The only difference between (people) all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species. Wherein is the cause for anger, envy or discrimination?
~Mahatma Gandhi

Pot-au-feu translates as “pot on the fire,” which is hearty French peasant fare. Granted, there is no raw beef, ginger, cardomom, cinnamon, mint, Thai chilies, basil, fish sauce, noodles (banh pho) or differing condiments and sauces as are found in phở (See February 3, 2009). Also, those seductive noodle sucking sounds are sadly lacking in pot-au-feu. But, given their culinary roots, cultural links, and France’s occupancy, colonization and even decimation of the Vietnamese peoples (preceded by China, followed by Japan and then the US) — it would not be surprising if feu slowly morphed into phở. Both words seem suspiciously harmonious to the ear. However, some etymologists dipute this assertion, especially given the stark culinary dissimilarities between the two dishes and due to some vague historical references.

POT AU FEU

1 lb beef shoulder or brisket
6 pieces of oxtail, cut 1 1/2″ thick
6 beef short ribs
1 veal shank, bone-in

6 whole cloves
2 onions, cut in halves
6 leeks, white part only
2 small celery roots, cut into quarters
2 medium turnips, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut transversely
4 medium carrots, cut into 4″ lengths
1 bouquet garni (2 sprig of flat parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 2 bay leaves, stringed together)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 new red and white potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 cabbage head, cored and cut into 7 wedges

1 baguette, sliced
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

1/2 lb cornichons
1 C coarse sea salt
1 C hot Dijon mustard

In a large pot, combine the beef, oxtail, short ribs, and veal shank, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and as soon as the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Set the meat aside and throw out the water. Clean the pot and then put the meat right back into the pot.

Push cloves into each onion half and add the onions to the pot, along with the leeks, celery roots, turnips, garlic, carrots, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cold water.

Bring the pot to a slow simmer, gradually, and let cook over medium low heat until the meat is tender or around 2 1/2 hours. Skim the cooking liquid with a ladle periodically to remove scum and foam. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until soft. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Remove the beef (shoulder or brisket) from the pot and slice into thick pieces. Remove the veal shank from the pot and cut the meat off the bone, again into ample pieces. Retrieve the marrow from the veal bone.

Pour some broth into serving bowls along with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese with thick slices of toasted baguette. Arrange the meats, marrow, and vegetables on a serving platter and ladle some cooking liquid over and around. Serve the rest in a sauce boat.

Put the cornichons, sea salt, and Dijon mustard into bowls on the table.

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A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.
~Czech proverb

The north to south plunge of the first stages of this year’s Tour de France bypassed the pastoral and gastronomically diverse region of Alsace-Lorraine nestled in the northeastern corner of France. Instead, the riders braved rain and then the harrowing, bone jarring rigors of 7 cobbled sectors in a more central route from Belgium south toward the steep mountain stages of the Alps. These are not those faux cobblestones seen in suburban malls, but are rather the old school, epic, rounded rocks with abysmal ruts and crevices that suddenly grab wheels with a Jaws-like vengeance. To cyclists perched atop two narrow high pressure tires in a frenetically paced and packed peleton, it is labyrinthine chaos. Seems a metaphor for modern life.

Home to handcrafted and hearty beers, Alsace-Lorraine is not to be forgotten though in this rustic chicken Ragout À l’Alsacienne. The braising beer should be darker with hefty yeast and malt tones. This is not fare for light lager. I might suggest your finest local microbrewery or a hearty bottled beer from the region.

RAGOUT OF CHICKEN IN BEER

6 thick slices high quality slab bacon, cut into 1″ x 1/4″ lardons

3 C fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t dried thyme

3 T unsalted butter, softened
3 T all purpose flour

3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces and thoroughly dried
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 C yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, finely minced and smashed again to a paste

4 C fine beer
1-2 C chicken broth
1-2 T Dijon mustard
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1-2 T brandy

Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

Bacon
In a large, heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, fry the cut bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Set aside, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons fat in the pan.

Mushrooms
Place heavy skillet with butter and oil over medium high heat. When the butter is well heated, add the mushrooms and toss well so they absorb the butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme and continue tossing until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

Beurre Manié
With your fingers, combine butter and flour. Set aside.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet with the bacon fat over medium-high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook on one side until the skin turns an even golden brown, about 5 minutes. Do not crowd the pan and even brown the chicken in batches if necessary. Then turn the pieces, and brown on that side, 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a casserole dish, tented loosely with aluminum foil.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the sliced onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Drain through a sieve to remove excess fat.

Return the chicken to the skillet, add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Pour in the beer, mustard and enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. Stir and bring to a simmer until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the sauce and boil the sauce down rapidly. Raise heat, fortify sauce with brandy and boil down rapidly—-tasting and adding any necessary seasoning. Then, remove from heat and whisk in the beurre manié little by little to lightly thicken the sauce. (There is no need to use the entirety of the beurre manié—just enough to lightly thicken.) Bring briefly to a simmer so that the sauce just lightly coats a spoon.

