Emile Zola, The Paris Review, and The Bonne Femme Cookbook

L’Assommoir, by Emile Zola. It’s nearly impossible to translate the title, but the cover gives you an idea: Un assommoir is the kind of bar you go into for one purpose: to get loaded.

When I was in my 30s, I began reading novels in Émile Zola‘s “Rougon-Macquart” series. These novels followed an extensive sprawl of characters, all from two branches of one family (the Rougons and the Macquarts)—living in mid-19th-century France.

My fascination with these novels began quite by chance one day when I happened to pick up L’Assomoir in a used book shop. The book told the a heartbreaking story of Gervaise, a hard-working laundress who, along with her second husband Coupeau, comes so close to breaking out of a cycle of alcoholism and poverty, only to have a crushing setback—her life turns on a dime and begins a downward spiral.

I loved the book…I cared deeply for Gervaise, and appreciated the way the novel took me right into the utterly non-romantic underside the workaday Paris slums in the 1870s (these were not “very, very poor, but very, very happy” people). The book deepened my appreciation for Paris—now, when I walk down less-traveled little streets, they feel more fully haunted by the weight of history and the forgotten lives that came before us.

After L’Assommoir, I read a spate of other Zola novels: Nana, the story of Gervaise’s daughter, who becomes a celebrated prostitute; Germinal, the story of Etienne Lantier, Gervaise’s son, who becomes a coal miner in Northern France; Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies Paradise), which recounts the story of the rise of department stores. I also read “The Masterpiece,” a bleak story about an artist (another of Gervaise’s sons) who, in effect, fails to produce his life’s true masterpiece.

I vowed to read all 20 of the novels before I turned 40.…but a setback occurred when, slogging through a clunky translation of one of them, I put the the half-unread novel down and just never picked it back up again.

Another one of my favorite Zola novels is “The Ladies’ Paradise.” The store that it’s based on, Le Bon Marché, still stands in Paris. See those little windows on the top floor? That’s where the clerks and other employees used to board.

I have The Paris Review to thank for getting me back on track. The other day, I happened to note that my sales ranking for The Bonne Femme Cookbook had risen substantially in the past few days. So, I did what any author does when this happens: I googled myself. And up popped this great story on the Paris Review’s Website.

The post, entitled “Cooking with Emile Zola,” uses Zola’s famed novel, The Belly of Paris, as a springboard for presenting a spring menu.

The menu includes two of my recipes, which of course, made me very happy.

This led me to a new discovery: The writer, Valerie Stivers, often posts meals inspired by books she has read. I’ve started following her on Twitter, and if you (like me) enjoy recipes inspired by stories, you might enjoy following her as well. Most recently she’s written menus inspired by Langston Hughes, Angela Carter, and Alexandre Dumas.

The Paris Review’s culinary writer Valerie Stivers shot this beautiful photo of my Tagliatelle with Goat Cheese. She posted the recipe in her Cooking with Emile Zola post.

Back to Zola: What’s shocking (given my métier)  is that while I’ve read about 10 novels in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, I have not read The Belly of Paris! Dumb, I know. But Thanks to Ms. Stivers, I definitely plan to do so. The novel concerns life in Paris’ central food market of Les Halles—so it pretty much revolves around food.

Don’t think for a minute, however, that this book is going to be a blissful culinary romp through the food life of France and a love song to the slow-food, fresh+local movement. It will tell a more complex story, I’m sure. When the book became available in the U.S. for the first time (in 2009), Publisher’s Weekly wrote that Zola describes how “into the markets, there flowed great rivers of vegetables, cheeses, butter, fish and meats, and out of it, sewers of blood and putrefaction.”

So. If you loved the movie “Paris Can Wait,” and are seeking another gleeful food-larded narrative like it, this is not that.

But I’ve always been a fool for realism…and I’m ready to get back onto my Zola kick, starting with The Belly of Paris. Amazon, here I come.

P.S.: Have you read The Belly of Paris? If so, I’d love to hear what you think of it.



Disclosure: This post includes Amazon affiliate links. If you buy anything via one of these links, I will receive a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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How to Make Beef Carbonnade in the Instant Pot

Easy Recipe for Beef Carbonnade in the Instant Pot // Instant Pot Beef Carbonnade Recipe

A hearty Belgian beef carbonnade recipe is the third recipe I’ve made in the Instant Pot, and it may be my favorite of the French Instant Pot recipes I’ve developed so far (though all have been good). It’s also very easy.


Instant Pot Recipe for Beef Carbonnade. Photo credit.

Beef Carbonnade is a classic Flemish recipe of beef braised in dark beer, with bacon and caramelized onions. I first discovered this recipe in the classic Silver Palate Cookbook–the book just about everyone was cooking from in the 80s. Linda, a friend from college, made it for me when I visited her in Washington D.C. (I was living in New York City at the time). Coincidentally, Linda happened to be at my table the other night when I made this recipe. In fact, she’s the friend who lent me the Instant Pot for testing all these recipes.

