Those who are well acquainted with my eating habits know that I am not squeamish when food is concerned. I have a high tolerance for new tastes, no matter which part of the animal it’s from, how it tastes, how it looks. Now that I’m living in France, it makes perfect sense to be adventurous here too, and try dishes not often found outside the country.
We often joke that the French and us Chinese are culinary soul siblings, sharing a common obsession with strange sources of protein and unusual animal parts. Heart, brain, liver, stomach. Check, check, check and check. And don’t get me started on frog’s legs. Kermit wouldn’t get a fighting chance in either Chinese or French kitchen. With the Tete de veau, the French may however have a culinary one-up versus the Chinese in the use of animal parts.
Tete de veau literally means calf’s head, and the resulting dish looks as unappetizing as it sounds. The face and jaw of the calf is first ripped of its head, following which the head, both skin and meat, is subjected to long hours of boiling, sometimes while wrapped in the tongue. A very grotesque visual, if I may say so myself. The most traditional of preparations calls for the Tete to be served with a mayonnaise and egg based gribiche sauce, though at Le Troquet, it was simply pan fried with a dusting of piment d’espelette. The texture is largely chewy and gummy, the thick wobbly layer surrounding the pink meat not fat but gelatine. And the taste of that gelatine, for a dish so mythical among French gourmands, was largely bland, offsetting the savory and tender cheek meat. Great for the skin no doubt, but I’ll take pig’s foot (cooked the Chinese way with an overload of ginger and vinegar) over veal’s head anyday, thank you very much.
My ordering misstep aside, the meal at Le Troquet was yet another success, with our guests in awe over the massive sausage basket, cooing over dessert (the coffee jello a hit), and congratulating us for scoring such a neighborhood gem.
21 Rue Francois Bonvin