Thanks again to dear ole Richard on Sunday I got to sit in on professional chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette's cooking class in her lovely townhouse in the 7th. First Richard escorted us through the Grenelle marché to pick up a few essential ingredients.
Charlotte is all about essential ingredients particularly French ingredients. She spent two years at le Cordon Bleu training and working and then went on to cater soirées at many embassies and still does Fashion Week twice a year.
Naturally being the secret spy I am I poked around and took pictures of all the stuff on the shelves.
Hmmm...Pugot Olive oil. I remember seeing this at the Omnivore Food Festival. Balsamic from supermarché Franprix!? Not what I expected to see. More than in any other cooking class the Ritz, Lenotre etc. I learned from Charlotte details on the differences between French and American products. For instance the best US butters have 80% fat while French butter has 82%. That's 2% more water in US high-end butters and it can change dramatically how things taste. Charlotte has been researching basic French ingredients since she got here some 20+ years ago. She knows things most French chefs haven't bothered to find out. They don't need to. They grew up with excellent products. I get completely confused at the supermarché, clueless how to choose between butters, creams. Now I get it!
We made dessert first, a chocolate fondant gateau.
And you don't have to spend a fortune using fancy Valrhona to get a glorious cake thanks to Charlotte's tests of various chocolate brands.
We made Roquefort soufflés next.
Lots of helpful secrets to getting the souffles to rise up nicely...
Charlotte's Paris kitchen is sheer heaven in any country.
How to crack and separate eggs using just your hands. I practiced Audrey Hepburn's method from 'Sabrina'.
Shredding Brussels sprouts to go with toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate.
Cranberries and raspberries cooking over a simple caramel sauce Charlotte whipped together with no thermometers or stress.
Voila! This is called a 'gastrique'
To go with and contrast the roasted duck breast (magret). Duck is everywhere in France and well worth getting the hang of. The best roasting ducks are raised for foie gras. Not a duck that's shot as game - it's too skinny. The breasts were pan-seared first in case you were wondering before going into the oven. Everything; duck, potatoes, soufflés and cake cooked happily together in a 350 oven.
Charlotte shows us how to cut against the grain.
Duck and other game must be eaten rare or it becomes tough. Who knew?
Did we have our mache salade and soufflés before or after the duck? I can't remember but it all tasted perfect.
The wine was a cote de Rhone white.
This was my first taste of créme fraiche
Like sour cream but much better and goes divinely with the deep chocolate fondant. Ideally chocolate cake tastes better the next day - the flavors intensify. But no one was waiting to find out...
I found Charlotte's creme fraiche selling at Franprix for a song. Yay.
Plus she mentioned that the Leader-Price (a low-end brand) olive oil is surprisingly excellent.
I'm subletting from a cookbook author and she has the same brand on her kitchen shelf.
"Names, Sweetie Darling, names, names, names!"
It makes such a difference when you know what to buy in Paris and why. Usually I get baffled and leave the store with zero. Now I Know thanks to Charlotte Puckette.
Big Merci Charlotte!
Do check out Charlotte's stories on French butter and chickens on Richard's blog. A real eye-opener.
And consider taking her French cooking class while visiting.
Yesterday Bear went to the Loire vallée to learn how to cook wild boar.
More on that to come.