The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.
~T.S. Eliot

Again the cold weather is upon us, so the time has come to deceive, to create illusions of reality, in our kitchens.

Are our buns, hands, soles and toes really nestled in sandy beaches somewhere on this earth? Are we contemplating the vastness of cerulean seas and cobalt skies dotted with cirrus clouds?  Must be…right?  What a remarkably silly, selfless yet sybaritic trompe-l’oiel!  At the same time, these are food paeans to our tribal past.

Now, some find boudin noir or Créole repugnant because the process traditionally contains pork blood. Well, so do filets, porterhouses, shoulders, briskets, strips, rib eyes, loins, tenderloins, sirloins, flanks, chops, tuna, liver, rumps, chuck, blades, tri tips, shanks, et al. — many humans simply choose to ignore that bloody carnal embrace. Yes, Virginia, there is red ink, congealed or not, in them thar cuts. Their will be blood and/or myoglobin. Then again, boudin noir is not for everyone.

But, being an offal aficionado, this dark hued savory charcuterie (much like pâtés, rillettes, galantines, ballotines, confits, foie gras, jambons and friends) is revered and regaled here. If most homo sapiens are omnivorous, honor should be bestowed upon the animal that graces our tables by eating the deceased from nose to tail. Again, the “blood” in boudin noir is cooked as with many other cuts.

Consider serving this renascence next to a small splash of smashed or mashed potatoes or even fried or poached eggs and sliced sautéed chiles or a simple baguette and unsalted butter and top the sausages on a mesclun salad with a vinaigrette and some root vegetables. Better yet, choose to present shortly after dining on accras de morue (cod fritters — a post found here on February 11, 2010) and sauce chien with a glass of Viognier or Côtes de Provence rosé or une bière blonde.  As with most plates, the choices seem endless.

Often savored sautéed or grilled, boudin noir may seem quotidien, but is simply seraphic.

BOUDIN NOIR

4-5 blood sausages (from fine butchers — local + high quality)
1-2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of rosemary and thyme

1/3 C Calvados (apple brandy)
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
2 t Dijon mustard
2-3 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced somewhat thin

Grating of fresh nutmeg
Cinnamon stick
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 200 F.

Prick sausages in several spots with sharp knife or fork. Sauté over medium low heat in butter and olive oil (shimmering olive oil but the butter not browned) with rosemary and thyme, about 5-8 minutes, turning occasionally. Discard rosemary and thyme sprigs. Remove sausages from pan and place on heavy dish, tented, in very low oven while preparing sauce.

Remove and discard some of the excess fat from pan, turn heat to high and deglaze with Calvados, allowing to boil for about 30 seconds, then add apples, cooking them for a minute or so. Add the cream, mustard, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper. Reduce cream and mustard and friends by half and finally ladle over or under the boudin noir, removed from the oven. Discard the cinnamon stick, by the way.

 

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A man must keep his mouth open a long while before a roast pigeon flies into it.
~Danish proverb

Le grand débat: white or dark?

Dark meat is composed of muscle fibers that are termed “slow-twitch.” These muscles contract slowly and are used for extended periods of activity, such as casual walking, thus needing a consistent energy source. The hemoprotein myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells, which then uses this oxygen to extract the energy needed for endurance and slower repetitive activity. A strongly pigmented protein, the more cellular myoglobin that exists, the darker the meat and the richer in nutrient levels.

Dark meat is flusher than white in minerals such as iron, zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins A, K and the B complex — B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) B6, B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). Taurine is also found abundantly in dark meat — a nutrient known to aid in anti-inflammation, blood pressure regulation, healthy nerve function, and the production of bile acid (which breaks down fat).

Myoglobin’s color varies depending on the meat’s internal temperature. For instance, with rare beef, the myoglobin’s red color remains unchanged. But, above 140 F, myoglobin loses its ability to bind oxygen, and the iron atom at the center of its molecular structure loses an electron, forming a tan-hued compound called hemichrome. Then, when the interior of the meat reaches 170 F, hemichrome levels rise, creating that characteristic brownish gray metmyoglobin often seen on shoe soles.

