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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The French tradition of Foie Gràs for the Holidays

     If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you probably noticed the inspiration from my recent trip to France.  The experience has enlightened me beyond what I expected.  In preparing for my next trip (hopefully for the next holiday season), I am trying to keep the same pace I had whilst in that country, both activity and diet-wise.  It was incredible to me that after indulging as much as I did I returned home with 4 pounds less and a lot of gusto for life itself.

     This way the French have for living life to its fullest directed me to my next read, a book that I have been wanting to get my hands on for a few of months now, ever since I started following its author’s YouTube channel.  I am speaking about Lessons from Madame Chic – 20 stylish secrets I learned while living in Paris, by Jennifer L. Scott.

     Scott went to Paris as an exchange student in her early 20’s and stayed with whom she calls “Famille Chic” for 6 months.  During that time, she became a woman of sophistication and style.  It is true, Paris – and France in general – gives you that.  Art is everywhere in that city, and I’m not just speaking about museums.  The way ordinary people dress, conduct themselves, eat and approach life in general is a true inspiration that everyone else should follow.  Walking through the streets of Paris one feels the power of beauty on every level, from its buildings to the view of the Seine, and the shop windows of the food stores that look like jewelry stores.  The French truly know how to live life to its fullest and make every day living into an art form.

My copy of "Lessons...", all tagged to facilitate
easy reference.

     Lessons from Madame Chic is divided into 3 main sections, each containing several chapters:

  • Part 1: Diet and exercise
  • Part 2: Style and beauty
  • Part 3: How to live well
     Although for some the book will provide enlightment from one page to the next and one chapter to the other, I personally found the concepts in the last section about “joie de vivre” the most important and influential ones.  Things as simple as using your best china every day and not just for special occasions, dressing comfortably but presentably even when at home and valuing quality over quantity are quite a revelation for the consumerist society in which we live today.  Perhaps it comes from having lived through two world wars that left the country with a mentality of valuing the present and only producing its best, but if one truly thinks about it, it becomes quite obvious that the only intelligent way to live life is on this level.

     When I came from France, my luggage was at the maximum weight allowed for the plane before one must pay a penalty.  It was full of… you guessed it – food.  Not fresh food mind you (although I know people who bring certain items and I must confess, the concept intrigues me enough to further explore it), but quite a few cans of foie gras, condiments, books and different accoutrements all related to arts of the table.  I almost bought no clothes.

     There is nothing like a good foie gràs, paired with the correct glass of wine, that says one is truly enjoying the moment.  So for my birthday, which happens to coincide with the holiday season, that is exactly what I did.  I opened one of the cans I bought at Fauchon, that quintessentially high end gourmet store in Place de la Madeleine.  And nothing better than auspiciously sampling their luxurious goose foie gràs Alsatian style, I thought, in anticipation of next year’s trip to that region (and others.  Stay tuned!)

     The foie gràs from Strasbourg is not, I must say, like that of Périgord (I prefer the latter).  Still, goose foie gràs is goose foie gràs, and as a delicacy, it is one that I appreciate profoundly.  There is a certain kick in its flavour, albeit slight, which leaves a happy note on the tongue.  This demure sharpness makes it perfect to be paired with a glass of the classic Trimbach Gewűrtztraminer 2012.  The minerality of the wine, combined with a slight sweetness makes the foie gràs shine without overpowering it and its round, whole finish gives the proper closure for each bite.

     I chilled the foie gràs for 2 days in the coldest part of the fridge, and took it out about 15’ before serving.  I topped it with just a few grains of rose pepper and served it on rye toast.  I also had a canapé simply topped with crème fraîche and salmon roe.  The whole celebration was intimate, luxurious and delicious from the gastronomical standpoint.

     Keeping in mind Jennifer L. Scott’s adage in “Lessons from Madame Chic”, I used my best holiday china, showing Rudolph in the background, and laid the table with a red satin cloth.  The candle is Forest Herb, from a store called Terrain.  It gives a light scent of pines mixed with fresh herbs, subdued yet refreshing in the likes of a quiet pine forest.  

