Paris is still recovering but we are getting on with our lives. The air here is a little subdued and yet people are enjoying their lives as they normally do. Slowly, we have seen the return of young people crowding the bars. Parisians are all over the streets, doing their shopping and errands. The farmer’s markets were closed for a few days following the attacks, which was understandable as well as necessary. Happily though, the markets have returned. My favorite market reappeared this past Sunday and we were able to carry on as usual. Today’s post will celebrate French life as we always do.
For a long time, Petit Copain had a strange aversion to meat. But it wasn’t just any meat. He would definitely eat any kind of meat his family cooked him. Or charcuterie at gatherings and parties. Yet whenever I proposed dinner with meat in it, he’d make an immediate objection. He especially didn’t want to eat any meat other than chicken. And that chicken wouldn’t be cooked by me, but bought as a roti (rotisserie) from the butcher. I then discovered his other picky habits like not liking chicken leftovers, even if the darn thing had been bought the same day.
To this day, I can’t figure out exactly what Petit Copain’s reasons were. I can only speculate that the problem was related to my terrible, well-done American style of cooking meat. When I was an au pair, there were many times when I had to cook for the children. Most meals were easy to do, like put rice in the cooker or fry up an already prepared croque monsieur (a cheese sandwich with ham). A few times though, I had to make steaks. I failed to please almost every time. The kids loved their meat saignant, which is supposed to be rare but is in fact way too rare for my American tastes. All my life, I had been cooking meat well-done. I never really considered the benefits of searing either, because hey, if it’s all browned up, it must be good. So imagine the kids’ reaction when I served them steak haché completely done. Yes, they hated it.
To be honest, steak haché is kinda weird already. It’s a “steak” made of ground beef… like eating a giant burger patty, but without the buns. Well, since I’m in France, and not the U.S., I decided to do what the French do. The next time I made steak haché, I let the little girl advise me. What came of it horrified me. I cooked steaks that were brown on the outside, but the inside was almost raw! It was so pink and bloody, I started to get scared, thinking I’d be responsible for the children getting E. coli or salmonella! I couldn’t even eat my own steak haché. I was that afraid of death. The kids made fun of me and when the mother finally arrived home, she also laughed and told me not to worry. This is the land of steak tartare (so gross), after all.
After that incident, I learned a lot about meat in France. First of all, there are many regulations set in place to insure the quality of meat. The French don’t load up their animals with antibiotics and they definitely don’t add bleach or other chemicals into the final product. While there is industrial farming, you also have a lot of independent farms trying to raise animals the traditional way. Moreover, France hasn’t had too many deadly outbreaks of E. Coli, Salmonella, and other bacteria. Still, you should always be careful with meat, so if you want to eat it extra bloody here, make sure it comes from a good quality butcher. You can also find bio (organic) meat at grocery stores.
I still can’t eat my meat saignant, but I’ve accepted à point. À point is the equivalent to the US standard of medium rare, but I still think it’s a bit more bloody than we're used to. However, I’ve dismissed some of my fears with meat and I trust the quality here in France. Petit Copain happily loves à point as well and I have slowly learned to cook our meat in this way. I can say now that Petit Copain doesn’t object so much about having meat in our meals. He still doesn’t like chicken leftovers, but he will eat the beef or pork I’ve cooked for him.
While you wouldn’t cook pork bleu (super rare) or saignant, you should definitely make sure it’s cooked correctly. You don't want dry, overdone pork. Luckily, I think I’ve got the cooking down on this one. My sage butter pork chops have won over other Frenchies as well (or so I think). At least Petit Copain likes them. For our pork, we go to a special vendor at the farmer’s market who also sells charcuterie and French side dishes to go. Petit Copain is obsessed with their paté, but that is a different story in itself.
This past Sunday market, I picked up 3 côtes de porc or pork chops. I asked the lady for 3 small pork chops (petit! petit!). What I got were thick, manly pieces of pork. I can’t complain too much though, they were delicious.
On my way out of the market, I also saw these amazing purple haricots verts. Curious to see how they would turn out, I brought some home with me.
Chopping up the haricots, you can see that the inside is very bright green, like a regular haricot. I love the two-tone colors of this vegetable. Sadly, it doesn’t last, because as soon as you cook the beans, the purple disappears. I googled to see why this happened, thinking it was a cooking mistake. It is possible to keep some of the purple coloring if you give the haricots an ice bath to shock the vegetables after boiling. However, the coloring still fades after about 5-10 minutes of serving. This is because the beans are colored by something called althocyannins which break down when cooking. The purple isn’t part of the normal chlorophyll coloring that most veggies have. Here’s a better explanation if you’re interested.
I like to cook my haricots verts (green beans) using this simple recipe.
Haricots Verts with Garlic
- 12 oz or 350 g haricot verts, with trimmed edges
- 2-3 tsp butter (salted or unsalted… I prefer using my salted Breton butter*)
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste (if using salted butter, just add pepper)
- Boil a pot of water. Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water. Toss in the haricot verts.
- Cook haricot verts until the water starts to boil again. Use a slotted spoon or thongs to pick up the haricots and throw them into an ice bath.
- Drain the haricots after 20-30 secs.
- In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
- Add the haricots verts to the pan, then the chopped garlic. Add salt if not using salted butter and the pepper. Stir occasionally and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the beans are heated through. I like to cook them until they are crisp-tender.
*Not all salted butter is the same. It’s always best to use unsalted butter so you can control the seasoning. If you have to, test your salted butter to see if it's just the right amount of salt for you.
Now, onto my fabulous pork chops.
Pork Chops with Sage and Butter
- 2 1 1/2-inch thick bone-in pork chops
- 2-3 large sprigs of sage, crushed then chopped roughly
- 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2-3 tbsps of unsalted butter
- Coarse salt
Note: If your pork chops have surrounding fat caps, you should cut 3 or 4 vertical lines into the fat (do not cut into the meat). This will prevent the pork from buckling when you cook it.
1. Season each side of the chops with salt and pepper. Make sure to rub the salt into the bones as well.
You don’t have to season your pork chops in advance, but I like to. I do a dry brine with salt and pepper the morning before I cook them or I brine overnight.
2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. It’s best to get the skillet as hot as possible for a good sear. Once the skillet is super hot, place both chops into the pan. Be careful not to move the chops and allow them to sizzle and brown for about 2-3 minutes. Turn the chops over and repeat. Keep doing this for 8-10 minutes, turning each side every 2 minutes. You should be getting a nice crust. The chops should reach an internal temperature of 135C/58C.
Your pork can be a little pink inside but it should not be bloody. If your pork chops are a bit thick, you can throw them into the oven after searing and bake for 5 minutes at 400F/200C. Let them rest 5 minutes and then add them back into the pan for Step 5.
5. Put 2 tablespoons of butter into the pan and 1/2 tablespoons of butter on top of each pork chop. Add in the crushed garlic and sage, mixing them into the melting butter. Spoon the melted butter mix over the tops of the pork chops, including the bone. After about a minute or two, turn off heat. Turn over the chops and keep spooning butter over the other side, letting the chops get nicely coated.
6. Transfer the pork onto a cutting board and let the meat rest for about 5 minutes. You can cut off the bone if you like. Serve immediately with any remaining pork juices.
That’s all I have for today. Until next time!