France Encore

Alsace Vineyards
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

France bewitches.

Burgundy. Normandy. The Loire Valley. The French Alps. Provence.

All sublime.

But the besotted dream most of returning to live in some tiny Parisian garret, drinking high-class red or white plonk, writing of life, death, and love while seated at a sticky Formica-covered table at Flore or Deux Magots. And surreptitously paging through Eric Maisel’s A Writer’s Paris: a guided journey for the creative soul. (Wish there were one for the cook’s soul …)

Paris, Montmartre
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

For those who love to cook, the only solution is an apartment rental with a kitchen, no matter how mean or cramped. Hemingway may have written of Paris as a “moveable feast,” but if you don’t have a kitchen, you’re missing most of the fun for food lovers in Paris. Unless your wallet resembles an accordion thick with green, the best food in Paris may well be what you buy in open-air markets and cook while drinking more plonk. Not Taillevent.

Mushrooms in Paris market
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

How wonderful to  sashay through the Saxe-Breteuil market, lolling in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, your string shopping bag dangling from your wrist like a feathery appendage. The kaleidoscope of food available makes your well-stocked U.S. neighborhood grocery store look like a 7-11 at 3 a.m. on old Route 66.

Paris, Montmartre
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Like a hawk scanning the ground for baby rabbits, you bring the goods back to your nest, a one-room studio in Montmartre, fling open the floor-to-ceiling windows, lean over the wrought-iron grill, the only thing keeping you from hurtling down to the cobblestones 3 stories below, and exclaim to no one in particular, “Man, I’m here! This is it, Paris!”

Then you start on the Pork in the Style of the Butcher’s Wife (Tournedos de Porc à la Charcutière)

(From Parisian Home Cooking: Conversations, Recipes, and Tips from the Cooks and Food Merchants of Paris,
by Michael Roberts, 1999, William Morrow and Co.)

Makes 4 servings

“This classic pork is sauced with an herbed mustard cream sauce
and garnished with a salty, sour dice of capers and cornichons, the
little tart tarragon-flavored pickles of France. The combination is
as comfortable to a Parisian as tartar sauce on fried fish is to an
American. If you use butter pickles, sweet dills, or even kosher sour
dills, the flavor of this dish will be completely different. Still
delicious, but different.”

Four 6- to 7-ounce boneless pork loin steaks
Freshly ground black pepper and coarse
or flake sea salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dry white wine,
such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh savory or
1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon or
1/4 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon capers, finely chopped
6 cornichons, finely chopped
(about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chervil

1. Generously season the pork with pepper and sprinkle with salt. Dissolve the mustard in the wine and, if using dried herbs, add the savory and tarragon now. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large nonreactive skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the chops on both sides until lightly golden, about 2 minutes per side. Add the wine mixture and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until the pork seems springy to the touch. Transfer the pork to a platter and keep warm.

3. Add the cream, capers, and cornichons to the skillet and cook until the liquid is reduced to a sauce-like consistency, about 2 minutes. Add any juices that have collected around the pork to the skillet, along with the
fresh savory and tarragon, if using, and the chervil.

4. Arrange the pork chops on a platter, pour over the sauce, and serve immediately.

For more about the emotional side of being in France, savor the following:

James Haller, Vie de France: Sharing Food, Friendship, and a Kitchen in the Loire Valley

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

A. J. Liebling, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris

Jennifer Lee, editor. Paris in Mind: Three Centuries of Americans Writing About Paris

Ruth Reichl, editor. Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet

_____. Remembrance of Things Paris: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet

© 2009 C. Bertelsen