by Ann Mah
Today’s post is republished with permission from the blog of Ann Mah, an author and journalist based in Paris. She has written for Conde Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune and many other publications. Publishers Weekly called her recently published first novel, Kitchen Chinese, ” a great start for a writer of much promise.”
It’s taken me over a year, but I think I’ve finally cottoned onto the French secret to eating well at home. Is it shopping at the farmer’s market every day? Making the daily rounds of butcher, baker, and green grocer? Lovingly slaving over a hot stove, preparing delicious and nutritious meals every night? Ha — who has time for that? No, the secret, mes amis, is Picard.
For example, there are herbs, chopped and frozen into cubes — single herbs like cilantro, dill, or thyme, or herb mixes to toss with salad, or sprinkle on fish. There’s also garlic, onions or shallots, all finely minced.
What is Picard? Simply put, it’s a chain of stores selling frozen food. But not just any frozen food. Alongside the usually icy suspects, like pizzas and readymade meals, are an array of frozen products designed to ease the busy gourmand’s lifestyle.
On my last visit, I counted at least 22 types of vegetable purées. Some of these are ready-to-serve side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, or more adventurous combinations like potato and artichoke, or smashed parsnips and jerusalem artichokes. There are also purees of vegetable — i.e. carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, green beans — with no added oil, fat, or salt (rare in this butter-loving nation) which means you can doctor them any way you wish.
This being France, there are many complicated and buttery sauces to serve with meat or vegetables, things like béarnaise, hollandaise, or beurre blanc, which usually take time and skill to whip up from scratch, are here ready to be defrosted.
My favorite section is called “apéritif,” where you can find all manner of tiny foods to pair with a glass of champagne. There are the usual suspects like pigs-in-a-blanket, or savory mini tarts, or gougères, which are like cheese puffs. But there are also unexpected finds like escargots wrapped in puff pastry, or cuillères apéritives (cocktail spoons) — individual Chinese-shaped spoons filled with things like mango-melon chutney and foie gras, or avocado puree and a shrimp. You simply defrost the spoons before serving, no heating required.
Don’t expect a lot of ambience from your local Picard — the shops are very sterile, with fluorescent lights and frozen food cases and very little else.
Here’s a photo of my shopping from last week’s Picard visit. I purchased: frozen soups (packed with puréed vegetables and not too salty), frozen peas and broccoli (good to have on hand in case I don’t have time to go to the store), a few ready-made meals, which are good for lunch (I’m excited about the braised rabbit in olive sauce), a bag of vegetable tagine (eggplant, courgette and tomato, which I plan to eat with couscous), and a box of oven fries (a little treat).
And Picard offers so much more! There’s a whole section devoted entirely to desserts, from tarte tatin to molten chocolate cake. Or, the aisles of frozen fish and seafood — it’s the only place I’ve been able to find raw shrimp. Or, the assortment of meats — from chicken breasts to burgers to steak.
I realize this post is starting to sound like an infomercial, so I’m going to stop here. Besides, it’s almost lunchtime and I need to go defrost something.
(Note: I am in no way affiliated with Picard. I just like it.)