British Beef in France

A contrarian (and well-connected) French chef seemed to have achieved the impossible. He re-introduced British beef to France.

The man in question is Yves-Marie le Bourdonnec, known as the butcher to the stars and owner of Le Beef Club.

France is a country of brands. As befitting a people who discovered that they can charge a lot more for a humble polo shirt if they stuck an alligator on it, all food items have brands. You cannot buy strawberries here. You can get gariguettes, charlottes, ciflorettes, rondes. If a box of strawberries is labeled as "fraise," the French term for strawberry, it is almost certainly a box that originated from Spain.

The beef is the same. It is sold under its regional brand names, like Aubrac, Salers, Charolais, Limousins, Flamand, Normand, Parthenais. French believe that each type of beef has different characteristics and different uses. I suspect that is because they all have solid brand management behind them. Other countries have similar differentiation (like the British Angus, Shorthorn, Longhorn or Galloway) but most of the time, people don't pay any attention to them. In France they are sold separately under their own name.

Within that system, British beef had a terrible brand association with the Mad Cow disease. France refused to import British beef between 1996 and 2002 (despite a EU decision and a European Court ruling) and even now the terrible association is very much alive in people's minds.

But le Bourdonnec is set to change all that. He sings the praises of the British beef. The meat is more tender because the animals are smaller and fast maturing, he says.

So far, his restaurant drew a lot of media attention and high praises from customers. It also drew the ire of French cattle breeders union. I plan on visiting the place to report back here.

How to Cook Beef like Heston?

Speaking of beef, during my vegetarian years, I taught myself how to cook beef properly. Because I could not taste the end result, I had to rely on proven techniques to cook the meat to the satisfaction of my guests (and my dogs, but they were less discerning).

1) If you are barbecuing or pan searing, keep turning the meat every 10-15 seconds, instead of leaving it on each side for minutes.
2) The bounciness of the meat is a reliable indicator of its degree of doneness (I gather there is no such word but you know what I mean). The bouncier the meat the less done it is. Because of that, overcooking the meat will harden it and make it chewy.
3) You have to let the meat rest for 3-5 minutes after you removed it from the heat source. I usually cover it with foil to prevent heat loss.

Years later I realized that I was doing it right after I watched a British chef explain the chemistry behind these simple tips.

The chef in question was Heston Blumenthal, who is the chef/owner of Fat Duck, the perennial number two to Feran Adrià's El Bulli for the best restaurant in the world category for most of the previous decade (it was number one in 2005).

He is a culinary hero of mine because of his willingness to share his knowledge of food with the general public. He is the magician who explains his tricks. This video is from a series called "How to Cook like Heston" and here he explains how to handle beef in various dishes.

The entire series is highly recommended.

He covers the following basic ingredients: eggs, chocolate, chicken, cheese and potatoes. And here is a link to the recipes in the series.

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