Have you ever been to the Hôtel Costes on the rue Saint Honoré? If so, you would have stepped into the luxurious, plush world of sexy darkness which reigns throughout the hotel’s bar and lounge. Bohemian trappings like the baroque furniture and the rooms containing disproportionate amounts of red velvet have earned the Hôtel Costes a special place in the hearts of Paris’ most ardent aesthetes.
But the hotel also earns an especially warm place in their wallets - as in burning hot, ouch! - since the Hôtel Costes is one of the city’s playgrounds for French and international stars alike (a “mini” room will set you back 500€ a night). It’s also a veritable jungle-gym for the less bright constellation of it-girls and near-famous starlets who frequent the hotel’s lounges. I was indeed near famous people the last time I attempted a cool sashay into the lounge, hoping that I’d fit right in. But it was so dark in there I sashayed right into a table.
In French, the famous and near-famous are called people, pronounced with an exaggerated pole on the last syllable. They’re often featured bare-breasted (with a well-placed black censor bar) on the cover of Closer magazine. I have to laugh when I see that magazine advertised on the walls of the dark-green news kiosk near our apartment. Closer? I think I was close enough.
Despite all that, from 1999 to 2011, the Hôtel Costes featured a completely down-to-earth in-house deejay, Stéphane Pompougnac. Working his way from simple spinner to international representative of the “French touch” through his stints at Queen, Palace, Les Bains, and other Parisian hauts lieux of night life, Stéphane is most well-known for the 15-some compilations he’s produced for the Hôtel Costes. They feature his characteristic blends of house, break beat, jazz, and Latin music, all of which provide the aural backdrop to the Coste’s velvetized atmosphere.
Preserved lemon and ginger paste
You might think that with millions of albums sold all over the world, Stéphane probably wouldn’t be bothered by looking for low-cost ingredients. But he told me that he does his shopping, like many mortal Parisians, at the market in the boulevard Richard Lenoir, next to the Bastille in Paris’ 11th district. Admittedly, the Richard Lenoir market has earned itself quite a chic reputation in recent years, but it’s definitely not as upscale as the outdoor outlets on the Rive Gauche. And like any market, there are more or less expensive stalls, and you can still get a deal or two if you’re willing to take the time to compare and shop around. And who wouldn’t want to take their time and shop around at a Parisian market?
For this recipe, Stéphane buys a little jar of Albert Ménès-brand preserved lemon and ginger paste, found (albeit) on the luxury ingredient shelf at Monoprix supermarket, which makes quick work of the meal. But making the paste from scratch isn’t difficult - it’s just a matter of breaking the recipe into parts. First, if you can find preserved lemons in a specialty store or other grocery, take advantage, and otherwise, they’re easy to make them yourself. The only catch is that you have to wait a week before using the lemons - tough if you’re a right-now kind of cook.
But once you’ve put up your lemons and have waited patiently for a week (in the meantime taking the time to occasionally stir your lemons), you can create the lemon-ginger paste - the recipe given here is enough to make the veal dish twice. And you’ll be left with plenty of preserved lemons: with all those peppercorns floating around in a sea of juice and pulp, they look a little like swirly Lucite costume jewelry beads. You can use preserved lemons in a variety of recipes, especially those of North-African origin or influence like tajines, or any other slow-cooking dish where lemon flavor would be appropriate.
The lemon paste by itself is potent. I almost always encourage tasting preparations during the recipe-making process, but this is one exception: sample this lemon paste only at your own risk. Other than culinary use, it might be good for removing the paint from that old door you’ve been meaning to refinish. But once the paste is cooked, it becomes the tasty foodstuff you’re expecting, even if it has a tangy kick!
If you’re short on cash because you stayed in a mini room at the Hôtel Costes, or the end of the month arrived on the 17th, you can always substitute a pork shoulder for the veal. And if you’re pressed for time, you can reduce the cooking time to 40 minutes on the stovetop by using a pressure cooker.
Lemon confit and ginger roast veal
for the preserved lemons:
1 lb. (450g) lemons (about 6), heavy for their size
10 oz. (300ml) lemon juice, enough to cover fruit
¾ cup (140g) coarse sea salt
2 bay leaves
2 teapoons whole peppercorns (1 teaspoon white and 1 teaspoon black, if you like)
for the lemon-ginger paste:
1 preserved lemon, rinsed well, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 4-inch (10cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped roughly (about 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup (120ml) plain yogurt
makes 1 cup of paste
for the roast:
1 2-lb. (900g-1kg) roast of boned veal or boned pork shoulder (blade end)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, green germ removed, chopped
½ cup (100g) lemon-ginger paste
1 cup (200g) fresh tomato coulis (see note) or 10 oz. (280g) canned, chopped tomatoes
1 cup (235ml) hot water
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 branch fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried
¼ cup (60ml) heavy cream or crème fraîche
special equipment: a dutch oven or heavy oven-proof casserole with tightly-fitting lid, meat thermometer (optional)
how to make it:
- The preserved lemons need to cure for at least 1 week.
- Wash the lemons well.
- Working over a tray or a plate that will capture running juices, start by cutting the lemons lengthwise into 6 wedges, removing seeds as you go.
- Stuff the lemon wedges into a clean jar (that has a tight-fitting lid).
- Add the lemon juice from the tray, the extra lemon juice, salt, and aromatics, and stir well. Make sure the lemons are covered by the lemon juice.
- Put the lid on the jar and refrigerate.
- Stir the lemons every two days to help the salt dissolve.
- To make the lemon-ginger paste, use a blender or wand mixer. Combine the preserved lemon, ginger, lemon juice, and yogurt and whirl until you have a homogenous purée.
- Remove veal roast from refrigerator ½ hour before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 320°F (160°C).
- Heat the butter in the dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat.
- Once the butter has melted and starts sputtering a little, add the oil.
- When the butter-oil mixture is very hot but not smoking, brown the roast in the casserole, turning it every 3 to 4 minutes to brown evenly.
- Remove the roast to a plate, degrease the bottom of the casserole if there are more than 2 tablespoons of fat left, and then add the onions and garlic, sautéing them for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the lemon-ginger paste, cook for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time, then add the tomato coulis, stirring to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the casserole.
- Then add the hot water, salt, and rosemary, and gently place the roast back into the casserole.
- Cover the casserole, then place it in the middle of the oven.
- Check it occasionally and turn the roast over once during cooking.
- Let the roast cook for about 1¼ hours. Cooking time will depend largely on the cut of meat your butcher used to make the roast: if s/he used a lean cut of veal, like bottom or top round, cooking time may be as little as 45 minutes. Fattier cuts like shoulder taste much better (no fat, no flavour!), but take longer to cook. You’re going for an interior temperature reading of 160°F (71°C). If you don’t own a thermometer, ask your butcher for the best cooking time.
- Remove the roast, place it on a warmed plate, and cover with aluminium foil to let the meat rest.
- In the meantime, bring the remaining sauce in the casserole to a simmer and add the cream or crème fraîche. Taste and then let the sauce simmer gently this way for about ten minutes, making sure there’s enough sauce for all your guests and then some. If it looks like you’re running short, add in a little more tomato coulis.
- To serve, remove any trussing and slice the meat into ½–inch (1 cm) pieces.
- Place the pieces gently back inside the casserole, and present the casserole on the table. Or for a more soigné presentation, you can serve the slices individually onto warmed plates and ladle over a healthy helping of sauce.