White meat is comprised of “fast-twitch” muscle fibers which contract swiftly and are used for rapid bursts of activity, such as jumping or sprinting, and so absorb energy from stored glycogen, a multibranched saccharide of glucose residues. When raw, white meat has a translucent look. When cooked, the proteins denature and recombine, and the meat becomes opaque and whitish to sight. It is admittedly lower in saturated fat and calories, so it has been promoted as the healthier alternative even though white meat has fewer nutrients than dark, is more difficult to digest and contains no taurine. Often obscenely slim on taste, diners often compensate for the dryness and whiteness with sauces, gravies or dressings which render white meat more fatty and less nutritious in the long run.

So, the process of deciding between dark and white will likely prove an alimental impasse. Aromas and flavors should reign instead, and you likely know where my vote lies. By all means though, of course, please make your own call (without presenting ID).

On to the birds. Squabs are simply fledgling domesticated pigeons, typically dressed about four weeks after hatching and even before they even have flown. Thus, they are much easier to snatch before slaughter. They have been bred for centuries, dating back to early Asian and Arabic cultures and now are found on tables across the globe. The term derives from the Scandinavian svkabb which means “loose or fat flesh,” as squabs are dark, tender and moist — often almost silky to the palate.

Damned delectable, dark and sensual critters.

ROAST SQUABS

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into sixths

4 squabs, about 3/4 lbs each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
4 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T coriander seeds, roasted and ground

4 medium turnips, peeled and halved
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 T olive oil

4 T red wine, such as a zinfandel or burgundy
2 T cognac or brandy
1/2 C chicken broth
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Season the cavities of the squabs with salt and pepper. Inside each, place a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf and a clove of garlic. On the outside, rub with softened butter and season with salt, pepper and coriander. Tie legs together with kitchen twine so they do not spread.

Put squabs in a large, heavy roasting pan, breast side up. Strew the turnips, parsnips, carrots and apples around them. Brush the turnips, parsnips and carrots with olive oil. Cook 15-20 minutes, basting the squabs and vegetables fairly often with juices and turn the vegetables at least once.

Remove the apples, set them aside in a bowl and keep warm by loosely tenting with foil. Add the wine and chicken broth. Cook 10 minutes longer, basting often and occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan. The birds should be cooked slightly pink in thickest part of the thigh, about 130-145 F with a meat thermometer. Please beware that if squab is cooked beyond medium rare, the flesh becomes overly dry and the flavor livery. Overturn a soup bowl and place under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is inclined.

Lift the squabs with a carving fork at an angle and allow the juices to flow into the pan. Remove and discard the herbs and garlic cloves. Put squabs on the tilted serving platter or cutting board breast sides down and tails in the air, loosely tented.

Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on top of the stove. Bring the sauce beginnings to a simmer, add the cognac and then the butter, and blend together, stirring with a wooden spatula and scraping. Add some chicken broth and cook further. With a slotted spoon, remove the turnips, parsnips and carrots and place in a tented glass bowl.

Cut twine, and only if desired, carve the squabs in halves and serve with turnips, parsnips, carrots, apples and bathed lightly in sauce. Accompany the squabs with puréed or smashed potatoes or polenta or rice pilaf and a green du jour.

Pourboire: Other methods that come to mind would be to braise the squabs in wine and broth or place the squabs first on their sides and cook in a sauté pan, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 15 minutes and then turn squabs breast up and transfer to the oven, roasting for only 5 minutes or so.

Grits — Apple & Mushroom

October 5, 2012

We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Meatless Mondays campaign, jointly launched by the Johns Hopkins and Columbia University schools of public health in 2003, has gained traction over the last decade or so. To those who wonder, this simply means to go meatless on Mondays. Awareness of the program has escalated, influencing decisions to reduce meat intake. The campaign has now begun to focus on national institutions like food service providers, manufacturers, chains, supermarkets and schools. Eating with moderation in mind holds real promise.

Tell that to the USDA and the beef association. The Department of Agriculture had published an interoffice newsletter calling for participation in Meatless Mondays by merely choosing among the many meat-free dishes offered in the office’s cafeteria. The newsletter commented that meat production plays a role in climate change, waste water, and demands on fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels. It also pointed to the many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat. All true.

