A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear

7 09 2009

Back in the States, Nick and I have some friends from New York who turned us on to the slurpy, mouth-burning delicacy that is xiao long bao.  For the uninitiated, xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, are a specialty of Shanghai.  Intricately folded dumpling wrappers enclose a bit of seasoned meat and a gush of rich soup.  They’re supposed to be an appetizer, but the four of us would usually get two or three orders apiece and call it dinner.  Every other blog post I’ve read about soup dumplings claims that they’re something you just have to try at least once in your life.  I’m not going to tell you that, because if a steamed dumpling filled with a mouthful of meaty broth, served with vinegar, ginger, and chili oil doesn’t sound good to you, who am I to try and change your mind?  Just leaves more for me.

So thick, you can stand a spoon in it!

We visited said friends in June in their new hometown, San Francisco.  They had done some research and had a list of soup dumpling places to try, a quest in which Nick and I were more than willing to participate.  The ones we got at a restaurant were only okay, but the ones we bought freshly made to cook at home were outstanding.  More importantly, the whole adventure reminded Nick and I how much we love soup dumplings, and we vowed to redouble our efforts to find a good source in Paris once we returned home.

Pork dumpling filling

Browsing the aisles at my favorite Asian supermarket, Paris Store, I glanced into the frozen dumpling case and what did I see?  Xiao long bao, or “raviolis de Shanghai” (ravioli being the term the French have adopted to describe anything wrapped in dough).  The frosty dumplings in the bag looked like about the right shape, so I bought them, and a bamboo steamer that miraculously fit perfectly over my saucepan.  Sadly, the dumplings were not what we were looking for.  The filling is mostly meat, with just a hint of juiciness as a nod to the soup that’s supposed to be there.  Good, but not the soup dumplings we crave.

The right soup-to-meat ratio

Walking down the rue de Belleville one night, Nick and I spotted a little hole-in-the-wall with a sign that said “Restaurant Raviolis.”  Needless to say, we went there for dinner at the first opportunity.  The menu consists of about a dozen types of soup and a dozen types of dumpling.  We ordered three kinds of dumplings (shrimp, chicken, and pork), and two bowls of soup (duck for me, pork rib for Nick).  The food was delivered quickly, and smelled great.  But none of the dumplings looked like they contained any soup.  We asked the waitress if they made xiao long bao, explaining that we were looking for a dumpling with soup inside, and she said she had never heard of such a thing.  Disappointed, we turned to our soups, which brightened our spirits considerably.  The broth was extremely flavorful, and the rustic-looking noodles had a great texture.  It was then that an older woman came out of the back and began rolling dough on a long table.  We watched, slurping our soup greedily, as she hand rolled and cut a new batch of noodles.  Despite the place’s distinct lack of décor or atmosphere, we will definitely be going back for more of those handmade noodles.

But the soup dumpling jones was getting stronger.

Read the rest of this entry »





Regional French Cuisine: Provence: Bouillabaisse

28 08 2009

The people have spoken.  (Well, a couple dozen of them, anyway.)  Thank you to all who voted in my poll; I dedicate this bouillabaisse to you.

Ugly buggers, aren't they?

The bouillabaisse adventure started with me poring over various bouillabaisse recipes, notably Robuchon’s, and making a list of the fish I would need to acquire.  I continue to be baffled by fish nomenclature.  It’s notoriously unclear even from region to region in the States – imagine trying to identify fish that come from different seas in a second language!  But that’s part of the reason I bought Robuchon’s book to begin with: with French recipes, designed for French kitchens, I should be able to find the right kinds of fish or meat for any given recipe, rather than attempting to guess at a substitution.  I dutifully wrote down the names of all twelve varieties of seafood called for in the recipe, categorized them by cooking time, and then looked them up individually in the index, to see if they had alternate names, or if they were anything I might recognize.  List in hand, Nick and I went down to the market in search of a fishmonger.  It turns out that les vacancestake a toll on the market, too.  Where we would ordinarily have had half a dozen fish stalls to choose from, this time there was one.  Fortunately, they had three of the fish on my list: rascasse (pictured above), grondin (pictured below), and congre, which was mercifully sold in slices.

Grondins, about to lose their heads

We had the rascasse cleaned, but neglected to ask for the same service on the little grondins.  Oops.  Between us, Nick and I managed to butcher the fish, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  Nevertheless, we ended up with a bowlful of fish meat and a bunch of heads, spines, and tails with which to make the fumet.

