p1: Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur

The Dish

b840179a361e48ef94435b49a7c01546I’m no longer allowed to make ANYTHING lamb when my mother is around, since SOMEONE’S sensitive about it being ‘not as old’ as Mutton… doesn’t matter what age it may be, but nooooo more lamb allowed in the house. So for a particular recipe I’ve been gearing to make for a while, I’ve had to wait for that perfect opportunity where 1: the folks are out on vacation, 2: I’ve got enough time in my schedule to plan and set up a night to cook it, and 3: have the opportunity where I can bring in at least a few friends and family member to make it a fun food gathering, as it should be. Yay me I got a perfect evening on the LAST weekend that I had the whole house just to myself.

And what is this dish? Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur. Translated as “Weeping Leg of Lamb Roast,” the whole idea is that it’s indeed just a simple roasted lamb leg… sitting on a rack over a bed of potatoes, so every little ounce of melted fat, dripping juices and other goodies fall onto and absorbs into the delicious tuber as they cook. A full on foray into the indulgence and epitome of a pure meat and potato dish.

Now what’s the history of this dish? Truthfully… there really isn’t anything significant that I can find at ALL. The time that sheep became used often for food in France is the time these roast dinners would have popped up. And there’s no real particular region for this either; it’s famous in Bordeaux, grass-eating sheep in northern Normandy form delicious rich flavors, and the particular Buzzfeed list this came from has it under the southern reaches. So no help there. Not to mention it comes in many forms; the whole ‘roasting over potatoes’ thing is really only just one of a few twists to the preparation next to just cooking the lamb on its OWN. It’s not necessarily THE most traditional form of it, though gotta admit it’s one of the most rustically beautiful and delicious.

One interesting thing I’ve found. The French word for leg of lamb, ‘Gigot,’ comes from a root that means ‘fiddle.’ Rather apt considering the shape. But the thing is this word, ‘gigue,’ derives from Middle High GERMAN term ‘gige.’ Potential past influence via European neighbors/invaders? Considering the potatoes… possibly.

A Word On…

20151213_120924Lamb: This is rather simple, we’re just looking for a leg; so long as you’ve found a favorite and reliable butcher/deli, it’s a snap just to order. Though I doubt you’ll be getting a whole leg unless you’re willing to put down a LOT of money [my partial leg at 5+ lbs set me back 60 bucks], so a partial/center cut section of leg is fine. Just make sure there’s a big bone inside for flavor! That and to make some soup afterward.

Flavor Infusion: Garlic and rosemary are the boss here; there may be some use of OTHER herbs a la thyme, oregano, bay leaf, parsley, etc [mixtures known as ‘herbes de provence’], but truly these are the only two used consistently and to the best, most distinctive effect. Plus you just gotta love rosemary [oh how I wish I still had my pot of it…]. But the main consideration here isn’t what aromatics to use, but HOW to use them.

There are two techniques. One of the more classic and sort of ‘fancy,’ or presentable, ways of doing it is to literally push big chunks of garlic and rosemary INTO the lamb, ‘studding’ it with flavor that will then permeate as it cooks. This is what I’m doing as I’ve been really wanting to try it out for meat flavoring, that and the whole compound-butter-under-poultry-skin thing. The second technique is, quite simply, cutting a big bunch of each up [maybe making a paste with some butter/oil] and rubbing it all over the lamb as a seasoning/marinade. This is used quite often too, and I actually wanted to do BOTH to really ensure an awesome flavor all inside and crusted outside… but of course I didn’t properly check my garlic stocks until last minute. Soooooo nowhere near enough, I get to see what JUST studding will do for me.

Roast Time, Lamb: So, interesting, my favorite super-classic-French-food-‘encyclopedia’ states that a roasting temperature of 425F with a time of 20-22 minutes per lb of lamb yields a perfect pink center. But all other recipes seem to hang at 350-400, mostly leaning towards the latter half, stating 18-20 minutes at MOST for the pink insides. By the way, you want the pink… ‘fully’ cooked at brown throughout, that’s just wrong. You ‘well done steak’ people are monsters, you do understand that right? Ahem, anyways, I’m attempting mine at something close to what my book states, 400F with an average of 20 minutes a lb, of course giving the poke test around that time to see if it’s where I want it to be. With luck, it’ll be beautifully golden brown on the outside and tenderly medium-rare inside!

Roast Time, Potatoes: 2 hour maximum, if not a little less. It’s something that needs noting, as some legs of lamb can go for even longer. In which case, you’ll have to roast it in or over another pan before transferring the taters into the oven at the appropriate time. Which has a great benefit in that you can use the other pan, filled with some lamb juices, fat, and hopefully the crusty fond, to make…

Sauce: There’s nothing really traditional ‘have to have’ with gigot d’agneau a la pleureur, but I just don’t see doing a lamb and potato dish without some good sauce. But in these scenarios, one can’t beat a simple pan sauce. That’s when you’ll take your roasting pan with that beautiful fond in it, or a sauté pan that some of the meat has been seared in, put it over a hot stove and add some wine and, preferably, a related broth/stock. This will dissolve all those delicious goodies from the meat that’s sticking to the pan, adding their flavor, and cook down into a perfectly thick and flavorful liquid. From which one can adjust with any number of herbs, spices, or other aromatics. I ended up making my own last-minute kind of pan sauce with some scraps, a ‘recipe’ which I added after the gigot to give an idea on what you yourself can do at home.

Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur
1 Bone-in Leg of Lamb
4 large cloves of Garlic, at least
6-10 Rosemary Sprigs
4-6-ish Russet Potatoes
½ an Onion
Salt and Pepper
1 stick Butter
Pan Sauce [a recipe follows]

Directions

  1. Remove Lamb from wrapping, rinsing off thoroughly in sink, drying just as thoroughly with paper towels
  2. Start cleaning the lamb. With a sharp boning knife, or other delicate blade, carefully slice off as much skin, film, and fat from the surface of the meat as possible, still leaving a bit of fatty outside sections for rending and flavor. Reserve for sauce20151213_120834
  3. On the side, cut each clove of Garlic into 4 slivers and break Rosemary stems into 2-3 solid bunches each
  4. Taking your boning, or some other thin sharp, knife, carefully stab around 16 deep slivers into the leg. Into each of these, force one piece of garlic and rosemary, leaving the newly studded meat to rest at least one hour before cooking20151213_125434
  5. Preheat oven to 400F
  6. Thoroughly rub butter all around the lamb, judiciously seasoning the outside with a light crust of salt and pepper20151213_151505
  7. With a mandoline, slice your Potatoes and Onion into 1/8-1/4” rounds. Layer these in roasting pan with dabs of the remaining butter and sprinkles of salt and pepper20151213_151105
  8. If lamb is expected to cook for OVER 2 hours, set it on a rack over a separate roasting pan, preparing to move to potatoes later on in the baking. If UNDER, rest lamb on rack above potatoes and slide into oven now
  9. Roast as directed, 18-ish minutes per pound, until brown and delicious on outside and almost fully cooked, thus nicely pink, inside20151213_165644
  10. Remove lamb, setting to rest on cutting board at least 10 minutes [w/ foil tent over ideally] before cutting. Leave potatoes in oven to cook further as this happens20151213_170520
  11. Cut lamb into slices after removing potatoes, working carefully around the bone
  12. Plate meat and potatoes together, finishing with a prepared Pan Sauce
  13. Enjoy20151213_171010

Andrew’s Substitute Pan Sauce
Leftover Lamb Scraps
Another ½ an Onion
1 cup or more, as needed, Red Wine [preferably French]
1 Sprig Rosemary, Chopped
1 tsp Capers, Chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a pan to a high, but NOT scorching/smoking, heat
  2. Throw in Lamb Scraps, the cut off fat and skin, letting it sear and sauté for 5-10 minutes with minimum stirring20151213_152335
  3. Once the stuff is somewhat browned and, more importantly, the pan has started developing a fond, remove almost all the lamb and pour off most of the excess fat. Feel free to leave in any little chunks of meat that may have been attached to the fat20151213_152517
  4. Dice Onion, tossing in to sauté in the rendered lamb fat, 2-4 minutes or until somewhat soft20151213_152855
  5. Deglaze with Wine, adding in the Rosemary and Capers, leaving to boil and reduce until the wine has thickened20151213_153923
  6. Remove from heat, taste, and season with Salt and Pepper as desired
  7. Reserve for lamb

20151213_171144The Verdict

I love it when a lamb comes together [get it!? Like the A-team… yeah I’m not proud of me either]. And darn if this didn’t come out… just like I wanted it to. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, the cook-time estimates I found had it go a BIT beyond what I personally wanted; would much rather prefer having more pink, but it was still there closer to the bone. Besides, the not-so-pink meat was still juicy and tender, and damn if it wasn’t full of flavor. Perfectly rich lamby taste, seasoned good… and I admit I didn’t expect MUCH effect from just the studding-infusion of the garlic and rosemary without also having a rub, but they actually gave a notably gentle aromatic addition to the flavor.

