Saturday, December 18, 2010


Left: the fabled  French oyster - these are in a St. Malo market - are considered the best in the world. Just pry open the little darlings, squeeze lemon over, and down the hatch! If you don't like eating live things, try putting them on the half shell in a shallow pan, sprinkle chopped garlic, shallot and tomato over top, add juice of a lemon, a dusting of red pepper flakes, then dot with butter and slip into a 400 oven for a few minutes. Serve with crisp slices of toasted baguette.  Above right: MOULES FRITES...classic French bistro fare, above right from a local eatery near Mont St Michel. French mussels are smaller than our humongous farmed mussels, and they seem tastier. Simply steamed until they open, then poured into a plate with the inimitable french fry.
MY FAVORITE SALAD...broiled goat cheese atop a slice of toasted baguette. Easy? You bet! A thick foundation of spring mix, a hard-cooked egg in quarters, a bright rose of sliced tomato. And then one of my higher powers, lardons: lean cubes of bacon, fried until crisp and lavished atop the greens. A bit of vinaigrette to one side, extra bread for the thick chunk of chevre (a half inch is ideal, and if you only can get a skimpy log, just reshape it to a  more generous diameter). It rarely gets better than this!

FACTORY FOOD? Mais non, mes amis! In most French towns, food stalls are marvels of creativity and honesty. The deli counter in the Nantes food market pictured on the left offers scores of salads, dips, grilled and marinated veggies, an unctuous heap of brandade de morue, vine leaves, stuffed peppers and courgettes and zucchini, salted anchovies in huge tins (none of this measly eight fish in a tiny can, thank you). All amazingly fresh.
Right: The BUTTER master slicing off this sublime artisan-produced buerre! It's cut to order, given a final spank with wooden paddles, and lovingly wrapped for the client. Take that, Land O Lakes!
NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS...years ago, I would never fail to visit Au Pied du Cochon in the old Les Halles area. It was a real bistro of the old-fashioned sort, and justly famous for its French Onion Soup Gratinee. Nothing ever, in my estimation, came up to its quality. The down-to-earth ambiance didn't hurt, either. My friend Val and I went in on a brisk, rainy evening this October; I'd raved too much about it, she wanted to try. The place had been tarted up something fierce, and the waiters wore tuxedos. Yikes! The floors were carpetted! We were seated amidst thick white napery, heavy silverware, fifty tourists, and a warehouse full of Murano glass chandeliers. The prize came in the traditional huge bowl, the cheese browned and crisp. It was served with a flourish (on not one but two plates, yet). It looked like the real thing. Pretty! Eagerly, I dug in. And...? It was thin, over-salted, tasteless. What a shame what the siren call of a million tourists can accomplish.
SO...WHAT IS THIS? Sometimes I run across a kitchen or serving impliment that's new to me, and I like to see if anyone can identify it. This one is French, and I partook in its use in October at a birthday party in Paris. The user of this silver impliment had to search over the city to find it, but when he had it in his clutches, Jean-Marc really knew how to use it! So...what is this?

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