In his video Les aventures hipsters, French comedian Norman Thavaud really hits the nail on the head. In a previous post, I mentioned that the first hipsters in Paris might have been the Apaches who roamed the Bastille in the early part of the last century. Nowadays you’ll definitely see hipsters in the 11th arrondissement, cycling around on their fixed-gear bicycles, which, like in English, are known as fixies, but pronounced [feek seez].
A Time magazine article about hipsters stated that “Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care." That already applies to lots of Parisians, hipster or not, so does that mean that Parisian hipsters are nearly catatonic in their nonchalance?
Not according to Norman, who shows a couple of enthusiastic but decidedly pretentious guys. People from other parts of the world like to claim that Parisians in general are pretentious. Back when I was in college, an American friend told me that I should definitely move to Paris, because in her opinion, I was a snob. The fact that I took that as a compliment was probably further proof that I belonged in a city of people with – let’s call it – “discriminating taste.”
Ninja Turtles t-shirt
Back in the 1940s, the term hipster designated a person with a jazz-loving lifestyle (Charlie Parker anyone?), but the contemporary Parisian version might hang out at a café discussing auteurs of New Wave cinema, like the guys in Norman’s video, who are watching a film by Éric Rohmer.
Hipsters in Paris also spend time shopping at stores like The Kooples and in thrift stores. I’m too old to be a hipster, but I’m not quite old enough to tell you that I was shopping there before those hipsters were even born…. Either way, you can find some of my favorite vintage addresses in Paris here!
Out of curiosity, I looked at a few articles about how to dress like a hipster: one suggested that guys borrow their sister’s jeans, and another recommended wearing “your Armani blazer with a Ninja Turtles t-shirt, a knitted plaid scarf, skinny jeans, and an old pair of loafers. No one will be able to tell whether you just got out of a job interview or you’re going out for a beer.” And that’s a good thing, apparently.
Bobos and skinny jeans
A little like the hipsters he’s mocking in the video, Norman is a society sensation, at least in France, with 4 million You Tube subscribers. The comedian was born in the north of France, and came to Paris for high school. Then he studied cinema at the Sorbonne before starting to make the videos that made him net-famous, and that can be found on his web site, Norman fait des vidéos.
But Norman lives in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, which is hipster-land if I ever saw one. Reputedly home to more Malians than you’ll find in Bamako, Montreuil is also the refuge of bobos (bourgeois bohemians) and artists, but if you take the metro line 9 and stop off at Robespierre or Croix de Chavaux, you’ll also see some skinny-jeans-wearing folks.
A little mystery
Most of Norman’s videos are about his life and the little daily annoyances he encounters: the difficulties of a first date, flying, family dinners, and owning a cat, but he says that he never just sits down to a white page and writes a story: his inspiration comes from daily life, and he carries around a little notebook which he fills with observations about people he meets, scenes he sees.
If the street is the school of life, then life is the backdrop for Norman’s videos. But of course he’ll never tell us everything about his inspiration – he leaves a little mystery – and, according to Norman, that’s what makes him an artist.
Peanut-crusted fish filets with lemongrass-coconut rice
In Norman’s video, the name of the "recipe" Iznogoude is preparing for his hipster buddy Camille is Filet d’Alaska des baltiques cuisiné à la sauce citronnelle et doré à la panure de Guérande. Alaskan Baltic fish? Huh? And, as you can see, what actually lands on his friend’s plate is a plain old frozen poisson pané: a fish stick for Americans, or what the Brits call a fish finger.
But making home-made breaded anything is super-easy! It just takes a little organization. This recipe uses a classic French technique – pané à l’anglaise – that you can master easily and then use for all sorts of foods, not just fish: veal cutlets or chicken breasts work well too.
An anglaise is really just a mixture of eggs, a little oil, and salt and pepper. So you’re basically going to dredge your fish in flour, then through the anglaise mixture, and then through a seasoned mixture of breadcrumbs and chopped peanuts. Lots of restaurants use the double-breading technique, which you’ll see in the recipe below, to get an extra-crispy layer on the ingredient.
In my recipe, there’s no sauce to accompany this breaded fish filet: that would totally go against my traditional French cuisine training. Bucking tradition doesn’t bother me, but there’s a good reason we never serve ultra-crispy breaded foods with a plated sauce: it would make the breading soggy.
So I’ve modified Iznogoude’s “recipe” by replacing the sauce with a delicate lemongrass-perfumed coconut rice – the perfect accompaniment to the fish filets. And if you’re interested in other traditional ways of serving French foods (and what not to serve with them), check out my former colleague Christophe’s list in French. You’ll adore the concept!
3 tablespoons mild olive oil
4 cod filets, about 18 ounces (500g), or another mild fish
2 limes, 1 cut into slices, 1 halved
a handful of cilantro, stemmed and finely chopped
for the breading:
½ cup (65g) flour
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
a few twists of the peppermill
½ cup (65g) finely crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
1 cup (90g) breadcrumbs
for the lemongrass-coconut rice:
½ tablespoon peanut or olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
1 cup (290g) jasmine or basmati rice
1 stalk lemongrass
4 cilantro stems (without leaves)
1 cup (255ml) water
¾ cup (180ml) coconut milk
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
how to make it:
1. Start by making the rice pilaf-style: heat the oil in a medium casserole over medium-low heat.
2. Slowly cook the chopped shallot in the oil for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally, and then add the rice.
3. Cook the rice in the oil for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. The white should start turning a chalky white color.
4. Add the lemongrass stalk, the cilantro stems, and the water, coconut milk, and salt.
5. Stir well and bring to the boil.
6. Once boiling, stir again, and then cover the casserole tightly, using a piece of aluminum foil crimped around the edges if you don’t have a tight-fitting lid, and lower the heat to absolute minimum.
7. Cook this way for 18 minutes. Then turn off the heat, and let the rice sit undisturbed for 10 more minutes.
8. Uncover the rice and fluff well with a fork. Remove the cilantro stems and lemongrass.
9. While the rice is cooking, set up the breading station: sprinkle the flour onto a large plate. To the right of it, place a wide, shallow bowl, and in it, make the anglaise: beat the eggs with the oil, salt, and pepper. Then to the right of that, place another large plate, and in it, mix together the chopped peanuts and breadcrumbs, also spreading them out across the plate.
10. Dredge a fish filet through the flour, making sure all sides are coated. Then tap gently on the filet (while holding it over the plate) to remove excess flour.
11. Then submerge the fish filet briefly in the anglaise mixture, making sure all sides are coated. Again, over the bowl, use your fingers to gently remove excess anglaise.
12. Finally, dredge the filet through the peanut-breadcrumb mixture, making sure all sides are coated.
13. If you want an extra-crispy breading, repeat the anglaise and peanut-breadcrumb steps for the same filet.
14. Repeat all steps for each filet.
15. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, gently place the filets in the oil and cook for about 6-7 minutes. Gently turn the filets over using two spatulas, and cook on the other side for 6 minutes. If your filets are thick enough, you may be able to turn them on their edges to cook them as well. You’re going for a nice lightly browned color.
16. Serve the filets with the rice, a slice of lime, a sprinkling of cilantro, and the lime halves for extra juice. Bon ‘app!
makes 4 servings