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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Classics for the Parisian lunch

     Everyday lunch for a Parisian is, again, a practical affair.  Just like I remember from “the Paris of South America” (i.e. Buenos Aires), most of the shops and offices allow for a 2-hour lunch break during which to recharge and have a simple but proper meal.  We should adopt this in North America too.  I think it will provide for less aggressive teenagers and stronger families.

     But going back to the theme in question, a very common lunch is that of entrecôte and pommes frites.  In Argentina we add a salad of lettuce and tomato to this, and a good glass of red wine.  I make mine whenever I feel the need for a nice juicy steak, and I cook it in-between saignant and à point.  This of course, is pure preference, but as I immerse myself in the ways of proper eating, I find there is something to be said about meat eaten almost raw, and that is, that carnivores appreciate (or at least should appreciate) the value of raw meat.  A kind of going back to the source, in a way.

     So when I’m ready for my “raw” fix, I buy the best entrecôte I can find and pair it with a cool glass of Beaujolais “Fleurie” (good to break all that cholesterol!).  I follow the recipe from “Culinaria – France”.

Entrecôte Villette:

Ingredients for 1 serving:

  • 1 entrecôte (ribsteak), weighing about 10 to 12oz. and no more than ¾” thick
  • 5 shallots
  • 6 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Lemon juice
  • Fleur de sel
Preparation:

     Pepper the meat, cover and allow it to rest for 2 hours.

     Peel and finely chop the shallots, then heat a third of the butter and brown the lightly salted entrecôte on each side for a short time.  Remove from the pan and keep warm.  Melt the remaining butter, add the shallots and brown for 2 minutes.

     Serve the meat on a warm plate, pour on the shallots and butter, sprinkle with parsley and add a few drops of lemon juice.  Then add the fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Serve with French fries.

For the “pommes frites”:

     This method will yield you crisp, golden fries with a soft center.  You will need 1 medium mealy potato, cut into ¼” strips.  Once cut, submerge in water for about 15’.  In the meantime, heat either sunflower or grapeseed oil up to 300F (use a thermometer). 

     Get the potato slices out of the water and dry with a tea-towel.  Once the oil is hot, dip them for 4 minutes.  Take them out and place on a paper towel.

     Bring the temperature of the oil down to 130F and dip the fries again for another 4 minutes.  Take them out and place on a paper towel again to get rid of the extra oil.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve immediately.


    When I am at the office, I often bring a Croque Monsieur for lunch.  In Argentina we know this as “sandwich mixto”, and it is served at all hours in any confitería.  Here’s the simple way to make it:

Croque Monsieur:

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of pain de mie, without the crusts
  • 1 tsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ slice of cooked ham
  • 2 Tbsp. finely grated Comté cheese
Preparation:

     Thinly spread the butter onto both sides of the bread.  Lay the ham on one slice and sprinkle on the finely grated cheese.  Cover with the second slice of buttered bread.  Preheat the broiler.  First broil on one side, then the other.

A quick bite at my desk.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Le petit déjeneur parisienne

     So how do Parisians start their day?

     Simply and efficiently. Just a café au lait, or a straight espresso for some, taken at the counter of their favorite spot on their way to work, along with a croissant or a slice of baguette with creamy butter (made with true unpasteurized cream yes!) and very good preserves. In this succinct version of a breakfast, we have 3 elements worth contemplating. For starters, the coffee.

     Most of the coffee drank in France is from the very strong, robusta variety, which hails from Ethiopia. This is a truly strong roast. If you live outside of Paris (or even outside of France as is my case), you may experience this very effective pick me up with Lavazza’s Crema e Gusto espresso roast, which is made of a blend of 70% robusta beans.


   
     It is the ideal blend to be brewed in the typical French press cafetière.
The Bodum Chambord French press brews
2 to 3 cups of coffee.


    This particular way of starting the day reminds me very much of the confiterías in Buenos Aires – which for a very good reason is called “the Paris of South America” – serving “le petit noir” (as it is known in Paris) or a “café con leche”, along with a “medialuna” (our croissant), a great antidote against the cold mornings of the porteños.

This more relaxed version of the Paris breakfast, along with
a glass of grapefruit juice, is more of the weekends

    Croissants and baguettes in Paris are one of the quintessential trademarks of the city.  Paris has this culture du pain, and hundreds of different ones are made in its local boulangeries.  I have found some very good croissants in Orlando at a place called Croissant Gourmet, in Winter Park.  Their croissants are double the size of the ones from Paris or Buenos Aires, and the best ones are the almond croissants.  Truly scrumptious and fulfilling, they leave one with no need for sustenance until dinner.  For plain, scrumptiously fluffy croissants, Rosa at the Windermere Farmers Market has the best ones I’ve managed to find so far.  You can get her croissants, excellent sourdough boules, baguettes with kalamata olives et al, every Friday from 9:00 to 14:00 hrs.