     Although my birthday dinner was intimate, it was undoubtedly chic, and it gave me a private feeling of luxury that I will cherish always and look forward too for more pleasurable moments.  And yes, Happy Christmas. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dining with History at "Le Procope" in Paris

     For the first day of my first visit to Paris, I wanted to take a traditional approach.  So after a morning at the Eiffel Tower, I walked east, towards the 6th Arrondissement, and headed to Le Procope for lunch.  Le Procope was the first restaurant ever created, which functioned under the concept of what we nowadays today a restaurant to be, where customers were served at the table with porcelain service.  It opened its doors in 1686, at the highlight of the Enlightment Age.  The likes of Voltaire (who considered it his second home), Rousseau and even very American Benjamin Franklin dined here while discussing the politics of the times.  Its owner was an Italian from Sardinia, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, who created a pleasant atmosphere in his establishment that made people linger while having a meal.

     As it was customary during those times, Mr. Procopio started serving coffee and hot chocolate on marble tables at his establishment but, as the true innovator that he was, soon added his own distilled alcohols and home-made ice-creams, these latter the first ever to be sold in Paris.

     Dining at Le Procope felt very much like dining in a sort of time capsule.  The restaurant is quite large for Paris standards, and has two floors.  Tables are crammed throughout different areas that don’t necessarily follow a pattern, and all are quite close to each other.  But even though you may listen to pieces of your neighbor’s conversation, the feeling is quite cosy, as in Paris people are reserved and maintain a low tone while sitting at the table.

Crisp white tablecloths, old books and ancient paintings of its regulars.  Le Procope
is a place of history.

Part of a ceiling, showing original text for the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” from August 1789.
     I started my meal with a splendid kir royal, served in the traditional champagne tulip glass.  It was so impressive, it dressed the table by itself.  I’m not sure what champagne was used in it, very it tasted very much like a millesimé (although I'm sure it wasn't.  Probably a high end Pommery).

    Le Procope is known both for its large oyster platters they serve mostly as a tourist attraction, and traditional French bourgeois dishes, such as Coq au vin, or Tete de veau, prepared as it was when the restaurant first opened.  It really intrigued me how some of the biggest minds mankind has produced would have eaten.  I ordered the Tete de veau, which came cooked in its own tarragon-flavoured juice, its recipe kept from the restaurants old records.

     I was quite surprised at the simplicity of the dish.  It was very much like the Argentinian “puchero” my mom used to serve, the meat boiled until it falls of the bone and one doesn’t even need a knife to cut it, served alongside vegetables like carrots, potatoes and some other white one that escaped me.  At first, I thought it too simple for the price paid (27.70€), however, it makes sense that back in 1686, people ate from the land, in a natural, made-at-home way.  I suppose the cost is due to the traditional fame associated with the restaurant, or maybe the fact that it is served in a traditional copper saucepan (yes, they use these things in actual restaurants in Paris!),  which the waiter leaves with you so you may serve yourself later at your own pace, and also dip the bread into the wonderful juices.  A truly convivial dish, which can very well serve two, especially if ordering an appetizer and a dessert.

     As for the proverbial dessert, and continuing with the idea of tradition in mind, the Sabayon Glacé à l’Amaretto fitted the Procope’s beginnings as an ice-cream parlour.

     It was the perfect end to a copious meal, light, a mixture between a mousse and an ice-cream, served along a croquant tuile (which could have been more croquant) and wonderful Amaretto caramel sauce. 

     The whole lunch, with drinks included, cost 57.10€.  I found it overpriced, but then again, at a restaurant where history is its protagonist, one can only expect to pay more.  At least, the food was good, with a nice “homey” feeling, and it set me up for the rest of the day, which turned out to be quite wet and with lots of walking to do.  It’s what Paris is all about.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Fête des Vendanges 2015

     Recently I had the good fortune of taking my first trip to France.  It was a dream of mine, for which I researched, researched and researched and prepared, prepared, prepared for over 1 year.  As I’m sure it happens to almost everyone, even though I was there for a week and a half, I got to do half of what I had planned and, being a foodie, bring half of what I wanted to bring.  Not only did I not have the sufficient budget, but I would have needed an extra pair or arms and legs to carry it all.

