As it turns out, if you take high quality ingredients, and apply extremely well-honed French techniques, you can make some very good food. And while that may seem like a fairly obvious truth, it's still a lot of fun to double-check from time to time, just to make sure. We had just such an opportunity yesterday afternoon, as we were invited to sit in on a charcuterie and meat fabrication demo at the cooking school, Ecole de Cuisine Pasadena, put together by chef instructor Farid Zadi and his wife, food historian Susan Park.
Zadi is currently the Dean of Culinary Arts at the Ecole de Cuisine, and let us, as well as a few other writers, into their rather large kitchen to show us how they make veal shoulder pâté maison, as well as his popular Merguez sausage. It was a fascinating demonstration, in which the chef extolled the virtues of using fresh ingredients, and grinding them yourself (a truth that applies to both meat and spices). Park explained an especially crucial point about grinding your own meat, which is that you know exactly what meat is going into your food, and can avoid, “slaughterhouse scraps.”
We began with pâté maison, a terrine made from freshly ground veal shoulder, pistachios, thyme, shallots, white wine, chanterelles (which “really crank up the flavor”), smoked duck, and an assortment of other aromatic ingredients. The ground meat was mixed together with most of the ingredients, then layered into a large terrine along with the chanterelles and smoked duck. The terrine was then covered, and left to bake in the oven. But as pâté maison needs time to cook, then chill in the refrigerator, Zadi brought out another one in its finished state, which he had prepared that morning. He heated the terrine slightly, slid out the pâté, then sliced it on a cutting board.
Next up was the Merguez, which Zadi said, “is probably one of the most famous sausages in France.” For his, Zadi used lamb, beef, tomato flakes, turmeric, coriander, cumin, lemon zest, paprika, and other ingredients, like his “secret ingredient,” plum powder. The plum powder, said Park, operates as an antioxidant, helps the sausage retain its color as well as its juices, and even kills pathogens. Once mixed together, the chef formed a patty, and cooked it off in a pan to test for seasoning. We all tried it, and agreed that it would make for a damn fine burger.
For the next step, the chefs sent the meat inside of some natural sausage casing, then brought the deep red sausages out to the parking lot, where they were put into their Texas-made avocado and orange wood smoker. After admiring the rare (driven straight from Texas) smoker, we waited for the final phase: eating. The eating phase — which included sausages, pâté, salad, warm bread, mustard, cornichons, and a fried quail egg — confirmed our earlier suspicions that the food was going to taste rather good.
But while there were very few of us able to eat this food yesterday, there are, thankfully, other ways to enjoy these treats. The best way, in our estimation, is to go to the Ecole de Cuisine yourself and start taking classes (like, say, the garde manger or meat fabrication ones). Short of that? You can also buy Zadi's Merguez at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, or eat it in a prepared state at Cafe Stella in Silverlake.
For more photos, turn the page.