A short while back I was thrust into the local community spotlight via a microphone and a badly rendered version of Sonny & Cher’s “I got you babe”. My partner in crime even had her photo in the local paper as a result.
This was a part of our ongoing effort to integrate into our surrounding community and learn more about the local French culture beyond the baguette and beret. These efforts are continuing. Recently we were enrolled in a local traditional French grillade (a BBQ to you and me). This is that tale.
Like anywhere else in the world, the French have a unique take on the international cuisine that is gently burnt BBQ meat, a tradition that I have observed in various forms in my travels.
Us Brits, for example, have perfected the art of cooking chicken with a seasoning of rain, delicately charred on the outside and frozen on the interior. The Ozzies have their barbie’s, often mysteriously prawn free, accompanied by any beer but Fosters. Down in South Africa, a braai is accompanied by an improbably spiracle sausage. Germany, France’s neighbour, enjoy a good old fashioned pork fest accompanied by around three tonnes of pasta salad per person, to the strains of David Hasslehoff’s latest hit. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea
The French BBQ is no different, featuring key signature ingredients, without which no grillade would be complete. One of these is Walter Raleigh’s tuber import, prepared by being dunked in a vat of hydrogenated vegetable fat, and crisped to perfection. Yes, I’m talking about chips. It turns out that the French BBQ is just not complete without an item that doesn’t even go on a BBQ.
Obviously chips are not the only thing to feature. Pork belly and sausage are two other staples of a grillade. I am yet to attend a grillade evening in France which isn’t in fact uniquely composed of pork belly, sausage, chips, and a healthy side of baguette. Clearly the belief is that the formula doesn’t seem to be broke, so why fix it?
I was asked to take part in the grillade evening, and my particular role was of critical importance. You see, I was put in charge of the deep fat fryer, and tasked with creating the chips. This is big stuff. Forget the sausages and the pork loin. The French Fry has that name for a reason. And here was I, a foreigner, entrusted with this weighty task. To paraphrase Churchill, never has so much responsibility been held by so few.
I was given some handy tips prior to commencing. First, the importance of the double fry. This is apparently essential to creating the perfect chip. Even McDonald’s does it, so it must be important, right? Next… actually, that was it. I was told it was important to double fry the chips, and that was it. The rest was up to me.
I should point out at this point that my culinary career does not contain many highlights. I did actually have a job as a chef once. It was my shortest job ever, clocking in at three hours before I was let go. I never had one of those summer jobs at McDonald’s, where I would probably have learnt the fine art of generic chip creation. But here I was, in France, presumably the home of the French Fry, tasked with feeding a host of actual French people. Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this.
I am pleased to say, that it went very well. I produced multiple batches of perfectly golden, crispy fries, which were wolfed down with appreciation. I got happily coated in oil. I ate way, way too many chips in the interest of quality control. And at the end of the day, I received a spontaneous round of applause for my chip creating efforts. Which was rather nice. Even better – I’ve been invited back to wield my chip frying paws again at a future event. Clearly, I’ve made it. Now all I need is to step up to the actual meat part of the event…
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