Size Matters

Romance may be the domain of the French, but there are some American adages concerning dating—and eating—that I would like to address: to begin with, “there are many fish in the sea,” and “size doesn’t matter.”

As anyone who has nursed a broken heart will know, there may be many fish in the sea, but there’s only one that you want (to eat) on a regular basis: for me, that’s mussels.

And as for the second adage: girls, don’t listen to what they say! Size does matter…just not in the way you think.

Here in America, we are used to “bigger is better,” but I tend to stick to the French philosophy “quality over quantity.” So often in American restaurants when I order mussels (which I often do), they arrive, steaming in a lovely, bubbling broth, and now and again I’ll put one in my mouth, and it’s so large, and, well, flaccid and tasteless, that I think I have a second tongue.

In Normandy, where French mussel culture abounds, the mussels are “tout p’tit.” Little crustaceans packed with the sea’s briny flavor, and hearty in texture—small, and yet a real mouthful. Which proves the more controversial dating adage: “it’s not how big it is; it’s what you do with what you’ve got.”

Mussels La Tour

Mussels at La Tour

I started on this tirade because, as you know, my favorite all-you-can-eat mussels place (La Tour) in New York closed earlier this year. My father and I recently went to a little French restaurant just down our street that we’ve walked by for years–Demarchelier. Anyway, as they say in romance, “timing is everything,” and now we’ve gone 4 times in 2 weeks. As it turns out, their moules frites are the best in the city: the broth reeks of delicious thyme, silken with cream, and studded with shallots. And the mussels, like their Norman cousins, are “tout p’tit.”

Which leads me to my newest adage: the mussels should be small; the portion should be big

For my favorite mussels recipes: Flex!

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The Ink Pot

RECIPE: Pâtes Chanel

Many years ago, my father travelled to London—to the new Globe Theater. He came back with a gift; a beautiful Venetian glass pen, and a pot of obsidian ink—thick and black and enveloping of everything in its path. I know, because I spilled it.

Years later, after college, I travelled to Venice with my mother and M. Français, her longtime partner. We spent the day on the island of Murano, watching the Venetians roast the running glass in kilns, and pluck it into glowing glass quills. My old English pen was on my mind at dinner that nightpasta, fish, when my spaghetti arrived—it looked as though someone else had spilled a pot of black ink!

I am a writer and a cook, so really it was only a matter of time before I started cooking things with ink. Inevitable really. But, like so many of my generation, the idea of actually writing, or cooking for that matter, with real, wet, rich ink was something of an anachronistic novelty. But as for me, I like anything old fashioned—be it in a cocktail glass, or elsewhere—and so I decided to learn the ropes.

I searched relatively, but not too, hard for packets of squid ink. I found it at Citarella in New York City; it comes in little packets (8 ounces for $3). Though I am scared of the dark, I found I had nothing to be afraid of; it can be added to any dish like olive oil or salt, and it’s not as powerful as it looks. Like Shakespeare’s ink, it is thick and black and enveloping—so thick it is hard to get out of the packets, but fortunately, not so black that it didn’t wash off my hands.

I tried those unstained hands at two dishes: Pâtes Chanel and Riz du Poete (The Poet’s Rice). The first is inspired by that pasta dish in Venice, however mine is the chic French version of the little black dress (it is completely black), and made with dry French Chardonnay. The second is a bit Basques, a big pot of black saffron rice, studded with fresh green peas and meaty strips of squid. I love a salty bite—in my food, or my sentences.

And so I got down to eating my words…

Riz du Poete

1 10-ounce pack of yellow rice (recommended: Vigo)

3 sprigs of thyme

1 cup of frozen peas, thawed

1 roasted yellow pepper, peeled and sliced

½ pound of calamari, diced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic (whole)

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

2 ½-3 ½ cups of water

¼ cup of white wine

8 ounces of squid ink

Salt and pepper

1. In a stock pot, sauté the onion, garlic, and thyme with salt and pepper.

2. After 5 minutes, when the onion is translucent, add the in the rice to toast for one minute.

3. Add the wine, allow to evaporate for just a minute, and add the water (2 ½ cups) and ink. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. You may need to add more water, so just check the rice. Cook for 30 minutes.

4. In the final 5 minutes of cooking time, add in the peas and calamari.

5. Garnish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the strips of roasted yellow pepper, along with a few green olives, if you like.

