French Cooking: If you can’t stand the heat – get out of the kitchen


As I was cleaning up the dishes last night after a dinner for nine at Montparnasse, I wondered if the U. S. military should seriously begin studying French organizational skills in the kitchen.

“Technique! You lack technique,” Eric chided me. (you may remember, from a previous post, Eric and Lila who cruised across the US starting in Los Angeles, welcomed by the Morisaki/Card family and from there, lapped up the highways and byways, visited the national parks, brought back piles of photos)

where-or-what-is-it.JPGI had simply asked the question. “Do these scallops need to be cleaned?”

Eric could see I needed some serious help (I’ve cooked scallops before – several times – but I’ve probably been probably cooking them wrong several times.) First, he separated the scallops into three parts the noix (the muscle), the orange part, and the rubbery white cartilage wrapped around one side of the noix which attachs the noix to the shell. “Get rid of this part. It’s no good.” The orange part you keep, but don’t put it in the pan until the very last couple of seconds – it cooks up really fast.

How are you serving the scallops? Eric asked.
On a bed of lettuce.
Then bring in the plates first. With lightening speed the plates were lined up – salad tossed and flung on plate after plate.

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We heated a pan. I threw in a slab of butter about half a stick and he guffawed. Nicolas, another dinner guest had just walked in. “Did you see how much butter she put in that pan?” I quickly took back half of it.
“What about white wine?”
“You don’t need any wine.”
“What about shallots?”
“Yeah. You can throw in some shallots – if you want to.”
He watched me sauté the scallops – and then took my fork. “Technique, technique, he said. He flipped the scallops over as if he were dotting ‘i’s.
Then it was time to ‘broil’ the steaks.
“You’re going to broil the steaks – that will take forever! Do you have some fry pans?”
(I had given up at this point – (military experts, please take note, that battles are waged and won in first course – by the time you get to the main course of a dinner you should know very well who is going to take you to a final victory) – but there is always a chance at this stage for a faux pas.

(I would have gone with broiling the steaks rather than frying them (the butcher agreed that broiling would be very tasty) but Eric was making a tactical decision here based on the time element. (People were getting hungry!)

“Tu vas les mettre tous à la poêle – You’re going to put all of them in the fry pan?” I wanted to ask but asked instead, “Tu vas les mettre à poil” Meaning “are you going to make them naked?” (I’m not sure I even remembered to include the ‘les’) which leaves the ‘getting naked’ part even more vague. (We’re talking here about the pronunciation of one vowel that keeps you (the French-speaking debutante) from jumping from the frying pan into the fire – bare naked.
I may have to add this to my next edition of The Fearful Traveler’s Companion under the heading “The Fear of Making a Fool of Oneself”.

Eric rushed to the dining room to relate Christina’s latest gaffe. At this point, Madame (Eric’s mom) decided it was time to bring in the heavy artillery. She headed straight for the theater of action – first we’re going to clear everything in the surrounding area.

“I want all surfaces leveled!” “Where are those peas? Get them cooking. Get that sauce cooking.”

There was no reason to worry. Dinner would be served. All it took was a simple request for advice.