When Paul suggested we splurge on dinner at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant during our honeymoon in France in 2003, I shrugged, and said: “Who’s Paul Bocuse”?
Preferring to travel to far-flung places in Latin America eating soup in crowded markets, I knew nothing of the the culinary giants of France.
Paul, on the other hand, would have been blissed out dining in one of Paris’s great bistros enjoying a perfectly-cooked steak au poivre and slurping down a big, complex, earthy Bordeaux.
Our marriage celebrated the happy pairing of the two worlds. He introduced me to coq au vin; I introduced him to Mexican mole. He explained the history of Beaujolais; I expounded on the flavor and texture of queso fresco.
I don’t remember exactly what we ate at Bocuse's famous restaurant in Lyon, but I do remember that our seven-course meal was an onslaught of perfection, one dish after the next, with light sauces that did not overwhelm but completely satisfied. A Beaujolais sorbet between courses cleansed and brightened our palates.
About half way through our meal, a large figure dressed in chefs whites wearing a tall, perfectly crisp chef’s hat appeared from the kitchen. He walked slowly, as if in a wedding procession, by each table. When he reached our table he turned toward us and stopped.
My education about France and cooking and wine had taken a slow and winding path but I knew enough to understand that one of the greatest figures in the Western culinary world was standing in front of me.
I had never seen the man and didn’t even know what he looked like, but there he was, larger than I ever imagined. His chef’s hat made him look ridiculously tall, and his girth – clearly from years of great cooking and eating – added to the impression that he was not only a great man but a very large man. He bowed ever so slightly, his chef’s hat swaying toward us.
I drew a deep breath and did the only thing I could think to do: tip my head and smile in appreciation. Paul, who knew some French, managed to speak: “C’etait formidable,” meaning, “it was incredible.”
Bocuse smiled graciously and then proceeded to the next table.
That evening, coming face-to-face with a great chef and blindly enjoying each dish put in front of us, marked the beginning of my fascination and appreciation for French food.
Since then, I have made hundreds of French dishes, eaten more pork fat than is necessary or healthy, and enjoyed each meal and each sip of wine with my husband, Paul, who has instilled in me a love for all things French.
This dish, adapted from a Paul Bocuse recipe, is a playful celebration of my epiphany in France. It has become a favorite, in part because it reminds me of meeting the famous chef and in part because it’s so sexy and fun to make and eat.
Stuffed Squid with Tomatoes and Thyme
1 pound squid (about six)
5 ounces (3-4 slices) firm white bread, dried
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
2 thick slices of Bayonne ham (1 1/8-inch slice of prosciutto will also work)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne
5 large tomatoes (canned tomatoes work well)
1 sprig thyme
If you purchased frozen squid, defrost the squid in container with cool water for a half hour.
Remove and discard the crust from the bread and place it in a small bowl with the wine to soak. Peel and chop the onions and garlic. Remove the leaves from the parsley and chop, discarding the stems. Finely chop the ham and the squid tentacles.
Remove the bread from the wine and squeeze gently to remove excess liquid. Add the bread to the skillet breaking it up with the side of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Correct the seasoning, and add the cayenne.
Spoon this mixture generously into the squid (this is where it gets fun – and potentially sexy – especially if you start filling those tubes with your hands).
Secure the ends crosswise with toothpicks (when the squid cooks, it shrinks and this prevents the stuffing from oozing out).
Peel the tomatoes and chop them coarsely. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, Dutch oven. When the oil is hot, add the stuffed squid and sauté, turning until lightly browned on all sides. You may need to do this in batches. I found that browning all the squid at once created too much juice for a proper browning. Once browned lightly, add the tomatoes and thyme.
Cover and let simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Serve with crusty French bread on the side.