     I started, of course, in Paris, which is an amazing city.  Its architecture is unique, unlike that of every other city I’ve been to.  As one walks it streets, one sighs almost constantly.  Besides doing the obvious clichés of visiting the Eiffel Tower and going to the Louvre museum (among others), I chose to pair my visit with the 82nd Fête des Vendanges in Montmartre, and I rented an apartment just two blocks from the Sacré Cœur Basilica.  The location could not have been more perfect.  Central to everything Montmartre and to several Métro lines, I could be anywhere in Paris with 20 to 30 minutes or, a few steps away.

The street where I stayed in
     The Fête des Vendanges is an event that commemorates the grape harvest, which in that area has taken place for centuries.  History shows us that when Paris was Lutéce, the Romans planted vineyards that extended from Montmartre all the way into the area now occupied by the Eiffel Tower.  The only vestige of these times is the Clos Montmartre, which is meticulously tendered by hand and has never been touched by any pesticides.  The small square on Rue de Saules escaped the phylloxera devastation and still produces a medium quality rosé that is sold during the event for the astronomical sum of 50€ for a half bottle - reason why I didn’t bring any.

Clos Montmartre is easily accessible from the Musée Montmartre, which at the time I visited
 was hosting a special exhibition on the 150th anniversary of Suzanne Valadon

     I did however, found my way throughout the Parcours du Goût, a sort of food and wine festival situated all around Sacré Cœur, featuring vendors and producers from all the regions of France.  It was a madhouse for the senses.

     I tried as much as I could, and what I could not I photographed.  There were escargots, oysters from Brittany, foie gras from Cognac, Strasbourg and the Southwest, cheeses I never even dreamed of existed… the pictures speak for themselves.

The typical Parisian quick fix for midday.  Baguette with ham and cheese sandwhich.  Just not any ham,
not any cheese.  Here we have 3 varities, 2 with prosciutto – with either Cantal or fromage de chêvre, and one
with salami and chêvre

Aligot is a specialty from the Auvergne, where the potato purée is loaded
with a regional tomé cheese until it forms strings that won’t break.
They were making it in situ for degustation.

A world of sausages, with walnuts, figs, made with duck…

This was a type of tomé cheese with pesto and pimente d’espelette.  Too bad I was leaving the next
day and couldn’t get any.  The flavors mixed so well together and yet could distinguish them all.

A plate of sausages, brasserie-style

Cognac from the region of the same name, bottled into pretty Tour Eiffel bottles makes for an elegant souvenir.

Huge calissons de Provence, with flavors as audacious as raspberry-basil, pineapple and coconut.

Another exclusive cheese from the Savoie region, this time flavoured with lavender and rosemary.
Its colour was as seductive as its flavour.  

A stall offering Gratin Dauphinois with every sort of cheese you may conceive of.

     The Fête des Vendanges takes place every first weekend in October and is a MUST for any foodie.  It will prepare you for the gastronomic emporium France is, and the fact that it takes place in Montmartre makes for a nostalgic, typical rendez-vous with the customs of France.  The fact that Montmartre is full of stairs also helps in burning out all those calories (trust me on this one!)  There is a parade - which I did not attend, too tired, both physically and mentally - on the last day of the event, where all the vignerons showcase their pride in being montmartroises, and fireworks later in the night - which I did attend and almost died, pushed and shoved in the middle of the mob.

     What I did bring home was the spirit of exquisiteness, gourmandise and superb products - including some foie gras, which at the fête was acceptably priced.

     And yes, my very own glass.  Bon dégustation!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A book to cherish: The Little Paris Kitchen

     It is not always that I review cookbooks.  They are, in fact, probably the most time consuming books one can write a review about.  For one, the reading might be tedious (unless there is a storyline along with the recipes), and secondly, the recipes need testing.

     What attracted me to this British young woman with Asian looks was not just her lovely television show, but the concept she came up with: living in Paris, she invited people to her tiny flat and cooked for them.  A sort of mini restaurant with ultra-personalized service.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Rachel in her tiny Paris kitchen
     British by nationality, Rachel Khoo has both Asian and European roots.  Her father, a direct descendant of the Khoo Kongsi clan, immigrated to Britain in 1968, where he met Rachel’s mother, Austrian by birth.  The Khoo Kongsi clan were wealthy merchants in 17th century Malacca.  Recently, Rachel took a trip to Malaysia, filming new footage for her T.V. show and also to do research on her roots.

