Dear Barbara: Does Nicoise refer to the Nicoise olive or the Nicoise salad?
— Jill from Lodi
Dear Jill: Actually it refers to either the olive or salad. A la Nicoise refers to how it is made in Nice, France. A Nicoise olive is a small brown olive with a big punch of flavor and is grown in Nice. It is brine cured, then packed in olive oil. In France, everything in the salad is eaten raw except the egg, which is hard boiled. I don’t believe they use potatoes there, but they do use canned tuna. Here, the French green beans, potatoes and egg are cooked and either canned tuna or seared tuna is used. Tomatoes and onions are used in both versions and at times anchovies are added as well.
Dear Barbara: I bought a small jar of demi-glace from a Williams-Sonoma catalog. It was over $30 by the time I paid for S&H. You usually use a few tablespoons for each dish. It’s gone before you know it. I’m cooking for my family, not a French restaurant. There must be an easier way to get that nice depth of flavor. Do you have any suggestions?
— Hillary from Stockton
Dear Hillary: If you ever try to make demi-glace from scratch, you will understand why the price is so high. A number of years ago, I was in the same place that you are now. I did buy it, thinking it would be a magic ingredient that would make my dishes taste wonderful. Since I really couldn’t afford to keep buying it, I decided to make it myself. It isn’t just one sauce. It is a combination of sauces and meat bones and stock. Hours of simmering and skimming the foam off the top. When you are all done simmering and skimming and straining, you let it go for yet two to three more hours and strain it again.
That is much more effort than I care to put into making demi-glace. Even restaurants don’t do that anymore.
I have found that if I made a nice beef stock or chicken stock and reduced it with a very small amount of salt, it made a lovely addition to recipes. It could also be made with little cost. I save all left- over bones from chickens and beef. When there is enough in the freezer, I roast the bones from the chicken or beef and throw them in a stock pot with carrots, celery, onions, and a few herbs. Simmer for a couple of hours, skim, strain, reduce, cool and freeze in Ziploc bags.
Stock is easy to make and very economical.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.