One of my absolute favorite parts of my job is making friends with commerçants de bouche.
I’ve yet to find an adequate translation for commerces de bouche, which, quite literally, means “mouth stores.” (Not terribly appetizing, eh?) This category ties up greengrocers, fromagers, butchers, charcutiers, bakers, pastry chefs, and more into a tidy little package – and honestly, it would be a useful word to have, mainly because not only do I spend a large part of my time interviewing these folks for work, I also spend about 90 percent of my money at their fine establishments.
(The rest, if you’re wondering, I spend at bookstores.)
There are a lot of reasons to shop at commerces de bouche, the most oft-cited of which is, of course, the improved quality of the food you purchase. The difference between a supermarket Comté and one purchased at a fromager-affineur or between supermarket strawberries and the ones that are hand-selected by my favorite primeur in the 10th are palpable (and let’s not even talk about supermarket croissants.)
But believe it or not, that’s not the real reason I continue to support commerces de bouche has nothing to do with the food – it has everything to do with the people.
I hadn’t realized how sterilized my shopping experiences were until my local greengrocer started shouting “Bonjour!“ as I passed. I didn’t realize that I was craving a fromager who would ask me if I wanted more Morbier this week or a fishmonger who told me when he’d received a shipment of little pickled anchovies until, bit by bit, I became a regular at a handful of stores all over Paris.
“You know everyone!” a client at one of my recent food tours exclaimed, after I exchanged two customary bises with my favorite wine seller. To this I say: not yet, but I’m working on it.
As far as the butcher where this lamb was procured, that relationship is sadly not mine, but my sister’s. She discovered the shop, just two blocks from my house, just in time for us to make one of our favorite springtime comfort food dishes: roasted rack of lamb.
When she went in to order the lamb, he asked if she wanted the bones frenched. To this, she replied that we could do it ourselves, a fact at which, I am told, he was visibly impressed.
“I’ll just do the difficult part for you, then,” he said, breaking the rack into double chops and trimming off just the right amount of fat before handing her the pretty parcel – better than new shoes, better than a dress, better than a purse.
“Et à bientôt!” he said.
Oh, how I love it when commerçants de bouche say, “See you soon.”
Rack of Lamb with Herb-Mustard Crust (serves 4)
1 rack of lamb, 8 chops, frenched
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the mustard, herbs, salt, and pepper. Spread this mixture over the fatty side of the lamb, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Press slightly so that they adhere.
Place the rack on a greased baking sheet, and place in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and roast 20-25 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 120°F.
Let stand 10 minutes before cutting the rack into double chops.
Serve with minted peas and roasted potato wedges.