Friday, December 26, 2014

Paris - Gardil: A Great Butcher

Near our new apartment is one of Paris' best butchers, Jean-Paul Gardil et Fils, in the middle of the magnificent Île Saint-Louis. Although Gardil is wildly expensive, I decided to give it a few tries, and had not only great products but nice experiences.

Gardil's window display of great poultry
I visited Gardil on Friday, December 19 to order provisions for dinners on December 23, a Tuesday, and Christmas day, a Thursday. And I needed duck foie gras to prepare on Saturday, December 20. First, the foie gras. It was not de-nerved, and taking out the nerves is a job I do not want to do ever again, having made a disgusting mess of it when I tried. No problem, said the butcher (I had Gardil fils), he would do it the next morning (it needs to be out of the fridge for two hours before de-nerving) and I could pick it up at 10 on Saturday.

Foe gras resting under a layer of duck fat
My best foie gras ever
Then, chicken for Tuesday. I ordered it for Saturday, but the butcher thought that would leave the chicken in my fridge for too long. I said I was marinating it Monday night, but he was insistent. Luckily, the shop, normally closed on Mondays, was open exceptionally for the holiday season, so we made a date for Monday.

As for the lamb, since I was serving it Thursday, the earliest he would let me have it was Tuesday, otherwise it would be too long in my fridge. I'm sure he would have preferred Wednesday, but I didn't want to face the Christmas eve crush.

The point of the story is that Gardil takes enormous pride in its products and wants its customers to serve it while still at maximum freshness, a level of attention I have never seen before. I went to pick up the foie gras on Saturday, and the butcher said it was ready and could hardly wait to show me how beautifully he had done the job. And he had. The foie gras was the best I ever made, and there was not a nerve to be seen, no matter how tiny.

Monday I picked up the chicken, which was prepared before me at considerable length. This is how it's done in Paris: head and feet cut off, joints stretched, giblets removed (and saved), when the chicken is sold, and not before. Slow but, again, freshness is all. I asked him to cut the chicken into eight pieces, which he did with great precision and speed, keeping some bones and the neck separate for me, which I used to make stock for Christmas dinner. (Unfortunately I forgot to ask for the feet, which add a lot of depth to stock due to the collagen within.) As with the foie gras, the chicken was simply the best I have ever made. A poulet fermier, it was rich in flavor but not tough as they sometimes are in the US.

Chicken from Gardil
Tuesday I returned for the leg of lamb. By now we were old friends, and I got an especially nice greeting. It had already been prepared and was ready to go. The butcher gave me instructions, which I did not follow because I was using a recipe that I had tried before with success. The lamb was excellent, but unlike the foie gras and chicken, was not the best I have ever made.

Lamb from Gardil, slathered with anchovy butter
The fun part of this trip was the dialogue between the butcher and a woman who had purchased a magnificent and wildly expensive (probably more than $200) capon for the next night. The butcher explained exactly how to cook it - two and a quarter hours, turning it at specific times, adding wine at specific times, etc. The customer took notes and then asked if she could make it in advance. The butcher visibly winced, but after gathering his composure, told her how best to do it: do NOT put it in the fridge and then reheat very gently at 210-225 degrees Farenheit (my conversions) for about 40 minutes. He did not ask her what is the point of cooking a roast a couple of hours in advance and reheating it, which showed great sensitivity.

Along the way, I bought some ham made from Noir de Bigorre pork from the Pyrenees, a duck sausage and two pâtes. The pâtes were not extraordinary but the ham and sausage definitely were. In sum, I learned a lot, ate well and had a terrific time (actually four times) at Gardil. And people ask what I do in Paris!

Bobby Jay

5 comments:

Nadege said...

You should ask your butcher if he can do this for you :
http://www.lepoint.fr/invites-du-point/alain-passard/la-volaille-haute-couture-mi-poulet-mi-canard-d-alain-passard-20-12-2014-1891334_571.php

Bobby Jay said...

This is pretty cool, Nadege. I'm sure any good butcher could do it, and it may even be possible to do it by oneself, although the sewing part could get messy.

Do you know the turducken, which is a boneless turkey stuffed with a boneless duck stuffed in turn with a boneless chicken, all with layers of bread stuffing? Sounds innovative, but I saw a French cookbook from the early 20th century where they went even farther, adding a pigeon and a quail (maybe an ortolan, too, but I don't recall).

Bobby Jay said...

And speaking of Alain Passard, Nadege, there is a lovely bande dessiné about him called En Cuisine avec Alain Passard (http://www.amazon.fr/En-cuisine-avec-Alain-Passard/dp/207069612X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419675775&sr=8-1&keywords=passard)

Having once been to Arpège, I thought he was a rip-off, but upon reading the book I came to admire him greatly. He has two different farms where he produces vegetables, one with horse-drawn plows, and brings such a level of care and refinement to his food that it is impossible not to be impressed.

Nadege said...

Yes, I have heard of the turducken but not the "russian doles" stuffed birds (maybe grive [small bird], quail, pigeon…) though, I think Julia Child might have mentioned it in her book. I get most of Alain Passard's videos from Russ Parsons on Facebook. Russ is a chef and food critic at the LA Times. Check this video of Alain's " roulade de legumes" he posted last week :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufQdIWM7PxM#t=15

It is just nice to have access to great food like you do in France right now.You probably get better food on the East coast than we do on the West coast.
Happy new year, in case you don't post before the end year!

Bobby Jay said...

Yes, I think it was grive.

The roulade is magnificent. I might try it.

True, the products in France are amazing if one knows where to go and makes the effort. As for the east coast versus west, I think you may get the better produce so much that comes from California is harvested too early for transportation reasons that a lot is pretty poor.