There are many things my husband can do: play the piano by ear, translate archaic Chinese text into English, buy me flowers once a year etc.
One thing he can’t do however, is cook. Besides dishwashing and the occasional pot-stirring, P hardly ventures into the kitchen. Thus when I threw him a curveball and requested for a home cooked meal this birthday, he was stumped.
Good thing for him that we live near multiple Picards, a frozen food supermarket chain that stocks hundreds of different ingredients and ready-made meals, all neatly packed and portioned, awaiting future use. Besides commonly found items in the freezer department, such as pizza and mac-and-cheese, Picard also stocks some very gourmet items like sweetbreads and foie gras. We are in France after all. It’s a regular supermarket’s frozen foods department on steroids, and paradise for those who either do not have time to prepare a meal from scratch, or lack the know-how to do so.
After making some difficult shopping decisions (lamb v. duck? chocolate cake or eclairs?), we arrived at a menu like this:
Starter – Aubergine gratinée
Mains – Braised lamb shank (P), Colin in butter sauce (me)
Sides – Spanish rice
Dessert – Molleux au Chocolat
All the ingredients were pre-made, pre-portioned and came with at least 2 sets of cooking instructions: 1 for microwave-cooking, the others for more traditional methods. The most fuss-free way is to plop the frozen contents onto a plate, stick it into a microwave, follow the timing instructions on the box and voila, a hot meal is born. P decided to put in a bit more effort (it was my birthday dinner after all), and reheated each dish using more painstaking methods than the microwave, such as a bain-marie to poach the meats, and the oven to heat the cake and gratin. While it all sounds very simple, P nevertheless fussed over the instructions translating words like simmer and preheat from French into English, and watched his pot and pans like a hawk, stopwatch in hand. So. Cute.
No doubt inspired by the cooking shows we had been watching, P even attempted to dress the plates, mounding the rice on 1 side, carefully separating the components on the plate. He’s not going to be hired by any Michelin-starred restaurants any time soon, but kudos for effort! As for the taste, Picard’s food was certainly a step-up above my previous frozen dinner experiences. While the fish was overcooked, the lamb shank was flavorful and quite soft, the quality probably not too far off from your standard bistro or cafe, just much cheaper. The vegetables retained their flavors, but, like most microwaved greens, turned grey and mushy. Next time, we’d probably stick with fresh greens.
For desserts, we tried a French favorite, molleux au chocolat (i.e. molten chocolate cake) and was quite impressed with the cake’s moist texture and the gush of liquid chocolate once cut. The chocolate used was pretty intense and dark too, making it a satisfying and not too sweet dessert.
One may be baffled as to why Picard exists, thrives even, in the gastronomic capital of Paris, with 33 branches just in my arrondissement alone. Picard’s popularity debunks the myth that Parisians eat like kings all the time. The opposite is often truer, especially as costs of living, eating out and food shopping keep escalating. In fact, busy Parisians are not all that different from busy New Yorkers, busy Hongkongers or other urbanites who just want to eat something quick, varied, affordable and somewhat healthy. And for all these, Picard ticks the boxes.
Picard (various addresses)