Joe and I just returned from our belated honeymoon voyage to London and Paris. Having something else to look forward to after the wedding planning madness died down was exciting, and it gave us the opportunity to schedule and plan enough things to do to cover two weeks across the globe. Our itinerary was evenly dispersed while still allowing for time to get lost in the two cities and live like the locals do. We cheered on West Ham at a “football match” in East London, had fresh oysters from Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House, saw priceless works of art in both cities, toured Paris by boat in the Seine River, and went to a late evening mass at Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. Of course, we ate some amazing food. And lots of it.
While London had fabulous restaurants, I have a thing for French food and ate everything I possibly could during the latter part of our trip: chocolate croissants every day, bread with every meal, lots of cheese, and an ample amount of red wine. As much as I love being catered to, I couldn’t stay away from the kitchen, and Joe and I attended a market tour and cooking class with the school La Cuisine Paris.
Our small group of students met at Marché Maubert, an outdoor market in the 5th arrondissement that has Notre Dame as its backdrop in the distance. Local merchants set up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to sell meat, cheese and other delicious edibles; it’s practically impossible to avoid purchasing the irresistible products. The chef from La Cuisine Paris guided us through the stables of vendors, teaching us about the ingredients in season and instructing us as to how Parisians shop.
First and foremost, Parisians don’t cook all that often. I was pretty surprised to hear that considering the accessibility to so many wonderful things to cook with, but it makes sense; they leave the work in the kitchen to the professionals at any of the amazing restaurants throughout the city. They also shop as needed; you won’t catch a Parisian leaving a supermarket with a cart full of processed foods and ingredients in preparation for the week ahead. They head to the many outdoor markets after work and buy what’s needed for that evening’s meal. If they’re cooking fish or meat, it’s been partially prepared for them, whether it’s marinated, skewered, or stuffed with veggies and cheese. Bread is a staple of every meal, and it’s purchased fresh every day from the boulangerie, a name given only to bread shops that bake their loaves on-site.
After our lesson in Parisian food shopping, our group headed to the cooking school with bags of goodies purchased from the merchants. We each assumed a place in the well-stocked, professional kitchen for a hands on approach to French cooking. Our lunch consisted of duck breast in a soy-caramel sauce, a strawberry-rhubarb crumble, and asparagus topped with traditional Hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise is considered one of the five mother sauces, which are essentially each a basis for any other sauce. Adding one or two ingredients can transform them into something completely different. For example, adding reduced vinegar, chervil and shallots to Hollandaise sauce will produce Béarnaise sauce.
Hollandaise sauce is the perfect topping for anything from eggs, to veggies and steak. It’s a staple of French cooking, and a great one to have for your repertoire.
1 cup unsalted butter
4 tablespoons water
4 egg yolks
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Clarify the butter by heating it in a small pot over a low flame; do not allow it to boil and do not stir. Once fully melted, skim the milk solids from the top of the liquid. Allow to cool slightly. In a separate pot, whisk the water and egg yolks with salt and pepper. Continue whisking the mixture over low heat until it thickens. Remove the pot from heat and whisk in the butter, a little at a time. As the sauce thickens, the butter can be added faster. Whisk in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.