THEN we get to the potatoes… a bit on the fatty side of the flavor, so a big plus in my books. Flavors have officially soaked in. But it’s when you take a giant scoop of meat, potatoes, and sauce together that it’s best. What starts off as a fancy-like, seemingly classically haute-dish reveals its highly rustic charms as all I wanted to do was shovel more and more of it into my mouth. I just love when I fully enjoy one of these recipes like so. I could and probably should try to talk about other ‘elements’ of it and execution, but this is about all I want to really say.

20151213_170236Primary Pairing – “Koggen”

One of the epitomes of French Meat and Potato dishes, I’ve gotta use a beer sooner or later [I’ll try not to use one in the next meat-potatoes-ish one]. Something dark, malty, and heavy would do the trick, but I feel anything porter/stout-related might be a bit too much. Which is when I happily ran across a beer in a specialty shop known as ‘Koggen.’ One of the few true German-only styles, it’s a wheat-based style which, if I’m correct, can be seen in the lighter hefeweizen or heavier dark versions. The idea of having something simple and German with this very rich, heavy, and gamy meal felt just perfect, hopefully combining in the same way it did so in my Cassoulette adventure.

My Bottle: Apostelbrau Naturally Cloudy Koggen

To continue, upon pouring of the beer I was able to discover the delightfully malt-heavy flavor profile it displayed. Though I didn’t expect it to be REALLY hoppy, the aromatic greens were barely seen at all except for the subtle support structure you knew it had. The drink itself turned out almost dense, concentrated with that sweet, almost caramelly-savory profile which helps cut through and pair with the perfectly golden-roasted game meat. Part of the flavor make me wonder if I remembered it wrong and that the beer was mostly RYE focused vs wheat, but either way it was good, simple, letting the subtle notes of garlic and rosemary shine from the lamb while matching it’s heaviness. Just rustic perfection.

Bordeaux_1680129cSecondary Pairing – Right Bank-based Red Bordeaux

To be more specific, Bordeaux wine from one of the renowned riverside ‘Haut Medoc’ communes. Those are the ones that actually ARE mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, creating that image of the big, heavy, tannic reds for which the French region is so well known for. These are also the ones that are so famously known as the drink of choice for one of the region’s most famous dishes… which also just happens to be a giant, heavy roasted leg of lamb. Truly it’s evolved as one of the most delightfully perfect dinner pairings in the world. The bodies match, the heavy tannins work with the chewy game meat in encouraging our own salivation to its limit, and the strong acid backbone cuts through the still-present fat character. Not to mention the very spicy, herbaceous, wild eucalyptus and ‘garrigue’ flavors which were made to compliment the meat just like, and next to, the garlic and rosemary we love so much here. For those interested, and able, look for Boreaux wines with the names St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, or Margaux on the label. Those are your best bet, though aren’t always perfect. Otherwise, as money for these bottles isn’t always on the easy end, Haut-Medoc or Pessac-Leognan labels will work too.

p1: Soup a L’Oignon (French Onion Soup)

enhanced-buzz-29096-1385768472-0The Dish

For such a relatively simple and rustic-style dish, the obsession over French Onion Soup is quite palpable; in mentioning it to just a few people, the enthusiasm over me doing THIS recipe was notably high. Truly it proves that this must be one of France’s categorical foodson line with Poutine, Apple Pie, and other soul foods. I mean, it IS just a pile of cooked onion, bread, and broth covered in thick cheese.

For such an all-encompassing, highly simple-minded dish (I mean it’s basically onion broth and cheese, how does one record the official ‘creation’ of this?), I didn’t really expect to read any proper origin story. But to my little surprise I actually found a couple interesting things. First up being a ‘story’ of King Louis the XV (sooooooo probably fake, but amusing) and his hunting party looking for food in their cabin, only to find onions, butter, and champagne. Then in the 19th century people started actually seasoning with salt n pepper, using flour to thicken slightly, and topping with cheese (and also likely when the bread, normally served on the side, was moved under the cheese).

Apparently the real origin likely lies in the Lyonregion, this dish’s proper name being Soup A L’Oignan A La Lyonnaise. There’s a good chance this originated with the ‘canuts,’ the backbone workers of Lyon’s silk industry, working 18 hrs a day weaving and screening. Forced to make dishes that will sustain them for the long day, but with very little actual resources to work with, they had to be creative. At this time, and really every one thereafter, onions were a very cheap and readily-acquired, easy-to-grow food source. Combine that with the ease and soul-restoring properties of making soup, and it’s no difficult feat to see these workers taking mounds of these guys, cooking it hard for extra flavor, and stewing it over long hours before consuming in big bowls.

However it started, and evolved from the humble onion-soup origins centuries past, having since elevated to one of the cultural favorites featured in high-class, traditional French restaurants alongside the rustic taverns and cafes. I can’t wait to get into crafting this caramelly-sweet masterpiece.

A Word On…

Caramelizing Onions: I do love caramelized onions, though truth be told I don’t think I’ve ever made some that I’ve been fully satisfying with. I mean how often have I seen them make it on tv, doing practically nothing (once saw Paula Dean just slice them thick and put them in a covered pot for most of an hour) and come out perfect deep golden throughout? So for this one I decided to officially research for some more tips, and here’s some nice things to know, for this dish or any.

Don’t cut TOO thin, having a bit of width helps to stick and sear/caramelize on the bottom of the pan.

Go for general Nonstick pans or Cast Iron to help the most with controlling and moving the onions about as they caramelize well, creating SOME pan fond but not too much.

Speaking of too much fond (crusty stuff on the pan), I’ve always run into the issue, as you go later on, of the pan bottom getting dangerously crusty. I always worry about it actually burning. Then I ran across this tip to add a few tablespoons of water at that point. It doesn’t sound proper, but hey it actually works; the bottom clears out, the water evaporates and you can go back to cooking, and best of all (two things actually) the fond gets distributed among the onions, making them more caramelly, and it allows us to cook them at higher temperatures. A very risky thing to do without burning, but the water helps to relegate this, so you can caramelize it more and cook it faster.

If you don’t know by now, you need a LOT of onions for this. They do shrink down quite a bit after cooking, and I plan on making a big pot. Soooo, the question then becomes… is there an official volume and weight for ‘shitload’ of onions like this?

20150503_135000Finally, as for the soup, what onions to use? Do you do one for capitalize on a single trait, or a blend of different for rounding purposes? I say first stick with one, since that’s generally how it’s done… and I doubt the original laborers had the luxury of choice. Then, do you choose the typically assumed Sweet Onion varieties (like Vidalia) or Yellow? One would think the first, but apparently there are people online saying otherwise… mainly based on flavor. The sweet onions ARE sweeter, but though the yellow are more pungent (at first), after cooking apparently they develop more of these deeper flavors to enjoy. I myself am still going for the Sweet, because I want to ensure those sugars and caramelly qualities this time, but I would certainly try the yellow at some point in the future.

20150430_225717Broth: it is certainly true one can use chicken broth or –shudders- ‘water’ to make this, but beef broth has been the readily accepted stock for decades, so that’s what I’ll use. Though I’ve read plenty of complaints about the store-bought beef broths, so why not just make my own? So I just grab some beef neck bones (and a cow foot… yes a cow foot. I wanted to see what it tasted like afterwards okay?), roasted them with big chunks of onion, carrot, and celery, and into the pot it went.

Let simmer all day and all night, and that’s a lovely pot of beef-flavored water. Oh you should see it after it’s strained, skimmed (this puppy generates a LOT of fat on top that needs removal), and put in the fridge; it turns into JELLY. Now that’s the sign of a good stock.

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Booze: It’s not an onion soup without at least a little bit of alcohol. The first requirement is the hard stuff; if there’s anything that seems to make its way into almost every recipe, it’s some kind of Brandy. Cognac is one of the ideals, but being well-focused along the Parisian, Loire, and Normandy area, where apples grow abundant in the cool climate, Apple Brandy has been used just as traditionally. And it’s delicious. Regular brandy works too, but if you really want the experience it’s always fun to go to a proper Cognac (still stick with the cheaper stuff, you are cooking afterall) or Calvados. Being unable to choose myself, I used a combination of some rather high quality Cognac and aged Calvados… don’t ask me how I got it, I can’t answer that question publicly.

Wine becomes debatable, though when used it’s in notably higher quantities than the spirit. Also one can use Red or White, I think the latter may be more traditional (having now looked up the King Louis story with champagne), but the ultimate decision is likely depended upon whether one is going for a deeper, darker onion soup or something lighter (not so intensely caramelized and with chicken stock).

C20150503_140954heese: Gruyere, pure and simple. Now how it goes on may have debate… there are those that like having the bread and cheese basically plugging the top, even just using a thick slice of the fromage over the bowl so that it forms a fully melted seal, goes messily over the side and all that. Then there are those that stick with shredding and using a small bread piece so that more of the cheese melts INTO the soup while broiling. I’ve even seen a recipe that puts a layer of bread and cheese in the middle before ladling more soup and then a final cover on top to fully integrate it. I wanna try shredding, but seeing if I can get a decent amount on top for a full seal (can’t say I’ll be successful in my ideals), as I still want the soup mostly separated from it initially.

Cooking Vessel: I’m sure many of us are familiar with the classic ‘French onion soup bowl,’ we’ve seen this brown and white oven proof miniature chamber pot on plenty of tv shows, in recipes/pictures, and possibly in person. Whether or not we have bowls that are of this same design is dependent upon what’s shoved in the back of our pantry, but I don’t imagine most people do. Though I will say I actually happen to have a similar dish that used to belong to my grandmother (only it’s very notably bright teal color… you’ll see). But no worries, any oven-proof ceramic-type bowl or large ramekin will work. If all else fails, one could even broil off the soup en-masse in a casserole dish, top covered in bread and slices of cheese. That’s what I did (well I only had the ONE bowl, and the others were quite ornery about wanting food…), spooned them each some of the topping and soup beneath, and it worked out rather well.

Soupe a L’Oignon (a la Lyonnaise… sorta)
2 Tb Butter
2½ – 3lbs Sweet Onions
2-3 Bay Leaves
2 Tb Flour
¾ cup Red (or white if preferred) Wine
3/8 cup quality Brandy of choice (Cognac, Calvados, and/or other)
6-8 cups Beef Broth
6 Thyme Sprigs
Salt and Pepper
Baguette
½ lb Gruyere, shredded

Directions

  1. Halve, peel, and slice Onions about 1/8” thick on the vertical20150503_140624
  2. Heat up a wide, large, ideally cast-iron pot on just over medium heat20150503_140701
  3. Throw in Butter and onions, stirring to coat20150503_142331
  4. Cook, stirring occasionally, as the onions slowly caramelize. As they sweat and reduce in size, stir more often, scraping them up and around as the bottom of the pile browns over and over again.20150503_143314
  5. Add bay leaves when it’s mostly golden, now most likely stirring constantly. If and whenever the pan bottom gets really crusty from the fond, add 3-4 Tb of Water to pan, deglazing and stirring the brown bits evenly among the onions. Repeat whenever it gets crusty.20150503_144122
  6. After about 45 minutes of total cook time, onions should be an even caramelly dark brown. Stir in Flour, keep stirring for about a minute (should smell very lightly nutty)20150503_144727
  7. Add in Wine and half of the Brandy, briefly deglazing and letting bubble.20150503_144818
  8. Pour in Beef Stock and Thyme, bringing to a boil and cooking about 15 minutes for flavors to come together.20150503_145058
  9. Add remaining Brandy, season Salt and Pepper, and turn down heat to low, keeping warm for service.20150503_150300
  10. Turn oven to 400F or Toasting setting and prepare Baguette. Slice into thick segments, butter if desired, and bake in the oven until top is brown and crusty.20150503_174049
  11. Adjusting oven to Broil setting and start transferring soup (bay leaves and thyme removed) to deep oven-proof bowls or casserole pots, stopping 1 inch under the lip.20150503_174355
  12. Top with baguette slices to take up most of the space and generously pile with Gruyere to make a thick, even layer.20150503_174516
  13. Broil for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and potentially lightly golden.20150503_175045
  14. Carefully remove, transfer to plate, and dig in.

The Verdict

I swear, visually at least (didn’t taste them at the time), this is the best batch of caramelized onions I’ve done so far. I really think the combo of their size, cast iron pot, and the water trick really did the trick. So for that at least I am VERY glad and grateful that I went through this recipe. Oh, and for the chance to make my own beef stock (haven’t done that since college).

20150503_175338Overall, the final result was most deeply satisfying, especially to my dinner guests. Rather deep, tender caramelly onions, and with that awesome gooey swiss cheese aspect. Bread was a bit annoying to spoon through, I either should have cut them thinner or had a not so tight/dense product. Some sort of country loaf maybe? In regards of the flavor, though, I did find there to be this notable bitter aspect that I couldn’t shake… at least in the soup on its own, eaten with everything else it actually wasn’t so bad, and almost worked alright. Though I don’t blame that on the recipe, probably something to do with my treatement of the onions, the brandy, or maybe an effect of our pot (it IS old and I know for a fact that it wasn’t seasoned properly once or twice, did NOT smell so good… but we fixed that a while back).

If I ever do this again, I really wanna try using a whole slice of cheese over the soup instead of grated, go for that thick, draping-layer cheese effect. Maybe see what happens with that lighter caramelized onions (see pic with the bay leaves) with white wine for a different style. I’d also like to try the basic yellow onion base instead, see if they actually create more, and a better, flavor. But that’s for the future.

20150503_175333

Primary Pairing – Dark Belgian Beer

20150503_174713First off let me say; not a Stout, or Porter, or similar black styles. I’m thinking more of those nice dark brown, rich, almost tavern beers, but better. As much as this recipe can be made as a finessed, high-end dish, I still feel it really connects more with a rustic bowl of comforting soul food. Definitely the kind that at times makes me want a nice satisfying pint of beer to chug down alongside it. Especially something with similar dark, malty flavors to compliment the caramelly onions and broth and a rich body.

With a quality Belgian, we shouldn’t have to worry about large levels of hops to interfere with things, not to mention we can bring in special flavors and complexity to the overall experience. A dear lesson I learned when dealing with ‘special food and wine’ pairings; where it’s clear to see that the better quality food one has, one should try to match with a similar quality drink. But the COMPLEXITY depends on the dish, and not in the way one might think; put simply, if the food is simple but nice, say a really good filet mignon with potatoes, one can have a deeply complex wine to enjoy, and vice versa. Simple and simple works well too, but complex food and complex wine is a definite NO, as the flavors can so easily get all mixed up and muddled; it’s possible to find ones that pair perfectly, but insanely difficult. Better to let one of them shine in its developed and special flavors while the other acts as a supporting base, allowing you to fully enjoy each part. And with a very simple, rustic, but really good quality French onion soup, a beer with extra aspects is definitely acceptable; and I like the idea of Belgians.

Oh, and I also didn’t have any wine prepared to go with this, so I just used a beer I had in the basement instead, so yeah.

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My Bottle: St Stefanus Biere d’Abbaye Belge Grand Cru Dubel (or Tripel? Can’t remember)

Certainly a classic Belgian multi-grain abbey ale, St Stefanus delivers a smooth, delectable and refreshing malty craft beer. A golden draft of medium-bodied, frothy creation leads to light notes of fruit, barrel, and some other yummy things. Truly an enjoyable, quality beverage that I would love to sit back and enjoy on a sunny deck day afternoon.

But, here’s the thing: it didn’t go well with the soup. I admit it, I made a mistake and didn’t create a proper pairing between these two. I did end up creating this awesome feeling of being in an old, run down pub/tavern, hot and bready onion-cheese soup and what tasted like rough, malty beer next to it that was reminiscent of something drunk out of a wooden tankard. But the soup completely overshadowed all those delicious delicate flavors and aspects I just mentioned, the beer wasn’t as heavy, dark, and deep as it should have been to stand a chance. It’s an unacceptable result in my book, and I hope it doesn’t repeat anytime soon.

Secondary Pairing – Loire/Coteaux du Layon Blanc (White Table Wine level)

Two_Chenin_Blanc_wines_in_glassThere’s no actual meat or anything with proper chew or texture here, all soft, so there is no need or desire (in fact, you’ll ideally want to avoid) for any red wine. If absolutely desiring, maybe something from Beaujolais, a super light red of Cab Franc and/or Gamay in the Loire, or a Rose. But whites are desired here, especially to help cut through the fatty cheese. Loire whites being often Chenin Blanc based, which brings a solid acidity for this, a richer medium-ish body and thicker mouthfeel to match the soup’s own, and often even a bit of sweetness which could go nicely with that of the onions (and help with the cheese). Sometimes they’ll even have a bit of toasty barrel, or something reminiscent of malo-lactic buttery effects, all things which could make a tasty pair alongside our soup.

p1: Moules a la Mariniere

T224120856_8018e66351he Dish

I’ve been wanting to do a particular dish for a while now, but since apparently winter is the best time to do it for seasonality purposes, I’ve had to wait… and then wait again since other people kept pushing plans off (you know who you are!). But, I finally found a reason and time in this dreary winter to cook up a pot of French-style mussels, Moules á la Marinière.

There’s not much history I found in this dish, a very simple, quick-to-put-together pot recipe of mussels, wine, garlic/shallots and butter, finished with parsley, steamed together only a few minutes since, I mean, it’s mussels. Did find talk of an Irishman in the 1300’s who’s claimed to have invented the first methods of mussel farming (something about finding a whole bunch clinging to some shipwreck wood), though it’s semi debated as they usually are, and not the kind of history I care much about. But that’s fine; I got to go down to our awesome local seafood specialist shop, and with me starting a brief vegetarian diet soon it brought me to wandering some other fun markets nearby that I rarely get the chance to explore anymore. Oh, and still had to re-do the escargot for some family, so yet another boon (two great dishes to have side-by-side).

So yeah, think that’s all I gotta say on the matter. Let’s get to yummy mussels.

A Word On…

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Mussels: Whether there’s a way to figure out what French species is historically used in the northern part of the country, along with a way to obtain them, or not is out of my range of study at the moment. What I can tell you, however, is that one usually sticks with the common small-shelled, blue mussels you normally find en masse at restaurants and the seafood section. And it was this style I was going for, and would have had if I was able to do the dinner a few week back as planned… but of course this meal got pushed back so many times, and I was quite determined to do it while it’s still winter and thus proper shellfish season, that the final day I was ready to do it, they had absolutely none.

Now, I should pause to say that yes, I could have likely drove to a Whole Foods or other place of business and gotten some blue mussels there. But I would much rather get a notably different mussel type at a Seafood-focused shop that only gets in product that is good quality, highly fresh, sustainable and in-season, and as such a place that I know has great items and is one I want to support, than to go to a place that, though I’m sure is also quality, still leaves me wondering.

20150209_150121So instead of the classic Prince Edward (typical species of the blue/purple/black mussels we get in), I got the notably bigger Swan Island, at times known for having simpler and perhaps even earthier/muddier tastes to it. Which gets me into talking about cleaning mussels, cuz these guys are DIRTY!

Those who are somewhat familiar with, or have heard about, handling mussels know they always need a bit of cleaning. Unlike clams, probably want to avoid soaking though, with how wary one has to be to make sure they get the salt level content right (put simply, soaking could kill them). In which case, we need to rinse off all the mussels to get any dirty and grit from the surface; and in the case of the swan and other ‘wilder’ species, which often will still have spots of lichen or other growth on them, this also should be accompanied by a nice shell scrubbing, getting them nice, smooth, and pretty for the pot.

20150209_145540

20150209_145552After that we need to take care of the Beards; basically a hairy-looking tendon sticking out from the side, this normally helps them grip to surfaces, and is not only fully inedible but could also shed into the broth. They’re best removed by tugging off to the side and pulling down firmly; they are a bit tough let me tell you, I myself thought I could just do it with my fingers, as so:

20150209_150440Boy was I a moron! Pliers worked MUCH better, especially when only a little bit was sticking from the shell. After that they ripped out much quicker and cleaner, now leaving me with a nice bag of happy little bivalves. Don’t they look adorable!

20150209_152539

Now they just had to survive until cooking time. And I’m sure you’ve all heard by now: don’t cook any dead mussels or clams, which you can tell if they’re open and STAY open (a few raps on the counter will convince an alive one to re-close… though I did have quite a few cheeky bastards who kept laughing and mocking me while cleaning. I ate them last….), or ones that have broken shells. And they can turn rather quickly and fast, which is why we buy them on the same day, and the closer to cooking you can wait to buy and clean, the better. One can pick them up the day before, I heard, think there was a strategy of keeping alive with a bag of ice over the top, colander set over a bowl and such… but I’ll just keep it fresh. No risk, tastes better.

Wine: Ideally, one would use a French white wine for the broth, of a decent quality (doesn’t have to be great or pricey, but not horrible), which I probably would have looked to use myself. But I had this bottle of random Italian roero left in the fridge after a few weeks… it was convenient and good mainly for cooking now (still better than cheap cooking wine in stores). Don’t you judge me!!… I do enough of that myself.

Fat: One could say there are two types of moules mariniere; those finished with butter and those with cream. I’ve seen about equal showcasing of each, and can’t find any proof of one seeming more traditional than the other, so right of choice simply goes to personal preference. As my last dish, Coquilles St-Jacques, used a cream-finished sauce, I thought I’d go for the butter finishing, wherein one tosses in some cold butter into the broth at the end, whisking to emulsify.

Or, in this case, some Compound Butter; not for any particular reason of keeping to French culinary practices, but because I apparently forgot to buy fresh parsley on my gosh-darn shopping trip to sprinkle on at the end. Whoops! Good thing I still had leftover Escargot Butter, full of the garlic, shallots, and herbage, exactly the flavors I needed anyways. Though now that I think about it, seems I’m making slight substitutions and allowances for every part of the recipe tonight. Hey, what’d I just say about judging me?

Moules a la Mariniere
2 lbs Prince Edward or other Blue Mussel
4 oz Butter, Chilled
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
3 Shallots, Minced
¼-1/2 cup White Wine (by personal preference)
2 Tb Chopped Parsley
Salt and Pepper

-OR-

2 Tb Butter
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Shallots, minced
¼-1/2 cup white wine
3 oz Herb-Garlic-Shallot Compound Butter

Directions

  1. Clean mussel shells under rinsing water, set aside. 20150209_174506
  2. Heat pot on stove to Medium. Throw in 1 oz of butter, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 minced shallots, and sweat until softened and translucent.20150209_175031
  3. Add one, letting it come to a strong simmer before turning to the mussels.20150209_175403
  4. Check mussels, throwing away any dead bivalves (opened and will refuse to close, the snobby bastards), and throw into the pot along with any remaining garlic and shallots. Cover and let simmer 3-5 minutes, as needed, until all or almost all have opened and cooked.20150209_180131
  5. Remove from heat and add chilled regular or compound butter, mixing and swirling quickly to emulsify into the broth (Note: may be best to remove mussels before finishing the sauce).20150209_180252
  6. Season with salt and pepper, garnish and toss with chopped parsley, and transfer to serving bowl.20150209_180405
  7. Enjoy along with a good chunk of crusty baguette.

The Verdict

20150209_180847It’s hard to give a total verdict when I wasn’t able to use the ideal mussel varieties, but I found some pleasant results in the ones utilized. Firstly, the big size meant a lot LESS shells I had to clean (though there’s a possibility I wouldn’t have needed to scrub the other ones…); secondly, the flavor perhaps wasn’t the same, but I found nothing unappealing about the swan meat at all. In fact, it was big, plump, and had this fatty richness to it that I can’t quite decide. With the butter and wine sauce and bread, it was a delightfully scrumptious experience; the almost raw garlic/shallot flavors of the compound butter cutting through and brightening the deeper see and fat flavors nicely, while the subtle cooked flavors bolstered the base. Obviously the best part is dipping the mussel, still in shell, into the broth to get all the juicy, rich, wet flavors at once. And of course who can argue the delights of taking leftover baguette and just dunking it in pure mussel-wine-butter broth at the end of the meal? It’s just sinful…

Points of change? I think I may have added more wine that desired, I probably did at LEAST ½ a cup. Probably should have taken the mussels out before adding the butter, it didn’t really emulsify like I wanted. And of course I would have rather had fresh parsley to do this the simpler, more classic way that I initially desired. But still love the outcome nonetheless.

20150209_175653Primary Pairing – Sancerre or Pouilly Fume

A white wine based off of Sauvignon Blanc made in the far eastern edge of the Loire River, just north of France’s center (and NW of Chablis), this somewhat chilly continental climate area produces a clean, refreshing version of this intensely aromatic grape varietal, often foregoing a lot of the pungent fruit, grassy, and richer flavors seen in good Marlborough and California styles for something that usually focuses purely on minerals, green berries, a grapefruit or other citrus. Strong with character and acid, but with leaner body style from the shorter ripening periods, it’s often a great wine to cut through delicate dishes that also contain rich fats, much like seafood with a good presence of cream and/or butter. The tightened, raw green flavors often compliment the herbs and other aromatics, the noted mineral notes (the twin regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume often characterizing a certain extra quality from the unique silex, flinty soils their grapes are planted in, sometimes almost like light gunpowder), and a bit of fleshiness that one can rarely get rid of from sauvignon that I just love with that extra bit of meatiness from mussels and clams.

If you can get a bottle it’s definitely worth it; both a great wine on its own or with food, even pairs well with cheese. However they can be pricey, but if you find the right store, there are a few sub regions within Eastern Loire close by that also offer similarly styled white wine at much better prices (it’s been a while since my studies so I forget specifically which, just ask one of the employees and they should be able to help).

20150209_175606My Bottle: Pierre Prieur & Fils, 2011 Sancerre

Something I got at a better price, and by now maybe a year after when I’d look to drink it myself (though the great thing about Sancerre, so much acid it’s a notably longer-lasting white wine), it came with an even richer, sort of more fleshy/viscous mouthfeel than what I normally come to expect. Which I think turned out to my benefit with the larger Swan Island mussels I grabbed; with that soft, almost fatty texture to the meat, the wine blended and heightened this happy experience even further when mixed on the palate. And of course it still had plenty of acid to stand up to and cut the richly tart broth, alongside certain herbal-ground notes that complimented the compound butter and garlic flavors. A very pleasant companion for the evening.

Secondary Pairing – Lager

I’m not sure when the last time I offered a lager for one of my dishes was, it could have been really recent, but February in cold regions deserves cold-fermented beer. And opposite to the nights where mussels are treated as a fine, delicate course in a romantic evening, it also contains the personality of just being attacked in large bowls while enjoying a relaxing afternoon at a café. At those situations, sometimes you just want a cold, frothy, creamy light beverage to gulp down along with the salty-rich flavors. Especially if eating this with their truly classic partner, the fried potato strip (moules-frites anyone?).

p1: Flammekeuche

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-30437-1385763316-0One of the very few “pizzas” that France can call its own (like New York Style… I wonder if they have a regionally rivalry with some place in Languedoc making Deep Dish versions), Alsace is home to what they call Flammekeuche; it’s also known as Tarte Flambe in the rest of France, Flammekeuken in Germany, and multiple variations of the same name depending on who you ask. At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing, “Flamed Tart” (or “Fire Cake” or “Burning Flatbread,” there’s at least 10 ways to translate this to English I’m sure).

I love how this particular food started. So, back in the day, when bakers or any other French/Alsatian/German shop heated up their big, wood-fired brick ovens, they needed to test whether it was hot enough (you know, enough to say, melt a cast iron pan or something… those ovens get hot, damn). So they’d thinly roll out some bread dough, put some random chops of onion and bacon on top (a classic German combo, like mirepoix but with meat), maybe with some cream or fresh white cheese, and slide it in like a pizza. If the edges browned and everything cooked and bubbled in 1-2 minutes, the oven surface was good, and they had lunch (or maybe breakfast or something).

Of course as popularity went on, some refinement happened over time, recipes call to ensure thin slicing and the use of crème fraicheor other dairy sources. I can’t even tell, from the multiple sources, if the original versions of this used raw onions+bacon on the “pizza” and moved to lightly cooked and caramelized for each, or if they started cooked beforehand and nowadays focus on raw. Either way, the raw-on-top before oven cooking seems to be prevalent in recipes, and the style I’m focusing on today.

A Word On…

Dough:Don’t really know too much about dough to say anything about what’s “required” for certain types, and there’s nothing stated in flammekeuche history that hints at any particular unique aspect to its bread, other than it being able to roll out Thin. So just find a recipe that seems to work, if you have a good one you’ve used before then go for it. I’ve even seen someone use puff pastry… which sorta feels insulting, but whatever floats your boat.

20140521_114544Dairy/Sauce:One of the three ingredient cornerstones to this dish is the creamy “white sauce” spread heavily with the other generous food items. This is nowadays usually Crème Fraiche based, but it doesn’t have to be all crème fraiche; in fact, most recipes I’ve found mix it with an equal portion of soft, fresh curds. Fromage Blanc, Farm Cheese, Ricotta, even Cottage Cheese; for fun, I decided to make my own, both the Crème and Cheese. The links to their recipes are in the ingredients list lower down.

20140517_133512Bacon:Truly, any bacon will do (from what I’ve seen), no particular “Alsatian/German style” we need to worry about. Though, as I always say, if you’re gonna do a real “Bacon” dish, ya gotta get it thick cut. Any place that has it in the counter as a whole slab and slice it to order can get it to wherever you want; the pre-sliced stuff can just has that good width ya know?

Now, we should also talk about “cooking” this. Whether one likes it or not, if you want to make it how it’s classically done, then you’ll be putting it on the pizza raw. I know, it scares you, scared me too, but it WILL cook all the way while baking on the pizza (if you do it as directed). For argument’s sake, though, I actually decided to make two of these flatbreads for the dinner; I had extra dough anyways.

One was the highly classic, raw bacon and raw sliced onions; the other was a “cooked” version. Bacon sizzled in the pan until crispy, removed, and then I sautéed some thicker onion slices in the leftover fat and used both to top the fraiche/cheese covered dough.

It tasted pretty good, the cooked version. Wasn’t classic, but who can say no to crispy fatty bacon and almost-caramelized onions? Wish I had more of it though… and more sauce (sorta just soaked into the crust with no raw onions to coat).

20140521_185935Baking:Classically done, as all good pizzas are, in a fire-fueled brick oven. I’m guessing most people don’t have access to one of these to play with (I mean, I don’t… if you do then bravo sir, bravo); one could possibly attempt substitution by building a wood fire in a non-propane-designed grill, getting it to those blazing embers and setting a baking stone on top to heat up. Lotta work though, and not quite sure it would go exactly as planned… so oven it is. Just get it super hot; I prefer all my pizzas at the height of 500F, a pizza stone inside while it heats up, to allow for fast cooking and browning, one of the most important aspects of pizza construction. The recipe I found called for 450F though, so I just went with 475; anything in this 50 degree range seems to work.20140521_141713

Flammekeuche
1 cup Water, lukewarm
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) Active Dry Yeast
2 ¼-2 ½ cups Flour
2-3 tsp Salt
½ White Onion
½ cup Crème Fraiche
½ cup Fromage Blanc or other fresh, white Cheese, preferably Homemade
3-4 slices Thick-cut Bacon
Black Pepper
Cornmeal

Directions

  1. Combine Water, Yeast, and 1 cup Flour in a bowl, stirring until all blended. Leave 5 or so minutes to Bloom/Proof the yeast (with the flour mixed in, the appearance won’t really change; it may smell MORE yeasty).20140521_113742
  2. Slowly stir in remaining Flour and 1 tsp of the Salt, mixing until it’s too stiff to stir.20140521_115828
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands, and begin kneading thoroughly at least 10 minutes (or, if you’re me, 30… I probably should have gone longer too). It will remain lightly sticky throughout the kneading process; if it’s ESPECIALLY sticky, add more flour while working.20140521_115954
  4. Once ‘smooth and satiny,’ aka when it feels like actual dough, place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed onto the skin), leave to proof in warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.20140521_123229
  5. Punch down, re-cover, and let double again, another hour.20140521_135543
  6. While this is resting, thinly slice the Onion and combine with Crème Fraiche, Cheese, Black Pepper and rest of Salt. Leave to sit at least 15 minutes to mingle and “soften” the onions.20140521_114838
  7. Chop Bacon into small chunks, reserve.20140521_184217
  8. Place a Pizza or other thicker Baking Stone/Pan in oven and turn to 475-500F.20140521_180857
  9. Take out as much of the prepared dough as needed/desired and flatten onto a lightly floured surface with the palm of your hands.20140521_181236
  10. Roll out, trying to keep the desired rectangular shape, until as thin as one feels comfortable making it. If unable to get the shape one wants, and is quite adamant about the final appearance, cut the dough with a bench scraper or pizza cutter.20140521_181228
  11. Heavily sprinkle (more than what’s seen in the picture) the Cornmeal on whatever transfer paddle/pan/etc one is using (you WILL need one). Carefully and quickly lift and transfer the naked dough onto this.20140521_182519
  12. Spread the cream-coated onions evenly over the base dough, going almost all the way to the edge. Follow by sprinkling the raw bacon evenly on top, getting as much as desired on top.20140521_184204
  13. Crack a fresh seasoning of black pepper over the top and move to the oven, transferring onto the stone with a quick push+backslide of the pan and tug of the dough (if there’s enough cornmeal, this should be a snap).20140521_185942
  14. Bake 12-20 minutes, depending on various factors, until the dough edges are dark brown and crispy.20140521_190149
  15. Remove, slice, and serve immediately; no need for resting. Enjoy.

T20140521_190622he Verdict

Crust ended up a bit too thick for what I was going for (still worked and tasted good, just wasn’t technically a “thin crust” item); maybe next time, besides ensuring it’s rolled even thinner, I’ll dock the dough as well to prevent more rising. Maybe slice the onions in half too; the thin rings tended to pull on some bites. Other than that, I liked it; the flavors were a little more muted than I would have thought with onions and bacon. But it was creamy, with a bit of that black pepper and onion spiciness, soft topping and crunchy handle. It felt like something I would eat in that little corner between France and Germany. I really liked how soft the onions got, and the different flavors of the raw-baked bacon. Which is something else to note; despite worries I had starting out, the raw bacon cooked all the way in the oven; it may not have gotten that thorough “crispiness” we’re used to, but it’s still hammy, delicately smoky goodness.

At the end of the day though, it’s crunchy, creamy, delicious pizza/flatbread, and that’s all that really matters.

Primary Pairing – Alsace Pinot Blanc

Just because a dish is from Alsace doesn’t mean it has to automatically be paired with Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which I keep finding on Flammekeuche webpages. I don’t really know why, there are some quite notable aspects of this food item that immediately preclude both these wines, if one knows anything about Alsatian vinification practices.

Let’s start with something immediately noted; tart crème fraiche, milky cheese, BACON, this dish has some fat and lactic acid. Not too much, but it needs the same acid in its wine to cut through a lot of it and stand up to our sour dressing. Gewurztraminer has NO acid (okay, some, but it’s not a lot at all), it’s low and flabby and highlights an oily texture for those spicy aromatic; just NOT what we want here at all. Now, Riesling has plenty, but like Gewurz it has something else the winemakers in this region like to give. Ripening their grapes to their fullest extent, they then take these sugars and ferment ALL of it out, stereotypically making very DRY wines with BIG bodies; well, if they have enough sugars. The Riesling often does, and unlike its German counterpart is known for large, fully bodies and mouthfeels; which would hold true even for those French winemakers who are transitioning to sweeter products (it’s a big thing, and I talk to much as is, so I’ll stop now).

20140521_184714And this is not a “big” dish; thin crispy crust, some onions and fresh/lighter style cream, and gentle flavors, any full-bodied wine would easily overpower this. Which is why I love that they use Pinot Blanc; it’s a higher acid, low body grape which, with this climate and winemaking practices, changes to a medium-ish acid and body white. It’s a great food wine for all the non-hearty or uber-Germanic foods (see Choucroute once I get into it). Plus it’s usually more price-conscious than other offerings; not a lot of character to it either, but that’s nice too, not as “distracting.”

My Bottle: 2011 Zinck Pinot Blanc

A convenient and well-pairing option, the price-conscious Zinck quaffed itself down easily, providing nice little simple citrus and white floral tones over the general winey flavors. It’s somewhat musky (which I enjoyed with the black pepper) and fills the mouth just enough, as any decent Alsatian wine should, to swim along the bacony-oniony bread. Overall, it’s a viable option for any searching; would be nice to try some of the more expensive Blancs for super-refined freshness (such as the well-known Zindt-Humbrecht).

mehrere Ma§ BiereSecondary Pairing – Märzen/Oktoberfest

When we’re on the cultural border of France and Germany, one just can’t count out the inclusion of beer. I feel I’ve been doing a lot of white, wheat, light-malted, etc beers for my pairings so far; some of which would definitely fit right into drinking here, but I’d like to change things up a bit.

The traditional Oktoberfest beer, Marzen’s origins lie in the need to make large quantities of beer in later winter, while the temperature was still cool and perfect for clean fermentation, and holding in chilled caves during the summer. Often made in March, thus Marzen, these biers were often given darker malts and more hops than usual to cover up any off flavors resulting from the warming temperatures and long “ageing” in cellar as they waited for consumption. Those still left by October would develop rich, toasty malt bodies and mellowed hops.

There has of course been much refinement of this up to today. Thus, the main thing to focus on is a leaning towards those medium-toasted, caramel-toffee flavored malts, using just enough to give that characteristic burnt orange color. Alcohol, as it says historiclally, was made “high” to last during storage, but it really only comes up to 5-6%, a great beer range to pair with this food. And finally, a stronger than mild but not intense use of hops will serve the same way as our acid.

A tasty beer to celebrate the seasons, along with a flatbread to eat on a sunny summer day. Truly an almost perfect expression of Germanic influence.

p1: Cassoulet

We keep trying to say goodbye to winter this yeenhanced-buzz-2144-1385793782-0ar, but it just keeps coming over and over again. At the least, it gives me one more chance to make a last rich, hearty dish perfectly suited for a cold night indoors, and say one more farewell to this dreaded season of snow and winds.

The Dish

With a name based on the round clay dish it’s baked in, the “cassole,” Cassoulet adds itself very firmly into the long history that preceded and ended up forming the typical Casserole. Much like how we consider our casseroles today, the origins of this French peasant dish, attributed to the Languedoc region to the south (though it has spread from there quite nicely), stick around the idea of people at one time throwing whatever they had into a pot to the cook, usually some beans, sausages, preserved meat, etc. In fact there are many who even equate the ORIGINAL compilation as being during the siege of Castelnaudary in the Hundred Year War, with everything being mixed and eaten out of a giant cauldron, bolstering the soldier’s spirits and bellies to lead to victory! But really that’s just a story.

images8BMWL302In fact, true origin, or inspiration may be the better phrase, lay to Arab traders (or immigrants? Either way they traveled there, the south is right next to many an intercontinental connection) who introduced a stew of Mutton and Fava Beans. Which is interesting to note, that despite its long-held popularity with white haricot-style navy beans (and similar), the French never actually had any of these during the time of this dish’s supposed creation. Instead fava beans, and possibly lentils, were one of the only styles they could actually get their hands on. It wasn’t until Columbus’ journey back from America in the 1800’s that the popular dried white beans were introduced to Europe, spreading to France through Spain (French Queen Catherine de Medici facilitating the particular product) and thus exploding in popularity in both the dish and culture. France now has quite a few delicious white bean species to call their own.

Now, cassoulet is treated with an almost Holy reverence; in fact, the main Three Regions (and thus three main styles) in the Languedoc that make the dish each name their cassoulet after the Holy Trinity. Castelnaudary’s cassoulet is the “Father,” Carcassone’s the “Son,” and Toulouse’s the “Holy Ghost.” Quite a few other variations, some known from the regions that bore them, have popped up since these three, and the southern France is now filled with an army-full of slightly different recipes and methods for this. In fact the idea can, and has, spark quite the heated debate among Frenchmen of different beliefs to their practically-religious stew, lighting the flame of inspiration for many a quote to describe it. 2014-03-27 11.49.28In fact, in 1966 the Etats Generaux de la Gastronomie Francais, in light of all these inner arguments, officially decreed proper Proportions to what constitutes an actual cassoulet! They are: 30% Pork, Mutton, and/or Preserved Goose, and 70% Haricot Beans, Stock, Pork Skin, Herbs and Flavourings (and after reading this I think I’m technically off in some proportions, but mine tasted damn good so there!). It still leaves quite some room for personal interpretation, so the fun in creating that dish to warm your own heart, soul and stomach lives on… hopefully with less people hitting each other with a chair.

A Word On…

“What it is”:As somewhat stated in the opening, there are quite a few different kinds, and following that just as many different way of composing the dish. I’ll discuss the meat selection in a dish later, but figuring out how one wants to put everything together can be a daunting task. Final, little decisions are up to the cook, since the end dish will still end up reminiscent of some random region’s “style” of cassoulet anyways I’m sure, so here are the main things to remember.

Despite all the many tiny details in putting together this dish, at the end of the day cassoulet is a very simple thing. It’s Dry White Beans, cooked and mixed with Pork (or Mutton) Stew, baked in a Casserole dish with other meats and a crispy Breadcrumb topping. The beans can be cooked separately or with the Stew; traditionally with, which is what I do just to get all those flavors mixed around and all that good stuff. Finally, much like the Coq au Vin it’s always best to extend the making of it out by a day or so, letting the stewed flavors marry together.

If there’s anything in this whole post that you should pay attention to, I think that’s basically it. It can be big and confusing and overly complicated at times, and I know my writing style doesn’t help with this, but sometimes we just have to step back, take a deep breath, and look at a dish in its most basic, simple components. Good Luck.

Oh, one last thing. When it comes to things like duck confit and sausage, I’ve seen some recipes that layer them with the beans in the cassoulet, whole or sliced, while others just mix it in roughly. I say do what feels best for yourself in that regard, it’s all good.

C2014-03-30 14.30.42ooking Fat:Oh, fat is a VERY important part of this meal, and what you use to cook and sear things ever much so. One needs to sear all the meats in the stew, the sausage, sprinkle it over the breadcrumbs, etc. Butter and oil will only get you so far; if you really wanna keep this rich and traditional, I say make sure you have a lot of reserved, rendered animal fat, like of the Pork variety. I just used all the Duck Confit Fat I had leftover.

Garlic:A southern France dish, garlic is another very important ingredient in the cooking process. This can be added in multiple ways, easiest being to just sauté it with the other veggies, roast and top, blend in raw, etc. I liked this one recipe I found where they cook the whole heads IN the stew, removed and squeezed out (they get so soft), blended with raw garlic and then re-added before baking.

CAM00032Beans:Though the origin lay in the giant favas, White beans are the name of the game, and the French white bean to try and imitate is known as “Tarbais.” I have no clue where to find it, but I was able to pick up a different French white(ish) bean at whole foods on my shopping trip called “Flageolet.” Known as the “caviar of beans,” I’m not sure if cassoulet is the best dish to bring out their innate qualities, but they have a great creaminess, good texture, and are small! Which is a nice factor to have in this big hot mess of baked meat and starch.

Though of course, Navy Beans work just as great a substitute, along with Cannelini and other white beans. Just make sure you’re using Dried pods, unless you need to make a very quick, one-day version of this recipe, then you’ll need canned/precooked versions. Otherwise, you need at least 2 days to soak and cook the beans PROPERLY; lotsa issues with the dried stuff.

Meat: When initially starting this adventure into cassoulet, I thought forming/deciding on a recipe would be relatively simple; boy was I wrong. Not only is the options for protein inclusions long, but at times it can be quite indecisive recipe to recipe; it became very difficult figuring out what was “necessary” and what was an additional thrill. Just looking at the Holy Trinity alone (as mentioned above) shakes up the field one is trying so hard to narrow down: the Father contains pork loin and ham along with the sausage, with only a bit of goose; t2014-03-27 11.54.35he Son sticks purely to a leg of Mutton and maybe some partridge; and the Ghost uses everything in Father’s, adding in Lard, Mutton, and Duck/Goose. It was enough to make me lose faith that I’d ever make anything decent.

After much thought though, and reading up in my Larousse Gastronomique, I think I’ve come to figure out a tiered system to follow when trying to make as authentic a cassoulet as one can.

ABSOLUTE Requirements:

Shoulder of Pork and/or Mutton

Pork Skin/Rind

Sausage (pork)

Almost Absolute, or Strongly Considered options:

Duck/Goose Confit

Ham HocksSAMSUNG

Pancetta

Personal/Fun additions, Unrequired:
Pork Leg                                             
Ham                                     
Other Poultry Meat
Salt Pork or Fresh Lard                  
Pork Loin                            
Pork Belly
Prosciutto                                          
Etc

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

My decisions here are mainly based off the fact that you NEED to make a stew, thus needing pork shoulder (or mutton if following other regional styles). Pork skin has been deemed required of ALL cassoulets, as mentioned earlier in the 1966 decree. Sausage is very strongly traditional, whereas the Duck Confit is indeed regionally traditional but not used as fundamentally. Ham Hocks seem to make their way into a lot of recipes I’ve found, and are always a great addition in any soup or stew. Finally, though not discussed in any article I’ve found yet, it seems the addition of SOME form of Cured Pork is also quite popular, about at the same level as the Ham Hocks. Pancetta is seen in more recipes to fill that role, and I like the fat content it has and simpleness in comparison to Prosciutto.

Sausage:Definitely one of the required proteins, the traditional sausage used is from and called “Toulouse,” so if you have any butcher that makes Toulouse-style sausage then you’re good. If not, then no problem, luckily for us it’s a VERY easy sausage to find a substitute for. It’s basically just an all-pork sausage (continuing the piggy theme) that uses a lot of garlic as its spice/flavoring. So just try to find a garlic-pork brat or something (though I found that not as easy to find a quality version, had to visit 3 stores to get a tasty, coarsely-stuffed Ukranian) and you should be good.2 - Fruitpig Toulouse - Uncooked

Cracking:There’s a particular practice in the baking of this thick, crusty casserole that emphasize its wonderful top, so-called “Cracking the Crust.” The idea is simple, yet brilliant and wonderful. As the dish bakes, and the breadcrumby-top browns and gets crunchy, one takes a spoon (or other utensil) and smacks this against the surface, breaking the layer that’s starting to form. This is pushed down into the dish, the newly broken top is sprinkled with more duck fat (maybe more breadcrumbs) and left to bake another crust. This is broken again, and the process repeats, as many times as one wants. Very classic, traditional French recipes are said to do this at least 7 times; I find if one wants to use this practice then at least 3-4 times makes a good result. Not sure how many times I ended up doing it, properly at least, but it made a yummy looking, crunchy top.

The Dish:The whole recipe is named after a casserole dish, one should make sure they have a good dish. From what I remember, the “ideal” dish is something that is VERY wide, not actually that deep, so as to get the maximum crust to filling ratio. Though really any good ceramic or clay casserole dish would work.

