Update: I am very fond of Paris and its beautiful people. My heart goes out to them in this terrible time.
I am a sucker for French food. One of my favourite things in the entire world is a perfectly crispy-skinned, burstingly juicy Duck Confit. I don’t ever make it myself, but if it’s on the menu – I’m ordering it.
I’ve worked at a French restaurant for almost four years and have had the good fortune to be fed Coq au Vin, Sole Meuniere, Moules Marinieres and Boeuf Bourguignon on a regular basis. I get a sideways glance from my chef when I ask him to go easy on the butter, but eating that decadently three times a week just isn’t an option.
I have done very little European travel, but was able to eke out two days in Paris some years back. I was visiting a friend in London who was at film school and we stole off to the City of Lights for a weekend. We had close to no money and no where to stay, but we were going no matter what. I mentioned the trip to a guy who had lived there a spell and he sent out some emails and a response came back from a friend of a friend with an apartment in Montmartre who said he’s be happy to go stay with family and hand his keys over to us for nothing.
I still can’t believe how it came together. We met him a few doors down from the Moulin Rouge at a small jazz club, he introduced us to some friends and gave us a run down on the history of the area. We walked through a maze of narrow alleys to his flat in the writer’s district of this magical area of Paris, filled with generations of genius and desperation.
Sarah and I struggled to remember the route as we said goodbye and entered the most insanely cluttered room I’ve ever seen. It was a graveyard for parts of keyboards and guitars and a kitchen that was impossible to enter even if you wanted to (you wouldn’t). Regardless of the disastrous state of the space we were gloriously thankful as we flopped down on the bed with a giggle.
We had a magical dinner at a weirdo little fondue place Le Refuge des Fondus – a long and narrow garage-like space adorned with rainbow graffiti and two communal tables. The waiter hoisted Sarah over the table to her seat, asking only if we wanted meat or cheese, red wine or white. The wine arrived in a glass baby bottle with a rubber nipple, followed by three courses of simple and delicious beauty.
The next day a professor of Sarah’s took us to a cafe near Notre Dame where Simone de Beauvoir used to frequent and we talked film – maybe argued is more like it. We wandered until the sole of my boot split and my feet bled. It was wonderful! We ate duck carpaccio, bought wine and baguettes to eat on the street, climbed to the Sacre-Coeur, listened to a young (and hot) trio of boys play Django Reinhardt on a bridge, I danced with a stranger in the street and kissed Oscar Wilde’s grave.
It was far too short and only gave me a swift sense of all there is to experience, but it assured me that France is a place I will return to again and again. Provence, Basque country, the Loire Valley, Lyon, Burgundy, the French alps, the French Riviera, Alsace, and a second visit to Paris are all calling me. Until then I will be eating my way though one of the greatest culinary countries on earth.
PROVENÇAL SKILLET WITH PORK CHOPS
The first time I made this recipe I used a gorgeous salmon fillet. I think that’s my favourite way to have it, but Johnny likes his fish very plain so he can enjoy its natural flavour. You can really mix this up by substituting proteins: chicken breast works well, the aforementioned fish, shellfish – anything you want – just make sure you adjust the cooking time. With the fish and shellfish you can skip the searing step and poach it right in the sauce making it even speedier.
Enjoy with a crusty baguette and a dry rose from Provence.
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint of cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
10 – 12 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and stems finely diced
2 pork chops, bone in or out
a couple small pats of butter
1 large wine glass of dry white wine
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
optional: Fresh diced chili or dried chili flakes
In a small bowl combine garlic, tomatoes, olives, parsley stems, a pinch of salt, a tsp of olive oil and chilis, if using.
Season your pork chops with some salt and pepper. Heat a skillet on medium/high heat and add 2 tsp olive oil. Sear your chops really well on both sides making sure to get a nice brown colour – depending on the thickness a couple minutes each side – longer if the bone is in. Do not over cook, they will continue to cook as they rest. Once you flip the chop and it has seared, push them to one side, tilt the pan and drop in the butter. As it melts baste the meat until it glistens. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and reduce the heat to medium. Add you onions and a pinch of salt, gently soften making sure they don’t brown too quickly, just under 5 minutes.
Add your tomato mixture and toss about for a minute or so.
Pour in your wine and turn up the heat to boil.
Adjust the heat so it gently boils, reducing the liquid by about half and the tomatoes burst. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and season well.
To serve family style: return the chops to the pan, nestling them into the tomato mixture and place on the table as is.
To plate: Divide chops and serve with Provençal sauce spooned over top.
P.S. After a night of wandering the street and drinking wine, we dipped into a cafe to use the salle de bain where I saw this original painting hanging in the stall. Genius!