     In The Little Paris Kitchen, her first book in the English language, she gives 120 simple recipes that are all Parisian classics.  Navarin d’agneau printanier, Gratin Dauphinois, Quiche Lorraine, Steak tartare, plus three ideas and detailed instructions on how to shuck oysters and a killer Mousse au ChocolatPoires Belle Hélène, Mont-blanc and Ĭles Flottantes.  Her recipes are simple and one can expect results as the book promises them, something not always the case with cookbook, as I have learned.  The book is divided into:

v  Everyday cooking (quick recipes for a meal at any time.  Loved the Salade de figues et foies de volailles.

v  Snack time (or le goûter, as the French call it.  A pick-me-up for mid-afternoon).

v  Summer picnics (recipes for Spring.  I’m reproducing one below).

v  Aperitifs (terrines, patés et les huîtres, including 3 variations on the classic mignonette).

v  Dinner with friends and family (recipes to linger over with a crowd).

v  Sweet treats (what would French cuisine be without the ubiquitous pièce de resistance).

     There also a couple of appendixes with some basic recipes for sauces (both savory and sweet) and stocks, as well as cooking measurement equivalences and the author’s favorite foodie supply places in Paris.  I have tested several of the recipes in the book and loved all of them.

Rouleaux de salade Niçoise are a crisp alternative
for a Springtime aperitif.  You can use her recipe as a
base for your own.
     I made my own variation on the Navarin d’agneau printanier and used veal osso-bucco instead, thus transforming it into a sort of Blanquette de veau (which recipe is also included in the book).  I used veal broth for the cooking instead of the suggested water.  After two and a half hours in the oven, my cast iron pan produced flake-away tenderness in the meat, accompanied by seasonal vegetables like carrots and peas.

     The Gratin Dauphinois, an astonishingly simple, yet flavorful dish, is reproduced admirably.  We had it along with the blanquette.

     A tasty French classic is the Quiche Lorraine, from North-east region of the same name.  Innumerable variations of this dish exist, but my biggest surprise was to find out that the original recipe does not include cheese, just some very good bacon and that staple of French cooking I always like to keep in my fridge, crème fraîche.  I’m including the recipe here turns out the crumbliest dough.  I cannot overemphasize the use of the best bacon you can get your hands on.  I found one by La Tienda, cured from Spanish “pata negra” pigs and cut it into lardons, which you can get here.

Rachel Khoo’s Quiche Lorraine:

Ingredients for 4 to 6 portions:      
·         6 Tbsp soft butter
·         1 tsp sugar
·         Pinch of salt
·         1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
·         2 eggs, separated
·         Ice-cold water

For the filling:

·         5 oz. lardons
·         4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
·         1 ¼ cups crème fraîche
·         1 tsp salt
·         Pepper


Using a wooden spoon, beat together butter sugar and salt until soft and creamy (do not overmix!).  Mix in the flour followed by the egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. of ice-cold water.  Bring together to make a smooth ball, adding a little more water if the pastry is too crumbly, kneading only as necessary.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
            Remove the pastry from the fridge 30 minutes before using.  Roll between 2 sheets of parchment paper until it is ¼” thick, and use to line a 10” pan that is at least 1 ¼” deep.  Brush the pastry with egg white.  Refrigerate while preparing the filling.  Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
            Meanwhile, fry the lardons in a nonstick frying pan until golden brown, then lift out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool on paper towels.  Lightly beat the eggs and egg yolks in the bowl, add the crème fraîche and seasoning, and continue to beat until mixed together.  Scatter the lardons in the pastry shell and then pour in the egg mix.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the filling looks golden brown and set.  It can be served either warm or cold.  A crisp friseé salad goes marvelously with this, along with a glass of Beaujolais.

     I have a killer sweet tooth, and her desserts are all classics done the easy way.  Poires Belle Hélène make for stunning presentation and are a cinch to make.

    My favorite dessert of all time is, however, Mousse au Chocolat.  This book includes probably the best recipe on this dessert I have come upon.  It starts with a base of chocolate crème pâtissière.  I have found a way to make it even richer and darker, using dutch processed black cocoa powder, currently sold through the King Arthur Flour catalog.  The crème will turn out a threateningly black colour but fear not.  The key to the ultimate Mousse au Chocolat starts with this step.

