The first time I ever saw Paris, I fell in love. I suppose that’s true for many people, but at ten years old, I felt like the first person to fall head-over-heels for the bouquinnistes selling books at the quais of the river Seine, the starkly white statues standing guard in the old Gare d’Orsay, the slightly rotten but lovely and foreign smell of metro cars. I spent four days there, and by the time I had returned to the States, I was hooked.
But I don’t know that I actually fell in love with Paris – I don’t know that it’s possible – until I started going to my morning market when I moved here in 2007. At ten, I fell in love with Paris’ outward appearance; at twenty, I started to get to know the city.
It started slowly: my first market, when I lived in the ritzy 7th arrondissement, was just past the Eiffel Tower into the 15th, at La Motte Picquet. The market was under a metro overpass, and I would go there on weekends with a friend who lived nearby to pick up a few groceries, but mainly just to look at all the choice: chickens roasting uncovered on spits, giant dishes of couscous and paella heating and being sold by the barquette, cheeses and cuts of meats that I had never heard of before. It was a good market to start with, a way to break myself in: there was a spattering of English, and one stand where shoppers were welcome to select their own produce, unheard of at most Paris markets.
When I moved to the Mouffetard area of Paris, I inherited this famous, daily street market, where storefronts explode onto the narrow street, loosing their wares out on the sidewalk so you can’t even walk past without smelling fresh, slightly bruised gariguette strawberries in summer or simmering boeuf bourguignonne in winter.
But my preferred market is the smaller one, a few streets over, at place Monge, where the fishmonger flirts with me unapologetically, as I savor free samples of spring peas and bright orange charentais melon:
“Vous venez d’où, mademoiselle? Where you are from? Amérique? I would like an American wife!”
He laughs heartily, and I smile as I walk past the shining blade of his knife, expertly filleting salmon for a customer: I have different things in mind.
The butcher counter is overwhelming at first; I stalk past it several times, pacing at a safe distance so as not to attract the questions and offers of the man waiting impatiently behind it with blood on his apron. So many cuts, so many things to choose from. I’m not sure half of it is beef; it bothers me less in France than it would back in America.
Finally, I get the courage to approach and ask for rumsteak pour deux personnes, steak for two people. The cuts aren’t the same as in the States; I’m not sure what this would be called shrink-wrapped in the American grocery stores, but it’s very thin and slightly marbled, and not too fatty.
As the butcher wraps up my steaks, he asks me the question I’ve grown used to since I started shopping at the market. “Vous allez en faire quoi?” What are you going to do with it. As usual, I shrug and ask, “Vous en pensez quoi?” and am rewarded with the smile of knowledge that comes from a man who recognizing his expertise.
“A la poële, retourné vite fait… avec une petite sauce au vin rouge.”
Of course, the man was right: quickly seared with a little red wine sauce… quick and easy: the best way to enjoy these steaks.
Recipe: Steak au Vin Rouge
Note: For this recipe, be sure to pick a good bottle of wine that you can drink alongside the dish. Ask for help at a wine store, or pick out a bottle yourself at the grocery store: a Bordeaux or vin du pays d’Oc will work well.
- 2 rumsteaks (about 100 g. apiece)
- sea salt
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- 25 g. butter (2 tbs.)
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- freshly ground black pepper
- Salt the steaks on both sides with sea salt.
- Crack a window, and heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, swirl it around the bottom of the pan, and add the steaks.
- Cook 40 seconds to 1 minute per side, depending on the thickness of your steaks.
- Remove the steaks to a plate and cover with foil. Remove the skillet from the flame, and slowly pour the wine in, down the side of the pan, shielding it away from you by lifting the pan slightly. Return the pan to the flame and reduce the heat to medium.
- Whisk in the mustard. Stir continuously until sauce has reduced by half (about 2-3 minutes).
- Plate the steaks, pouring any accumulated juices from the covered plate back into the pan and whisking to combine. Pour the sauce over the steaks, and top with freshly ground black pepper. Serve with lots of crusty baguette to mop up the sauce.