This prompted an immediate, sermonizing rebuttal from the beef trade association. J.D. Alexander, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who wrote in lobby lingo, “(t)his is truly an awakening statement by USDA, which strongly indicates that USDA does not understand the efforts being made in rural America to produce food and fiber for a growing global population in a very sustainable way. USDA was created to provide a platform to promote and sustain rural America in order to feed the world. This move by USDA should be condemned by anyone who believes agriculture is fundamental to sustaining life on this planet.” What a core statement. Politicians from beef states jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that they would eat even more red on Mondays, dubbin’ dem “double rib-eye Mondays.” Where is John Wayne when you need him?

In response, the USDA promptly backed down, withdrawing the newsletter and issuing a retraction via Twitter: “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed//” Sad and disappointing. Nothing like tweeting a “Dear John” to yourself. As always, caught in the middle of this childish spat are we consumers.

Michael Klag, a dean of Johns Hopkins, expressed his dismay with the hasty USDA recantation with a cc letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. The letter reminded the department, Congress and the administration of the responsibility to represent all segments of agriculture and fulfill the mission of promoting healthy diets.

There should be fewer bones to pick. Remember that far from being a vegan, vegatarian, polo-pescatarian or otherwise, I am by nature an omnivore who savors species from both plant and animal kingdoms. However, temperance should be exercised at the table, and if that involves some rational red meat forbearance then please so be it. Meatless Mondays, without so much political quibble, are a good start at home.

APPLE & MUSHROOM GRITS

4 bacon slices, cut into lardons
1 small to medium red onion, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 dozen+ mushrooms, such as shiitake, chanterelle and oysters, cut evenly

1 C quick-cooking grits
2 C whole milk
Pinch of sea salt
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
1 C water
1 rosemary sprigs
2 thyme sprigs

1/2 C heavy whipping cream, warmed
2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T parmigiano-reggiano, grated
1 pinch freshly ground pepper

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and julienned

In a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the bacon, onion, and garlic, and then sauté until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for later.

Combine grits, milk, sea salt, stock/water, rosemary and thyme in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat, cover and let stand for another 10 minutes. Remove and discard the rosemary and thyme sprigs.

Whisk the cream, mushroom mélange, butter, parmigiano-reggiano, and black pepper into the grits.

To serve, spoon grits into shallow soup bowls or to the side or partially underneath an entrée. Top with julienned apple.

I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.
~Rita Rudner

When walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with my youngest son this spring, we could not help but notice the slew of padlocks in varying shapes, sizes and hues each etched with initials, maybe an image and sometimes brief vows.  Apparently, the keys had been hurled into the East River while the padlocks remained hooked on the bridge as symbols of perpetual locked in love.  We even took pics of them.  At first, it seemed cute but in retrospect, it seemed a tad odd.  Then, when we celebrated my oldest son’s and fine woman’s nuptials last weekend, th0se images recurred yet hopes were revived and thoughts about love, like the wine, flowed freely.

Apparently across the pond, on Paris’ most iconic bridges, such as the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché, visitors have similarly affixed padlocks to the metal railings and fencing.   Once done discreetly by night, many began acting brazenly in broad daylight, two by two and sometimes more, filming faces in front of  colorful locks, and videoing the throwing of  keys into the Seine. Natives and local politicians alike expressed concerns about aesthetics and the architectural integrity of the festooned bridges.  Although many denizens consider the locks an eyesore, others find them charming. One night, someone actually cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges and discarded them.  But in just a short while, the locks reappeared, this time more conspicuously than ever.  For many tourist couples, these locks and the keys tossed into the romantic river that courses the City of Light were symbols of that often elusive everlasting amour, of abiding adoration.  Pas là, pas de tout — as many French find such declarations less than amorous.  To use lock and key as a metaphor for eternal affection seems strangely antithetical there and bespeaks of confinement. 

In Paris (and elsewhere), love is understood to be tinged with risk. That sounds a touch incongruous, as little in this world is more difficult yet more valuable than love…the very boon of humanity, and there can be nothing more bewitching or treasured.  At the same time though, love can be fragile and unsettling, and early romance can be clothed in uncertainty.  Love can be hazardous, sometimes on the brink of agony, and often vulnerable and insecure.  Even damned lonely.