Pâtes Chanel
serves 4

Chanel PastaIngredients

  • 1.1 pounds of black spaghetti or linguine
  • ½ pound of bay scallops
  • ½ pound of calamari rings
  • 1 pound of mussels
  • 8 ounces of squid ink
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, cold and cubed
  • 2 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley
  • 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper

Procedure

  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, being sure to leave it “al dente.”
  2. Mean while, sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil for about 4 minutes.
  3. When they are soft and translucent, add the scallops, calamari, and mussels, along with the wine and ink and salt and pepper. Cover and raise the heat to medium high for 4 or 5 minutes, until the mussels open.
  4. Toss the pasta with the black seafood sauce and cold butter, and top with a mixture of Parmesan and parsley.
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Getting Serious

Serious Eats Macarons

Image from seriouseats.com

Chers Révolutionnaires, I have more news to share! I have taken an internship writing for SeriousEats.com, a fantastic food blog dealing with all things culinary at the heart of the heart of the culinary world, New York City. Visit here to check out my work for them. Me and food writing? Looks like we’re getting serious!

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The Mousetrap

scroll down for a fondue recipe…

Those of you who know me know Cleo, the most forceful personality in my life from the ages of 6 to 24. Cleo was a cat (yes, a very old chat at that).

Some people in Manhattan call exterminators; we, however, had a far more merciless pest deterrent in the vicious and voracious Cleopatra Saretsky. In my most impressionable years, I would walk through the foyer of our apartment, only to find a poor lost soul, all ears and tail and whiskers, dragging a bloody and bedraggled grey body temporarily out of the clutches of the furry claws of dearest Cleo. Having been a mouse for Halloween, I immediately sympathized with the little victims, and scooped them up on two paper plates, placing them safely in the hallway, with a hunk of cheese to see them through to recovery.


I gave a great deal of consideration to their feline-recovery fromage. The fridge was, of course, stocked by my French mother, and the mice on East 68th Street were rarely treated to such commonalities as plain ol’ cheddar. No! Hunks of Saint Andre and Explorateur, the very best Parmigianino, and if I was feeling particularly empathetic, a whole wheel of bonbel (wax removed), which was, at the time, my absolute favorite. I do hope that with such a quality supply, I didn’t lure our little neighbors back into the danger zone.

It was all too appropriate then, that on the day of my cheese course at Artisanal at their headquarters on West 37th Street, that I was wearing my favorite pair of Marc Jacobs mouse shoes. Sometimes New York can seem like a pair of cat’s claws, batting you around all day until you are just so exhausted, you could just give up. Tuesday was just such a day, so that by the time I finally arrived, I felt like I’d been lifted up by two paper plates and dropped down, bedraggled myself, in the dim hallways of East 68th Street. I know that I was right to provide those happy mice with such delicacies, for by the time I walked out of Artisanal that night, I was very much recovered.

First, the greeting area was filled with bottles of Cava, and 10 different cheeses, with jams and nuts and dried fruit, and of course, crackers and hunks of baguette. Creamy rounds, fragrant tomes, pungent blues, bright chevres—I tasted them all. Ok, I more than tasted them all. Then, out came the fondue—no, they wouldn’t say what cheeses they used, but had I been a mouse, I would have considered the thing a delectable hot tub and decided to end my days surrounded by the creamiest of luxuries. Delicious and positively reeking of white wine.


Once inside the classroom, we learned with surprising detail about the different milks, the different washes, the different techniques and rinds and wrappers of cheese. Did you know that the way to “blue” a cheese is to pierce it with needles so the mold can penetrate all the way through, creating teal marble from simple milk and rennet? We learned how to properly taste cheese: pierce it with your fork (don’t spread it on bread!), sniff it, and then coat your mouth in it. We learned to pair it with wine, by matching the texture and weight of the glass with the cheese. I even, for the first time in my life, met a cheese I didn’t like (Brescianella Stagionata, ITALY, cow’s milk). It was so pungent that had I given it to one of Cleo’s victims, it would have finished off what she started.

At the end of the affair, was a crumbled, cheesy cheese cake, with praline crust and topping. I was speechless, if a bit drunk; quiet as a mouse in mouse shoes.

What can I say? Cheese is like catnip to me. I simply can’t resist!

Below, I have listed for you the cheeses that we tried, for you to sample as well. You can get them all at Artisanal. I also highly recommend their bistro. And below that, my fondue recipe. But here let me just share a few words of wisdom concerning fondue, and you won’t be disappointed. First, buy an electric fondue pot if you’re doing cheese; candles really only work on chocolate. Second, toss the shredded cheese with a bit of cornstarch—that’s what makes it smooth, and prevents the cheese from separating when it’s heated. Third, use more wine, or Kirsch, or beer, than you think necessary. Fourth, remember the famous rhyme: while the cat’s away, the mice will play. Play with any cheeses you like, and add herbs or garlic or ham—anything! It’s melted cheese; how could it be bad?

Bon app!

