Welcome to Brunette à Bicyclettea collection of thoughts, photos, and videos; my digital scrapbook of the people and places I’ve come to love, wherever I happen to be (currently, that’s Washington, DC).
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I was overwhelmed with the response to my first post on chicken in this little series on buying meat in France. I’m so glad my bit of amateur research was useful for some of you readers out there, whoever you are. This one took a bit more digging, but I hope it’ll be of use as well.
Le porc is at the center of so many traditional French dishes — quiche lorraine, andouillettes, le petit salé, the ubiquitous ham sandwich, and that’s not even getting into paté and all the different types of charcuterie. It’s used in so many of the classic French dishes, whether it’s the star of the dish or the fat added for extra flavor for vegetables and lean meats. Continue reading →
I’m constantly amazed by the sheer number of French words and expressions for all things food and eating and how often they come into play. Your Métro car can be “plein comme un oeuf.” And contrary to what you might think, someone who tells you, “je ne suis pas dans mon assiette” isn’t looking for their dinner plate. A professor of mine once described two different procedures before the Conseil d’État (the highest administrative court in France) as “la procédure tartine au beurre“ and “la procédure sandwich.” Bref. This is serious stuff.
To further complicate matters, when it comes to shopping for food outside of the grocery store, things are often purchased from a merchant, which requires considerably more conversation: is that in kilos, livres, grammes or something else? Je coupe le fringues? C’est pour faire quoi? Sec, mi-sec ou moelleux? C’est pour aujourd’hui? I ordered “a book” of my favorite onions every week for months without realizing until one Sunday another woman in line turned to her friend and laughed at me. (The “onion guys” were nice enough to zip it). Steep learning curve aside, I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had with willing marchands about the best way to pick, keep, and prepare whatever it is they’re selling, even if I happen to make a few French errors. If you come during off-hours people are more amenable to spend time chatting with you, and who better to get advice from than the experts themselves?
One of my biggest problems was meat. It’s one thing when everything is set out and labeled, but often it’s not that simple. Sure, it’s easy to pick a fruit or veggie that looks nice, but can you recognize the steak you want from a huge yet-to-be-cut hunk of meat? I couldn’t. Knowing what I wanted to cook, I’d walk into a boucherie and quickly realize I had nothing but a huge signboard with a list of prices to guide me and a long line of people behind me. (Panic!) Sometimes I’d end up with what I wanted. Other nights, dinner plans changed.
It wasn’t until I got into French cookbooks that I started to really get a handle on things. Normally, the huge, encyclopedic guides to all things gastronomie have at least a section on meats and their preparation. But, moving around from small apartment to small apartment has made those less attractive. I found this little retro book in an adorable shop in the 5e. The owner remarked that you don’t find many cookbooks like these around anymore. She’s right. Its pictures are really useful, so I forgive the occasional flourishes of 1980′s Nouvelle Cuisine ridiculousness: No rosettes in my baron please. And, game meat looks gamey enough without evergreen fronds and pinecones scattered around it, thank you.
I found that there isn’t a lot of information out there for Anglophones on buying meat in France. Those of us who’ve mostly interacted with meat already wrapped in plastic and labeled – and weren’t lucky enough to grow up with our amiable local butcher to prepare our Sunday roast – might feel a bit lost. But thankfully for those who want to know more about what they’re buying, there’s tons of information if you know what to look for. Personally, this ongoing learning experience has helped me feel much closer to my food, including the monetary and environmental costs of bringing it to my table, and improved my ability to choose and prepare what I eat. So, the idea for this little series was born. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned, largely through trial and error, some research, and my new favorite little, quirky cookbook.
“Volaille” is best equated to “poultry,” but generally includes domestic rabbit too. Not surprisingly, all things chicken alone in France amounts to a post in it of itself, so that’s all I’m going to get to here. But, there’s more to come! Continue reading →