The brothy base of the bouillabaisse.
1. Fish Heads, Fish Heads…, 2. Stirring the Fumet, 3. Straining

Fumet, of course, is a fancy word for fish stock, particularly one where the fish and aromatics (including onion, fennel, tomato, bay leaf, and saffron, among others) are first sweated in oil, then covered with a mixture of white wine and water.  Instead of wine in this one, I used a couple good glugs of pastis, on Ann’ssuggestion.  After the requisite 45 minutes of simmering, Robuchon says to take out the fish bits and bouquet garni, and then pass the rest through a food mill before straining it.  That didn’t happen in my kitchen.  Everything had pretty much disintegrated by then, so I just mashed it all with a potato masher and strained it twice: first through a colander, then through a fine-mesh strainer.  This is perfectly acceptable practice when making a classic soupe de poissons,  so I figured I was safe.

Every recipe I came across for bouillabaisse (including the one I remember making in culinary school) insisted that it be served with rouille.

Read the rest of this entry »





Regional French Cuisine: Bretagne: Soupe au Sarrasin et au Lard

27 04 2009

I’ll get back to my coverage of Grande Bretagne in a few days, but now it’s time for the end-of-the-month outpouring of regional France posts, Bretagne-style.  Wondering what I could cook from Brittany that wasn’t crêpes, I turned once again to Le Tout Robuchon.  There is a section near the back of the book with regional recipes, and sure enough, there was a Breton recipe for buckwheat and bacon soup!

Mise en Place for Breton Buckwheat soup

Luckily, I still have a stockpile (ha!) in my freezer, from the stock-making extravaganza of several weeks ago.  The only “specialty” ingredient I had to seek out was the buckwheat flour, farine de sarrasin en français.  And it wasn’t hard to find.  It’s funny, now that I’m looking for them, I see Breton products everywhere!  Apple juice and cider, butter, buttermilk, sea salt, and my favorite, salted butter caramels.  It seems that many basic, everyday ingredients hail from this sometimes remote-seeming region of The France.  (Nick and I have started referring to this country with a direct translation of its name in the native tongue.)  Now that I think about it, even the majority of the shallots I buy come from Bretagne!

[I was going to put in yet another gratuitous photo of lardons and shallots sweating in a pan, but stupid WordPress doesn't seem to want to upload it right now, so I'm moving on.  Besides, if you've read this blog before, you probably have some idea what that looks like.]

Once the lardons had cooked a bit and given up some of their delicious fat, I covered them in chicken stock and added bouquet garni ingredients: a stalk of celery, a few stems of parsley, sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf.  I seasoned with a twist of black pepper and a quick grating of nutmeg, and brought the pot up to a simmer.

Simmering away...

While that was going on, I took Robuchon’s serving suggestion of croutons browned in lard to heart.  In another fortunate coincidence, Nick had just brought home that very afternoon a loaf of what he dubbed “possibly the worst bread I’ve had in Paris.”  We decided that cubing it up and frying it in lard could only improve matters (though really, when does it not?).  Of course I have lard on hand at all times.  Doesn’t everyone?

lardcroutons-a

Meanwhile, the soup was bubbling away.  I fished out the now soggy herbs and prepared to stir in the slurry composed of buckwheat flour and more stock.

Read the rest of this entry »





Potiron-Piquillo Soup

20 10 2008

Well, Fall is officially upon us.  The guys with the makeshift grills who sell corn on the cob all summer have switched over to chestnuts.  Winter squash are starting to show up in the market, and despite the gorgeous sunshine, there is a distinct nip in the air.  Soup is definitely in order these days.

A light Fall supper

Hope over at Hopie’s Kitchen has been regaling her readers with tales of her awesome organic farm share basket.  If there’s a best time of year to belong to one of these, I think Fall is it.  Anyway, she posted a delicious-looking Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup a little while ago, and I wanted to make it, despite the fact that I am not, in general, a fan of bell peppers.  Upon reflection, I thought, wouldn’t it be good with the sweet smokiness of charred piquillo peppers?

Charring piquillo peppers - it's the fire that makes it good.

Never being one to leave recipes alone, I also decided to use a hunk of potiron (a type of pumpkin with very thick flesh and much more flavor than the kind used to make Jack O’ Lanterns) instead of the butternut squash.  I roasted it in the oven until it was soft, then scooped out the flesh and added it to my already-simmering pot of onions, piquillos, and chicken stock.  I seasoned the soup with salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and the tiniest hint of cinnamon – just enough to bring out the warm sweetness of the potiron.  After simmering it all for about 10 minutes, I busted out the hand blender.

Ah, the hand blender.  Is there anything it can't do?

