Du Bocage: Veal, Apples & Calvados

January 6, 2010

Bocage country could be a nightmare, you could only see as far as the next field and in the lanes, only as far as the next bend.
Harvey Smith, of the Royal Engineers

Maybe part upbringing, pinches of observing, or just a zeal for history…but, I am still “studying” that abhorrent human endeavor called war. Although ever coveting peace and diplomacy, always innately inquisitive about conflict, strategy and the human suffering inflicted by wars. Probably a little incongruous. So, please bear with me, as this chapter came to mind when posting about Calvados.

Intimate documentary footage has recently emerged on the home screen depicting the battle for Normandie. Beginning with an amphibious invasion in early June, 1944, the campaign did not end on the heavily fortified beachheads, but raged into late August. Several days after the sand was secured, the Allies moved inland in several directions, including toward St Lo and the lethal bocage—where German 7th Army garrisons and SS Panzer divisions lay in mortal wait.

On peaceful days, the Norman bocage was a pastoral checkerboard of lush meadows dotted with apple orchards from which the local brandy, Calvados, was crafted. Each rectangular meadow was surrounded by thick hedgerows to block the winds from verdant pastures and plump cattle.

During war though, the bocage formed a lethal labyrinth of defensive barriers. Some hedges were eye level bushes while others were densely matted walls of earth and briery hedge, some 10 feet high and stippled with trees. Many were impassable for tanks, and communication between troops in the fields was limited. Slender lanes, crisscrossing and bending throughout, created ambush points and access to fields far away from regular routes.

The bocage concealed pockets of elite German infantry, including the vaunted 3rd Parachute Division. The hedgerows nested snipers, shielded point blank machine gun ambushes and concealed small arms fire…with only the entrenched defenders intimately acquainted with the lay of the land. Oncoming troops often found themselves exposed, naked in the open field. Close combat raged in thickly vegetated mazes bordering open space and replete with deadly incoming from concealed Tigers, the feared 88mm and mortars.

Typical tactics were ineffectual in the bocage. Hemmed in by hedgerows, platoons lost their sense of direction during skirmishes. Confusion and disorientation reigned. Agonizing missions rampant with carnage. Some of the fiercest fighting in the war took place in the bocage whose hedgerows and lanes formed killing zones not unlike those devised by trenches in World War I. As with the Great War, left behind were battlefields rife with dead and ruin. Shattered farmhouses and villages slumped as memorials to abolition. Tangled wire littered the fields and hedges, all barren of life but teeming with the stench and waste of war. Broken guns, downed tanks, bits of clothing, empty helmets, spent shells, and the sad remains of life.

And that was the abridged digression. Sorry, but seems such short shrift to me.

Calvados, a French apple brandy which is labeled for the terroir of the same name. Calvados, a notable apple and cider producing region, is located in Basse-Normandie in north France which borders the English Channel. The brandy is made from carefully culled apples, and it is not unusual for a producer to use over 100 different varieties in crafting this velvety hooch.

Like other chosen French food and drink, Calvados is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations. Calvados Pays d’Auge (AOC) is made through a two-step process called double distillation. Using a traditional alembic pot still, apple cider is heated causing the alcohol vapor to rise and collect and then ultimately course down through a coil and drip into a cold tank. On coming into contact with the coolant, the vapors condense into a liquid. The vapors at the beginning and end of first distillation process (heads and tails) which are and will be redistilled with the next cider, are eliminated to obtain the petite eau (small water). The heads, too high in alcohol, and the tails, lacking harmony, are carefully removed and distilled over again to perfection. Then a second heating occurs to further distill this petit eau. As before, the heads and tails are again separated off to preserve only the heart of distillation called the bonne chauffe. This staged process imparts complexity and concentrates the most delicate aromas and bouquet of the spirit, retaining only the finest components and eliminating the mediocre.

After distillation, the end product is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. As with many things in life, the longer it is aged, the smoother the end product.

VEAL SCALLOPS WITH CALVADOS & APPLES

3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
5 T lemon juice

10-12 veal scallops (1/2″ thick)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried sage
2 C flour

2 T butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C tablespoons calvados
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 170 F

Place apples in a bowl, add lemon juice, mix thoroughly so apples are thoroughly coated. Set aside.

Season veal scalloops with salt, pepper and a few pinches of sage. Then dip in the flour on a deep plate or dish, shaking off any excess. Heat butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. When hot and shimmering, add veal, spaced well, and saute until lightly brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. You should cook the veal in batches so it is not crowded and do not overcook or they will become shoe leather. Err on the low side of doneness. When the veal is cooked, arrange on a platter, loosely tent and place in the warm oven.

Add apples with lemon juice and Calvados to the pan. Scrape up all pan encrustations & cook over medium heat to deglaze for about 3-4 minutes. Add cream and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced by half and coats a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Adjust seasoning to your liking with salt and pepper. Plate the scallops with apples artfully adjoining, spoon sauce over and serve immediately.

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