Artisanal Cheeses

  1. Roves de Garrigues
  2. Monte Enebro
  3. Ossau au Piment d’Esplette
  4. Chaource
  5. Montgomery’s Cheddar
  6. Brescianella Stagionata
  7. Tome des Bauges
  8. Blu del Moncenisio

Sign up for a class at Artisanal.

Basic Fondue

The Fondue

1 cup of white wine

5-6 cups of shredded gruyere cheese

1 tablespoon of corn starch

The Bathers

1 Belgian endive, end removed and spears separated

1 baguette, sliced thinly on an angle

2 granny smith apples, cored, and cut into wedges

2 dry sausages, sliced

1 head of broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and shocked in ice water

  1. In a sauce pot, heat the wine over a medium flame.
  2. Separately, toss the cheese with the cornstarch. This is the key step that most people tend to omit, but it is necessary to absorb the excess moisture in the cheese to keep the fondue smooth.
  3. When the wine is hot, add the cheese and cornstarch, and shut off the flame. Stir to melt.
  4. Pour the cheese into a warm electric fondue pot—these are easy to find and inexpensive nowadays. Arrange the beigneuses on a platter, and get dipping.
  5. I would recommend mixing the cheeses; adding perhaps a fontina, even a brie or a blue. Add thyme and garlic. Or add crumbled bits of crisped prosciutto. Enjoy!

My Serious Eats review of Artisanal’s cheese course…

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Dear Martha

The Martha Blog

Image from The Martha Blog

Dear Martha, Chers Révolutionnaires,

I have entered French Revolution Food in Martha Stewart’s blog contest, and this post is intended as a warm bienvenue for Martha.

At French Revolution, I create 2-3 recipes a week, all based around a central French theme, be it a broken oven in New York (that was “tartare” week), or a disastrous picnic date in England (“Déjeuner Sur l’Herbe”). The story is followed by the recipes, and some insights into the creation of the dishes. All the food is meant to be authentically French, but reinvented in a modern, chic, fresh, and easy way. For example, macarons are delicious, but they are more easily bought than made; instead, I take inspiration from them to create my Strawberry Rose Macaron Cupcakes. A Kir Royale is a perfect classic, but why not use the old as the foundation for the new, by creating a Kir Royale Glacé with cassis sorbet, Kurant vodka, and Champagne? As I mentioned in my comment on your blog, I believe (very Frenchly) that the occasion is as important as the food itself, for food follows life, and what a perfect pair they make. I try to create the story with as much chic and finesse as the recipes.

But I have forgotten my manners! Let me first introduce myself. My name is Kerry Lynn Saretsky, and I was born in Manhattan twenty-five years ago, the daughter of a mother from Paris and a father from New York City. My culinary career began with a burnt piece of London broil in 1985, and I have been training ever since, taking classes in New York and Paris, teaching myself, learning from the best, like you, and developing my own personal taste (style, as any Parisian or New York woman will tell you, comes from within). I am first and foremost a writer, having graduated from Princeton University with my degree in English, and a master’s in the same field from Oxford, in England, where I started my blog—a blog that I hope you will love as much as I do, and I invite you to visit France, my France, as often as you like. 
Merci bien, Martha, and encore, welcome!

Bisous,
Kerry

p.s. Please enjoy some of my favorite posts…or just wander through like a flaneuse on the streets of Paris! And do feel free to weigh in on this month’s poll, to the right…

Cold Child in the City (tartare)

All That Glitters (macarons)

Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe (picnic)

Primavera! (vegetables)

My Borough Man (Brindiza’s chorizo)

Baguette Lady (Paul’s sandwiches)

Révolutionnaires: have a look at Martha’s blog!

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Clammed Up

The Union Oyster House in Boston

Dear Révolutionnaires: I understand we are experiencing technical difficulties in some parts of the country. Please know that I am working on getting French Revolution back to normal. Until then, enjoy some clams!

The time has come, my little friends, to talk of many things; not shoes and ships and ceiling wax, nor cabbages and kings. But instead, of the little loves to whom that poem was addressed: the oysters…and, naturally, the clams.

This past weekend, I travelled to Boston. On the train, as we tore through the puddled green countryside, studded with rocking New England-white washed canoes, I made a promise to myself: I am going to eat lobster at every meal.

There are certain things in life that I love: lobster, for one, ropes of pearls, heaps of steaming mussels. Yes, they all come from the sea. But when it comes to that vaulted treasure of the Parisian bistro, the raw seafood platter, I must admit that I get a little clammy when I see the clams and oysters, floating like so many New England canoes within their shells, atop a sea of their own making.

So, when I paraded my friends into the Union Oyster House, the nation’s oldest restaurant, this past Saturday, I was confidently craving lobster, which sat naively waving their lantern-red antennas at me from their crowded watery cave. We had to wait, so I trotted over to the raw bar to see how the pros were shucking clams and oysters, thinking maybe I would get tips for a cooked dish I might try. Next thing I knew, I was sitting amongst the locals, who were packed like lobsters at the bar, with one of the shuckers topping off my raw clam with oyster crackers, Tabasco, and horseradish.

