Recently, I had an unusual opportunity to make a direct, practical comparison of French and American ingredients. During a cooking demonstration in New York, two of us simultaneously prepared the same recipes with ingredients from opposite sides of the Atlantic.

This menu brings together a bit of what we, and the class at Peter Kump's Cooking School, thought is the best that America has to offer.

Results were by no means always predictable. We had approached chicken with caution, for example, as raw poultry cannot be imported. It took considerable searching to find farm-raised poultry to stand in for typical French birds against the usual American supermarket offering. A couple of farm-raised fowl were meaty and good, and the flock of little, one-portion chickens was a real treat, better than anything I've had recently in France.

They came from California and the following week I found them again, marinated and barbecued as a first course in a Los Angeles restaurant. Try the recipe with chicken wings, or better still, with squab or the little farm-raised quail that are now quite common here.

Salmon, one thinks, must be among the best native fish, and so it proved. We compared a Pacific king salmon with a Norwegian salmon, and even on the worktable, there was no doubt they were different. Plumper, richer, darker in color, the Pacific salmon had a macho look; when cut it was a deep red beside the glowing-pink Norwegian fish. At the tasting, the Norwegian salmon was more delicate, but firmer and possibly a little dry. When the vote was taken it lost by a small margin.

A whole poached salmon is an extravagance -- with its head and tail left on, you must allow almost a pound per person -- but it is much the best way to appreciate the fish for a special occasion. Many regions have less expensive alternatives: on the East Coast you could try bluefish or cod, on the Gulf there's spotted sea trout and on the West Coast hake and tilefish.

With the fish we made a sauce that is the cook's dream -- all the ingredients are thrown together in one pan, instead of requiring the usual two-stage preparation. Butter brought a surprise as none of us had realized just how superior French dairy products are to domestic. Flavor, color, even texture differ, so if you can find imported butter and cre me frai che, it's worth it for this sauce. Flavoring can be bourbon, Scotch or Irish whiskey, depending on your national allegiance.

When I moved back from France last year I packed flour in my baggage, and this formed the core of several experiments. Throughout the comparisons of brioche, cakes and pastry, one conclusion was the same. What mattered was not the flour, but knowing how to use it and compensate for the higher U.S. gluten content. Even the ultimate test, puff pastry, posed no problem. We simply handled the American puff pastry as lightly as possible and left it to rest a little longer.

The French puff pastry dessert, mille-feuille (a thousand leaves) has long been naturalized here as napoleon. It is the ideal recipe for a first attempt at puff pastry because the dough need not rise high. Alternatively, you could try one of the several brands of prepared puff pastry dough that are now available. For good flavor, be sure to choose a brand made with butter.

Here I've filled napoleons with strawberries and whipped cream -- this was another instance when the class in New York preferred French cre me frai che, with its slightly tart taste, to domestic sweet cream. Topping is a dusting of confectioners' sugar scored with a hot skewer to form a lattice of caramel -- simplicity itself.

Accompaniments for this feast were not hard to choose, for if America grows anything well, it is produce. What could be more indigenous than baby lettuce salad and wild rice to celebrate Independence Day? Timetable

This elegant menu has very little last-minute work. The napoleons take a bit of time, but they are long finished before your guests arrive.

Up to 2 days ahead: Prepare and bake puff pastry, store in airtight container.

Up to 1 day ahead: Prepare salmon poached liquid, strain and refrigerate. Cook wild rice and refrigerate. Wash salad and refrigerate; make dressing.

Up to 3 hours before serving: Marinate chicken wings. Prepare salmon for poaching. Assemble napoleons, caramelize tops and refrigerate. Set the table. Chill the wine.

One hour before serving: Light grill and skewer chicken for grilling. Poach the salmon.

15 minutes before serving: Grill or broil chicken wings. Reheat rice over low heat on top of stove. Make bourbon sauce and keep warm. Toss salad. DEVILED BARBECUED CHICKEN WINGS (12 servings)

Choose wings or drumsticks for this recipe, or even whole small birds.

1 1/2 cups olive oil

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon peppercorns, crushed

1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper (optional)

36 plump chicken wings, tips removed

Salt to taste

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, crushed peppercorns and red pepper, if using. Add chicken wings and marinate for 1 to 3 hours, at room temperature, turning wings occasionally.

Remove wings from marinade, season with salt to taste and thread 6 apiece onto 6 long skewers and set skewered wings on an oil rack. Grill them, basting frequently with remaining marinade, until juices run clear when flesh is pierced, about 8 minutes per side. Alternatively, you can cook wings in a broiler.

Cut each wing at the joint, and serve. Deviled Barbecued Small Birds -

As an appetizer allow 1 squab or quail or 1/2 cornish hen per person. With poultry shears cut out backbone of birds. Flatten birds on the work surface, cracking breastbone with a sharp downward blow with the heel of your hand. Tuck wing tips under birds and thread with skewers to keep them flat. Marinate and grill, allowing about 8 minutes per side for squab and quail and 12 to 15 minutes for cornish hens. Serve quail or squabs whole and cut hens in half. POACHED SALMON WITH BOURBON SAUCE (12 servings)

For a perfectly poached salmon of any size, measure the fish at its thickest and allow 7 minutes per inch from the time the poaching liquid simmers. You can double-check yourself with a quick-reading thermometer. Insert it into thickest part of the flesh: it should read 130 degrees.

