Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year from Paris -- 2014


As always, we are spending the end of the year in Paris. Here are some nice, mostly food-oriented, images from Paris in late December.

Réligieuse at Dalloyau
Snowman at Dalloyau
Baby bûches de Noël on Île Saint-Louis
Merveilleuses de Fred
Chocolats Marquise de Sévigné
Macarons at Ladurée
Chocolats Michel Cluizel
Au Petit Versailles, a gorgeous boulangerie patisserie
Display at Edwart, a new and quite wonderful chocolatier
Shoe train in Printemps window
Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Paris - Christmas Dinner 2014

As has become our tradition, we had Christmas dinner chez nous with good friends from the Japanese ceramic world: a renowned Japanese potter from Kyoto and her friend, an excellent Japanese potter who has been living and working in Paris for decades and the director of one of Paris' Asian art museums. J, of course, the great dealer in contemporary Japanese ceramics, and me, the sole male and the chef.

As always, J set a magnificent table. With flowers a bit lame in the market on Christmas day, she improvised with fruit and vegetables to great effect.

Table set for Christmas dinner
For hors d'oeuvres, I prepared some curried roasted cashews and smoked paprika-spiced almonds, and tapenade and mustard palmiers. And, of course, the foie gras that I described in my previous post (sorry for the repeat picture).

Foie gras Bobby Jay
Dinner consisted of a mushroom soup from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, served over chopped mushrooms, scallions and chives, with, of course, a dollop of crème fraîche.

Mushroom soup with obligatory dollop of crème fraîche
For the main course, roast leg of lamb with anchovies, rosemary and garlic (and lots of butter and white wine) from Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories. See my previous post for a picture of the leg slathered in anchovy butter before roasting. As is customary in France, green beans with rosemary on the side.

Roast leg of lamb before carving (which didn't make it look any better)
Then the thing that, in my opinion, blows away whatever I cook: a perfect vacherin de Mont d'Or, eaten with a spoon, a Christmas tradition in France and my favorite cheese in the world. I prettied it up with slices of pear and walnuts, but the cheese is the thing here.

Vacherin de Mont d'Or with sliced pears and walnuts
Finally, Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake, also from Around My French Table, a great make-ahead dessert that keeps for days on the counter, served with yet another dollop of crème fraîche.

Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake
Really finally, assorted chocolates from La Mère de Famille, thoughtfully provided by one of the guests.

Chocolates from La Mère de Famille
A good way to pass the night with friends.

Bobby Jay

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paris -- Holiday Food

December in Paris is all about food. I've been here nearly a week and have done less walking than usual due to bad weather, but I'm starting to get around and check out what's new.

On the Île Saint-Louis, the famed butcher Gardil has a window full of gorgeous, well-dressed and expensive (64 euros per kilo -- $35 per pound -- for Bresse capon) birds. This is where I plan to provision myself for our annual Christmas dinner with our Japanese friends in Paris. Jews and Buddhists celebrating Christmas: why not?

Poultry at Boucherie Gardil
And there's a bakery on Rue Saint-Antoine that sells a big variety of what the French call "cakes," generally not overly sweet cakes made in loaf pans. I have to try one soon.

Cakes at bakery on rue Saint-Antoine
I did get to the Madeleine. As usual, Hediard had nice windows,

Hediard's Christmas window
And the Maison de la Truffe had about a million dollars' worth of black truffles in its display.

Giant truffles at Maison de la Truffe -- a study in noir et blanc
 Caviar Kaspia had a cute display, with fake Russian dolls,

Caviar Kaspia window
And Fauchon had a beautiful new cake this year. (They always beautiful products even though Fauchon is no longer the best that Paris has to offer.)

Gorgeous cake at Fauchon
More to come in future posts.

Bobby Jay

Paris -- Le Banh Mi Chez Moi

You'd think that with the large number of Vietnamese people living in Paris, the city would abound with great banh mi sandwiches. Wrong. I tried what was supposed to be one of the best and it was quite mediocre. So I solved the problem the way I did in New York, by making my own, following the wisdom in The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches, by Andrea Nguyen.

After all, you can get great pork, great liver pate and great ham in Paris, and a much better baguette than you can find in New York. I used made the full combo, using the aforementioned ingredients, plus mayo, sriracha, Maggi sauce, homemade carrot and daikon pickles, cucumber, hot peppers and cilantro. The only tricky ingredient was the peppers, because jalapenos are not available in Paris. The closest thing, Moroccan peppers, are often not hot enough but the ones I found in the market were just fine.

I used crispy roasted pork belly,

 put the whole thing together on a great French baguette,

and made myself very happy.

Bobby Jay