January 24, 2010

A LESSON AT THE BUTCHERS

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Having just had a week in Le Grand-Pressigny that included New Year, I couldn't help making comparisons with our first New Year there in 2007. So I thought it was time I picked up the story again and carried on where I had left off.


The butcher in Le Grand-Pressigny

One of the things we have enjoyed in the two years that we have owned the little cottage "au pied du château" is getting to know the local shops. During the week between Christmas and New Year in 2007 we shopped often in the village. There is an excellent butcher, a boulangerie, a florist that also sells fishing permits and guns, and a general store, the Spa. There is also a bank, insurance office, post office, estate agent, DIY and builders merchants, hairdresser, pharmacy, newsagent/tabac, plumbers and tourist office. I hope I haven't missed anything out.




That week in 2007, we decided that we would like to invite Barrie and Lucie to dinner one evening. This would be our second dinner party challenge - cooking with our new cooker and finding enough crockery and cutlery for all four of us at once ! We decided to cook roast beef as it seemed fairly safe and we knew what we were doing there - or so we thought.




In the morning of the appointed day we shopped for everything we needed in the village. We are very keen to support the local shops although periodic visits to the supermarket at Descartes are inevitable. We bought bread and a "tarte au mirabelle" for dessert in the boulangerie. It is virtually impossible to enter this shop and then come out with just some bread. The cakes, tarts and other goodies on sale are extremely tempting. So we also bought some little meringues and "gateaux", which are actually biscuits, to go with our after-dinner coffee.






We bought cheese and saucisson sec at the Spa. Vegetables had already been bought from the market in the village square on Thursday morning.







Next we plucked up courage to enter the butchers. I say this because, even now, a trip to the butcher is a slightly unnerving experience. Personally I find it makes a huge difference how many people are in the shop already when I enter.

If there are just one or two, I have enough time to scan the produce on offer, decide what to have and how to ask for it, get it and leave before I lose my nerve. If there are too many in front of me, I lose track of what I want in listening to the locals who buy all kinds of scary looking stuff and know what to do with it, panic because my French is so pathetic, then by the time it's my turn, I'm a nervous jibbering wreck and make myself look a complete idiot. An English idiot !



Worse still is if people pile in behind me whilst I'm waiting to be served. Then, not only do I have time to forget what I wanted in the fog of total panic, but the knowledge that all those people are listening to every mis-pronounced and inappropriate word makes me feel even more stupid, if that were at all possible.



Now I must say here that none of this has anything at all to do with the proprietors, M. and Mme. Poupeau. They are immensely patient, helpful and kind to us and have never ever said a single word that was intended to make us feel uncomfortable or inadequate in any way.



On this day, we were in luck. There was just one person in front of us so we checked out the meat in the display and also spotted some quiche and taboulé we would have for lunch plus some paté we could serve as a starter for our little dinner party. Quite an order and we were feeling confident.



Nick was at the helm and he asked Mme for "un pièce de boeuf à rôtir pour quatre personnes" (in his best Crabtree accent). She smiled, disappeared in the back and re-emerged with the biggest and most fabulous piece of meat I have ever seen in my life. She sliced a piece off and took the rest back to the fridge, re-emerging with a large parcel. This turned out to be thin slices of fat, some of which she wrapped around the meat and tied in place with string from a ball nailed to the ceiling. We marvelled at the whole performance.

Next our joint was wrapped and weighed, hitting the mark at 800 grams exactly! With a sweet smile, she lifted it up and as she was about to hand it to Nick she seemed to have second thoughts and quickly drew it back towards her, just out of his grasp !




Taken aback, we both stared at her as she said, in a stern voice. "quinze minutes, Monsieur". About two seconds passed as their eyes met and she said, leaning forwards ever so slightly, "quinze minutes......vingt minutes, maximum !"

Quick thinking as ever, Nick replied "Mais oui Madame, vignt minutes, bien sûr !" Satisfied that we were going to treat her beef with the respect it deserved, she allowed us to pay for it and we left the shop with our purchases, stunned but happy.


This picture is not the actual joint - but ours looked just as good !


Later that evening, we cooked it for almost an hour and it was absolutely perfect !

9 comments:

  1. Jean, I deleted my previous comment. Sorry !

    What a cute and yet soooo typical story :). French (and Belgian butchers) are very proud of what they sell, so they want people to treat the meat as it shoud be? My local butcher is just the same!! He always sells me the best cuts, with a comment/advice how to cook them!

    BTW, When I do a roastbeef, I count 15 minutes per 500 grams. No more, no less! Than I wrap the meat in aluminium foil (off the heat) and let it rest for about 10 to 15 minutes while I bind the sauce. That way, the meat can 'relax' and all the juices can concentrate. The result? A moist tender roastbeef that looks just like yours in the photo with a lot of flavour and taste. Wow, My mouth is watering already ! :)

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  2. Martine - we wondered if she had heard that many British people eat their meat well done and she wasn't going to let us have it if that was the case !!

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  3. Bev says that she just puts it in a pint and a half of water on a low light until we come back.

    We're the same Jean...we pick our time before entering such places and hate people listening behind us.

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  4. Ken - are you saying you poach the beef? Now that's close to boiling it - the French apparently think we Brits always boil our meat, called the "methode anglais" or similar, I believe.

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  5. I've just eaten my lunch but this has had me salivating all over again.
    Yum
    Mad x

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  6. Don't ever tell them you cooked that roast for an hour! They will never trust you with another one. Did they recommend a temperature for the roasting?

    Butchers and charcutiers often tell you how and how long to cook the meats they sell. I've been listening to them for 40 years now and I think I've learned a lot. I don't think it is our foreign-ness that inspires them to give such advice. They give it to everybody, just being helpful.

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  7. By the way, what's a "Crabtree accent." In North Carolina's capital city, Raleigh, there's the Crabtree Valley Mall. Is a crabtree a crab-apple tree?

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  8. Ken - we know that now, she's a lovely lady and always very helpful but at the time we thought it was just us who needed the advice and it came as a surprise !!

    Crabtree was the idiot Englishman masquerading as a policeman, who thought he could speak French, in the TV series "Allo Allo".

    Here's a youtube clip if you want to see him in action:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=960UYL3Vue8

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  9. Ken
    PS I forgot to say, we were not only stunned by the firmness of the advice on timing but also baffled as to how we were supposed to know the temperature. And neither of us dared to ask !

    We would now, though.

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