WHAT BETTER time than just before the July 14 celebration of Bastille Day to announce a revolution? Having dazzled us with nouvelle cuisine, the French are marching boldly forward into the past. Cuisine bourgeoise, popular dishes linked with middle- and upper middle-class city folk -- either through preparation at home or in restaurants -- is emerging from a decade of obscurity and even dishonor.
Once again waiters and housewives are uttering words nearly as stirring as the lyrics of "The Marseillaise": blanquette de veau! boeuf a la mode! coq au vin! gratin dauphinois! saumon poche, sauce verte! oeufs a la neige! mousse au chocolat!
These preparations are far removed from the kiwi fruit, raw fish and raspberry vinegar of nouvelle cuisine, and while apostles of the "new cooking" are still practicing there is now a hot debate in a nation that loves debate over whether nouvelle cuisine represents a true culinary revolution or merely a press agent's triumph.
Certainly the chauvinist nature of the French dictated that its cooks could not continue indefinitely their unseemly infatuation with Oriental concepts and esoteric ingredients from abroad. In a culinary sense, France is rediscovering its roots. Gault and Millau, the team of gastronomic critics who coined the term nouvelle cuisine climbed on the bandwagon early. They have been giving awards to chefs who preserve regional traditions. Paul Bocuse, the focal point of so much publicity concerning nouvelle cuisine, has revamped the menu at his restaurant to include a daily dish from "the family cuisine of Lyon."
Of course it is not possible to recapture the past totally. Urbain Dubois, the chef, had the foresight to title a book of recipes called La Nouvelle Cuisine Bourgeoise much earlier in the century, but it doesn't provide anything new to us, overloaded as we are with culinary literature and recipes. He advises that "the most expensive ingredients, prepared without measurement or without knowledge, give neither satisfaction nor pleasure" and warns the home cook, "let nothing be lost [the cook] is able to utilize."
Today a new generation of home cooks and chefs is preparing these dishes. A society more conscious of calories, less likely to linger over meals and with less domestic help to prepare them is being asked to eat them. Cuisine bourgeoise is being refined, undergoing some subtle and some not-so-subtle changes. For example, flour is still in purgatory, so sauces tend to be less thick than in an earlier era. Portions are smaller. Cooking times are less. Freshly cooked vegetables and fruits are intruding into the composition of recipes where once they weren't welcome.
Some old favorites are fine just the way they were. In fact, they never went away. You could find them if a friendly bourgeois family invited you to eat at home, or if you came upon a small restaurant that considered chic to be an ingredient for a recipe that was of no interest.
Here, for old -- and new -- times sake, is a Bastille Day Menu. MENU FOR BASTILLE DAY MACKEREL FILLETS IN WHITE WINE Wine: Chilled white (jug) poured from a carafe VEAL RAGOUT Wine: 1976 St. Emilion Green salad with mustard vinegarette ST. NECTAIRE CHEESE RICE A L'IMPERATRICE MACKEREL FILLETS IN WHITE WINE (6 servings) 1 large onion, thinly sliced 1 small branch dried fennel 2 bay leaves 1/4 teaspoon dried sage 1 teaspoon salt 4 peppercorns 3 cups dry white wine 6 thin slices unpeeled lemon 6 thin slices unpeeled orange 2 pounds mackerel, bluefish or rockfish fillets 1 medium tomato, cut into 6 slices Sprigs of parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan combine the onion slices, separated into rings, the fennel, bay leaves, sage, salt, peppercorns and wine. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook over high heat until the wine is reduced to about 2 cups. Arrange half the slices of lemon and orange in a lightly buttered enamel-coated or heat-proof glass baking pan and place the fish over them. Do not overlap the fillets. Cover them with the slices of tomato and the remaining slices of lemon and orange, and pour over them the hot wine mixture. Set the pan in the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes or just until the fillets are tender. Do not overcook them. Let them cool in the cooking liquid. Tansrfer the fillets to a serving platter and strain over them just enough of the cooking liquid to cover them. Chill before serving. Reserve a few of the lemon