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  1. Ptipois

    Pêches de Vigne

    You are very likely to find some at that time. They are late season peaches.
  2. Ptipois

    Coq Au Vin

    Just say "je voudrais faire un coq au vin, qu'est-ce que vous me conseillez ?" The butcher or stall holder will then automatically direct you towards the most suitable fowl. Either a large, mature chicken with legs that prove that the bird has had some chance to run during its lifetime, or a rooster if he happens to have some handy. He will also offer to cut it up for you. I have noticed that large butcher shops or market stalls are more likely to have rooster available than regular neighborhood butchers. But you can perfectly order rooster from any butcher shop, counting a few days for the sourcing. Koen: indeed "coq" is rooster, but "poulet" is chicken and "poule" is hen.
  3. Ptipois

    Coq Au Vin

    Coq au vin was created as a stewed dish because rooster is tough. From there it is easy to figure out the main guideline. You need a stewing fowl that is both plump and fleshy like our farm roosters, but tough enough not to disintegrate after an hour of cooking — as I have seen American chickens do in most stewed dishes I used them in. So either you find a real rooster from a farm or you get the oldest farm chicken you can put your hands on, with well-developed legbones. No soft bones: bone hardness is a sure sign that you will get a good stewed chicken dish. It should be cut in rather small pieces (thigh and drumstick both cut in two parts, for instance), for it is important that the sauce penetrates the flesh properly during the cooking. First stew the legs, wings, backs, etc., for the required time, but cut out the breast meat from the bone and set it aside, rubbing it with a little red wine or brandy. 15 minutes before your coq au vin is ready, add the breast meat and simmer until cooked through - do not boil.
  4. Ptipois

    Duck press meals in Paris

    If you want the original version of the pressed duck dish, go to Rouen or Duclair, 100 miles Northwest of Paris (1 hour and 10 minutes by train), where the recipe originated. Best places in Rouen for canard à la rouennaise (a.k.a. à la presse) are La Couronne and L'Hôtel de Dieppe (facing the train station). La Tour d'Argent has only been serving the dish continuously since the days when canard à la rouennaise was famous in Paris (other places served it, then it fell out of fashion), but it does not serve the ultimate version of it.
  5. If you ever want to sample real Norman butter (which will change your idea of butter forever), drop by the Fromagerie François Olivier, 40 rue de l'Hôpital (near the rue Beauvoisine/rue des Carmes corner).
  6. Ptipois

