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BREAKFAST IN PARIS
There's nothing in the world like waking up to Paris in the morning. For Megan, my wife, it's her happy place. For me, it's where I first felt cosmopolitan. We usually stay steps away from rue du Faubourg SaintAntoine straddling the 11th and 12th arrondissements, where you can enter any corner patisserie and request, "Du café crème, s'il vous plaît," to start your day. On my first day in Paris to research this book, after enjoying a requisite croissant, Megan went museum hopping, as I set forth to find vinegar's place in French cuisine.
I wouldn't call rue Paul Bert a side street, as most Parisian thoroughfares feel like alleyways. It's more than that. It's a central artery to the heart of bistro culture. Turn off of rue Faidherbe, and 150 meters (500 feet) away, under a neon green bottle that glows as bright as the Pharmacie sign next door, you'll likely see a man named Bertrand Auboyneau. He's often found surveying the scene midblock at Bistrot Paul Bert, dressed the part of a French restaurateur from central casting. He's effortlessly refined and casually hip, an apt description of the ambiance and cuisine in his establishment as well. Short, stocky wine glasses slosh around vins blancs and rouges, as Bertrand greets everyone who enters his restaurant as a neighbor, no matter what distance you traveled to arrive.
From a young age, Auboyneau knew the importance of acidity, eating lemons like apples just for their lip-smacking tartness. French food isn't all butter and cream; it's balanced in its richness. Just thinking about this makes me crave frisée aux lardons, a salad with bitter greens and crisp batons of fatty pork that's tied together with bracingly smooth mustard vinaigrette. Fat and bitter needs acid so you can enjoy more than one bite.
Bertrand doesn't like vinegar on his oysters; he thinks it overpowers their creaminess. Just a crack of black pepper for him, though if you do ask, they have a mignonette on hand. He likes a little red wine vinegar in his fruit salads, especially with raspberries. He prefers to drink Loire white wines even if the vinegar used in a dish is red. If you order lapin a la moutarde (braised rabbit in mustard sauce), he'll put a crock of Dijon on the table to accompany. Vinegar opens your insides, you feel it, but we're so used to it in starters that we forget it can be used throughout the meal. That said, it was two "breakfast" items that awoke me. A fried egg, a simple egg fried in butter, topped with a creamy "vinaigrette" of sorts, made my heart skip, and it had nothing to do with cholesterol.
FRIED EGG WITH A SPOONFUL OF VINEGAR, FROM BERTRAND AUBOYNEAU, BISTROT PAUL BERT, PARIS, FRANCE SERVES 1
1 tablespoon BUTTER
Fry an egg as you would, with an ample knob of butter, over medium-high heat. Cook until the edges brown. Place on a warm plate and season with salt and pepper. While the pan is still hot, add the white wine vinegar and allow to reduce by half. Spoon over the egg and garnish with some chopped herbs.
Auboyneau presents me with another way to start the day, and potentially one of the best breakfast-for-dinner dishes I've ever encountered. He asks, "You know the story of beef bourguignon?" I do. It's a dish from the rich wine region of Burgundy, consisting of chunks of beef stewed in red wine, cooked with lardoons and mushrooms, with a stock fortified with garlic, onions, and an aromatic bouquet garni. "Well," he continued, "have you ever tried it with an egg?"
OEUFS EN MEURETTE, FROM BERTRAND AUBOYNEAU, BISTROT PAUL BERT, PARIS, FRANCE SERVES 4
This dish takes the concept of bourguignon sauce and uses it to poach eggs. What you're left with is the same rich stock, adding the decadence of a creamy egg yolk, with a side of toast to sop it all up. Bertrand, always in need of acidity, uses a portion of red wine vinegar in place of some of the red wine, which gives a much lighter quality to a dish that usually invites a postprandial nap, and instead has you feeling like conquering the day ahead.
¼ pound (115 g) THICK SMOKED BACON, cut into lardoons
In a large saucepan over medium heat, render the bacon for 5 to 7 minutes, until it's just browning but not burning. If it's cooking too fast, lower the temperature. Pour out all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat (reserve the excess to cook with another time) and set the bacon aside (you'll add it back in later, so try not to snack on it too much). Add the butter, onions, and garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until aromatic. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red wine, scrape the bottom of the pan to release the fond, and add the thyme. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until reduced by a third.
Add the red wine vinegar and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. (If it's too acidic for your taste, add ¼ cup water at a time until it's not.)
