Monday, March 29, 2010

Pouvez vous ‘shepherd’ un canard?

The easy answer is in the noun (or the verb, if you prefer). I am clear on that point. Yet I still question, can you? These sorts of petit conundrum trouble my mind these days quite regularly.

More concerning is the hybrid merging of my meagre French vocabulaire into my English mother-tongue. I annoy myself and roll my eyes simultaneously. I am that person at a jazz bar wearing a black turtle neck and clicking their fingers daddy-o to the improv sounds of the cats on stage (the same person who knows nothing more about jazz than the itunes podcast taught them earlier that afternoon). I judge myself. Wearing Breton stripes does not make me French.

Retourner to the petit conundrum. By definition, a shepherd herds sheep. The herding of sheep is to shepherd. For centuries these herdsmen played the same roles of biblical heroes, protectors of the hooves, creators of The UGG. Tired of being type cast The Shepherds changed management and shortly after, in the 1870’s, signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with the World Food Organisation and McCain’s. All future rights to the term ‘Shepherd(‘)(s)’ were exclusively assigned to a third party ‘Pie’, from which time Shepherd’s Pie has held a strong market position around the globe.

I convinced the potato puree in France to be the best I have ever eaten. I understand the perils of the one part potato to one part butter, me and my cholesterol count revel in it. To suggest in Paris that a meat and a potato would be served in a composite dish (other than in stew format) for the purpose of consumption convenience is the equivalent of an American tourist asking for ketchup at a Michelin starred restaurant. Just say no.

You can imagine my surprise, when dining at Hotel du Nord on Quai de Jemmapes with friends recently, when I was presented with a dish remarkably resembling a Shepherd’s Pie’s, only its sexy French cousin. Yes, I thought, I do recall ordering “Confit de canard maison, sauce meil et gingembre, galette de pomme du terre au Salers”. True, I acknowledged, the shamelessly cool and charming bar staff may have waivered my attentions in part with a few complementary gifts from the French wine regions. Regardless, it took a large amount of will power (and a general awareness of social etiquette) to stop wishing I were a miniature version of myself on a diving board above the rustic dish of potato clothed goodness in front of me. It took even more restraint to quell my volume (a common problem for me) when I realised lamb was so last season and beneath the robe of silky potato puree bathed the very confit de canard I had ordered. The dish was plump and rich and while clearly it would count Shepherd’s Pie as one of its early influences, the shepherds were now moonlighting with a little spiced, saucy and delicate confit de canard. Hence my conundrum.

Not one of us fell victim to the almost inevitable Menu Envy either. The St Jacques served in the half shell were the size of sea creatures significantly further up the ocean food chain than the mollusc. Genetic modification debate aside, usually when seafood is this large the flesh is akin to popular surgical modifications of the 1980’s, but these creatures were divine. Similarly the cotelettes d’agneaux grilles were spiced and smoky and again, restraint was required to stop short of licking the sticky goodness of the asian-esque lamb reduction right off the plate.

Adjusting my waistband, we opted for a shared dessert. Too many models and hipsters in a warmly lit historic salon can sometimes get the better of a usually shameless glutton. Sharing will never be advocated again. The Pain Perdu made me want to investigate whether it is legal for a human to marry sweet egg and cream soaked brioche seared and served with caramel which slinks over the plate. I’m assuming the answer is no. But it is worth looking into just in case...I can propose when I return for my next delicious night at Hotel du Nord.
Hotel du Nord, 102 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris (01 40 40 78 78)
Reservations necessary