Cooking with Julia in Mastering the Art of French Murder

Our latest Cook the Books Club pick is the clever and very entertaining novel by Colleen Cambridge, Mastering the Art of French Murder. I loved this truly enjoyable read, both from the mystery perspective as well as the enticing food and wine discussions.  From the Washington Post:

"Set in midcentury Paris and starring Julia Child’s fictional best friend, this magnifique reimagining of the iconic chef’s years at Le Cordon Bleu blends a delicious murder mystery with a unique culinary twist.

“It’s Child’s ebullient personality that is the heart of the book. Part historical fiction, part mystery, Mastering the Art of French Murder is totally delectable entertainment for fans of lighthearted detective fiction.” – The Washington Post

And from the Publishers' report: 

"From fine Bordeaux and freshly baked baguettes to the friendly chatter of the green market, postwar Paris is indulging its appetite for food, and life, once more, as Tabitha Knight, a young American woman, makes friends with chef-in-training Julia Child—and finds herself immersed in a murder most unsavory . . 

Between tutoring Americans in French, and sampling the results of Julia's studies at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Tabitha's sojourn is thoroughly delightful. That is, until the cold December day they return to Julia's building and learn that a body has been found in the cellar. Tabitha recognizes the victim from a party given by Julia's sister, Dort, the night before. The murder weapon is recognizable too—a knife from Julia's kitchen."  Of course, she must help to find the killer and protect her new friend.

As usual with our Book Club, we take inspiration from the current reading selection, prepare a dish and post it.  Mine had to be Julia's Ham with Madeira sauce.  Especially since I had a few slices left of a very good ham (organic, hormone free, humanely raised) that called for a delicious upgrade!  The cooking choices often seem so limited with ham.

Per Food & Wine, "In 2018, Food & Wine named this recipe one of our 40 best: Julia Child was a longtime Food & Wine contributor — and a champion of ham. For this recipe, she was inspired by a dish called jambon à la morvandelle, the signature dish of Alexandre Dumaine, one of France's most famous chefs in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. "Although supermarket ham will do, real country ham will give you a dish more like Dumaine's fabled creation," wrote Child." And, here I am ashamed to admit that all along I've had this recipe in her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking!  I need to get more of my cookbooks off the shelf and peruse for hidden treasures.  I'm with her in this, though I love ham, "a parade of plain boiled or baked hams can become woefully monotonous, especially around Christmas and Easter." P. 390 of her Mastering the Art.  And, good news, there are more variations to try in that book!

Here then is the recipe, from Food & Wine, broken down from the whole ham, serving 16-20 in Julia's book.

Ham Steaks in Madeira Sauce

Ingredients (for 4)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, divided
2 (12-ounce) boneless cured ham steaks
1/4 cup Madeira or Port
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
4 ounces fresh button or wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup English peas (optional)
1/4 cup heavy cream


Heat oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add 1 ham steak to skillet, and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from skillet, and repeat procedure with remaining ham steak.

Return steaks to skillet. Add Madeira, and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add stock, mushrooms, and shallots to skillet; cook, periodically spooning cooking liquid over steaks, until mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove ham and mushrooms with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Add peas, if using, and heavy cream to skillet. Stir and continue cooking until mixture is thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until blended. Cut ham into 8 equal pieces; serve sauce and mushrooms over ham. 

It was such a delicious turn from my usual ham steaks with mustard sauce, served here with asparagus spears, dressed in a light vinaigrette and a slice or two of herbed focaccia.

I'll be posting this for Cook the Books Club, hosted this round by fellow Hawaii resident, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, with Weekend Cooking, hosted by the Intrepid Reader and Baker, Marge, and on Heather's Foodies Read Challenge for April.  There's plenty of time if you'd like to read the book and join in.  Deadline is not until May 31st.


A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I loved this book as well. I have some ham steaks in my freezer and I'm going to make this wonderful recipe with it.

Marg said...

We used to have ham steaks, but it was usually served with a ring of pineapple and melted cheese. I am not sure I have ever seen it served like this. And I don't think we can buy ham steaks from the supermarket anymore!