This is my last mainland stop in France. Paris and the Ile de France. Paris apparently has no real culinary tradition of its own. Its gastronomic renown has been built on the best from the country’s regions. Paris is not only a showcase of regional cuisines, but has successfully absorbed savoury specialities and pâtisseries in a way that acknowledges their birthplace. Market gardens grew around the capital’s edges to feed the city. Techniques to cultivate vegetables out of season to meet demand were developed here. Brie and Grand Marnier hail from this region. Pâté de Houdan is a pâté in pastry. But not just any old pâté. Non, non. It’s made with liver and meat from the Houdan fowl with a strip of foie gras and truffles through the centre. OMG. I’ll leave it there. Boom!
Paris isn’t on the coast but it has the largest wholesale fresh produce market in the world and fish is on the menu today. Main is the decadent and expensive Lobster Thermidor. Invented by Escoffier, known as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings” and was world-famous for modernising and popularising French cooking methods. The starter is St Jacques à la Parisienne. Scallops done super fancy.
I learned that there are 2 types of lobster commonly available. The Canadian. And the Scottish, also know as the Blue Leg or European. The Scottish is considered better quality and thus more expensive. We had a pair of crazy Cannucks in the kitchen. How to tell the sex? The female has a wider body and the first 2 small legs on the tail are feathery rather than hard. Cooking times are typically:
Boiled à la minute = 2 minutes per 100g
Boiled, refreshed and later reheated = 1 minute 30 per 100g
Roasted or barbecued = 2 minutes 30 per 100g.
Scallops way more interesting. They’re either dredged or hand-dived. The shells of dredged scallops might look “nicer” but the fruit is lower quality. The scallops roll over and over in the nets as they are scooped up. This cleans the shells but stresses the mollusc and puts more sand inside. A good sized scallop is at least 5 years old. They’re big! You can tell the age by counting the concentric rings.
Scallops are hermaphrodites. During the cold months they’re male and their roe or coral are white. In warmer months they become female with orange coral. A male tastes different to a female apparently. I got a lesson in the anatomy of a scallop. Did you know they have eyes? Lots of eyes. They are light sensors more than sight organs and they’re extremely sensitive. This is why live scallops should be stored with a weight on top to keep them closed and in the dark. Also covered with damp paper or cloth.
My lobster was a wriggler until he was plunged into boiling Court-Bouillon for 8 minutes. This is an acidic stock. The acidity comes from lemon juice, which kills the parasites and helps clean the shell. Then in and out of the ice bath and into the fridge. A lobster’s flavour will deplete when left in an ice bath.
Breaking the lobster apart needed to be done over a bowl because there’s a lot of liquid inside. I needed to exert more pressure with the knife to actually cleave the shell in 2 lengthways. The claw meat was reserved. The tail meat was sliced at the segments and plopped into the sauce along with meat from the arms. The brain, looking attractively green like mashed avocado, was washed from the cavity in the Court-Bouillon. The gills and membrane within the body cavity were trimmed, being careful not to sever the part keeping the tail shell attached. The tail cavity was filled with tail meat and sauce. A fat claw was placed into the body cavity and covered with sauce. Parmesan was grated over the top then gratinated in the oven.
The scallops were already open so it was easy enough to extract the fruits. Chef wasn’t happy about the scallops. Due to weather there was no fresh catch available. He threw 2 smelly ones away—dead. With the lobster cooked and no further use for the Court-Bouillon the curved shells were dropped in to boil and clean. Sliced mushrooms were quickly poached in fish stock. Then the scallops were dipped in the stock on the lowest heat to quickly firm up. A velouté sauce was made by whisking a blonde roux with the stock then incorporating a liaison of double cream and egg yolks. Pommes Duchesse was piped around the edge of the curved shell. A few spoons of velouté went into the bottom followed by a layer of mushrooms and 3 slices of scallop; more velouté to cover. Topped with breadcrumbs, Gruyère cheese and a drizzle of melted butter. Oven. Alas, we weren’t allowed to eat the scallops. Sad, because I reckon they would taste lovely. I mean, look at it…