19 July 2008

Lourde comme une bouteille de butane...

That title is a line from an old Francis Cabrel song, and it means "as heavy as a bottle of butane" — which is really heavy. Butane gas is what we are using to fuel the gas burners on our new stove (see yesterday's post).

In the song Cabrel talks about getting up in the morning and having his paupières en panne... his eyelids won't work right and they feel as heavy as a bottle of butane. The song is called Sarbacane (1989) and the lyrics are here.

The red thing under the sink is the tank of butane.

I know how heavy a bottle (or tank, in better English) of butane can be. In 1972-73, when I lived in the rainy Normandy city of Rouen, I had a butane space heater in my little apartment. To get a new bottle of butane when one ran out, I had to walk across the old downtown — usually in a fine, cold rain, Rouen being famous as "the chamber pot of Normandy" (Le Pot de chambre de la Normandie) — carrying the empty tank on my shoulder. That wasn't too bad if you liked having wet feet.

But then when I got to the store called a droguerie (don't ask me why), where things like household supplies and cleaning products are sold, I traded in the empty and got a new full tank. Then I had to trudge back across the city, a 30-minute walk, if I remember, with the full, heavy bouteille de butane on my shoulder. I was, what, 24 years old, and I didn't have a car or know anybody who did.

Nowadays, of course, I do have a car, so getting a tank of butane at SuperU or Intermarché or even the little grocery store in our village is easy. We bought two of them, so when the first one is empty we will be able to connect the second one and then go get a refill.

I know you can get propane or butane in the U.S. People use it to fire their gas grills. That's what we did in San Francisco. There we would take in your tank and it would be refilled. Here, you just trade in the empty and get a new one. When you decide turn in your empty for good, you get your ten-euro deposit back.

Steak and French fries, the classic steak-frites,
for lunch yesterday. The steaks, called pavés de rumsteak,
cooked nicely in a heavy metal pan on a hot hot gas burner.

Estimates we've seen say a tank of the size we have should give us between 60 and 100 hours of cooking time. That should last two or three months, I think. We have an electric oven and one electric burner on the stovetop, so we won't use as much gas as we would if it were an all-gas range.

A tank containing 10 kg (22 lbs.) of butane costs €14.95. If that lasts three months, or even two, it won't be expensive, that's for sure.

Our neighborhood doesn't have piped-in gas (called gaz de ville here). We have no choice but to use butane or propane if we want a gas cookstove, and an outdoor propane tank would not be practical. Walt says we have really "gone native" (a British expression, I think) with our little butane tanks. Tant mieux.


  1. Congratulations on your new stove!
    I'm sure the steack-frites was delicious. The frites look really golden and crispy. Did you switch to duck fat as planned, or did you use vegetable oil as usual?
    Happy cooking! Martine

  2. Hi Martine, we used frozen Bouton d'Or frites and canola/sunflower oil as usual — I don't remember exactly what blend we had in the fryer. The frites were very good. The meat was very good too -- as I said, thick slices of rumsteak (pavé means cobblestone because that's the shape).

    Today we had a stir-fry of pork and cauliflower in a Thai curry sauce that was also excellent. The sauce base was coconut milk with onion, garlic, ginger, and a Malaysian curry powder that I bought in an Asian supermarket in Paris.

    I will soon try the duck fat frying for potatoes. Maybe I'll try fresh potatoes again at that point, remembering your advice to shake the basket of fried potatoes well after the first and the second cooking. Ken

  3. I wonder if you need a match to light the gas burner? When I grew up, in Montréal, I guess we used gas stoves everywhere. We even had a tall, round, water tank in the kitchen with a little burner under that we lit for hot water for our bath. I have no idea how the system worked. We seemed to have cold and hot tap in the sink on a continuous basis.

    What I remember, as a little girl, is my fear of matches, and of the sudden "pouf" of the gas burner when I lit it. Gas also had a smell that I was afraid to inhale. In a way, I was glad never having to use gas as a grown-up.

    Now I know that I can blame electricity for my imperfect cooking...although I didn't do much better, as a young woman, with my mother's gas stove!

    Love the song, and the meal.

  4. the proof of the pudding....


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