So, the notion that love is locked up forever by tossing that key in the drink, is thought a vacuous rite, a childish fantasy that can even enslave.  Soulful love is not to be imprisoned or controlled, and the goal is not to entrap or ensnare one another.  Rather, love’s sublime fragility should be embraced with each urging the other to be free.  Love is to be shared simply and fervently, without pride — where each is gazed at head to toe often in poor lighting and yet somehow, despite conspicuous faults and frailties, each passionately embraces and patiently cherishes one other.  True lovers do not just appeal to the eye, they look beyond into mind and imagination.  Empathy, which derives from the Greek empatheia (“passion”), should reign and must be rekindled throughout the shared voyage. 

Above all, avoid getting too serious about things like love locks.  Mates must always laugh together, as when humor is lost, so is footing.

Ok, so enough sap and on to food.  For lovers should ever delight in the sensual and revel in lust.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH WHITE WINE REDUCTION & APPLES

3 T unsalted butter
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T honey

4 – 6 oz slices of fine grade foie gras, about 3/4″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 C good quality late harvest white (the rest chilled for a toast)
Equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit zests
1/4 t fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 t fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces

4 slices brioche, 1/2″ thick

Melt the butter in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the apples, apple cider vinegar, and drizzle with honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, turning once, until the apples are golden, soft and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Drain, arrange on a platter, tent with foil, and set aside.

Gently score the foie gras slices with a diagonal pattern on one side only. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium high. In batches, place foie gras slices in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside to rest.

Pour the excess pan drippings out of the pan, reserving about 3 tablespoons of drippings for the reduction. Deglaze the pan with the grapefruit juice over medium high heat, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Simmer until the juice is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, orange, lime and grapefruit zests, rosemary, thyme and simmer for about one minute or so. Add the butter, remove from the heat, and whisk until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler.

Using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut the brioche into rounds and place them on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler until golden brown on each side.

To assemble, place the brioche toasts in the center of serving plates. Lay the foie gras slices on top of the brioche. Arrange the golden, almost caramelized apples around the foie gras toasts, and drizzle the reduction sauce over the top of the foie gras.

Serve by candlelight, clothing optional, with a grand Bordeaux and loving partner.

An icon born of error.

Filial fare. Word has it that two sisters, Caroline (b. 1847) and Stéphanie Tatin (b. 1838), created this simple, to die for, Belle Époque tarte. They lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley where they managed l’Hôtel Tatin. Lamotte-Beuvron is located in the forested hunting region known as the Sologne, about 100 miles from Paris.

The elder sister, Stéphanie a/k/a Fanny, manned the hotel kitchen…an exquisite cook but not the brightest bulb in the room. Locals, such as Claude Monet, made a point to spend Sunday afternoons savoring long, leisurely lunches there.

Stéphanie’s specialty was a luscious apple tarte, served ever so crusty and caramelized. One midday, while mired in the weeds during the hectic hunting season, Stéphanie started to make her usual apple tarte but in haste left the apples cooking in butter and sugar, forgetting to line the pan with crust. Time not being her ally, she decided not to begin the tarte anew. So, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry on top of the apples, and finished the tarte in the oven with the pastry and apples reversed. She then inverted the pan and served up the new fangled tarte renversée to guests who, to her surprise, purred nothing but formidables. Soon, it became a signature house dish and was later dubbed la tarte des demoiselles Tatin.

The tarte did not rise to gastronomic prominence until the epicure Curnonsky included it in a volume of La France Gastronomique dedicated to l’Orléannais, the region around Orléans that encompasses Lamotte-Beuvron. In the late 1930s, the rustic tarte’s celebrity rose to new heights when it appeared on the menu of Maxim’s, the famed Parisian restaurant.

Now, a global culinary darling: The tarte of two unmarried women named Tatin, or Tarte Tatin.

LA TARTE TATIN

Pastry Dough (Pâte Brisée Fine)
1 C all purpose flour
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 t granulated sugar
1/3 C+ ice water

Briefly mix the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl with your fingers. The pieces of butter should still be visible. Add the water, roll the mixture into a ball and knead for a minute or so. Do not overknead—the dough should have body and be pliable, but not too elastic and dry. Wrap well in plastic and let dough rest in refrigerator for one hour before rolling.