    Lotus Pod Season

    Though mild, they are tasty, somewhere between raw green peas and fresh almonds. I tried them for the first time in August, in Zhejiang, and they are peeled before eating. Very delicate and delicious.
  7. I'd start the guinea-hen in the oven with a few quartered onions and garlic, roast it as any normal fowl, then add the choucroute in the pan about 1/2 hour before the bird is ready, basting frequently, adding a little white wine or beer. Or braise everything (choucroute, bird) in a Dutch oven with some white wine, beer and onions. Aside from the Monet house and gardens, there is a good American art museum in Giverny. But the gardens will be very bare in December. I suspect there will be far more to see in Rouen in Winter than in Giverny. La Couronne and L'Hôtel de Dieppe are two landmark restaurants serving the famous Canard à la Rouennaise (the original version of the Tour d'Argent duck), or you may try more contemporary places like Le P'tit Bec, L'Espiguette or Origines.
  8. Guinea hens are awesome when you choose the farm-raised ones. They can be fatty enough, it all depends on the way they were raised, but they're never as fatty as a fat chicken can be. It is also better to choose rather large birds than small ones. Try roasting one over a bed of choucroute. Sauerkraut that you buy at the charcuterie stalls on markets is generally very good.
  9. Yes, I do think you chose your location well. Val-de-Grâce is an extremely pleasant area of Paris and nicely located, too. Technically you're touching the Montparnasse area and there's a few interesting restaurants around there. But you're also close to the Censier/Monge/Mouffetard area where I live, and you only need to walk along the boulevard Saint-Michel to the river to get to the actual center of the city. (Indeed I am the one who wrote about the chickens. I love roast chicken.) Now I feel a little guilty about telling you to dump your choices. These restaurants are not bad but it is my opinion that many other places are worth exploring these days. Passage 53 is expensive (for what it is) and the seats are incredibly uncomfortable. L'Epi Dupin suffers from a lack of taste balance (think I, but I am not the only one who reported in these terms) and I find L'Agapé Substance, for all its technical brilliance, dull and show-offy and not very delicious. The places I recommend are all yummy. Roller bags are not expensive, get a cheap one when you get here. Don't bother with flying one overseas... Temperature in late December is not very predictable. Paris has a damp, cool climate in Winter that may occasionally turn to dry and very cold, but around Christmas you never know. Big waves of cold weather usually arrive in January-February. Seasonal ingredients in early Winter: yes, the pears will be there, I recommend the Comice variety. Apples as well, and all sorts of citrus. A good period for pork, fish, shellfish and root vegetables. Rouen is interesting and really the market is gorgeous (apples, pears, farm chickens, fresh vegetables, boudins, pâtés, and genuine Neuchâtel cheeses right from the producer). Nothing about WWII there (except the fact that most of the ancient part of the city was destroyed by bombs, however there's still a lot of it left), for that you need to go to the Calvados coast, beyond Caen and Bayeux. Rouen is closer, only 125 km West of Paris. Same direction as Giverny, going towards the sea. Vietnamese restaurants: try Pho Mui on avenue de Choisy, Pho Bida Vietnam on rue Nationale. The lower part of avenue de Choisy is more Cambodian. As for Laotian food, think Isaan food from Northeastern Thailand. They are identical. Actually many (if not all) restaurants claiming to be "Thai" in Paris are actually run by Lao people. My favorites are Lao Thai, rue de Tolbiac, and Lao Viet, boulevard Massena. Yes, it would be a good idea to try a tour of Rungis. There are guided tours available but I don't know exactly how many people they include or how much they cost. If I find a link I'll post it here. All I know is that they're scheduled very early in the morning. I am clueless about the bread thing. I'll give it some thinking.
  10. Now for the restaurant recommendations: You can do far better than your current selection. You can dump all of them except La Régalade (not the Saint-Honoré, but rather the original location on avenue Jean-Moulin) and, perhaps, L'As du Falafel where I haven't been (I prefer Mi Va Mi, just across the street). Here's a selection in Paris right now, forgetting a few, and there's certainly a lot more interesting places that I can't recommend because I haven't been there: Left bank: Le Pré Verre (after morning shopping at the Maubert market), Dans les Landes (lunch preferably, and book your table), Terroir Parisien, Les Papilles, Christophe, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, Sola, Semilla, La Rotonde (had a very nice meal there recently), L'Auberge du 15, Afaria, Le Grand Pan, Le Casse-Noix, La Cantine du Troquet (2 locations), Le Severo and Le Bis (du Severo), Les Petits Plats, Au Dernier Métro... Right bank: Spring, Septime, Saturne, Yam t'cha (if you can book), Les Jalles, Claude Colliot, Alain Milliat, Chez l'Ami Jean, Les Canailles, Albion, Cartouche Café, Vivant, Youpi et Voilà !, Le Châteaubriand, Pierre-Sang Boyer, Jeanne A, Les Tablettes, Le Bouchon et l'Assiette, Caïus and Zinc Caïus, Le Galvacher (for steak), Le Grand 8, le Bal Café... We've also got a few good Chinese and Laotian places. Ask if you want a list.
  11. 1) Being on rue du Val-de-Grâce, the only market that's really close is Port-Royal. I mean within walking distance with bags and baskets to carry. A little more remote: marché place Monge (Wed., Fri., Sun.), place Maubert, Blanqui, Raspail. Mouffetard is not a market (it is a "market street" but it has lost much of its interest during the last 20 years). 2) Fresh truffles are not particularly found at markets, trust the specialized stores. Some butchers carry truffles in December for the holiday season. Make sure you buy Tuber melanosporum, not Tuber brumale which is also a Winter truffle. Your sense of smell should guide you. An exception: I've known truffles to be available at the Batignolles market (17th). 3) You won't have "French food fatigue" if you're staying 2 weeks. Ramen is not really interesting in Paris. But if you do get weary, try what Paris does best: the real Vietnamese (not Hmong) pho soups in the 13th arrondissement or the couscous restaurants (Chez Hamadi being the textbook hole in the wall serving scrumptious Tunisian couscous). 4. If you like markets, a day trip to Rouen would be a good idea. The Clos-Saint-Marc a.k.a. "Le Clos" (in the East side of the city) is one of the most beautiful markets within a 2-hour drive from Paris. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, 6am-6pm, and Sunday, 6am-1:30pm.The city is beautiful too. I would recommend the Marché de Lices in Rennes, but that's a little far for a day trip. Non-market trips: Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Compiègne, Senlis... Chambord is stunning but there's the château and that's it. 5. Christmas markets are not a Parisian thing though in recent years some have appeared, but there's nothing thrilling about them. The Alsatian Christmas market in front of the gare de l'Est has some really good products. Flea markets: try Vanves and Montreuil during the weekend, right on the Eastern outskirts of Paris. And place d'Aligre every morning.
  12. Ptipois