To poach the eggs, either in the pot of sauce itself (if you don't mind a few stray pieces of egg white) or in a separate pot of water, bring the liquid to a bare boil. Make a small pinprick on the larger end of each egg, place in the liquid, and cook for 30 seconds (a Julia Child tip); this is just to set the whites. Remove the eggs and crack them into individual small bowls. Slide the eggs back into the pot to poach them. If you like a soft yolk, cook for only a few minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs and set aside. In individual serving bowls, evenly distribute the onion and mushroom mixture, then pour a bit of the sauce, enough to cover an egg, into the bowl as well. Place the eggs into the bowls and garnish with the bacon, freshly cracked black pepper, and parsley, if using.
Serve warm with to Ouce ahead and simply reheat. Bon appetit!
Until recently, I'd never really considered the significance of cornichons, the ubiquitous Parisian pickled cucumbers that most of us think of as just small pickles. You probably envision a clear jar, packed with brine, sitting in the back of a refrigerator or tucked away in a dank, dusty basement. But this is a cornichon, italicized, and said with an accent and significance. It's more than a fancy garnish at a bistro, it's the definition of what a pickle really is, time and place preserved.
Maille, a French company, now best known for its mustard, was founded by a vinegar maker, and began jarring cornichons for the commercial market back in the 1700s. Now you can find "cornichons" on most supermarket shelves right next to standard-issue gherkins, kosher dill spears, and bread and butters. What I can't understand is why anyone would bring to market something so precious, a tiny little cucumber with a peak season that lasts little more than a month, and not pay equal attention to the quality of the vinegar it's preserved in. I'm not calling these supermarket cornichons bad pickles, but to use distilled white vinegar, well it feels like you're disregarding half of the recipe.
CORNICHONS, FROM BERTRAND GREBAUT, SEPTIME AND CLAMATO, PARIS, FRANCE MAKES 2 QUARTS (2 L)
2 pounds (910 g) SMALL PICKLING CUCUMBERS
Quickly wash the pickling cucumbers and brine overnight in a 5 percent solution of salt to water. Drain and place in sterilized jars with the fresh herbs and spices. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar, water, and salt until the salt dissolves. This is approximately a 1-part vinegar, 2-parts water, and 3 percent salt solution, which is a handy rule of thumb for all your pickling needs. Pour just enough of this liquid into jars to cover the cukes, but leave a knuckle's worth of air space on the top. Keep in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 weeks before using.
Bertrand Grebaut's food is earnest and honest. Truly one of the best meals of my life was at Septime. With each course I grew to know the chef's point of view in a way I had never experienced before, so intimate and precious, the same way I assume Grebaut regards his ingredients. In my limited French I said, "J'aime vinaigre." He nodded and said, "Me too." Carmela Abramowitz-Moreau, a cheery cookbook translator, joined us. At first she apologized for her lack of a lexicon about the science behind vinegar, but as soon as we started chatting, we all realized how simple the concept of acidity really is.
Grebaut grew up in Paris, and though his parents had a wooden vinegar crock doused with the dregs of very good wine, he notes that even in the magnificent repertoire of French cuisine, acid may be the one thing that's slightly underplayed. He then asks the "salad question": when do you use lemon and when do you use vinegar? Bertrand believes if you're having a salad with a cheese platter, then you're best off using vinegar. In the summer, when tomatoes are fresh, and fresh cheese is present, then it's lemon. Yes, this seems counterintuitive, since lemon and tomato seasons don't coincide (Bertrand gets lemons from Sicily at that time), but his cooking style is built around flavor pairings.
BEURRE NOISETTE DRESSING, FROM BERTRAND GREBAUT, SEPTIME AND CLAMATO, PARIS, FRANCE MAKES ABOUT ½ CUP (240 ML)
Bertrand Grebaut often makes a salad dressing using the concept of beurre noisette, literally "hazelnut butter," but better known as brown butter. The nutty flavors distinguishable in brown butter are perfectly complemented by the oxidative note of the sherry vinegar. The butter rounds out the cutting edge of the vinegar, making this dressing perfect for a side of salad, something he often serves with the last course of the savory part of the menu. It also goes well with roasted vegetables.
¼ tablespoons (55 g) UNSALTED BUTTER
In a small saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. While it's still warm, add the sherry vinegar, but stand back, as the vapors will fume. Emulsify with a whisk. Add the salt.
Vinegar isn't just a dressing to coat your greens, it brings out flavors like an exclamation point. It's part of a sentence that also has salt, fat, and bitterness, and that's incomplete without acid. Septime has a tasting menu; next door at Clamato, Grébaut's seafood bar, it's à la carte. If you order oysters, you get a basic mignonette, with really good onions instead of shallots and rancio wine vinegar, and the undressed bivalves. It's a matter of control: depending on your palate, use as much, or little, of the sauce as you please.