12-pound salmon, or two 6-pound salmon, cleaned and scaled


3 quarts water, more if needed

2 carrots, sliced

2 onions, sliced

1 large bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf and 12 parsley stalks)

1 teaspoon peppercorns

3 cups dry white wine

2 pounds fish bones, broken into pieces


12 large cooked, peeled shrimps

2 bunches parsley

6 lemons, halved crosswise

For the poaching liquid, combine all ingredients in a large, nonaluminum pot, cover and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Strain and let liquid cool.

If the salmon has been gutted through the belly, fold flaps under fish, set salmon, belly down, on the rack and lower it into the fish poacher. Tie fish in place on the rack. Add poaching liquid with more water, if necessary, to cover salmon completely. Set the pan over two burners and heat until liquid begins to simmer. Cover with the lid, begin timing, and cook the fish, making sure the liquid does not boil rapidly. When salmon is cooked, leave it 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Lift up rack, prop it on the poaching pan, and discard string. Peel the fish, leaving head and tail. Salmon can be prepared up to 30 minutes ahead. To reheat it, bring liquid to a boil. Immerse salmon in hot liquid for 5 minutes, then drain.

To finish: transfer salmon to a platter and keep warm. Immerse shrimp in hot cooking liquid 1 minute, drain, and arrange them along back of fish. Pile parsley around fish to make a bed and decorate platter with lemon halves. BOURBON SAUCE

For a nonalcoholic sauce, substitute lemon juice to taste for the bourbon.

9 egg yolks

1/2 cup cre me frai che or whipping cream

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold butter, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons bourbon whiskey

Salt to taste

Pinch of cayenne pepper


3 quarts water, more if needed

2 carrots, sliced

2 onions, sliced

1 large bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf and 12 parsley stalks)

1 teaspoon peppercorns

3 cups dry white wine

2 pounds fish bones, broken into pieces

For the poaching liquid, combine all ingredients in a large, nonaluminum pot, cover and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Strain and let liquid cool.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk egg yolks with cream, butter, whiskey and 1/2 cup fish liquid (reserve the rest for another use) over low heat until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes. Note: This sauce curdles very easily if it gets too hot.

Take from heat, and season with salt and cayenne pepper. The sauce can be kept warm in a tepid water bath for up to 15 minutes. WILD RICE (12 servings)

For a less expensive alternative, choose one of the wild rice mixtures now on the market.

3 cups wild rice

1 1/2 quarts water

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Put rice in a bowl, add cold water to generously cover and leave 1 to 2 hours to soak. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Put rice in a pan with water, butter, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed and rice is tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Taste rice for seasoning. Wild rice can be cooked up to one day ahead and refrigerated. Reheat it on top of the stove. STRAWBERRY NAPOLEON (12 servings)

Fill napoleon with any berries you like.

Puff pastry (recipe follows)

Flour for kneading

2 quarts (about 2 pounds) strawberries, hulled and halved

Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling


1/3 cup sugar, more to taste

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups whipping cream, stiffly whipped

Cut dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each half of dough as thinly as possible to a rectangle the size of your largest baking sheet -- at least 12 inches wide and 16 inches long. Transfer dough to dampened baking sheets to cover them completely and prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Bake pastry sheets until brown in a 425-degree oven, 10 to 15 minutes, pricking occasionally so they do not rise too much. Loosen with a spatula, carefully turn them over, and bake until underside is crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

With a serrated knife, trim sheets to neat rectangles, then cut each one into 3 strips, each about 4 inches wide. Puff pastry sheets can be kept for 1 to 2 days in an airtight container and crisped briefly in the oven before use.

To make the chantilly cream: Beat sugar to taste and vanilla into whipped cream and continue beating until cream stiffens again.

To assemble napoleon, cover one strip of pastry with a quarter of the chantilly cream, add a quarter of the strawberries and top with another pastry strip. Repeat to form the second layer. Assemble the second napoleon in the same way.

Sift a generous layer of confectioners' sugar over each napoleon. Heat a skewer over a gas flame until red-hot, and use it to form a crisscross pattern of caramelized sugar. Transfer napoleons to a platter and refrigerate until serving.

To serve, cut each napoleon crosswise into 6 even slices with a serrated knife. PUFF PASTRY

4 cups flour plus extra for sprinkling and kneading

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups water, more if needed

Sift flour onto a work surface, and make a well in the center. Add 1 tablespoon butter, lemon juice, salt and the smaller amount of water. Work together with the fingertips until well mixed, then quickly work in flour, pulling dough into large crumbs. If crumbs are dry, add remaining water. Knead dough until smooth, about 30 seconds; dough should be soft but not sticky. Note: This step can be done in a food processor. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Lightly sprinkle remaining butter with flour, flatten it with a rolling pin, and fold it into itself. Continue flattening and folding until is pliable but not sticky. Ideally, butter should be same consistency as the dough.

Roll out dough to form a 12-inch square, thicker in the center than on the sides. Set butter in the center, fold dough around it like an envelope, and wrap and chill for 15 minutes.

Place package seam-side down on a well-floured work surface, and bring rolling pin down on dough 3 or 4 times to flatten it slightly. Roll out dough to a rectangle 7 to 8 inches wide and 18 to 20 inches long. Fold the rectangle into three, with one end inside, as you would fold a business letter. Seal the edge with the rolling pin.

Give dough a quarter turn to your left; the open edges should be facing you and the closed seam to your left. Roll dough out again and fold in three. You have now done two "turns." Note them by marking the dough with two fingerprints. Wrap and chill the dough for 15 minutes.

Repeat this rolling and folding process, giving dough a total of 6 "turns," with a 15 minute rest in the refrigerator after every two.

Puff pastry with 4 "turns" can be kept, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to one week, or frozen. Do the last 2 "turns" just before shaping it.