and orange slices. Discard the remainder. Decorate the serving platter with the reserved slices and sprigs of parsley. -- From "The Family Cookbook: French" by Alvin Kerr VEAL RAGOUT (6 servings) 2 pounds veal shoulder, cubed 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 2 shallots, chopped fine 2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup dry white wine 1 cup veal or beef stock 1 bouquet garni (4 or 5 sprigs parsley, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1 bay leaf in a cheesecloth bag) 2 teaspoons tomato puree Salt and pepper 12 to 15 imported black olives, pitted and halved 2 tablespoons Cognac or other brandy 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat the oil in a high-sided frying pan. Add the veal and cook over fairly high heat, turning to brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat to a plate. Add onions and cook until they begin to brown, adding more oil if needed. Add flour and stir until it has turned a distinct light coffee color. Pour in stock and wine. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping all particles of meat and flour from the bottom of the pan. When liquids and flour are well blended, return meat and add garlic, shallots, bouquet garni, light salt and pepper and the tomato puree. Stir, cover the pan and reduce heat so liquid bubbles without boiling. Cook 45 minutes, turning meat once or twice and adding a little stock if sauce becomes thick. (The dish may be made ahead to this point and reheated).
Add the olives and taste the sauce for seasoning. Simmer another 15 minutes. Remove bouquet garni, skim off surface fat and add brandy. Reheat and garnish with parsley. Serve with broiled tomato halves and steamed potatoes or rice. RICE A L'IMPERITRICE (8 to 10 servings) 3/4 cup (4 ounces) finely diced glaceed fruits of various colors (such as cherries, angelica, orange peel) 4 tablespoons kirsch or cognac 1 1/3 packages gelatin 1/2 cup white rice 1 2/3 cups scalded milk, plus 1 1/2 cups 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 3/4 cup 2 tablespoons butter 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 5 egg yolks 1 teaspoon cornstarch 3 tablespoons apricot preserves, pushed through a sieve 1 cup chilled whipping cream 2 cups strawberry or raspberry sauce (recipe below) Fresh strawberries or raspberries (optional)
Mix glaceed fruits in a bowl with the kirsch or cognac. Sprinkle on gelatin and set aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to the boil. Sprinkle in the rice and boil for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Bring 1 2/3 cups milk, 1/3 cup sugar and butter to the point of a boil in a 1-quart saucepan. Stir in rice and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Lay a round of buttered wax paper over the mixture, cover the pan and cook for 35 to 40 minutes in a preheated, 300-degree oven. Milk should be absorbed and rice very tender.
Meanwhile, place egg yolk in a mixing bowl and gradually beat in 3/4 cup sugar until mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon. Beat in cornstarch, then, slowly, 1 1/2 cups hot milk. Pour into a saucepan and stir over moderate heat until custard forms and coats a spoon (temperature of 170 degrees on a candy thermometer). Off the heat, add glaceed fruits and stir until gelatin has dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and apricot preserves.
Stir rice into custard, a spoonful at a time if rice is still hot. Chill, stirring occasionally, until cold but not set.
Lightly oil a 6-cup ring mold or charlotte mold and line the inside with oiled waxed paper.
When rice custard has cooled, whip cream. Fold into custard and pour mixture into the mold. Cover with oiled waxed paper and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
To serve, dip mold briefly into very hot water, run a knife around the edges and unmold onto a chilled serving platter. Fill center with optional fresh fruit and pour sauce around base. Fresh Strawberry or Raspberry Sauce (Makes about 2 cups) 1 quart fresh strawberries or raspberries 3/4 to 1 1/4 cups sugar (superfine preferred) 2 to 3 tablespoons kirsch, cognac or lemon juice
Wash, hull and drain the fruit. Puree in a blender or food processor. Strain. Return to blender and add sugar to taste. Beat until sugar is absorbed. Add liqueur. Chill. -- Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1," by Juila Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle