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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Mustard — Good only in Dijon. Ruins the stomach.
~Gustave Flaubert

The word mustard derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The term evolved from the Latin mustum, (must or young wine) as Romans mixed the unfermented grape juice, with ground mustard seeds (called sinapis) to make “burning must” or mustum ardens.

Dijon, once a Roman settlement, is now the capital city of the Côte-d’Or département in Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région in central eastern France. Once ruled by the infuential ducs de Bourgognes, it lies about 1h 40 southeast of Paris by TGV rail. By the 13th century, Dijon had became the gathering place for fine mustard makers and has since become known as the mustard capital of the world. Dijon mustard originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon first substituted verjuice, the acidic juice of unripened grapes, for vinegar in the traditional recipe. The mustard is crafted from finely ground brown or black mustard seeds mixed with an acidic liquid (vinegar, wine, and/or grape must) and sparsely seasoned with salt and sometimes a hint of spice. No artificial colors, fillers or other additives are allowed.

Dijon mustard is customarily pale yellow in color, smooth in consistency, but fairly sharp in scent and flavor. Nose burning, nasal clearing, eye watering Dijon forte (strong) awaits you at pommes frites stands across France.

As for tomorrow. That woefully amateurish event, Valentine’s Day, is again upon us…when florists are deluged, chefs are beset, servers are frazzled, chocolatiers are harried and lovers are just barely that for one day. So, eschew that trite restaurant night and instead indulge that Hallmark moment at home. Shun the cloying mundane and think passion, ardor.

Open with seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or gougères — follow with rib eye steak au poivre or chicken dijon, puréed potatoes or risotto and haricots verts or asparagus with garlic — and end with hand crafted chocolate truffles or mousse au chocolat. Start with a glass of Champagne, then couple the app with a Chardonnay or Rosé de Provence and the entrée with a red Côtes du Rhône, Bourgogne or Oregon Pinot Noir. Just a traditional thought or two…the choices are boundless.

With that menu, candlelight, choice tunes, lively banter, and no dish detail, a night’s kiss may become a tad more carnal. Old school romance is still in vogue.

Cin-cin!

CHICKEN DIJON

1 T coriander seeds

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried tarragon

1/2 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 T cognac or brandy
1 1/2 C chicken broth

1/2 C Dijon mustard
1/4 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Chopped tarragon

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds until fragrant. Allow to cool then transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and let cool. Grind until coarse.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and tarragon. (Lightly sprinkle the tarragon on the skin side only.) In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until shimmering, but take care to avoid burning the butter. After pressing them into and around the pan, discard the smashed garlics. Add the chicken to the skillet skin side down and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter and tent.

Pour off some of the residue oil and juices from the chicken. Add the shallots to the same pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the brandy and allow to cook off, then add the broth and ground coriander and bring almost to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Turn the chicken once while cooking.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon. Whisk the mixture into the skillet and simmer the sauce over moderate heat, occasionally stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes. While simmering if it appears the sauce needs thining, add some heavy whipping cream. Return the chicken to the skillet and turn to coat with the sauce and heat.

Serve the chicken ladled with sauce, then garnished with chopped fresh tarragon.