Wearing my new favorite T-shirt, I fearlessly buzzed the soup, knowing that the pot was deep enough to contain any splatters that might occur.

Read the rest of this entry »





Dong Huong

11 08 2008

I know you’re all chomping at the bit to see what I ate on my trip to Bulgaria, but that mountain of pictures is going to take some work before I can form some cohesive blog posts.  In the meantime, I’m happy to announce that Nick and I have found a very decent Vietnamese place just up the street.

Dong Huong

We’ve actually been meaning to try it for a while – the giant neon arrow proclaiming “Pho” attracted our attention a couple of months ago.  The problem is that this place is surrounded by about a dozen other Vietnamese and/or Chinese and/or Thai restaurants, and the choice can be a little overwhelming.  One evening we’re seduced by the lacquered ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant, another we get distracted by roast chickens and don’t even make it up to the mini Asiantown surrounding the Belleville Métro stop.  Even the night we made up our minds to finally go get some Pho, we had to choose between the three Pho joints on the same corner!  But the big flashing arrow did its job and we ended up at Dong Huong.

The moment we walked in the door, we knew we wouldn’t regret our decision.  The place was packed, and about 90% of the diners had huge bowls of steaming hot Pho in front of them.  Upon being seated in the second of three dining rooms, we ordered a couple of Vietnamese beers and began to peruse the menu.  We decided to start with some pork imperial rolls (or nems, as they’re often called in France).  They came out accompanied by a large pile of lettuce leaves, mint, bean sprouts, and sliced carrots.  Two dipping sauces were served alongside: a sweet, hoisin-based sauce and a delicious vinegary lemongrass sauce.

We ate two rolls before taking a picture...

Only after we had greedily wolfed down the crisp, hot rolls did we look around and notice that other diners were using the lettuce to wrap them up with the other garnishes before tucking in.  Oops.  Feeling ignorant and brutish, we sheepishly waited for our soup to arrive.

Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Duo of Avocado and Shrimp

23 07 2008

It’s time again for the Leftover Queen’s Royal Foodie Joust!  This month the ingredients are Cilantro, Sesame, and Seafood.  For some reason I thought immediately of tahini, the delicious Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sesame paste.  Then I was stumped for a while, because I wasn’t quite sure how to work the cilantro in, or which seafood to choose (it’s a pretty broad category).  But one afternoon, over lunch with Hope, she mentioned that she had been playing around with gazpacho lately, and it struck me as the perfect vehicle.  Somehow avocados came up, and by the time lunch was over I had a recipe jumping around in my brain, just waiting to be made a reality.

We picked up some avocados and cilantro at the market the next day.  I had decided on seared scallops for the seafood quotient, but was unable to find any at the market.  I briefly considered going the crispy-skin seabass route, but an overly long line at the fishmonger on my lunch hour made that decision for me.  Ultimately, I settled on shrimp for their ability to pair awesomely with avocado.

When I finally cut into the avocados, I was pleased to find some of the most gorgeous, buttery-green specimens I’ve seen in France.

I have a painting very similar to this at home, painted by a friend of mine.

The gazpacho was really easy to put together:  I just threw all the ingredients (avocados, cilantro, lime juice, tahini, garlic, fish stock, salt, cayenne) in a bowl, like so:

Read the rest of this entry »





A Soup Fit for Bugs

19 05 2008

Bunny, that is.

Carrots simmering in chicken stock

Inspired by Mark Bittman’s blog entry from a couple of weeks ago, and the lovely Spring carrots in the fridge, and the spanking-new immersion blender on my shelf, I decided to make some carrot-ginger soup.  Something bright, fresh, and tasty to celebrate the glorious Spring weather we’d been having.  (Although lately it’s been a little temperamental.)

I kept it simple in order to let the flavor of the carrots shine through.  I started with a sliced shallot, which I sautéed in a little butter.  To this I added a sliced clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of diced ginger.  Next came salt, pepper, and chicken stock.  Then I chopped 8 carrots and added them to the pot.  I let the whole thing simmer about 15 minutes until the carrots were tender.  Finally, I puréed the whole mess right in the pot with the immersion blender.  (I know I have waxed rhapsodic about this gadget before, but it makes things like this ridiculously easy to do.)  I stirred in a little milk to round out the flavors and tasted for seasoning.  Soup’s on!

Carrot-Ginger Soup

A little cilantro would have made a nice garnish and cool contrast to the warmth of the ginger, but, alas, the cilantro in my fridge was well past its prime.  Next time, I’ll plan ahead.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 319 other followers

%d bloggers like this: