It started out by having all of us ‘students’ meet the chef teacher at a designated subway stop at 5pm. We then walked through the local market street, went to their kitchen to cook, then ate. LOML joined us at about 9pm to eat the food. It was really good.
We waited for 15 minutes for a couple to show up that was running late. They didn’t make it until about an hour later. It all ended up being just fine in the end.
The first stop on the market street was the cheese shop. It was really full. Since it was a holiday weekend the Parisians were stocking up on their favorite cheeses and other traditional ingredients for their New Year’s celebrations. You could smell the cheese shop from the street. Since there were 5 of us we decided to stop at the cheese shop at the end to see if there would be less people.
Then we were off to the butcher. In France they keep the heads and feet on the poultry, and sometime the feathers stay on the wings, too. It was a different sight than what I’m used to from US meat shops. The rabbits had their heads and eyes, too. The chef gave a description of the kinds of meat available and some good recipes for each kind of meat. It was hard to decide what we wanted to cook and eat. They even had pigeon. And foi gras, which is illegal in San Francisco…probably other places in the US, too. People have issues with fattening up ducks just for their liver, I guess. Which means we totally purchased some and had it as an appetizer. No joke.
Next up was the produce market. The French really like their food to be locally produced if possible. Most of what we ate was in season, too, as the chef prefers to cook that way. I noticed many types of potatoes, some strange cabbages, lots of fresh herbs and the biggest avocados I have seen in my life. (NOTE: The avocados were not local.) I learned how to tell if a pear is ripe without bruising it. And they have this little orange squash with a thin peel that you can eat (Potimarron squash). We used that for our soup.
One of the people in the group had a seafood allergy so we stayed away from the fish, but we did go and look at the fish market stall to see what they have. Seafood is the traditional food for the French for New Year’s. I’m not sure why; the chef did not explain that. The fish monger didn’t have much options left when we arrived. They were going to be closed for 2 days for the holiday and hadn’t gotten in new stock. There was talk of cooking the ugly monk fish, but they didn’t have any, so that was not an option.
Outside of the seafood place we decided on our menu. By this time the missing late couple had gotten themselves un-lost and found us.
-squash soup (Potimarron squash)
-foi gras on fresh baguette
-roasted leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and thyme
-potatoes fried in clarified butter
-sampling of about 10 different cheeses with fresh baguette and unpasteurized butter
The Cheese Shop
Cheese shops in France are smelly. You know you are approaching a cheese shop from a little way down the street if the wind is blowing in the right direction. This cheese shop was smelly, but it wasn’t as bad as some I have walked by in Paris. The chef explained the layout of Paris cheese shops and they types of cheeses. They are grouped by region, type of cheese and age of cheese. Almost all of the cheeses in here are made from unpasteurized milk. (You can tell pasteurized from un- by looking at the consistency of the cheese. The airy ones with holes are unpasteurized. The solid looking cheeses don’t have those airy lacey looking holes, aside from cheeses like Swiss that naturally have holes. This trick doesn’t hold true for soft cheeses, however.) This kind of a store would not be allowed to exist in the States. All of the cheeses are at room temperature on open shelves. The employees handle the cheeses with bare hands. The knives and cutting boards are out in the open floor. The French view cheese as a living organism. Most cheeses are only good for 2-6 weeks. Some cheeses can be aged for up to 4 years.
The picture on here shows the blue cheeses and the white downy mold cheeses (think brie and Camembert). The most pungent and sharp blue cheese we tried was the Roquefort. If you are not a big fan of blue cheese I suggest you stay away from this one. It is strong. There was a cow’s milk natural blue cheese that both LOML and I enjoyed. It has a more mild flavor and only a small amount of the blue coloring. This is because it is a natural blue cheese; meaning the cheese is put in special caves and allowed to have the blue bacteria enter naturally. Almost all other blue cheeses are injected with the blue bacteria. They are almost always not cow milk, too.
They also have unpasturized butter available for purchase in bulk. There were 2 large hunks of butter (imagine 1-2 gal buckets worth of butter) they would gouge off the amount you wanted. This butter had a slightly different flavor and was a little more salty than regular pasteurized salted butter. It had a slightly more yellow hue, as well.
And one more French cheese factoid: the French have their own versions of popular Dutch cheeses (Edam cheese, Gouda, etc) because the French and the Dutch were at war for a while. The King of France said no Dutch products could be imported-including cheese-and the people would have to learn to make those kinds if they wanted it.
