Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eating Carnivorously in Paris - Part 3: Belotta

Our carnivorous tour of Paris continues with a departure from beouf and onto cochon, or the humble pig. Not just any pig, but pigs that produce one of the most prized gastronomic delicacies.

Pata negra is a type of cured ham produced only in Spain and made from cerdo negro, a variety of black pig. It is also known as jamón ibérico to the world, or Iberico ham. The quality of jamón ibérico is further sub-divided and labeled according to the diet of the cerdo negro.

While in Paris, my wife and I had the opportunity to sample the finest variety of jamón ibéricojamón ibérico de bellota, or Iberico ham of acorns. The acorn variety is the most highly prized variety of jamón ibérico¸ as the free-range black pigs are allowed to forage through oak forests and are exclusively fed acorns leading up to their slaughter. The acorns and the exercise the pigs endure through free-ranging have an immense impact on the flavour of the meat.

Other varieties of jamón ibérico are black pigs that are fed either a combination of acorns and grain (jamón ibérico de recebo) or just grains (jamón ibérico de pienso). These pigs are also likely to be farmed in pens. Be sure to check the variety of jamón ibérico when you see it on offer at your local tapas joint. It is likely that it will be of the jamón ibérico de pienso variety as it’s the most affordable.

Whilst taking a stroll in the  Opéra district, we stumbled upon a nice little counter eatery at a food hall in a department store that was serving ham sandwiches.

That department store happened to be Galleries Lafayette, and that food hall was the Le Kiosque Lafayette - Gourmet. There we found a little counter set up to service no more than 15 patrons.

I find this image curious since it suggests swine cannibalism.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

We started off by sharing a starter of roasted red capsicum with Spanish anchovies. This was accompanied by pickled garlic, which was a little tart to taste, crunchy in texture and with only a hint of garlic flavour. The lack of the strong pungency of garlic from a whole clove was surprising.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

Hosting provided by FotoTime

The bowl of baby food gruel is actually a chilled carrot soup. It was refreshing and sweet, cleansing the palette for what was to come.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

Perhaps a French speaker would be helpful enough to translate. It is simply a summary of the wonders of the jamón ibérico de bellota, information on the three different cuts, types of ham and regional origins of the “Three Little Pigs” tasting plate (my description, not the establishment's).

This little piggy tasting plate consists of three different hams made from piggys of three different regions.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

It was served with crushed potatoes with mushrooms. This had a nice woody flavour, imparted by the mushrooms.

Hosting provided by FotoTime
This little piggy tasting plate consists of ham and two sausages made from Iberico pig (read offcuts after we are done with the legs).

Hosting provided by FotoTime

This was served with crushed potatoes with chorizo. This was much better than the crushed potato with mushrooms. The saltiness of the chorizo complemented the potatoes nicely.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

The prime cut of the ham is the thigh, and in this case they are muscular from all the free-range exercise. It is served thinly sliced and unaccompanied by anything that might detract from the taste. That wondrous taste and texture of the meat is rich yet subtle. It wasn’t as salty as I thought it would be. The texture was delicate and smooth, but the most amazing experience was the sensation it created....

Hosting provided by FotoTime

Jamón ibérico de bellota contains the highest fat content of all the varieties. It is this fat that gives an interesting experience. At room temperature the fat actually begins to melt. The slices seem to be sweating little beads of fat. This fat is actually oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. The only other time I have witnessed such a sight was when I had o-toro sashimi.  The fat of the tuna liquefied before us.

But I digress; let us get back to the fat. A slice of this ham will coat one’s mouth with that glorious fat. The smoothness and sensation is like chocolate slowly melting in your mouth, coating it with a velvety lining. It takes a bit of getting used to but once accustomed, the experience is sublime.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

The chorizo was also very good. Smokey with paprika and a strong cured flavour, it went really well with bread to cut through the saltiness.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

This little counter eatery in the middle of Galleries Lafayette’s food hall was quite an experience. To the left of this image were scores of legs of  hams hanging from the ceiling. We were told politely by staff that photography was not permitted.  Many Bonthan spies died to bring you these images!

The grand cru tasting plate will set you back €33. The chorizo and other various tasting plates cost between €20 and €25. It is a little pricey for slices of ham but consider that jamón ibérico de bellota sells for over US$100 a pound; this is the perhaps the most expensive ham in the world.  However, one can also indulge in take-away ham sandwiches, which start at €7.50. The Royale sandwich is priced at €12.50 and that is an experience in its own.

So the next time you are frantically shopping in Paris and need a little break, why not grab a sandwich or even better, take a seat at the counter and enjoy the superb hospitality of the counter staff - a few very charming waiters who gave us a complimentary champagne while we waited for the lunching patrons to vacate their seats. I believe some flirting with my wife was involved.

In French, of course.

Part One of  "Eating Carnivorously in Paris" can be viewed here and Part Two here.



Divina Pe said...

Thanks for the mini tour. I enjoyed it.

Mizzsharon said...

Your friend George : "Hm.. This taste pretty good" =)
Just humoring myself LOL.

The Sydney Tarts said...

Mizzsharon - I really liked George LOL.