One chef, one ingredient: Jacques and Laurent Pourcel on lemons
This week, twin brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, chefs of Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, Southern France, chose lemons.
Why did you choose this ingredient?
Jacques Pourcel: I chose lemon because it is an essential ingredient for our preferred type of cuisine. My twin brother and I favor a sun-drenched cuisine that draws on the flavors of the southern Mediterranean, a cuisine of defined tastes, strong flavors, color and passion.
What’s your favorite memory associated with the ingredient?
Laurent Pourcel: Lemon is something we were constantly exposed to throughout our childhood. We were born by the Mediterranean Sea and as a family we would eat considerable quantities of fresh fish and seafood, always accompanied by a hint of lemon juice and olive oil, the perfect accompaniment. As the years went by, lemon juice and the tartness it bestows has been a recurrent thread in the creation of our dishes. Later we discovered the flavors of its peel and learned to play with its acidic quality and our eyes were opened to its numerous forms and varieties. From the yellow lemon of Menton to those from Morocco, from lime to kaffir, Yuzu and citrus caviar -- it's a citrus fruit that is full of surprises.
When is the best season for cooking them?
J.P: A key advantage of lemons is that they transport well and can easily be stored. Coming from all around the world, each fruit has its season depending on its provenance. Whether from the South of France, Spain, Morocco, Asia or Australia, lemons are essentially in season year round.
What's the best way to cook with them?
L.P: The lemon's juice will provide an acidity that will essentially be used with fish and seafood preparations ... Adding a bit of lemon juice in a sauce, right before it's served, will give your dishes a little kick. Uncooked juice also is an important component of fish marinades for instance, for carpaccios, or simply on raw shellfish. Lemon juice can also play a key role in food preservation. Commonly used in pastry preparation, it's a must for lemon meringue pies, fouace brioches, cakes and biscuits.
J.P: In our cooking, we take lemon's versatility even further. We use preserved lemons, in both sugar- and salt-based preserves -- two distinct preparations that allow us to flavor our dishes and give them our signature flavor. We use lemon preserves quite extensively, mostly sugar-preserved ones, because they are easier to incorporate than salt-preserved ones, which are traditionally Moroccan. Whether sugar- or salt-preserved, we use lemon confit as a condiment.
What other product can you combine them with to impress your guests?
J.P: Salt-preserved lemons work well with meat dishes, especially stews and braised meats. Sugar-preserved lemon is more easily paired with foie gras for instance, or fish or pasta dishes.
What are the most common mistakes people make when cooking with them?
L.P: Whether in sweet or savory dishes, using too much or the wrong amount can ruin dishes and preparations. When using lemon juice, too much acidity will mask other flavors, so it's necessary to taste the dish to avoid adding too much. Also, don't let the juices reduce too much -- otherwise they become inedible.
How do you integrate this ingredient into your restaurant menu?
J.P: For a few years, we've featured lemon confit on our menu as an accompaniment to a filet of sea bass cooked over low heat with a side of green asparagus from the Languedoc region. We also often use it to accompany our seared foie gras; we think it's the perfect match.
What wine (or other type of alcohol) is best paired with it?
J.P: It's not easy to choose an accompaniment for a preparation based on the lemon flavor alone. A wine needs to go well with the main product that makes up the dish. A wine flavor in the sauce, for instance, would help guide the choice of wine. Of course, to go with a fish dish with a hint of tartness I would favor a Chardonnay from Languedoc.