As mentioned earlier, this particular Saturday, filled with trips to Edge of the Woods, #1 Fish Market, Stop & Shop and Caseus, also entailed taking on a challenge that we otherwise have avoided in the past: true, cooked-in-oil French fries. I had been craving moules marinières at the end of last week, thinking that we’d have something other than potatoes to go with the mussels, but Michael surprised me by wanting to take on the challenge (and potential fire hazard) of playing with hot oil. After all, we have a proper French oven now to safely heat the oil and the recipe from Les Halles to work with, so it seemed doable enough.
I will begin by saying that though we had the fire extinguisher at the ready, it never needed to be used–a small victory, to be sure, but proof that with careful monitoring, deep-frying without the aid of a FryDaddy is in fact, possible. The rest of the process simply entailed following Anthony Bourdain’s instructions as we were not so much following a recipe, but really a technique. Cutting the Idaho potatoes, soaking them in an ice bath, rinsing the starch off, blanching for 6-8 minutes at one temperature, resting them for another 15, then frying at a higher temp for 2-3 minutes before dumping the results into a towel-lined bowl seems simple enough when I write it here, but I will say this: there is a reason why Chef Bourdain refers to Les Halles fries as the best (and why several pages are devoted to this topic), and it’s because the staff follows these instructions to the letter. The more we explore the recipes in this cookbook the more I am inclined to emphatically recommend it to those curious about French bistro cuisine, as Bourdain does well in walking you through every single step.
The one area where we had to diverge from the instructions was the oil, as we were unable to procure a decent-sized container of peanut oil at the store and had to settle for corn instead. We could have gone to BJ’s and gotten a vat, I suppose, but given that we had already been to four stores and helped a friend swap out his hardtop for his softop on his Jeep (finishing all of this around 4), dragging our sorry selves to North Haven seemed a bit much, non?
As for the moules marinières , well, the hardest bit about working with them was debearding all of the little suckers (though I think #1 cleaned most of them for us, as few actually needed de-bearding) and thoroughly washing them to ensure that all the grit was removed. The sauce they cooked in was mercifully simple: white wine, butter, garlic and red onion (in lieu of shallot), then tossed with a little finely chopped parsley after cooking for ten minutes. Wanting to minimize dishes, we ate family style, dipping the fries into an aioli of egg yolk, lemon, garlic and oil and piling up the shells onto tiny plates. Despite the fries, this was a light-yet-filling meal, perfect after spending most of the day out in the hot sun.
Our trip to Caseus yielded three intriguing specimens: an Arrucchio Provolone that packed sharpness to spare and paired well with red wine, a soft Appalachian cheese from Meadow Creek that had nutty undertones, and a divine Taleggio that, I learned a week ago, is best eaten in small doses, and not on an empty stomach. This assortment lasted us a few days, but I think the ritual of enjoying a little cheese after dinner is one I intend on having more often. It’s not as overwhelming as dessert, but especially with a little fruit adds just the right note of indulgence and sweetness.