Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

An American Home Cook in Paris

March 17, 1994|MICHAEL ROBERTS

Everyone who has visited Paris is familiar with its restaurants, bistros, brasseries and cafes, and for devotees of French cooking it's a visit to the source, a culinary pilgrimage. But what Parisians cook and eat at home differs markedly from the cuisine served in restaurants.

Recently, I spent time in the Buttes-Chaumont section of Paris, a traditional neighborhood, a former village that around the middle of the last century found itself enveloped by the city down the hill. My host, who had finished a major renovation of his apartment the day of my arrival, was very happy to have a cook in residence for a month. Needless to say, we threw lots of dinner parties to show off the new apartment.

Every day, I found myself in the neighborhood shopping street, much like any Parisian, traipsing around with the ubiquitous baguette under my arm, trying to balance my overladen basket of food. Between the Metro station and the apartment were two produce stands, three butchers, two poultry shops, two fishmongers, three bakeries plus two bread shops, a couple of convenience stores, some wine shops and the general store, or epicerie.

As if this were not sufficient, at the bottom of the shopping street was the Marche Carmes, a covered market dating from 1868 that sheltered, I found out shortly, an additional two dozen or so purveyors, including two kosher butchers and a Moroccan specialty shop.

*

For most Parisians, shopping for food and cooking at home is a daily activity. It's also very social. Neighbors gossip and exchange news while shopping for the day's meals, and there's the feeling of a local fair.

The marchand des quatre saisons (greengrocer) hawks tomatoes from Sicily and Anjou pears from Morocco before the French crops come in. He'll tell you to bathe summer endive in a little sugar water for use in salads because when the weather turns warm the endive turns bitter. He advises you to simply shell the fava beans--but not to bother peeling them--when they're young, because the skins on the beans inside the pod are not at all a nuisance to eat. Beets are sold cooked in their jackets, ready to peel and eat. There's a special price for buying two types of lettuce rather than two heads of the same variety. (Is he concerned that we may serve a boring salad and perhaps blame him for selling us boring lettuce?)

There's new garlic, wild asparagus shoots, green beans, yellow wax beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, celeriac, turnips, several varieties of potatoes, fresh herbs and fruits unimaginable.

One spring day, after a week of rain throughout northern France, the grocer alerted me to an anticipated arrival of cepes , the king of mushrooms, just in time for the weekend. On weekends, he told me, people spend more time cooking.

*

Or, as a woman explained to me one morning in the Marche Carmes, "On Wednesdays, I go alone to the market and look for bargains. I take my time. On Saturdays, I go with my husband. He doesn't want a bargain. He wants something fabulous."

The dairyman sells milk (cow's, goat's and sheep's), cheese, yogurt and several kinds of butter. He asked if I were planning to serve the cheese that same evening, or should he sell me one that would be ripe the following day?

The triperie vends specialty meats; the charcutier makes pates and mousses and sells dry country sausages, salted pork, hams and prosciutto. The traiteur sells composed salads, coquilles St. Jacques ready to go under the broiler, marinated fish and seafood pates and mousses.

The butcher sells all cuts of beef, lamb, veal and pork. He prepares rolled and stuffed veal roasts, or pork loins garnished with prunes, ready to take home and pop in the oven. He asked for what dish I was intending the beef shoulder I'd pointed to, and then insisted I buy instead a more gelatinous cut from the shank to prepare my daube , a rich winey stew.

There are no less than a dozen kinds of fish on any given day at the neighborhood fishmonger, la poissonerie. She also sells cooked langoustines, shrimp, even lobsters and crabs, ready to take home and eat, and cooked bulots and bigorneaux , types of sea snails that you dip in a garlicky aioli mayonnaise. When I told her that I loved brandade --a puree of salt cod, oil, garlic and cream--she offered to soak a nice piece of salt cod for me to cook two days hence.

*

Whenever I returned to the market, there would be inquiries about the dinner in question, and the merchants took more than a little pride in having helped make the meal a success.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|