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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris

Although I’ve been coming to Paris for years, I had never attended a cooking class at the city’s famed Cordon Bleu until a few days ago. I took one of the 3-hour demo classes, given in French but translated into English by a skilled young interpreter.

In only a few short hours, Chef Bruno Stril, a seasoned veteran of the school, chopped, diced, sautéed, simmered, and roasted ingredients, turning out a cornucopia of dishes, all with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

White asparagus (prized by the French) were served with 3 accompaniments—hollandaise sauce, green peppercorn whipped cream, and a fresh tomato relish. Next, the chef demonstrated roasted lamb fillets with Picholine olives and prepared a rich pan sauce. Sides included creamy polenta and eggplant cannelloni for which thin slices were sautéed, spread with a tomato mélange, and then rolled to resemble the Italian pasta. Strawberries and black currants scented with red wine and cassis were served atop coconut rice pudding as a sweet finish.

This was the school that Julia Child attended long ago, so I was particularly pleased to receive a certificate saying I had taken a course there. I’ve adapted and simplified the recipe for the white asparagus and hollandaise (green spears work just fine in this dish), so that you can enjoy a taste of Cordon Bleu cooking in your own kitchen. You can also check out their website at for more information.

White and Green Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce and Chives

Easy Hollandaise
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus (Use half white and half green spears or all green)
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced chives

For the hollandaise, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until foaming hot. Pour into a measuring cup with a spout. Cool 2 to 3 minutes.

Place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne in a food processor and process for 5 to 10 seconds to blend. Then, with the processor running, slowly add about 2 tablespoons of the melted butter through the feed tube. (Most processors have a small hole in the bottom of the feed tube that will dispense liquids in a thin stream.) Repeat, adding 2 tablespoons of butter at a time, until all has been incorporated and the sauce is thick and creamy. Pour the sauce into a heatproof bowl and place it in a shallow pan of barely simmering water to keep warm. Makes about 3/4 cup.

For the asparagus, cut off and discard 1 to 2 inches of the tough bases. Lay a spear on a work surface, and with a vegetable peeler, remove the skin starting just below the top pointed end. Repeat with remaining spears. (It is especially important to remove the skin from white asparagus as they are tougher than green ones.)

Bring a large heavy skillet filled 3/4 full of water to a boil. Add the white spears (if using) and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook until the spears are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 6 to 8 minutes or more depending on their size. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.

Add the green spears to the same pan and cook until tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 3 to 5 minutes depending on their size. Drain in a colander and refresh under cold running water to retain the bright color.

For serving arrange alternating white and green (or all green) spears on 4 salad plates. Sprinkle with more salt. Spoon some Hollandaise across the center of the spears on each plate and sprinkle with chives.  Serve just slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 4.

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