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French Frozen

By Ann | January 23, 2010

It’s taken me over a year, but I think I’ve finally cottoned onto the French secret to eating well at home. Is it shopping at the farmer’s market every day? Making the daily rounds of butcher, baker, and green grocer? Lovingly slaving over a hot stove, preparing delicious and nutritious meals every night? Ha — who has time for that? No, the secret, mes amis, is Picard.

What is Picard? Simply put, it’s a chain of stores selling frozen food. But not just any frozen food. Alongside the usually icy suspects, like pizzas and readymade meals, are an array of frozen products designed to ease the busy gourmand’s lifestyle.

For example, there are herbs, chopped and frozen into cubes — single herbs like cilantro, dill, or thyme, or herb mixes to toss with salad, or sprinkle on fish. There’s also garlic, onions or shallots, all finely minced.

On my last visit, I counted at least 22 types of vegetable purées. Some of these are ready-to-serve side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, or more adventurous combinations like potato and artichoke, or smashed parsnips and jerusalem artichokes. There are also purees of vegetable — i.e. carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, green beans — with no added oil, fat, or salt (rare in this butter-loving nation) which means you can doctor them any way you wish.

This being France, there are many complicated and buttery sauces to serve with meat or vegetables, things like béarnaise, hollandaise, or buerre blanc, which usually take time and skill to whip up from scratch, are here ready to be defrosted.

My favorite section is called “apéritif,” where you can find all manner of tiny foods to pair with a glass of champagne. There are the usual suspects like pigs-in-a-blanket, or savory mini tarts, or gougères, which are like cheese puffs. But there are also unexpected finds like escargots wrapped in puff pastry, or cuillères apéritives (cocktail spoons) — individual Chinese-shaped spoons filled with things like mango-melon chutney and foie gras, or avocado puree and a shrimp. You simply defrost the spoons before serving, no heating required.

Don’t expect a lot of ambience from your local Picard — the shops are very sterile, with fluorescent lights and frozen food cases and very little else.

Here’s a photo of my shopping from last week’s Picard visit. I purchased: frozen soups (packed with puréed vegetables and not too salty), frozen peas and broccoli (good to have on hand in case I don’t have time to go to the store), a few ready-made meals, which are good for lunch (I’m excited about the braised rabbit in olive sauce), a bag of vegetable tagine (eggplant, courgette and tomato, which I plan to eat with couscous), and a box of oven fries (a little treat).

And Picard offers so much more! There’s a whole section devoted entirely to desserts, from tarte tatin to molten chocolate cake. Or, the aisles of frozen fish and seafood — it’s the only place I’ve been able to find raw shrimp. Or, the assortment of meats — from chicken breasts to burgers to steak.

I realize this post is starting to sound like an infomercial, so I’m going to stop here. Besides, it’s almost lunchtime and I need to go defrost something.

(Note: I am in no way affiliated with Picard. I just like it.)

Topics: Sur ma table | 16 Comments »

16 Responses to “French Frozen”

  1. Kathleen Gauthier Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Sounds like my kind of store. I wonder if there are any French specialty grocery stores in the America. I leave the cooking from scratch to my daughter who lives right next door to me.

  2. heather Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    I think I read once that the French eat the most per capita frozen food in the world. Wonder if it still holds true …

  3. CK Says:
    January 24th, 2010 at 1:26 am

    I heard that the owner of Picard has purposely kept the chain on the small side and avoided expansion, despite market demand. I wonder what the story is there? I’m a particular fan of Picard’s Indian cuisine!

  4. Libbie Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    How do you store all this in those tiny European refrigerators?

  5. Claire Says:
    January 24th, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Yay Picard! I miss it. I thought the bolognese sauce was quite good. Alex’s favorite Picard item was the mini ice cream cones dipped in chocolate.

  6. Kim B. Says:
    January 25th, 2010 at 5:25 am

    Among the aperitifs, I’m a fan of the veggie tempura. Also good for a cold day are the lentilles avec lardons . . . I’ve heard it said that the divorce rate in France has gone up since Picard has been successful since men have realized they can eat well without their wife to cook for them!!! Surely that’s apocryphal but it’s amusing nonetheless.

    This makes me rue our tiny shoebox-size freezer compartment .. .there IS so much good stuff at Picard, but we have nowhere to store it. And don’t get me started on our lack of an oven, which also eliminates a good amount of stuff!!

  7. Bob Says:
    January 26th, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Well … sniff … at least we have Trader Joe’s.

  8. Marie-Claude D Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Anne Marie: I love your piece ! Your pictures are also real pieces of art. I don’t count the times when Picard saved my life …
    To answer the question of one of your reader, no need to have a huge freezer. There is always a Picard store next to you .
    Of note: Picard delivers almost everywhere in France ( very convenient on summertimes)
    Tips of Doctor Picard: Try a bag of frozen peas on a swollen knee or on your front if you have an headache …

  9. Anna Says:
    January 30th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Picard is like the frozen section of Trader Joe’s on French drugs. The first time I explored our local Picard I walked around in awe and thought. “That’s it – I’m never going to be able to move back to the U.S.”

    Favorite item: their moelleux au chocolat

  10. Amy Says:
    February 4th, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Wonderful post of one of my favorite places in France! I’ve always said that if Picard sold toilet paper, I’d never set foot in a French grocery store again. Nothing makes me want to move back to the U.S. faster than a trip to Franprix.

  11. roland Says:
    February 8th, 2010 at 5:05 am

    Well, if owner of Picard is on purposely keeping the chain a reasonable size, i definitely don’t want to see more … you can’t walk 200m without seeing one !

    Anyway, good base ingredients i use for cooking, a couple of good other stufs like apetizers, i am not found of their precook things though.

    Picard is good, no doubt, especially compared to other mass market way to sell food, but after a while you get tired of it .. a little bit like Ikea …

    I wish the secret would be to go to the farmer’s market !

  12. Mr. Normal Says:
    February 16th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Real food is best! Support the marchés parisiens! Don’t lower your standards! Don’t let this industrially-produced crud fool you! It’s not as good as real home-cooked food! (Buy peas at Picard and nothing else! Especially “garden peas”!)

  13. Curried Vegetable Pot Pie « Seasonal Market Menus Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    […] however, because I’m not that crazy.  Plus, it gave me an excuse to wander the aisles at Picard (where I also picked up some completely non-local and non-seasonal frozen sour cherries and wild […]

  14. Maria Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    OMG where has this been hiding my whole life (aka since I got here in January) ??

  15. Debbie Graham Says:
    June 17th, 2010 at 8:54 am

    So miss Picard….Sorry Mr. Normal, having chopped frozen leek would totally change my life. The French have it so nice – good health care, good public trans, good frozen and fresh food, good vacation….Dream life would be to have Picard and Wegman’s grocery store….Libbie, would point out that many French people have much larger fridges than they did 20 years ago…and they have great and cheap deep freezers….

  16. Katherine Says:
    April 1st, 2014 at 2:07 am

    What do they call frozen food? Is it ‘les aliments congelés’?

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