Rachel Khoo’s Mousse au Chocolat:

Ingredients for 4 to 6 servings:

·         2 Tbsp soft butter
·         1 ½ oz. cocoa nibs, plus extra for serving
·         2 egg whites
·         ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
·         A couple of drops of lemon juice
·         Pinch of salt
·         5 oz. dark chocolate (65% to 70% cocoa), finely chopped
·         Scant 1 cup of heavy cream
·         1 ½ cups chocolate crème pâtissière (recipe below)

Chocolate crème pâtissière:


o   6 egg yolks
o   ½ caster sugar
o   1/3 cup cornstarch
o   1 Tbsp black cocoa powder
o   2 cups whole milk

Bring the milk to a boil and switch off the heat.  Mix in the cocoa powder. 
On a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and thick, then whisk in the cornstarch.  Pour the milk in a slow stream onto the egg mixture, whisking vigorously all the time.  Return the mixture to the pot and whisk continuously over medium heat, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom to prevent burning.  The cream will start to thicken, once it releases a bubble or two, take it off the heat.
Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate overnight.

     Brush 4 to 6 glass ramekins with soft butter.  Add some cocoa nibs and roll them around the sides and bottom until evenly coated.

     Put half the egg whites into a clean glass or bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar all at once, along with the lemon juice and salt and whisk until snow white.  This technique makes for fool proof meringue.  Add the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
     Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and separately whip the cream into soft peaks (this is important, we do not want overbeaten cream!)

     Bring the crème pâtissière at room temperature and beat to remove any lumps before stirring in the melted chocolate.  Mix in one third of the meringue, then gently fold in the rest followed by the whipped cream.

                 Divide the mousse between the glasses and chill – ideally overnight, but if you cannot wait, at least a couple of hours (the book says 1 hour, but my experience suggests 2 is better).  The only drawback (or not), is that this mousse should be consumed within 2 days due to the raw egg white used in its preparation.

     This is a must-have tome in your French cooking library.  It is mama’s cooking with a modern twist and, purporting the fact that its author used to work in the fashion business, it is also lavishly illustrated with full colour photography, with Rachel wearing the cutest dresses.

© Chronicle Books

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Steakhouse of one's dreams

     Ever since fellow blogger and fervent Disney investor Joshua Kennon wrote with praise about his visit, I have wanted to go to the Yachtsman Steakhouse.  This restaurant, which opens only for dinner, is located within the Yacht Club Resort, in the Epcot area of Walt Disney World. 

     Because I am local to the area, I have been around Epcot a few times, yet it required the use of my faithful GPS to arrive at the place.  The resort is themed as a typical Maine yacht club.  The entrance to the restaurant is not grandiose, and the décor and general ambiance are quite unassuming, yet the quality of the food offered is prime, and the service efficient.  One can hardly expect this to be a high-end restaurant by its looks, especially by the way the clientele dresses (I think Disney should emphasize the importance of dress code even more for this place).

The restaurant’s main dining room faces the pool area of the 
resort, and showcases an especially made, wooden chandelier.  
The window theme just above gives the feeling of typical Maine 
construction close to the seashore.
    When I arrived I was asked to wait for a few minutes while my table was getting ready in an area facing a frigorific with prime cuts of meat aged to improve flavor.  If I wasn’t very hungry at the time, the view certainly woke up my taste buds.

     My first choice was an aperitif plate of a most excellent charcuterie.  The selection consisted of a bacon-wrapped boar terrine, which was cooked to perfection with pieces of aged Gouda, dried cherries and pistachios.  It was flavored with ginger, mace and clove, which gave the terrine a unique balance of sweet and savory, all wrapped in heavenly smoked bacon.

     There was also a truffled sucling pig pie, very much as it is traditional in England, baked in pastry and served with little cubes of port gelée.  The gelée homogenized the dish together within the mouth, providing the perfect measure of flavor, whilst each and every component could still be identified.  Perhaps my favorite was the warm lardo toast, served on sourdough and garnished with arugula, pickled onions and parmesan shavings.  Lardo is an Italian specialty, where the fat of the pig is hand-rubbed with salt and cured with spices (in this case peppercorns and rosemary), and then aged.  The Yachtsman’s ages theirs for 2 months, and the result is the best lardo you would try out of Italy.