Acidity is omnipresent at Septime. With an array of vinegars within reach, Grébaut can be particular about what style of acidity to inflect: chardonnay vinegar d'Orléans (more on this soon), sweet wine vinegar made from vin santo, complex and oxidized sherry vinegar, or cider vinegar from cider maker Cyril Zangs, which goes with everything. Sometimes winemakers give Grébaut wines that didn't quite go right but are gold as vinegar.
As we moved into talking about cooking proteins with vinegar, the approach shifted. Acid cuts fat, but it often needs coaxing, maybe a little extra sugar, to keep the aromatics alive without becoming too acerbic. A perfect example is a gastrique: sugar that's been caramelized, deglazed with vinegar, then reduced to a syrupy consistency. Never waste the fond, those brown bits of flavor left on the bottom of your pan when browning meat. These gems are caused by the Maillard reaction, when amino acids and sugars are reduced together by heat, which can then be transformed into a sweet and sour sauce that refreshes your palate with every bite. Use a stock of that same animal and you will retain the underlying flavors of the cut as well.
DUCK à L'ORANGE, FROM BERTRAND GREBAUT, SEPTIME AND CLAMATO, PARIS, FRANCE SERVES 2
Traditionally done as a whole bird, Grebaut's recipe uses only the breasts, cooking them slowly on the bone to a perfect roast. He infuses orange zest and adds orange juice to the base, cooking it down by half. He also prefers using honey to make the caramel for the gastrique, before deglazing with vinegar, but you can also use sugar. The final sauce is then made by balancing the amount of orange gastrique and duck jus. At Septime you will more often find this type of technique used with a salty dairy product (e.g., feta) or a bitter vegetable (e.g., white asparagus), but it's also delicious in its classic context.
2 DUCK BREASTS, BONEIN, about ¾ pound (340 g) each SALT and BLACK PEPPER
Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. In a large heavy skillet, slowly cook the duck skin-side down over medium-low heat, rendering the fat and getting the skin crispy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the duck breasts and place them on a roasting pan, skin-side up. Reserve fat to use as jus and save the rest for another recipe.
Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
Scrape the bottom of the skillet, add the water, and stir to release the fond. Add the honey, increase the heat to medium-high, and let come to a slow boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add the vinegar, but don't lean over the pan, as the vapors will release. Continue to cook until the mixture begins to turn into a caramel, about 1 minute, then add the orange juice, bring back to a boil, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the duck jus and boil for another 1 to 2 minutes. Take off heat and add in orange peels.
Use a bit of this gastrique as a glaze for the duck. Brush on a layer and place the duck breasts in the oven for a few minutes, then brush on some more. Cook for about 20 minutes for medium to medium-rare. Once the duck is cooked to your liking, let rest for a few minutes before serving. Serve it on the bone or slice it for plating.
Make a pool of gastrique on each plate. Place the duck on top. If you pour the sauce on top of the crispy skin, it will get soggy, though I do like adding a few steeped orange peels on top for effect.
I woke up on the train to Orléans, one and a half hours southwest of Paris. This city, famously saved by Joan of Arc during the English siege in 1429, sits quietly along the Loire River. It was a foggy ride, mentally and meteorologically, as I had risen before the sun, fighting off an inkling of jetlag. I came to research the sour wine trade, traced as far back as the late fourteenth century, when Loire valley winemakers would ship their bottles by boat, unloading any wine that went bad to avoid being taxed in Paris for what they couldn't even sell. It was like Orléans had been given a gift that no one wanted and only they knew what to do with.
By the sixteenth century, more than three hundred vinegar makers called Orléans home; they were so numerous that King Francis I deemed their vinegar-making process "Orléans style" and designated that the city's artisans could only make it there. French oak barrels held a distinct collection of wine vinegars, from muscadet to Chinon, so coveted that eventually quality wines were being added to the barrels just to keep up with demand.
At 236 Faubourg Bannier, behind a large wooden door painted green like a grape leaf, lives a vinegar maker for the ages: Jean-François Martin, of the sixth generation of the Martins, and his family-owned Martin Pouret, a producer that has taken a pass on industrialization, letting nature transform wine into vinegar, with no additives, no acceleration, only time. Wafting blocks down the street where locals and travelers alike once formed lines, Martin Pouret is now the sole Orléans-style vinegar maker left in Orléans.
Excerpted from "Acid Trip"
Copyright © 2017 Michael Harlan Turkell.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD by Daniel Boulud, 7,
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY, 18,
RECIPE INDEX, 21,
NORTH AMERICA, 155,
DRUNKEN VINEGARS, 273,
BAR SNACKS, 289,
MAKING VINEGAR, 300,