Day 4 of French cooking and drowning in butter

I am utterly saturated in butter. This morning I had my hands in it to make garlic herb butter for langoustine, this afternoon I was whisking it into a beurre blanc sauce for turbot, and at every meal this week I have been consuming it in quantities that I'd rather not dwell on. Don't get me wrong – there are certainly worse fates, but I have to say that an undressed green salad and steamed veggies are sounding pretty good at the moment.

Getting ready to blend garlic herb butter with my fingers

Thursday is usually the day when the class takes an outing to Dinan, a picturesque town nearby – apparently I am not the first person to hit a butter wall on day four. But today was All Saints Day and everything was closed, so we shuffled the schedule around to cook instead.

Lunch was both light and insanely rich all at the same time. We started with a Cesar salad and made fresh dressing from soft boiled eggs, minced anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, and parmesan and slowly whisked in the oil, similarly to how we made the mayonnaise last night. The dressing was flavorful and very rich and made for a very nice salad with our freshly baked croutons.

Ingredients for fresh cesar salad dressing

Dressing dutifully whisked

Homemade and very rich cesar salad

The next course was grilled langoustines with garlic butter. We learned how to prep a langoustine by cutting away part of its shell and replacing it with a giant dome of the previously mentioned garlic butter. The langoustines were quite impressive to see and very cool to learn how to make – it is actually pretty tricky to cut away the shell and leave the flesh intact. After we baked them, the flavor had a distinct taste of the sea (but not fishy) and the texture was chewy but not at all rubbery. It was interesting to try something that I probably won't be making at home but that I would definitely order in a restaurant.

About to get up close and personal with this little langoustine

Log of butter. Enough said.

Drowning the langoustines in butter

Succulent and flavorful langoustines. I was surprised that they got less orange once cooked.

Making dinner was our mini-restaurant apprenticeship – we julienned tons of vegetables to prepare soups for both Thursday and Friday night dinner, and boiled two fresh lobsters in preparation for a bisque on Friday night. We made use of the langoustine and lobster shells to create one fish stock and mussels to create another fish stock.

Check out those knife skills. Julienned leeks, carrots, fennel, and celeriac

Lobsters, starting to get apprehensive about what's coming

My first freshly boiled lobster. I felt bad for the little guys.

Fish stock from lobster shells, langoustine shells, and lots of veggies. It had to sit overnight to marinate and the pot was too big for the fridge so we used the freezing front hallway. The whole place smelled like lobster!

The mussels were for Thursday night's saffron mussel soup and we got up close and personal with those bivalves. First we cleaned them by scraping off algae and pulling out beards, then we boiled them, and then took them all out of their shells so that the soup would be “elegant” and shell free. We made the broth from the water we had boiled the shellfish in, tons of vegetables, herbs, and spices, and a bottle of white wine. Once it was reduced and strained, we stirred in cream and butter and then arranged our blanched julienned vegetables and carefully prepped mussels inside. Not surprisingly, the dish was indeed delicious, but by the time we ate it I had been hanging out with those mussels for so long that their vaguely alien shape and texture was starting to get to me!

Cleaning the mussles and straining the vegetables from the fish stock

Saffron mussel soup

The next course was turbot (a whitefish, similar in texture to sole) in the previously mentioned beurre blanc sauce, which basically translates into “really rich pure white butter sauce.” We prepared the fish very simply by cleaning and baking them plain so that they could readily absorb their butter bath. We made the sauce by boiling white wine vinegar and shallots, adding cream, and then whisking in butter. The dish was very delicate and we served it over a vegetable medley that we sautéed in – you guessed it – butter! The French definitely give the Italians a run for their money on sheer quantities of butter vs. olive oil use!

Prepping the turbot

Veggies sauteed in butter and artfully presented

Turbot with beurre blanc sauce and a sprinkle of basil puree

Dessert was a classical French dish – poached pears in a sabayon sauce. I never would have thought to poach pears at home but they make a great and very artistic-looking dessert – all you have to do is peel them and boil them in water with a few cinnamon sticks and some sugar. A useful trick is to put a plate on top of them while they boil so that the fruit is uniformly submerged and cooks evenly.

Poached pears, ready for some action

Sabayon sauce is very, very sweet – you make it by whisking sugar, egg yolks, and a sweet dessert wine together until the sauce is thick and foamy. Although very gourmet, I think my preference would be to just have a glass of Sauternes with the pears.

Egg, sugar, and sweet wine ready to be heated and blended for the sabayon sauce

Very French dessert. And of course, we had to use the leftover ice cream.

Despite my carping on the butter usage, both lunch and dinner were wonderful meals – I think I may just need a day off from heavy eating after a month straight of cooking! Luckily, tomorrow we explore Dinan before our “last supper” (as my British companion has started calling it) in Kerrouet.


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