Return the chicken to the sauce, and add the lardons and mushrooms to the sauce. Top with parsley and serve with buttery artisan noodles.

Burgundy makes you think of silly things; Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

More white, more chill, more raw drafts, more winter light—with that sometimes dreaded V Day staring you down—all serve to page this comfy stew. So, please don’t lamely bring home those insipid red roses or banal boxed bonbons on Sunday. Instead, usher to the table a bodacious, succulent soul meant to warm your cockles. Peasant fare gone haute cuisine? Doubtful, but that does nothing to diminish the luscious carnality, even nobility, of this dish.

Never forget that careful kitchen caresses often reap sensual rewards.

Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région encompassing the départements of Côte-d’Or, Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre, and Yonne, is a diverse historic region in east central France—a mere 1 hour 20 minutes due southeast of Paris by TGV rail.

The Burgundians were a Scandinavian people whose original homeland lay on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, where the island of Bornholm (Burgundarholm in the Middle Ages) still bears their name. During the 1st century, they migrated westward to the borders of the Roman Empire. There they established a powerful kingdom, which by the early 5th century extended to the west bank of the Rhine River and later centered on Sapaudia (Savoy) near Lake Geneva. The history of Burgundy is rather complicated, convoluted, even twisted at times. So, I will endeavor to address it in segments in later posts — suffice it to say it is more a state of mind than a place.

BOURGUIGNON D’AGNEAU (LAMB BOURGUIGNON)

1/2 lb thick bacon, cut into lardons (1/4″ x 1″)
1 T extra virgin olive oil

3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 T all purpose flour

3 C dry red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
3 C beef stock
1 T tomato paste
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Braised onions
24 smaller white pearl onions
2 T butter
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C beef stock
Bouquet garni (parsley sprig, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, tied in cheesecloth)

Sautéed mushrooms
1 lb crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

Freshly parsley leaves, chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 450 F

Simmer lardons for 10 minutes in water, then drain and dry on paper towels. Sauté lardons in olive oil in a heavy large Dutch oven over low medium heat to lightly brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove to a large side dish with a slotted spoon.

Heat lardon fat in same Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add lamb, well spaced, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Place the browned lamb in the dish with the lardons. Add the sliced carrots, parsnips and onions to the same pot and brown, then pour out excess fat.

Return the lamb and lardons with the carrots, parsnips and onions to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with flour and toss again to coat the contents lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle of preheated oven for 8 minutes, tossing once or twice.

Transfer Dutch oven to stove top and reduce oven heat to 325 F.

Stir in wine and enough stock to barely cover the meat and vegetables. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a kind simmer on the stove top. Cover Dutch oven and set in lower third of oven. Again, bring to a gentle simmer until fork pierces meat easily, about 3-4 hours. While the lamb is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Braised onions
In a deep heavy skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible, remaining careful not to break the skins.

Add the stock, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove bouquet garni and set onions aside.

Sautéed mushrooms
Carefully wipe out skillet with paper towels and heat remaining oil and butter over medium high heat. Once butter has begun to bubble but not brown, add mushrooms. Toss until they brown lightly, about 4-5 minutes and then remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the pot into a sieve set over a saucepan in order to make a sauce. Wash out the Dutch oven and return the lamb and lardons, strewing the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Meanwhile, skim fat off sauce in saucepan, and then simmer sauce for a couple of minutes, skimming off additional fat until reduced enough to coat a spoon. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, whisk in a few tablespoons stock. Taste and if necessary, correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, tossing and basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve with artisanal noodles or potatoes, topped with parsley.

Pourboire: Please do not forget Julia Child’s mantra about browning —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan

Soupe Au Pistou

June 13, 2009

So, how do you grant shrift to spellbinding Provence? Note to Will: brevity is not always the soul of wit (whit).

Simply identify it as Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm, a region of southeastern France? In a droning museum voice name it as a host to Paleolithic sites dating to 900,000 B.C? Call it home to a permanent Greek settlement called Massalia, established at modern day Marseilles in about 600 B.C. by colonists coming from Phocaea (now Foça, on the Aegean coast in modern Turkey)? Christen it the first Roman province outside of Italy? Baptize it as the “annex” of the formerly Italian Roman Catholic papacy which moved to Avignon in the 14th Century? Title it an abode to the souls of Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso? Or just not so blandly classify it as a region that comprises the départements of Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes?

So many missteps, so much left out. Such is the construct of a blog. But, beyond cavil or retort, Provence and Italy are viscerally intermingled. Consider something as simple as pizzas or the subtle difference between pesto vs. pistou. Sans pine nuts, they are still divinely intertwined.

Soupe au pistou is a more than memorable Provençal soup that is brimming with summer garden bounty…gifts from friends at the market. Thanks, John, et al.

Footnote:
see I am Sam, Sam I am, infra for pesto.

