Thursday, April 14, 2011

La Bête à Pain: The Staff of Montreal

Fig.1. Just two door over from Le St-Urbain, La Bête à Pain is a great addition to Fleury Street.

As I'm writing this article, I'm eating bread. Not just any bread, but bread from La Bête à Pain. A new bakery which opened this week and is headed by Le St-Urbain's very own, Marc André Royal. (The bakery is situated just two doors west of Le St-Urbain.)

Eating at Le St-Urbain last week (always a great meal in case you were wondering), I was given some bread as is customary in most Montreal restaurants, only, this bread was unlike any I've ever had in this city: Earthy, fermented and teaming with aromas of cereal and yeast. The stretchy dough and crackling crusts made me think of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, it's that good. The bread man, Thomas Bouchez, hails from the Champagne region of Reims, France, just east of Paris. Bouchez takes his bread seriously. The starter dough, or `mother`, is of Bouchez's creation. Royal aptly points out to me that the starter is still very young, and that the older it gets, the better and more complex the bread's flavour will become; a perfect reason to keep buying bread at La Bête. Lunch is also served at La Bête à Pain. Ciabatta sandwiches filled with Matane shrimp (the ciabatta bread, by-the-way, were the thinnest I've ever seen, perfectly suited for sandwiches) and various bread tarts were being served. Lunch items change from day to day, "I'll leave it to whatever the gang of cooks and bakers decide to make" says Royal. La Bête à Pain is exactly what this city needs: a place that respects food and fosters the creativity needed to make edibles exciting again.

Fig.2. A paoched pear, cranberry jam and almond cream tartin. It takes a special mind to come up with something like this.

Fig.3. Bread master, Thomas Bouchez works his magic. It took every ounce of will power I had not to stick my face in the dough. A perfect pillow.

Fig.4. Baskets of bread.

Fig.5. Assorted sweets.

Fig.6. Duck eggs, headcheese, demi-glace, arctic char gravlax, duck magret, organic salumi and various sous-vides all available. Some made in the bakery and some in the restaurant next door.

Fig.7. Thomas Bouchez, a man coated in flour.

Fig.8. Cooling down

Fig.9. One of the pain de campagne didn't survive the ride home in one piece.

Fig.10. What do you do with great bread? You make 'nu bel panino' of course.

La Bête à Pain, 114 , rue Fleury Ouest, Montreal (Ahuntsic area, just west of St Laurent) 514.507.7109

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Veggies Fig.1. The batter around the asparagus traps the prosciutto. Eat these hot.

Spring is weighing heavily on my mind these days. The peek-a-boo heat of the April sun teases; sprouting desires of driving around with the windows down and leaving my house with nothing but my Speedo on. So with that appetizing image in mind, let’s discuss asparagus, one of the first vegetables to emerge, usually during the first week of May. As I wait for Birri’s asparagus to grace his wooden shelves, finding new ways to cook the green and white spears adds to my culinary neurosis, until I recalled an article about René Redzepi I read in The Independent.
Out there on a farm with the people who grow it, you follow, week by week, what it takes this little mushroom to come forward, and when it's in its most perfect state, you taste it and it becomes your reference point for how mushrooms can taste. It's a perfect moment. That's the real luxury, much more luxurious than getting foie gras or caviar. You're in nature, and you pick this thing and come back with it to the kitchen, and think, am I going to blend this, and boil it, and jellify it? And you can't. You've watched it until it's become part of you.(Nov25-2010)
Replace Redzepi’s romantic mushroom with asparagus (or any freshly grown vegetable) and what I should be left with is simplicity itself: A vegetable out of season can be puréed, blended, mixed and otherwise pulped beyond recognition, but a vegetable in season should be left intact, allowed to show every taste bud in the world that salt, pepper and butter are not welcome—“eat me raw”, the May asparagus said. It would indeed seem disrespectful to use Birri’s fresh asparagus in the recipe provided below, so use the pathetic looking, imported asparagus from the supermarket instead. Then again, this recipe would probably taste so much better if I used Birri’s asparagus, in which case, this whole blog post is neither here nor there. Ahh, after a (very) brief moment of culinary clarity, it would seem the neurosis is back; hello my friend, I’ve missed you.

Fried Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
makes 12 spears

Fig.2. lying in waiting.

12 asparagus
12 sheets of prosciutto, sliced very thin

for the batter

1/2 cup 00 flour, or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk (2% or whole is fine)


Roll the prosciutto tightly around the asparagus and set aside. Make the batter by combining the flour and milk and pepper, mix until smooth. Add some vegetable oil to a pan set over medium high heat. Coat the asparagus in batter, and fry. (To be sure the oil is ready, add a few drops of batter to the oil, if the drops begin to fry immediately, it’s ready, or use an oil thermometer. The oil is ready when it reaches 350 degrees F. It’s also a good idea to let any excess batter drip off the asparagus. And don’t overcrowd the pan or your oil will cool.) When the batter turns golden brown on one side, turn them over and do the same on the other side. Transfer to a plate lined with a few paper towels. Let them cool for a few minutes and serve.

Fig.3. This is an after shot, taken 5 minutes after my son, (aka, The Boy) spotted the spears.

Fig.4. This is what becomes of any leftover batter: Add a ton of grated cheese, such as Parm or Pecorino, and make pancakes.

Announcement: I don't usually do these things, but then again, I haven't been this gastronomically excited for quite a while. Hold on to your gluten levels because we're finally about to get great bread in Montreal. I'm talking about long fermentation, thick,crackling crusts, and moist, stretchy insides. Bread reminiscent of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I'll fill you all in on Wednesday, or Thursday in case of a carb overload.