Rosa’s baguette with kalamata olives is the perfect 
complement to home-marinated chèvre.

Best almond croissants in Orlando

     My other local good place for French patisseries and breads is My French Café, where plain croissants are a bit more normal in size, yet are crispy golden brown on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  I love these with some salted butter and very good preserves, either from Bonne Mamman, Hédiard or some extra special Confiture à la Ancienne.  I managed to find one online cooked in cauldron from The Frenchy Bee


     The baguette is the Parisian bread par excellence, and people generally buy 1 every day, sometimes queuing in front of their favorite boulangerie for the prized loaf.  A very good baguette should be crispy and golden on the outside, with an interior that is cream in colour and soft.  French bread tastes good because it is fresh, made every day, and contains no preservatives.  I am always appalled by how long a loaf of bread lasts here in the USA, making for less than tolerable flavor and a true abortion of the good principles of bread-making.  In France, it is illegal to use preservatives in the bread or dairy (or anything for that matter); hence products last less, but had incredible flavor and natural properties.

     One the best boulangeries in Paris are those of Jean-Luc Poujauran (which now caters exclusively to high end restaurants), and that of the Poilâne family.  The latter now ships breads directly to the United States.  If one is willing to pay, Poilâne will send some very expensive, although very fresh bread right to your door by next day air.

     After a fulfilling, yet not so heavy, breakfast, Parisians grab their écharpes, fasten their trench coats, and head on to work.  No snacking till lunch time.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bonjour Paris gastronome

     The gastronomy of France has always delighted and intrigued me at the same time.  For a country that is as vast as it is interesting in this way, I thought about embarking on a deep study of each of its regions, as the only possible way to get immersed in the spirit of the true French cuisine, wine industry and hospitality in general. (It’s a hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it!).

     The French are a passionate people.  They feel strongly about almost everything, from politics to fashion, and food is no exception.  One can be invited to dinner at someone’s house and the topic of conversation, during the whole soireé, would be the food eaten that evening.  Is the wine appropriate for the cheeses served?  What about the bread and how it paired with the entreé?  Should the dessert have been lighter or heavier?  These are all questions that the true gourmets – and gourmands too, why not? – ask themselves all the time, and to which they all enjoy providing different, and more refined answers every time they’re pondered.

     The best place to start a tour of gastronomic France seems to me none other than its capital itself and the region immediately surrounding it.  Paris, the City of Light, of lovers, passions, luxury, splendid architecture, the city I aspire to move to one day, is the first focal point for my gourmet adventure.

     Paris is an ancient city.  In it one can find the marks of all the different times the city has lived through, ever since it was first conquered by the Romans in 52 BC.  When the Parisii (the first inhabitants of Paris) lived in it the city was called Lutetia

     The Parisii were Gallic people who lived in the area known today as the Ile de la Cité.  They were hunters and used the Seine river for trade and exchange.  After the Roman Empire conquered the land, Lutetia’s outlook was forged as a true Roman city with public baths and a forum.  Christianity took over the land when king Clovis, the first of the Merovingian kings, converted to the religion.  Thus the pagan ways of the Parisii were eliminated.  I first came accross Lutetia’s name in a fragance immortalized by parfumier Houbigant that came out in the 80’s - Lutèce.  Its advert at the time read “the perfume for days of gold and sapphire nights”.  I find there is no better way to exemplify the essence of Paris.




The paradox of Paris:

     For all that it is consumed in it and all that the city turns out gastronomically speaking, Paris produces nothing (Restaurants of Paris, Knopf guides, 1994, 52).  The city however, receives produce and ingredients from all over the world, which are then sold in hundreds of markets throughout.  Rungis, the biggest market in the world and precursor to the old Les Halles, is the major wholesale supplier for Paris’ many restaurants and individual sellers.  One can only buy at Rungis with a special business license, but anyone can go and watch.  Later one can stop at one of its many excellent restaurants for a truly gourmet repàs.

Take your pick of premium cuts of meat at Rungis.
Photo © David Leibovitz

Abundance of produce at Rungis Market

  Just like Rachel Khoo says in the introduction to her series “The Little Paris Kitchen”, the world generally finds French cuisine as difficult and fussy to prepare, something to be considered only for special occasions.  Yet Parisians eat very simple, uncomplicated food day in and day out.  Long are the days of the 20 course meals in places like Le Procope or L’Tour d’Argent of yesteryear.


     As I immerse myself in the local discovery of the gastronomic Parisian culture, I intend to live like a Parisian where I currently reside in Orlando.  If nothing else, just to use it as a preparation for my first visit to Paris in the near future.  Join me in my next post to see how a Parisian would start her day.