    Ventreche de cochon

    Ventrèche just means "belly" in Southern French, with a nuance of fattiness. Hence pork belly and tuna belly both bear that name in the South. Ventrèche de porc (or de cochon) can be raw or cured, but the term is not used for smoked pork belly since pork is generally not smoked in the South and Southwest. A ventrèche de porc to be cut thin on a deli slicer should be very dry. Indeed a very dry cured pancetta would do the job.
  13. That can no longer be called "à la parisienne". It can be called otherwise. Could be great, but it will be something entirely different. The roux-based sauce of the original recipe is not "heavier than it has to be" since it has to be the way the recipe originally intended. If you still want to call it a parisienne, that is. Do whatever you wish to classic preparations, that's perfectly OK, but do not believe that they are "not the way they have to be" because they've been waiting all along for the lights of modernity, or rather modernistity, to shine on them at last. It's not a matter of what should be done and what should not, it is only a matter of terminology.
  14. Ptipois

    What's a "picoche"?

    Either the term is an old Provençal one and it can't be found anywhere, so it may have disappeared, or Giono entirely made it up and that wouldn't be the only time he's done that. He was known to embellish reality, often departing from the mere description of things to create a universe of his own. All the while keeping the appearance of perfect plausibility so it is not easy to tell his inventions from his observations. That is what makes him a great writer. If that's a real dish, there does not seem to remain any trace of it. Giono was fascinated by food and cooking. Since he suffered from the gout, he could eat very little of what he liked. So he put the descriptions in his novels. The wine "with the smell of wood rot" sounds exactly like those old bottles of "madérisé" (oxidized) fortified wine that house cooks used to keep for cooking purposes long ago. I suspect that if he didn't made it all up, the writer is recalling a childhood memory.
  15. Ptipois