Linda has absolutely no recollection of making the beef carbonnade for me, but I remember it clearly: It just tasted so hearty and good and warming and rich and bold on a cold winter night. It was such a gratifying meal to enjoy when—because we were very early on in our careers and living in big, overpriced East Coast cities—we couldn’t afford to go out to eat.

In adapting this beef carbonnade recipe for the Instant Pot, I had to change a few things: First, while the original calls for dredging the meat in the flour before cooking it, that is definitely not advised for an Instant Pot: In fact, from what I’ve read about the pot, thickeners (like flour) should not be added before pressure cooking; rather, the thickening agents should be added only after the pressure cooking is finished. Here’s the word from the Instant Pot Website on this issue:

“Do not try to thicken the sauce before cooking. Cornstarch, flour, or arrow-root may deposit on the bottom of the inner pot and block heat dissipation. As a result, the pressure cooker may overheat.”

Yikes. So, we’ll thicken the stew after it’s all done pressure-cooking, right?

The second change I made is to use boneless beef chuck ribs (aka beef country-style ribs). The original Silver Palate recipe calls for beef stew meat. I’ve made this recipe (in my braiser) with the boneless beef chuck ribs, and that’s the way to go: The meat becomes so soft and tender and boldly flavored–irresistible. And finally, I added a little tomato paste to the recipe for a touch of brightness to the otherwise deep flavors.

Enjoy this recipe: P.S.: If you don’t have an Instant Pot, here’s my Belgian Beef Carbonnade Recipe for the Braising Pan.

5.0 from 1 reviews
How to Make Beef Carbonnade in the Instant Pot
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
Refrain from using a stout (like Guinness), which will make this stew too bitter. I suggest an amber beer—which brings a caramely depth without going overboard.
  • 2 thick strips bacon, coarsely diced
  • 1 very large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Olive oil, if needed
  • 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 pounds boneless beef country style ribs, also know as boneless chuck ribs
  • 2 cups dark beer (not stout). Dark amber or dark pilsner is good.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Parsleyed noodles, boiled potatoes, or baked rice, for serving
  1. Set the inner pan into the six-quart Instant Pot Plus. Press the "sauté," feature and press it again to set it on "more." When the word "hot" displays, brown the bacon. Remove with a slotted spoon; set aside. Reduce the saute heat to "normal."
  2. Add the onions to the inner pot; cook and stir until they soften somewhat, about 3 minutes. Add a little olive oil if the pot seems dry. Continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft and starting to brown in places, about 20 minutes. Add the sugar; cook and stir until the onions range in color from golden brown to brown. Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste; cook and stir briefly. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl.
  3. Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Add additional olive oil to the pan if it seems dry. Increase the saute heat to "more." Add the meat and cook, turning as needed, until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer the beef to the bowl with the onion mixture.
  4. Add the beer to the inner pot (careful--it may spatter). Bring to boiling, stirring up browned bits. Return the beef, bacon, and onions to the inner pot. Bring to boiling. Press "cancel" to turn off saute function.
  5. Close and lock the lid. Set the valve to "Sealing." Press "Meat-Stew" (on the Duo Plus Instant Pot). Use the - or + button to set the time to 45 minutes
  6. When the cooking cycle ends, press "Cancel." Allow the appliance to cool and release pressure naturally. This will take about 20 minutes. (The little metal float valve on the lid should sink back into the lid, and the lid will unlock).
  7. Once the pressure has released, uncover the pot and transfer the beef and onions to a clean bowl.
  8. For the sauce, skim the fat from the cooking liquid (I use a fat skimmer—see link in Amazon affiliate ad below this recipe). Return the cooking liquid to the inner pot. Press the "saute" function and set it on "more." Whisk in the 2 tablespoons tomato paste. As the liquids come to a simmer, work the 2 tablespoons butter and the flour together to form a paste. Drop into cooking stock, half a time, cooking and stirring with a wire whisk after each addition until well integrated. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; continue cooking until a sauce-like consistency.
  9. Return all the beef and onions to the cooker. Cook and stir gently until heated through. Serve in wide, shallow bowls with parsley buttered noodles, steamed potatoes, or baked rice.

So, did you enjoy this recipe? Do you want me to develop more recipes from the Instant Pot? If so, let me know in the comments section, below. And…please consider buying something from Amazon by clicking through via one of my affiliate links, below. When you do this, I receive a small commission on anything you buy (even if it’s not exactly what I’m promoting). It won’t add to your costs whatsoever, and it could help me buy an instant pot to test more recipes. (My friend Linda wants hers back!)

