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Bavette A L’Echalotte

December 9, 2010

I was at the meat counter, looking for a nice piece of steak to toss on my George Foreman grill this evening at dinner time.  In general, at the store where I shop, there are several cuts marked “manager’s special” which means that the meal is both yummy and affordable.  I was planning to take some of that leftover blue cheese (wishing I had Roquefort blue instead) from the fridge, make a sauce for the medium well steak, garnish it with some walnut chunks and serve it up with a nice glass of red.  My snowy night was about to get off to a great start.  Shucks, no luck.  Today there were no manager’s specials.  Full price then.  No bargains to be had.

I first moved to France in the late summer of 1993.  My sister and her then boyfriend had driven me to Boston from Maine to catch my plane so that I could get to Paris and hop the train to a small coastal town in Brittany, Les Sables D’Olonne.  By the time that I arrived, I was pretty tired, but my friend Raphi, who had invited me, said that there was no time for that nap I craved and that we were going out.  We went to a local restaurant with several of Raphi’s family and friends, but the only dish I really recognized on the menu was a steak, and I had been warned that the only real way to eat steak was if it were “bleu”—that’s so rare that the darn thing is still mooing on your plate.  And I had come from a home where meat was more often than not gray after it was “well done”.  I told Raphi then to get me what everyone else was having.  “Anguille it is then!” she cheers.  Grilled eel is delicious, as soon as you learn how to get the meat off the backbone, though it remains one of those dishes the name of which I prefer not to translate.

Raphi en bateau

I wasn’t going to let me desire for a good piece of beef be denied a whole year because of the threat of a still drooling cow and decided, after my financial aid check finally arrived, to treat myself to a nice steak at home.  My first hurdle was not knowing just how much a kilo of meat represented!  I ordered a kilo and when I saw how large it was, I asked the butcher to halve it for me.  He protested and I reminded him that as long as I had not paid, he was still the proud owner of the whole thing.  And, if he wanted to sell even half, he would cut the darn thing and not harass me about it.  The older lady behind me in line said, “I’ll take the other half–and I think he just taught you something about doing business!”  She winked at me.  I was very grateful to her.

Off I trotted toward my apartment on the rue Boissonade where I decided that I didn’t really have a nice pan to cook it in, so I would make a beef stew like at home instead; besides, that gave me a chance to use that bottle of corked wine that I felt badly about throwing away.  Delicious!

My first French Kitchen

I lived in the 2eme arrondissement of Paris during my second stay there and often went to a meat market not far from my apartment.  Les Halles, the commercial center of the city, is a busy place.  One day, I went in to “my shop” with a friend of mine from Germany (so we were speaking in English–it was like being in cognito in the movies) when the meat cutter said to the customer in front of me, “You wait right here, Marie, I will go and get the good stuff for you.  We will save the rest of this for the “Parigots” (a derogatory way to refer to the citizens of the City of Lights, and clearly more than one tourist)”.  When it came my turn, I said, in a lovely French accent, “I wouldn’t mind continuing to be a customer of this fine establishment, if I knew I weren’t going to be treated like a regular “Parigot”, especially since I am from the United States.”  The meat cutter’s wife could be heard audibly laughing in the back ground.  (As a side note, whenever the butcher’s wife was at the counter on my subsequent visits, she would always throw something on my order for me to try–a new sausage, a paupiette de veau, or some other treat.  She felt it was her responsibility to help me, as an American, learn to eat so as not to be condemned to a life of HAMBURGER!)

Getting back to the meat though… when I was living in France, it seemed everyone was so darn proud of their Boeuff Bourguignon.  I haven’t any idea why.  The meat they use for that is the sort of thing my mother made beef stew out of to feed the dog with on weekends (she always thought her dog Clyde needed a special treat on Sundays, otherwise it was Alpo as usual). The meat was full of grizzle and required you to have your hands in your mouth for three-quarters of the meal so you could pull out the tough parts.  I remember thinking to myself, “Where do these people put the good meat from the cow–they certainly never serve it in restaurants!”  I also discovered in indignation over time that red meats are not permitted to “age” as long as they are before sale in the US.  The resultant cuts are just tough, and expensive.  The cows may be grass fed and without hormones, but one just can’t enjoy a steak in the same way there.

Sometimes, there is nothing better than a good steak.  It doesn’t have to be huge, but I do like it to be well marbled with fat so that it is fork tender when cooked.  Granted, my tastes have changed over time.  I can’t say that I like mine “bleu” yet, but the steak I order today is a lot less like shoe leather than it was then.

Mon Amie Andree

To be fair, I can say that the best meat I ever had during my three years in France was at a charming little coastal restaurant in Courselles-sur-Mer, Normandy.  Courselles is known to the American tourist as “Juno Beach”, one of the landing sites for the Battle of D-Day in 1944. The Belle Aurore makes one of the finest “Bavette a l’echalotte”   I have ever had.  They also serve one of France’s finest Boudin Noir (a name which I never translate into English so as not to conjure up foul images of a sausage made from blood, which is what it it is of course) served with a baked apple.  If you are traveling through Normandy, it is a restaurant worth the detour–my friend Andree Harivel, who still lives in that town and who taught me how to cook so many wonderful French dishes, highly recommends it as well.  That was where she took me whenever we had something to celebrate.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marion permalink
    February 2, 2011 4:48 pm

    You should have written about Paule’s barbaque pit [with picture]. I often wondered if she ever cooked anything on it. It was beautiful.

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