28 April 2009

Sticky Sweet: Gariguettin' Off

During our few days off from cooking last week, I still couldn't help but bring home a new toy to play with.

We went to see F. (drug dealers' names should never be disclosed) at our favorite Parisian crackhouse, E. Dehillerin. A mecca for foodie tourists, wannabe chefs and – believe it or not – real chefs, it's another one of those awesome local places that Alannah somehow gets preferential treatment.

I don't know how she does it, but if it gets us a new plaything, I don't care.

It's a passoir à grosseilles, which literally means "currant strainer," but going by F.'s disapproving look when I told him I wanted to liquefy some cooked vegetables through it, and his nod and smile when I said, "I mean, coulis!", purists (like F.) think it's only intended for processing fruit.

Somewhere between a chinois and a food mill, the passoir à grosseilles uses a shiny blade and rolls on a wooden bearing to push and squeeze food through a fine sieve. I couldn't wait to make my first coulis.

Unfortunately, this took days. Alannah rolled her eyes every time I went up to a complete stranger to sniff her berries. Touching the merchandise isn't always acceptable behavior by French standards, so it was a challenge going around and sniffing for ripe berries in early spring. We finally happened upon the ideal berry: The gariguette.

The gariguette is a uniquely French phenomenon, a rare springtime strawberry with intense scent and flavor that unfortunately a) has a very short season and b) costs more than most designer drugs. Legend has it that they only grow in the South of France and usually are sold to overpriced restaurants, Michelin-type chefs, and rip-off specialty markets. In reality, you can buy them at most decent Parisian marchés, but they're few and very expensive. Not being made of money, I just happened to spot a good deal at a heretofore undisclosed location (sorry local readers!) who apparently don't know what they're selling, because they cost less than the hideously bland, gigantic Spanish strawberries that are common at this time of year.

By the time we got home, I was gagging for it. A weird new toy, a basket of legendary strawberries... We simply had to make something – something incorporating fresh strawberries and a sauce, but that won't outshine the fruit.

And voila! Rice pudding with gariguette coulis and the self-same strawberries on top.

The rice pudding is plain old, humble vanilla rice pudding (sans egg). The strawberries on top? Delicious as expected. The real star here, sandwiched in the middle, is the coulis.

We'd read that gariguettes have intense flavor, but this is bordering on ridiculous. Sweet, sticky, and mindblowingly perfect.

The strawberries were cooked in a little bit of water and sugar, then pressed through the passoir, which secreted a clear, red viscous liquid. That was then further reduced in a saucepan until it was a bright red syrup - no coloring, no gelatin. If we were to feed it to you, you'd think it was from a bottle of concentrated strawberry syrup, and you wouldn't believe it was anything more than real strawberry and sugar. Even the dull-colored pulp left in the passoir - looking like strawberries that had been chewed up and snowballed out - tasted like the most intense strawberry jam. We just licked that off a spoon before assembling dessert.

In the afterglow of a perfect gariguette sauce, we're left wanting more, wondering what else we can make from these amazing little strawberries. We only have a handful of weeks left to find out!

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