Paris is literally bustling around me right now. A certain someone suggested I head to Place de la Concorde and type my next blog from here. So, here I am…sitting in the park off Place de la Concorde (I opted out of dodging traffic to get to the fountain) writing. It’s a clear and brisk day in Paris, but the sun keeps making an appearance. Sitting on park bench being flanked by Hotel Crillon to the left, where my new favorite cookbook is from, and the Eiffel Tower to the right is hardly torture.
Yesterday, I survived my first cooking class in Montmartre. I woke up and walked down to the Jules Joffrin metro to meet up with my class, and found my instructor (from Los Angeles) with her green shopping cart, three other Americans, and two Aussies. It was a fantastic group! We got started right away on a super market sweep like that of my last blog post, only this time, our Sherpa provided tons of inside information, truly breaking down the last bit of apprehension that any of us had shopping in this style.
We visited a traditional boucher where we bought our meat (we also stopped for a brief moment in front of a horse meat butcher…there are only about 40 left in Paris), a cheese shop where we learned about the layout of the store (it’s intentional…the strongest cheeses are kept at the front for ventilation reasons), a fishmonger, a fruit and vegetable market, and finally, a boulangerie with an oven so old, when it breaks, the stores closes down for weeks at a time while the part is retrieved from some obscure place in France. The bread was to die for.
The menu was completely up to our group, and we decided on some things that were outside of our cooking comfort zones. To start, we beheaded and cleaned langoustines, and removed the nerve and egg sacks from fresh scallops. We seered the scallops and sautéed the langoustines, and served those with a confit of fennel and onions, alongside a sauce we made from the langoustine shells and cream (have no fear– we strained them out). Delicious.
Our main meal was constructed from lamb shoulder. As I mentioned before, it’s cold in Paris (it actually snowed during class yesterday), so a stew was the way to go. We browned the lamb, and deglazed the pan with Calvados, an apple liquor, and then into the pool went onions, shallots, carrots, garlic and white wine. The stew simmered for about two hours while we got busy with other things, like the celeriac puree and sautéed romanesco served alongside it. If you’re not familiar with romanesco, check out the picture. It tastes like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, and is sometimes aptly called, broccoflower.
For our second protein, we chose duck breast, since most of us weren’t familiar with how to cook it. We cleaned up each piece of meat, including trimming away some of the fat and scoring the fatty underside so the fat didn’t bubble up and pucker. Then, we browned them in a dry pan; you wouldn’t believe how much fat rendered off each one. They went into the oven for about seven minutes to finish cooking, resulting in medium rare duck that we served with a red wine reduction. The fat was so crispy and delicious, and the duck tender and mild. It was, in most of our opinions, the star of the show, and I will never shy away from making duck again.
While the stew simmered in the background, we polished off our starters, but not before we separated eggs and extracted vanilla beans for crème brulee. Wowsers. I don’t know what was better: eating it or getting to torch the top. Who says cooking isn’t fun? We also learned about the cheeses we had selected, and the order in which to eat them. It seems rather obvious, but some people forget that you should always eat your strongest cheese (in our case, a bleu) last. That way, the fortitude of the flavor doesn’t alter the taste of the other cheeses. We enjoyed these with our breads from the boulangerie.
I honestly don’t think I have ever eaten so much in my life. There was wine and champagne involved too, and lots of great conversation about Paris, culinary delights, restaurants, Costco, celebrity chefs, and the lives we lead elsewhere. After class, a few of us popped up to the Sacre Coeur to walk off our lunch. It was beyond necessary. The views over Paris from the butte were magnificent, much like our lunch was, and I had fun showing a few of my new friends around Montmartre.
While I knew a lot of what was taught, I also learned a lot in this class, chief among them not to be timid of new ingredients. Adventure is part of a successful kitchen experience, and being able to adapt and roll with the punches is a lesson for life.
Cookn with Class
18th Arrond.- Montmartre
€160/4 Hours Including Market Tour
Next class: Tuesday at L’Ecole Ritz Escoffier