At my local marché this week…
Grown in Brittany, one of the weirdest vegetables found in France is Romanesco, a relative of broccoli. It’s cooked the same way, a la vapeur, simply steamed and tossed with a pad of rich French butter.
Sand-grown carrots are sweeter (and dirtier) than ordinary carrots.
French (and American) cooks can find lots of thyme at the markets, which is much stronger than the thyme I’m used to. When I moved to France, I’d add big handfuls of thyme to everything I could since it’s so abundant and fragrant. It’s my favorite herb. Eventually a regular dinner guest bluntly told me I put too much thyme in things. (French people believe they’re doing you a favor when they criticize you, and I’ve had to explain to a few of them that Americans are a bit more subtle in our approach.)
The wonderful, sparkling-fresh seafood at the markets is something I’ve always stop and take a good look at. I’m always fascinated (and sometimes a bit freaked out) by bizarre sea life; slithery eels, shark meat displayed alongside the toothy shark head, bulots or little sea whelks that you pop from the shells with a pin, octopus (which some day I will work up the nerve to try…or perhaps not), and tiny grey shrimp, known as grises that are simply boiled in aromatic fish stock known as court bouillon then eaten cold, like popcorn. I really admire the fish people I shop from at the market, since I think their job is the most difficult and gruesome (although last week I saw an enormous wild boar, larger than I was, hanging upside down at the boucherie, which was soon to be evicerated for Civet de Sanglier, a long-cooked savory stew of wild boar, the sauce thickened with red wine and blood.)
Come Christmas the fish mongers are especially busy folks, since French people are insane for fresh oysters and buy them by the crate. Almost all the oysters come from Brittany, and before motorized transportation, horses would gallop wildly towards Paris from the coastal regions until they collapsed from exhaustion. Then there’d be another horse along the route to take over from there. This ensured that the briny oysters made it to Paris fresh and cold. My favorite oysters are the flat Belons, which I like with a bit of shallot-vinegar sauce wiht a few grinds of black pepper, sauce mignonette, along with a well-chilled glass, or two, of Sancerre and tangy rye bread smeared with lots of salted butter. It makes the cold, grey winter that’s quickly approaching us here in Paris bearable.