Tarte
5 to 6 Golden Delicious apples, quartered, cored and peeled
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice on 1 lemon
1 1/2 C sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Pastry dough

Preheat oven to 425 F

Cut the apple quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar. Allow to steep until they exude their juices, about 20 minutes. Drain.

Melt the butter in a 10″ heavy-high-rimmed-non-stick-oven-proof pan over moderately high heat. Blend in the vanilla bean and remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a caramel hue. It will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan. Flare the apples slices in closely packed circles around the circumference of the pan, filling in the middle. Add enough apples to heap up 1″ higher than the rim of the pan. They sink down as they cook.

Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down with a wooden spatula as they soften. Draw the accumulated juices over the apples with a bulb baster. When the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10-15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat.

Roll the chilled dough to 1/8″ thick and a circle with a diameter 1″ larger than the top of the pan. Fold the dough in half, then in quarters and center over the apples. Then, unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan. Cut a few steam escape holes from around the center of the dough.

Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and tilt the pan. If the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove, but not to the point that the apples stick to the pan.

Place a serving platter upside down on top of the pastry and carefully flip the platter and the pan over, allowing the tart to fall gently out of the pan.

Serve warm, with whipped cream, ice cream or sweetened mascarpone.

Pourboire: Tarte Tatin can be made with other fruits, such as pears or quince. As you may imagine, savory versions exist too. A medley of wild mushrooms and herbs?

Savory (& Savvy) Pork

January 29, 2010

I will astonish Paris with an apple.
~Paul Cezanne

Although it serves well in other seasons, roast pork seems true winter fare. Affable victuals cooked with frosted panes and views of snowy roofs. But, wholly aside from the Rockwell images, pork is flat ambrosial…whether cured, roasted, seared, grilled or otherwise.

The venerable and ironically omnivorous domestic pig, Sus domesticus, is one of the more ancient species of livestock—dating back some 8,000 years. Pigs are even-toed ungulates: hoofed animals whose weight is spread evenly by more than one toe. Like ballerinas, ungulates use the tips of their hoofed toes to sustain their body weight while ambulating. Pigs, giraffes, rhinoceri, hippopotami, camels, moose, all en pointe.

Pigs happen to be one of the more socially adept and sage farm species. They are exceptionally adroit animals who adeptly grasp new routines, and their cognitive skills are almost unparalleled in the animal world. Pig acumen is damn awesome. They can cleverly jump hoops, stand and bow, utter linguinstic sounds on command, herd sheep, open cages, and play video games. The pig genome compares favorably with the human genome in many respects, especially with males.

Much like humans, pig teeth have an enamel coating which makes them stauncher and less vulnerable to disease. They masticate and ruminate their chow, having a digestive system that is similar to humans which cannot readily digest unground food. Think more of the swine in Snatch and less of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH HERBS, APPLES & HONEY

3 lb boneless pork top loin roast, trimmed and tied
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut in slivers
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

6 medium leeks, whites only, halved lengthwise
Fresh thyme sprigs
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 heads fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into 6 slices each
4 T unsalted butter

1 C cognac or brandy
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
4 T unprocessed, organic honey

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fat side up, stud the pork roast with garlic slivers. Rub the surface first with softened butter and then liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cradle the pork on a rack in a heavy roasting pan. Strew the leeks, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and halved garlic heads in the bottom of the pan, drizzled lightly with olive oil.

Roast until medium rare, about 1 hour, basting. During the last 20 minutes, bathe with cognac and apple cider vinegar and drizzle with honey. A thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F when the pork is medium rare. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, tent the pork loin with foil on a platter, and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind that when the roast is removed from the oven and is resting before carving, it will continue to cook some more, allowing the juices to come back to the center of the roast.

Remove and set aside the leeks, garlic, and herbs. Place pan on stove on medium high and reduce sauce, adding cognac, vinegar and honey to your liking. If you are not facing an appointment with your cardio specialist that week, even treat yourself to some heavy whipping cream on the finish. Reduce sauce until it thickens and coats a spoon.

In the meantime, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the apples in a single layer, and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, remove and discard the string. Carve the pork into rather thick slices and serve with apples and leeks nestled alongside, drizzled with sauce.

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.