While thumbing through my Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook by Julia Child, I couldn’t help but notice that if you have to describe the “art of French cooking” in four words or less, they would be “eggs, butter, cream, and salt .”
They’re in almost every recipe. It seems the only way to get away from them is to move to another country or cuisine. We might all expect the standard light and fluffy cheese souffle to be loaded with fat and cholesterol (a two cup serving has about 600 calories, 70 percent from fat and almost 500 milligrams of cholesterol).
But what about a seemingly innocent menu item described as “scallops with wine, garlic, and herbs”? In this case, the menu failed to inform the eater it also contains butter, olive oil, and cheese. And don’t let those elegant names sidetrack you, such as lobster thermidor, which happens to be laced with butter and whipping cream.
So enough of the bad news. The key to eating healthful but still eating French is “Watch Your Sauces.” You can start off with a lean chicken breast or fish fillet, but given a chance the French will smother it in a heavy sauce like Hollandaise or Bearnaise (made with egg yolks and butter), which has about 450 calories per half cup (98 percent from fat), 250 milligrams of cholesterol, and about 750 milligrams of sodium.
Bechamel sauce (made with milk, butter, and flour) has 228 calories per half cup, with 74 percent from fat, and 57 milligrams of cholesterol plus about 900 milligrams of sodium.
You can either ask that only one tablespoon of these sauces be added to your fish or chicken or you can order (or cook) your entree with a Bordelaise sauce (wine sauce), which has about 155 calories per half cup. About 76 percent of the calories are from fat, and Bordelaise sauce has only about 10 milligrams of cholesterol and 400 milligrams of sodium.
There are unadulterated French recipes that actually come to your table already pretty low in fat, such as steamed mussels or fish fillets poached in white wine. The latter has 227 calories per serving, with 26 percent of calories from fat,125 milligrams of cholesterol, and about 220 milligrams of sodium.
What about crepes? Well, I confess, I’m a crepe lover from way back. Just remember before you decide what to fill it or top it with, one crepe (all by itself) already starts off with 150 calories, 40 percent from fat, and 100 milligrams of cholesterol.