On the short walk up to the kitchen we stopped at a fantastic little bakery. It has been in operation with the same wood burning oven for over 100 years. This is where I learned about traditional vs. modern baguettes. The traditional baguette is based on a sour dough starter–it is required to have a certain percentage sour dough–and made and baked fresh each day. You can tell them apart because the modern baguette has those little indentation dots on the bottom where it was baked in a silicon mold. The chef said the dough is prepared in advance and frozen in those molds. They take it out of the freezer and straight to the oven. The traditional baguette is about a million times better than the modern. Usually the traditional is baked in wood burning ovens, too, and has a little bit of ash on it. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
I could eat just fresh bread here in Europe and be happy. ::sigh::
With bread in hand we walked to the kitchen a couple blocks away. This company does baking classes and these market to table classes. They have a big kitchen with a table that can seat 8 and then they have a baking room with a number of ovens and smaller tables.
Cooking started with browning the leg of lamb on all sides. I learned to rest the meat on the edge of the pan to get those sides where the meat won’t stand on its own. The chef said that if you don’t have a pan big enough you can use a thick cookie sheet right on the stove. We almost had to do that, but he ended up finding a pan that was just big enough. If you start the browning on the fat side of the meat you do not need to add oil. The fat will melt enough so the remaining sides won’t stick to the pan. Nice tip. Then we pierced the meat with a knife to stick cloves of garlic in it. If you have never done this I highly recommend it. I’ve done it a few times with pork tenderloin and pot roasts. If you’re a fan of garlic this will get that amazing garlic flavor into the meat and really permeate it. After that, a good rub of fresh thyme and rosemary with olive oil and salt and pepper and it was ready for the oven.
Then we started the butter clarifying. We put 4 500g packages of butter in a big cast iron pot to melt and separate. That’s almost 4.5lb of butter! When it melts you see the white milk fat float to the surface. Then you have to scoop it out, leaving just the clarified butter, which is then 100% fat, like an oil. If you wanted a higher smoking point oil to use clarified butter is a good choice. It can be clarified and then placed in the refrigerator to use as needed. It will solidify when cooled. The chef gave me the task of scooping all the milk fat out of the butter.
We peeled the pears to get them ready for poaching. 8 pears were poached in half white wine and water with 2 vanilla bean sticks (cut with beans removed into pear pan) and 1.5cups of sugar. You can use red wine to poach, as well. They recommend doing it the night before so the red color can fully color the pears. Since we didn’t have time for that we used white wine. It will give the same flavor either way. Red wine just colors them. It is purposely cooked under-sweet so you can reduce the cooking liquid to a fantastic syrup to drizzle over the pears right before serving. Which we did. Yum. Such a simple dessert but so good. You don’t have to add any more sugar to the syrup if you don’t want. The pears are good just cooked, too.
Squash soup started with chopping onions, celery and a little garlic. That went into a pot with melted butter to cook. Onions, celery and butter are the base ingredients for just about every French soup. Once they were done and tender the herbs, water, Potimarron squash (chopped with skin still on) and a fresh bay leaf were added. These cooked until the squash was done. Then the chef added a splash of walnut vinegar to balance the acidity of the soup and some saffron. Then one of the other students used the immersion blender to blend it all smooth. It was served with fresh cream to drizzle on top and fresh chopped chives for sprinkling. The cream was necessary in this soup because of the intense flavor of squash due to us using the peel of the squash. It cut that intense flavor.
The potatoes. Oooo, my mouth is seriously watering thinking about these potatoes. Potatoes were washed, then cut into large wedge, steak fry sizes. We boiled these to get them almost all the way cooked. Once they were drained and dried off they were put in the clarified butter. It took about 10 minutes to fry the potatoes in the butter to get those perfect golden brown crispy edges. These potatoes were like the perfect combination of buttery baked potato, french fry, and pan fried potatoes. Freakin’ amazing. I totally recommend it.
NOTE: You can’t save the clarified butter you fried the potatoes in for future use, unless you plan on frying more potatoes the next day. It doesn’t work quite the same way as peanut oil.
I almost forgot about the Swiss chard. I don’t think I’ve ever had it before. It is a fall/winter vegetable in France so it was a local, in-season veggie for us to add to the menu. We cut the white part from the green leafy part. Then we chopped the white part into 1/4in pieces. This was put in a large sauce pan with water to cover and salt. It needed to cook a long time to soften before adding the leafy green part. The green part was sliced into 1/4in pieces as well. Once the white part was tender and cooked–it should absorb most of the water you add, drain if necessary–the green leafy part was added. It cooks just a few minutes to wilt it.
If you want to make a pretty plating presentation with Swiss chard you can cook the white and green parts separate. Then, in a small ramekin you layer the white part and then the green part and invert the ramekin on the plate. It gives a neat layered look in a crisp round form.
I don’t have photos for all of it because my camera battery went dead not too long into the night, unfortunately.
It was really good food and it wasn’t hard to make at all. Since we’ve been home I’ve made a pot of soup and it was really good. I’m headed to the local butcher in our village later today to see if we can get a good pot roast.
Thank you, LOML, for a great Christmas present. I had no idea you were getting this for me. It was totally unexpected, but ended up being perfect. Now I really want to go back for a baking class! French macarons, here I come!