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Country-Style Pork Ribs in the Instant Pot—A Great French Pork Stew Recipe

Pork-Mushroom-Wine Stew (aka: Blanquette de Porc). Pork Stew Recipe for the Instant Pot. Photo by my good friend Richard Swearinger.

Here’s a pork recipe for the instant pot. This recipe for country-style pork ribs in the Instant Pot is patterned after a French stew known as a blanquette (a white stew). Basically, you cook country-style ribs with wine, chicken stock and vegetables, then add a few finishing touches (including cream—that’s what makes it white) for a stew that’s exactly my kind of French cooking in winter—rich, refined-rustic, and utterly warming for the season.

So, what do I think of the Instant Pot? The jury is still out. I’ve only made two recipes in it. While both turned out beautifully, I can’t say they were any better than what I’d make using a conventional braiser. Yes, both recipes might have taken less cook time, but not enough to make me go out and buy a Instant Pot. Still, I’m going to test this big boy out some more and give you my final report.

But for now, if you’re looking for French recipes for your Instant Pot, give this one a go! PS: It looks harder than it is—the recipe is long, because I have to put all those Instant Pot instructions in! This is not a “dump everything in the pot and walk away” recipe—but those little finishing steps make all the difference! I guarantee you, they’re worth it.

Please do me a favor, however. Read your Instant Pot directions thoroughly—make sure you know how the thing works!


French Pork Stew (Blanquette of Pork) Instant Pot Recipe.


4.0 from 1 reviews
French Pork Stew in the Instant Pot
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
Note: This was tested on the six-quart Duo Plus Instant Pot. Serve this with Any-Night Baked Rice hot parsleyed noodles, or whipped potatoes.
  • 2 pounds country-style pork ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large carrot, cut in half crosswise, then each half cut into quarters
  • 1 celery rib including leaves, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bouquet garni (see note in step 6, below)
  • 4 carrots, cut into ¼ x 2 inch sticks
  • ½ 16-ounce bag pearl onions
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces fresh tiny button mushrooms (or use larger mushrooms, halved or quartered), stems
  • trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Pat pork dry with paper towels. Season pork to taste with salt and pepper. Press "saute" the instant pot and set it on the "more" setting. Heat the oil in the inner pot until it shimmers. With the lid off, brown pork in the oil, turning as needed to brown evenly (you'll likely need to do this in batches). If the temperature is too high, reduce the saute level to "normal." Remove all meat from inner pot; drain fat.
  2. Add the wine to the inner pot and stir to loosen up browned bits stuck to the bottom; cook, uncovered, allowing wine to reduce slightly. Add the onion quarters, carrot, celery, broth, and bouquet garni to the inner pot. Return the meat to the inner pot; distribute evenly. Press "Cancel" to exit saute mode.
  3. Close and lock the lid. Set the valve to "Sealing." Press "Meat-Stew" (on using the Duo Plus Instant Pot). Use the - or + button to set the time to 40 minutes.
  4. When the cooking cycle ends, press "Cancel" to turn the pot off. Allow the appliance to cool and release pressure naturally. This will take about 20 minutes. (The little metal float valve on the lid should sink back into the lid, and the lid will unlock).
  5. During the 20 minutes that the pressure is being released, prepare the vegetables: In a large saucepan, bring the four cut carrots, the frozen pearl onions, and ¼ cup lightly salted water to boiling; cover and simmer over medium heat for 4 minutes or until just tender. Drain and remove vegetables to a colander. In the same saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Cook and stir the button mushrooms in the butter for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender and light brown. Return onions and carrots to the saucepan; set aside.
  6. After the pressure has released, remove the lid from the Instant Pot. Drain the pork, reserving the cooking stock. Place pork in a bowl; set aside. Discard other solids, including the bouquet garni. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve back into the inner pot. You should have about 2 cups. If you have less, add a little more chicken stock. Press "sauté" and adjust heat to "more."
  7. As the liquids start to simmer, work the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the flour together to form a paste. Drop into cooking stock, half a time, cooking and stirring with a wire whisk after each addition until well integrated. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir 1 minute more; add the cream, stirring with a wire whisk to combine. Reduce the Saute level to "less."
  8. Break the meat into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Add the meat to the sauce in the inner pot; add vegetables and lemon juice. Cook and stir very gently to heat through. Serve with hot parsleyed noodles or baked rice.
  9. * Note: For a bouquet garni, using kitchen string tie together 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 5 sprigs parsley, and one bay leaf (or tuck these into an bouquet garni cheesecloth spice bag). Or use a purchased bouquet garni.

Would you like me to develop more French recipes for the Instant Pot? If so, please pin this recipe, share it, comment in the comments section below, or on my facebook page:


Many thanks!

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