     The Spanish style chorizo had large chunks of pork, heavily spiced with pimentón (sweet Spanish paprika), garlic and cumin, and reminded me of the likes of my mother, who always had some at hand to snack on.  The one thing I did not find it quite belonged on this selection was the beef merguez sausage, an African specialty which is not really charcuterie (charcuterie to me is always pork, pork and more pork).  Yet everything else was so good, it did not deter to the excellency of the dish. Grainy mustard and pickles were succinctly placed as accompaniments, as well as the warm bread basket and butter with roasted garlic to make a proper amuse-bouche.  I chose a dark ale to wash down all that amazing goodness!

The bread basket comes with a slab of salted butter and half a roasted garlic.
It was perfect to pair with the charcuterie plate.
     Since this is a steakhouse, the main course was, of course, steak.  The menu offers several prime cuts at an also very prime price.  I went for the biggest one, a 16 oz. Boneless Rib-Eye, perfectly charbroiled to medium-rare.  It was topped with a touch of Point Reyes blue cheese butter and served with a halved bone with richly exposed marrow which, in turn, could be perfectly sucked up by imbibing the sweet brioche herbed roll it came with.  Very few times I have had meat this good, and so well accompanied and perfectly served.  It was undoubtedly a succulent dish, yet it was not heavy.  The waiter poured me a glass of Château Aney Cabernet, but there are also exclusive wines like Caymus to accompany the excellent cuts of meat served.  I chose this light red that was more herbal than fruity, somewhat creamy and quite unobtrusive to the flavors of the meat.

     The desserts are presented as a composite.  I tried two.  The apple profiterole had no sugar added, and it was light and fruity and everything a dainty dessert should be.  The profiterole had the texture almost of a macaroon, with a floral apple mousse inside.  It was surrounded with caramel apple crunch, alongside a quenelle of chopped rosy apple and a tuille made out of Cheddar cheese.  The latter provided the cheese note to the end of a heavy meal, without actually having eaten any cheese.  Small drops of chocolate and raspberry sauces framed the dish as in a painting.

     My second choice just had to include some chocolate, particularly after such a rich meal.  Again, a perfectly light dessert of a single rectangular slice of chocolate cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache and accompanied by a purée of Asian pears and a quenelle of butter walnut ice-cream.

    Undoubtedly, the Yachtsman’s Steakhouse is a restaurant to talk about.  The service is quite competent.  Waiters recommend dishes diligently and they know how to pour wine to taste it first.  One can tell they are gourmets themselves.  You should take anyone there who you want to impress, but also knows how to savor the indulgences of a good meal.  I cannot overemphasize reservations, which should be made well in advance.  You won’t get in otherwise.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oysters and a life of crime

     Police procedurals have never been my cup of tea.  I much prefer a cozy type mystery with an amateur sleuth such as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.  However, because I am presently into an all-things-Paris mood, I couldn’t pass an opportunity to read a culinary mystery set in that city, even if it is a police procedural.

     Capucine Le Tellier is a papa’s girl, coming from a bourgeois Parisian upper-class family, married to a high-profile gourmet and restaurant reviewer (who ostensibly sports the same name as the book’s author), she could have a glamorous life, just as her husband repeatedly tells her, full of caviar and comfort, but chooses instead the dark world of “la crim” in the streets of Paris.

     The intrigue in The Grave Gourmet centers about corporate espionage, when the president of world-renown car manufacturer Renault is found dead in one of Paris’ most famous restaurants: Diapason.  Diapason and its Owner-Chef  Jean-Basile Labrousse sound very much like the now defunct “Le Divelec”, a famous restaurant that for decades delighted Paris with a uniquely crafted menu of fish and shellfish.  The restaurant became even more notorious when Chef Jacques Le Divellec created the famous lobster press in conjunction with silversmiths Christofle.  The piece works in exactly the same way as a duck press, which extracts the blood and juices from a duck carcass to be transformed into a delicate elixir of a sauce for duck à l’orange, but in this case, it does the same for a lobster carcass.  Consummate gourmets would know that a proper lobster sauce requires the crustacean’s carcass for eximious flavor.