SOUPE AU PISTOU

1/2 C dried lima or white beans
Bouquet garni I: bay leaves, fresh sprigs of parsley, thyme, and basil twined together
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Pistou:
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Pinch of sea salt
3 C fresh basil leaves, washed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
3 medium leeks, white part only, cut lengthwise, then into thin half rings
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced (almost shaven)

2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into half discs
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
Bouquet garni II: bay leaves, fresh sprigs of parsley, thyme, and basil twined together

2 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 C diminutive pasta such as ditalini, conchigliette or acini di pepe

1 C freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano
1 C freshly grated gruyère

Rinse beans and remove any imperfections. Place the beans in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Set aside for 1 hour. Drain the beans.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir together the olive oil, garlic and bouquet garni. Cook over medium heat until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and stir to coat with oil and garlic. Cook an additional minute, then add 1 quart of water. Stir, then cover, bring to a simmer and cook approximately 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and discard bouquet garni I. Set beans aside.

Meanwhile, combine garlic, salt and basil in a food processor or blender or a mortar and process in bursts to a paste. Drizzle in olive oil in a thin, continuous stream while processing. Stir to blend well. Set the pistou aside.

In a large heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the leeks, onions, and garlic over low heat and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Do not brown or burn. Add the carrots, fennel, potatoes, and bouquet garni II to the pot, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni II. Now, add the beans and their cooking liquid, the zucchini and tomatoes, along with 2 quarts of water to the pot. Simmer gently, uncovered, about 20 minutes.

Add the pasta and simmer, uncovered, until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni II. Stir in half of the pistou and half of the cheese.

Serve soup, passing remaining pistou and cheeses at the table.

Garlic Soup

May 22, 2009

GARLIC SOUP

Duck fat, long a staple of the kitchens in Gascony, imparts deeply opulent flavors to any dish. Many chefs revere the use of duck fat with potatoes in so many preparations.

(Gascony is a historical and cultural region of southwest France—east and south of Bordeaux—that was formerly part of the province of Guyenne and Gascony…a keenly gastronomic domain)

3 T duck, goose or chicken fat
6 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, rinsed, green tops discarded, whites finely chopped
30 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

7 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley and tarragon and several bay leaves, twined
Nutmeg, grated

5 organic, free range egg yolks
4 T olive oil

Baguette slices, toasted
Chives, for garnish

Over low heat in a large stock pot, melt the fat over low heat, then add the garlic. Cook while stirring occasionally, without browning, until the garlic has become very soft, about 30 minutes or so. During the last 15 minutes of this step, add the leeks so they sweat and soften too.

Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Discard bouquet garni.

Blend the soup either with an hand immersion blender or by allowing the soup to cool slightly and pouring it into a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is completely puréed.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl while drizzling in the olive oil. Very slowly and cautiously add hot soup to the yolks a small amount at a time while still beating the eggs. When you have added a cup or so to the eggs, slowly pour the remainder of the egg mixture into the soup vigorously whisking while you do so. Heat the mixture gingerly being careful not to allow the soup come to a boil which would curdle the eggs.

Place a toasted baguette slice in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over top. Serve, garnished with chives.

A world devoid of tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato ketchup and tomato paste is hard to visualize.
~Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

On President’s Day—watching pre-dawn documentaries detailing their lives—I was again struck that we have yet to elect a head of state with Italian heritage. Curious. It seemed a proper day to post a tomato sauce recipe.

This sauce is fundamental, versatile and ever so simple to create. It is great to have on hand for kith and kin at a moment’s notice any time of the day. Although the fresh tomatoes in my clime are fabulous, the season is unfortunately narrow (usually mid July through early October, with the most flavorful in September). Fresh tomatoes out of season just do not make the grade…they can even be on the verge of inedible. So, I usually turn to the canned whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes that perpetually inhabit the pantry. Luckily, some of the tomato vendors at the local farmers’ market also can their own, and they are exquisitely flavorful.

If the season is on, you may substitute 2-3 lbs of fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped. But, then again, why would you not slice a gorgeous heirloom tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil…or even just a little sea salt…and savor?

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Two 28 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, finely chopped (retain juice)
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1 small rind of parmigiano reggiano
A quick splash of red wine
Sea salt
Bouquet garni* of fresh parsley, thyme and basil sprigs

Using kitchen scissors, chop tomatoes while still in can.

Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring some, until softened and slightly goldern, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, saute and stir occasionally another 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in the tomatoes with juice, carrot, salt, rind, red wine splash and bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. The sauce will thicken to a porridge consistency. Remove and discard the rind and herb bundle. Adjust seasoning to your liking with salt remembering that tomatoes demand liberal amounts of salt.

A silkier version can be made by finishing the sauce in a food mill or blender.

The sauce will keep refrigerated for one week or frozen for 3 months.

*Bouquet garni: herb sprigs bundled together with kitchen twine.

Pourboire: when serving with a pasta or fish, it can be gently toned down with a little cream to make a “pink” sauce. The sauce can also be jazzed up with drained capers, chopped olives, diced peppers, red pepper flakes…you name it.