after it is seared, I prefer to complete the active period of cooking in a hot oven.
Preparation of the jus gras de braisage d’une queue de bœuf, the sauce for the dish, requires 25 centiliters (slightly more than 1 cup) of the aforementioned jus de bœuf. The jus de braisage is the liquid obtained from braising an oxtail for many hours. Because the braising liquid is two-thirds red wine and one-third jus de bœuf, I don’t think the subtile flavors of the jus will stand up to the wine. So I substitute some reduced beef stock for the jus.
When jus de volaille is called for to complete the braising of the châtaignes, I substitute some highly reduced chicken stock which is high in gelatin and provides a nice coating. In addition, only a small quantity, 1 centiliter (2 teaspoons), is called for and that amount does not justify the work required to produce jus de volaille as described in the book.
The recipe calls for girolles, a small mushroom that’s similar to a chanterelle. These may be hard to find, depending on the time of year and location. As an alternative, substitute baby shiitake mushrooms or other small, flat, round mushrooms. I an usually unable to find girolles so I use shiitakes—they taste good but they are not quite as attractive in the final preparation.
In the book, the recipe is divided into three sections—preparation and cooking of the beef, cooking the sauce, and preparation of the garnish. The garnish preparation is, in turn, divided into four subsections. All the results of the individual sections are then combined during the final cooking and presentation. If the cook attempted to prepare everything in the order implied in the recipe the meat would be sitting around for over half a day while the sauce is being prepared. I have reordered the preparation of the recipe and attempted to give some indication as to how long before serving to start each section. This time does not include your mise en place of the ingredients so adjust the time accordingly.
The original recipe serves four portions. I have reduced the recipe to serve two, but it can easily be multiplied for serving larger groups.
Start the jus de braisage, or sauce, about 8 hours before you plan to serve the final dish.
Start cooking the shallots about 3 hours before the finished dish is scheduled to be served. Select shallots that are all about the same size and where the skin is still intact.
Start the remaining parts of the dish about 30 to 40 minutes before serving.
The first time I prepared this recipe, everything took longer than it should. And although I prepared it for an ordinary, mid-week meal, I certainly can see how this dish can be prepared for many guests without a lot of real work. The oven braising can be done without much attention and long before needed for the meal. The shallots can be cooked ahead and reheated in the sauce when it is brought to a boil. By having all your mise en place done before your guests arrive, all you have to do to prepare this dish is the cooking shown above as happening in the last 30 or 40 minutes, and even that won’t require all your attention.
One warning: this is not a dish for a warm summer evening. It’s a bit too heavy for that. Serve this dish on a cold winter evening.