I think a lot of times when chefs travel they long to visit local markets and see what kind of excellent produce can be had in an area they don’t usually get to source from. Often times, however,—at least for me—what I can actually do with that produce is pretty limited. I’m not usually staying somewhere that gives me access to a kitchen, so what I can enjoy from a local market is usually limited to things that can be eaten raw like fruit, or prepared food from a market vendor. Now this is not to say that I’m not thankful for these things; prepared foods and fruits are certainly lovely. But I am often left wondering what it would have been like to actually be able to cook with an area’s regional produce.
This summer my wife and I had the great privilege of being hosted by family in a small cottage in the town of Courseulles-sur-mer on the coast of Normandy in France. As a way of showing our gratitude we said that we would cook dinner one night. This was all the better because we were told there was a superb local market with produce, legendary Norman dairy, and fish caught just off the coast. We ended up doing some pretty nice things so I figured I could share what it was like to really be able to place myself in an unfamiliar kitchen with vaguely familiar products and improvise a nice meal.
We were able to get some good photos of the process so I’ll try to let them do most of the talking.
Walking down the rows of market vendors
The amazing freshly caught seafood for sale right on the water
The canal out to the sea, literally a few steps from the seafood market stalls
A case of absolutely impeccable dairy or all types from Normandy. We got some butter, cream, and creme fraiche
The reddest, nicest looking strawberries maybe ever. This is just what produce looks like in France.
Waiting in line at the nicest produce vendor at the market. In France they actually form one real line that people actually respect at the farmers market. How novel.
Filleting one of the beautiful Atlantic mackerel we picked up
A massive lavender bush growing in the back of the cottage. There was also a bay laurel tree, hibiscus, rosemary, chives, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Just out there, man.
The incredible cream we picked up. It was the tastiest cream I’ve ever had by a huge margin.
My reaction to said cream.
A fillet of grey mullet that we ended up serving as crudo
The truly gorgeous and humungous Turbot we bought. By far the biggest at the market that day.
Potato gratin made with locally produced comte. Insane.
Grilling the Turbot
Saucing the Turbot with a beurre blanc sauce made with preserved lemon
The cooked gratin and the finished mackerel presentation. For the mackerel we cured it lightly in apple cider vinegar made from cider from Normandy, very lightly smoked so it was still mostly raw, then dropped down right over the coals to crisp up the skin. Garnished with red onion, olive oil, and chives.
The finished crudo. A mix of red and grey mullet that we lightly cured and wrapped in beach rose petals, sliced, and dressed with olive oil and an acidic compote made from raspberries
A tomato salad with frame blanc, black olives, mint roasted eggplant and preserved tomatoes
Closeup of the sauced Turbot
When turbot has been properly cooked you can pull the whole skeleton out like this so you don’t have to flip the fish over to get to the meat on the bottom.
The whole spread
It was so special to be able to cook like this for family in such a special place using such amazing and special products. Its a memory I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life. It’s easy to lose sight of why we cook professionally when we are only ever working long hard hours in a hot windowless kitchen for not much pay, and very little expressed gratitude. I’m thankful that experiences like this can put it back in perspective. When you can cook a meal that shows how thankful you are for your friends, family, and their hospitality it makes those long hours feel almost insignificant by comparison.
If this post inspired you to cook up some delicious French classics of your own, I recommend checking out our upcoming Date Night: French Bistro class coming up on Saturday, November 11 at 6pm at Lincoln Square. Bon appetit!