New England Clam Chowder!

The whole restaurant got involved; it was like the prizefights of decades ago. Who would win the rumble in my stomach? I couldn’t escape, so I did it. I gagged. Then I chewed. It was lovely; briny as the sea, hot as the sun. But I will say this; as for the oysters, I’ll stick with the crackers.

That wasn’t the only clam I tried that day; when I got to the chowder, I was happy as a clam. Maybe even happier, considering they’re the ones who got eaten!

And as for the lobsters, rest assured, I’d eaten everyone one.

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Categories: Boston, Restaurants, Voyages
 

Cold Child in the City

RECIPE: Tuna Carpaccio with Ratatouille Vinaigrette

Last night I bought myself a hot, sizzling romantic novel—or, as close to one as I’ll ever come. You wouldn’t know it from the 90 degree New York heat, but summer’s lease expires in just a few short weeks, and if you can’t bring yourself to the beach, bring the beach-read to you. Or maybe it was just a weak attempt at recreating myself as a hot child in New York City.

Perhaps it’s indicative that though I bought the novel to read last night, it sits next to me, unopened, and, now that I look at it, a bit pallid. It seems the cool onset of fall has crept into my life before the autumn cold fronts. You see, I’ve moved back to New York, leaving Mr. English across the Atlantic. I have no one with whom to steam up any windows. And, now, for my hot confession: I don’t have an oven to steam up any vegetables either. I confess: my New York apartment does not have a working range! Since it was installed in the 1950s along with the lemon linoleum countertops, I can safely say that it has been resting in peace in this apartment for decades. Perhaps it left its sweetheart safely across the seas as well.

So, my oven and I mutually agreed, in our aggrieved states, that we weren’t going to try to fake it for you this week. Now that we’ve exposed our raw underbellies, we’re going to expose someone else’s! Namely those of Timmy Tuna and Sammy Salmon. It’s carpaccio and tartare week for us, Revolutionaires!

Since I’m being so brutally raw, I might as well also confess that, possibly like you, I have never attempted to make carpacchio or tartare before, but, tartare at least, is a very common, classic French bistro dish. According to legend, the dish is so called because the Tartar people, having no time to cook their steak, would leave it under their saddles as they rode to tenderize the meat. I just always figured that the Tartars were a bloody people. Either way, I have often witnessed the waiters at the Closerie de Lilas in Paris plunge their arms elbow-deep into a sacred countertop and emerge time and time again with the perfect steak tartare.

Personally, I prefer raw fish to raw steak, which I can find a bit gamey. My first dish is Tuna Carpaccio with Ratatouille Vinaigrette, inspired by a similar plate at the New York restaurant Artisanal. The second is inspired by my favorite outdoor café on the Île de la Cité in Paris, which serves a lemony salmon tartare, which I sit on a bed of cucumbers and avocado.

Never has raw been so well done.

And for those of you who like it hot, the new oven is on its way. Misery may love company, but I love food more!

Salmon Tartare AvocadoSalmon Tartare on Avocado

1/3 pound of raw salmon, cut into a ½-inch dice

1 tablespoon of very finely chopped shallot

½ tablespoon of parsley (or you could use dill), chopped finely

4 chives, snipped small

Pinch of lemon zest

1 tablespoon of light olive oil

½ tablespoon of lemon juice

Salt and pepper

¼ avocado, sliced paper thin on a mandolin

¼ small cucumber, sliced paper tin on a mandolin

Wedges of lemon

  1. Place a ring mold on a plate, a build this little dish: avocado, then cucumber, and then the salmon tossed with all the other ingredients.
  2. Serve with snipped chives and lemon zest on the plate, along with some wedges of lemon.

BON APP!

Tuna Carpaccio with Ratatouille Vinaigrette
serves 2

Tuna Carpaccio Ratatouille VinaigretteIngredients

  • ¼ pound of raw tuna, cut ¼-inch thick against the grain
  • 2 tablespoons of very finely minced small tomatoes (like grape or cherry)
  • 2 tablespoons of very finely minced picholine and niçoise olives
  • 1 tablespoon of very finely minced zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon of very finely minced shallot
  • ½ tablespoon of very finely minced jalapeño pepper
  • ½ clove of garlic, grated
  • 2 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of sherry wine vinegar
  • Small squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Procedure

  1. Slice the tuna and lie the slices flat on a platter.
  2. Mix everything else together, and spoon over the tuna.
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Categories: Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Eat, Fish, Individual, Main Courses, Recipes