    Farewell to Foie Gras

    Have you read the reporting of what goes on in Foie farms in the Hudson River Valley? It's on another food site, so I don't know if I'm allowed to link it. Just Google it. The farmers allowed a team of reporters and bloggers to tour their facility, top to bottom. No locked doors. I learned some things. First of all, ducks breathe through their tongues. So shoving a tube down their throat -- while not pleasant -- isn't painful. And while they don't line up for thier gavage, they don't run away, either. The ducks are very well cared for, because that's how the farmers get class-A foie. Stressed out, abused ducks aren't going to produce class-A, and therefore all that effort and money yields a lower return. And while I'm sure there are industrial foie farms that savagely abuse animals, just like CAFOs and battery eggs, I don't buy from those places. And YES, for the umpteenth time, there are TWO SIDES (or more) to this. There is the side that wants to ban food because they find it ethically questionable, and there is the side that doesn't. I'm on the latter side. If any vegetarians want to join us in the struggle to keep the food we like from being criminalized, all the better. But I don't see a mad rush of vegans demanding that foie remain legal. I would LOVE to be proven wrong on this point. Entirely agreed. The problem, as is often the case, is the drastic difference between industrial foie gras production (which is cruel and can be harmful to animals; besides it yields a lower-quality product) and traditional-style artisan production, in which I see no trace of cruelty except in the fact that ducks and geese, like all animals raised for food since the beginning of agriculture, are eventually killed. It really eludes me why anti-foie-gras activists never mention or take in account the biological facts about palmipedes, which are not speculation but reality. It puzzles me even more to see whole states banning foie gras, period, regardless of the conditions of production which are the real issue. It is simply not true that foie gras production is, per se, cruel to animals. Industrial, large-scale force-feeding is. Ducks and geese have no "throats", they have crops, i.e. direct connection from the mouth to the digestive system. The upper part of their digestive tube can expand dramatically to swallow large items. A feature that these birds have in common with reptiles and enables waterfowl to swallow whole fish before digesting them. One of the effects of this anatomical disposition is that ducks and geese have no gag reflex. Their throat is not lined with cartilaginous rings and is very extensible. All that allows that tube-feeding, done in normal, non-intensive conditions, is not traumatic to the animal. I will only briefly go back into the natural ability of ducks and geese to store energy in their livers in the form of fat before migration, a reflex farmed birds have kept from the time when their ancestors were actually migrating, for everybody normally should know those facts before debating about the supposed cruelty and unnaturalness of foie gras. They can be found in scientific studies and reports on the subject. In the same way, everybody should know that fattened liver in palmipedes is not a "diseased organ". Diseased organs have to be cured or they lead to death. Fattened liver, after migration (or after a period of force-feeding if the bird is not killed), returns to normal, with no trace of extra fat, in a period of about four weeks. Now for personal experience. I had never seen duck force-feeding until last week when I visited a small artisan duck farm in the Pays basque. The farmer produces foies gras and other duck products of the highest quality, at the end of a carefully thought process that involves the soil the birds are bred on, the food they eat at various stages of their lives, the feeding methods, etc. Aside from the modern-style feeding machine and a home-devised solar-powered corn drying plant, all details of the process are traditional. Ducks spend the first two weeks of their life in a warm room, on a litter of finely crushed corn cobs (soft, elastic and very absorbent). Then they are left to roam freely in an apple orchard, feeding on grass and insects and fertilizing the ground all the while. In order to prevent attacks from other animals (birds of prey, mustelidae, foxes), they are accompanied by a couple of geese which are the best (and noisiest) protection against predators. The apple trees also protect them from the sun (ducks don't like heat). They are also allowed into a field where they eat young sprouts of various cereals and plants sown by the farmer. When they have grown larger, they live on a 10-hectare surface of corn fields bordered by a small stream until it is time for the final force-feeding period. One important point is the breed of ducks. This farmer breeds criaxera ducks, a cross of wild mallard duck and muscovy duck which used to be the traditional local breed. Fifty years ago they could be found at every duck farm in the Pays basque. Now only a few, including this farmer, have decided to revive that beautiful, hardy breed. The fattening period takes 15 to 18 days. It is done on large elevated cages in which the ducks have plenty of room for moving around. Fans are turned on to keep them cool. I have seen the feeding, which happens twice a day. The feeding machine is strictly calibrated to dispense a precise amount of boiled corn kernels (organic and grown on the farm) to each duck. The farmer recalibrates the quantity every day according to the season, the outside temperature, and the ducks' appetite. He has to be very precise: a little too much and the duck gets sick, not enough and the liver does not grow. We're rather far from stomach-ripping quantities. Just before the feeding, the ducks looked stiff, attentive, a little tense. Some were panting (from a little excess heat on that day - yes indeed, ducks breathe through their tongue). As the farmer and machine approached, they got a little more lively, but by no means frightened or alarmed. Lowering the tube closer to each duck's head, the farmer gently seizes the head, opens the beak with one finger and plunges the tube into the neck. Each feeding lasts no more than three seconds. Tube is removed and he goes to the next duck. When the tube is removed, the duck looks quite peaceful. When the feeding is over, the ducks, formerly rather quiet, seem to come alive. They cackle gently, move around, clean their feathers and spread their large wings. The farmer told me that spreading wings is a sign of duck satisfaction.