Jacques Le Divellec and his lobster press
     The plot is no short of red-herrings in this novel, sometimes too many of them, which made it necessary to do a second reading.  It will also prove definitely useful to have a map of Paris at hand, as a car chase through the Bois de Boulogne and into Paris’s chic 7ème arrondissement take the reader into a frenzy of streets and roundabouts. 

     Capuccine’s investigation is dizzying to say the least, and the book does not offer many culinary options, as I would have expected in a culinary mystery.  Mainly, the victim dies of saxitoxin, a poison found in spoiled shellfish that causes paralytic death.  The medium were, apparently, oysters, which were served in the form of a sorbet in-between meals to Prèsident Delage during his last dinner at Diapason.

     Oysters have always been considered a chic hors d’ouvre.  They should be consumed in Autumn and Winter and they pair wonderfully with a chilled glass of champagne.  Ideally, they should be gulped along with water inside the shell and may be a few drops of lemon.  To make them more special, why not try the classic mignonette.  Basically, a simple sauce made of red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar dissolved into it, then add a very finely chopped shallot.  Spoon a minimal amount on top of the oyster then let the cool flavor slide down your throat.  Follow by a sip of your best champagne, and tell me you’re not in heaven.

Perrier-Jouët champagne is ideal to accompany oysters.  It has a hint of fruityness without being totally dry.
     In a typical French brasserie, oysters can sometimes be served warm.  The following alternative is very savory without being overpowering, something we should always strive for when eating oysters.  Their flavor must always prevail.

Huîtres chaudes:

Ingredients for 20 oysters:

·         3.5 oz finely chopped shallots
·         1 Tbsp. of butter
·         2/3 cup crème fraîche
·         Freshly ground white pepper
·         ½ tsp. curry
·         1 Tbsp brandy


     Shack open the oysters (preserving the water), leaving them in the lower half of the shell and
discarding the other half.  Put the shallots with the water from the oysters in a pan, add butter and reduce by half.

     Heat the broiler.

     Add the crème fraîche to the sauce, season with white pepper, curry and brandy.  Reduce by a third while stirring.

Arrange oysters on a plate and make a bed with coarse sea-salt or brightly coloured gravel stones (the latter will make for a very appealing presentation for a cocktail party).  Spoon some sauce on each shell and brown the oysters quickly for a few minutes under the broiler until they are golden brown. Serve immediately.

     Yet another option to serve oysters had me a bit skeptical at first I must admit, due to its slightly Mexican twist.  After all, anything Mexican means spices and chili, something oysters shy away from.  However, I need not have worried.  The Aleppo chile just adds the necessary hint of flavor without being spicy, and the chile oil rounds up a mouthful of soft vinegary flavor that washes away the day’s worries.

Oysters with saffron-pickled cucumbers and Aleppo:

Ingredients for a dozen oysters:

·         1 cup white wine vinegar
·         1 cup water
·         3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
·         1 Tbsp. Himalayan pink salt
·         2 tps granulated sugar
·         ½ English cucumber, two opposite sides peeled and cucumber sliced into ⅛-inch strips, stacked and then sliced crosswise into ⅛-inch matchsticks
·         2 pinches saffron threads
·         2 tps. finely chopped fresh dill
·         2 cups coarse salt or coloured gravel
· ½ teaspoon Aleppo chile
· Chile oil


First pickle the cucumbers: In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the vinegar, water, garlic, salt and sugar to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cucumber matchsticks and saffron. Transfer the cucumbers and the pickling liquid to a bowl and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, preferably overnight.

            Transfer 2 tablespoons of the cucumber pickling liquid to a medium bowl. Drain the chilled                           cucumbers (save the pickling liquid for another use) and toss them with the reserved pickling liquid and the dill.

To a medium bowl, add the salt and enough cold water to create the consistency of wet sand; or spread a bed of coloured gravel.  Shuck the oysters and nestle each one into the salt or gravel bed. Top each oyster with some of the pickled cucumbers and pickling liquid and finish with a pinch of Aleppo chile and a few drops of chile oil.

For either of the last two ideas at your next oyster party, a nice cold beer will do.  In honour of the true French brasserie, I prefer either Belge or French beer.  Salut, to a life of crime and scrumptious eating!