The real thing I wanted to mention was just to not do what I did, and fill it all the way to the top, that baby WILL bubble over while it cooked (you’ll see what I mean in some pictures). Keep at least half an inch of space for safety.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Cassoulet
1 lb dried Flageolet Beans
6 oz Pork Skin
Salt and Pepper
Duck Fat (lots of it)
1-2 Ham Hocks (unsmoked)
1 lb Pork Shoulder, cubed
1-2 oz thick-slice Pancetta, cubed
1 large or 2 small Heads of Garlic, whole
1 small Onion, large dice
2 Carrots, large dice
2 Bay Leaves
1 small can (6-8oz?) Whole Peeled Tomato, good quality
1 cup Red Wine
4 cups Dark Poultry Stock
½ a Duck’s worth Confit Meat (or two whole legs and thighs)
1 large or 2 medium-sized Garlic Pork Sausage + 5-8 cloves
¾-1 cup Breadcrumbs (home-made preferably)A Word On…

A Word On…

Directions – Day 12014-03-27 11.53.46

  1. Place Skin in large pot, covering with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour, or until “tender”  and bends easy.2014-03-27 12.17.44
  2. Remove, letting cool briefly on the cutting board, reserving some of the cooking liquid in the fridge.
  3. Slice into large ribbons, carefully roll up into tight bundles, and tie with string (Note, should really make sure it’s not the colored, “wax” based ones… not good later on). Reserve.2014-03-27 13.19.49
  4. Take the chilled, reserved skin-water and cover the dried Beans by a couple inches (they will expand). Place in fridge overnight.2014-03-27 22.39.20
  5. Combine Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder in bowl, tossing in a generous coating of salt and pepper. Cover and move to fridge overnight.2014-03-27 12.01.40

Directions – Day 2

  1. Heat up large Dutch Oven or similar pot to a medium-high temperature, tossing a nicely even layer of Duck Fat to coat the bottom.2014-03-28 13.34.42
  2. Pat Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder dry. Lay in the Ham Hock/s and as many of the skin bundles as you can fit into the hot oil.2014-03-28 13.43.34
  3. Sear hocks on each side for 1-2 minutes, turning when browned. Roll the skin around occasionally to lightly crisp the edges and color the flat side. Remove both from pan.2014-03-28 13.59.37
  4. Lay the dried Shoulder into the pan, in batches if needed, touching and turning only once the side is browned. Remove once meat is well caramelized, about 5 minutes of cooking at most.2014-03-28 14.02.51
  5. Toss in chopped Pancetta, stirring around in the hot fat until golden (will not take long).2014-03-28 14.09.20
  6. Add in Onions, Carrots, Garlic Heads, and Bay Leaves, coating in fat and stirring every so often until edges are lightly caramelized.2014-03-28 13.32.42
  7. Remove Tomatoes from can, squeezing out as much of the juices as you can (reserve, don’t throw away). Crush in fingers and throw in with the veggies, cooking about 1-2 minutes.2014-03-28 14.10.48
  8. Deglaze pan with Wine, reducing the liquid by half.2014-03-28 14.15.18
  9. Re-add the removed meat and cover with tomato juice and 2 cups of Stock. Cover pan, bring to a simmer, and cook at least 1 ½ hours, or until “tender” (well, getting tender, don’t think it really matters).2014-03-28 14.22.47
  10. Drain and rinse the Beans thoroughly, adding them to a pot of boiling water. Simmer 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse once again.2014-03-28 13.32.56
  11. Add beans to simmering pot, cooking for 2-3 hours or until tender and cooked through.2014-03-28 17.24.52
  12. Remove from heat, let cool on counter and move to fridge (or other similarly cold area, bit pot…) to sit overnight.

Directions – Day 3

  1. Remove Hock, Shoulder meat, Skin, and Garlic Heads from the cold stew.2014-03-29 13.48.20
  2. Peel skin and meat from hocks, reserving skin on the side and Chopping/Shredding the meat along with the shoulder.
  3. Unroll and clean the skins (including the hock), slicing into flat rectangles. Transfer to line the bottom of a large, wide casserole dish, which you would have brushed with duck fat, covering the bottom and partway up the sides. (Sorry, I thought I got a picture of this but… guess I didn’t).2014-03-29 14.08.07
  4. Finely chop any skin leftover, mixing them back into the stew with the other chopped meat.
  5. Add another cup or so of Stock to the beans and meat, moving it back on the heat and bringing to a simmer.
  6. While this heats up, squeeze out the soft, cooked garlic pulp into a (mini) food processor. Add in the raw garlic and puree until smooth.
  7. Fold this into the stew, let simmer about 15 minutes.2014-03-29 14.03.51
  8. Ladle some of the hot mixture halfway up the casserole dish (or, halfway to how much you want to fill it).2014-03-29 14.08.03
  9. Reheat the Duck Confit: roast in baking dish at 375-400F. Once excess fat has melted off and starts sizzling, remove from oven.2014-03-29 14.33.11
  10. Pour melted fat into large sauté pan heated to medium, use to cook your Pork Sausage through (time will depend on size, I suggest covering pan).2014-03-29 14.33.05
  11. Remove skin from duck and pull meat from bones, shredding the larger pieces. Layer this evenly on top of the stew in the casserole, and cover in the other half of the mixture.
  12. Let cooked sausage rest on cutting board, slice on a bias, and arrange on top of casserole.2014-03-29 14.47.11
  13. Gently spread a final thin layer of remaining meat and beans over the sausage. From here, either move to finish the dish or cover and transfer fridge, reserving for the next day.

Directions – Finishing (possible Day 4)

  1. If having spent night in the fridge, remove in the morning, letting it naturally warm to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 350F.2014-03-30 14.36.25
  3. Sprinkle a thin, even layer of Breadcrumbs over the top, carefully pouring some of the duck fat over them.
  4. Move into oven at least 2 hours before service.
  5. Check ever 15-20 minutes; when the top is browned and starting to crust, push it down with a spoon, dragging in any really caramelized and crispy bits that may form on the edge of the dish.2014-03-30 16.42.26
  6. Sprinkle on a bit more breadcrumbs and duck fat to re-fill in the spaces, close the oven and repeat at least 3-4 more times, until satisfied. I suggest a total of 3 hours cooking to yield the perfect evenly browned, deeply colored top.2014-03-30 18.09.04
  7. Remove from oven, let rest 5-10 minutes and serve, scooping carefully to get every layer of sausage, confit, skin, and stew.
  8. Enjoy the result of your long efforts.

The Verdict

I have been wanting to make this guy ever since I started planning the Duck Confit itself, but the multi-day prep kept me needing a certain kind of work schedule for the week, things kept coming up, and a recipe I had hoped to make one or two weeks after the maillard got pushed back over a month. And let me say, it was worth the wait.2014-03-30 18.40.18

It wasn’t quite as intense and overpowering in the fat and richness department as I actually thought it’d be, which I certainly don’t mind. Instead the flavor filled and flowed through the palette, a gently powerful warmth and fullness perfectly characteristic of any proper, winter-derived casserole. The beans were soft and creamy, banishing any negative memory I’ve had of legumes forever, replacing with the delicious perfection of white haricot heaven.

Soft meats, chewy sausage, rich chunks of pork skin and confit round the mouthfeel up, bolstered by a thickly crunchy top and spicy garlic undertone. All of it combining into a deeply satisfying mouthful to get you through any part of the cold months.

Primary Pairing – Cahors

2014-03-30 18.39.22Despite its oft tendencies for concentrated, super-dark wine, Malbec rarely has that much going for it in the tannin and, often, acid and body content. Which makes the hot, hot Southwestern region of Cahors PERFECT to eat with this area dish. Did you know that Malbec was originally a French grape, and only travelled to Chile and Argentina due to certain immigrants? It wasn’t that well liked by the growers though, so when they found their chance to get rid of it (via vineyard replanting after a bad freeze), they took it, with the vine being decimated in numbers. Cahors, though, still sticks to using their regional grape, pressing and fermenting it out into the inky, higher alcohol glass-fillers, sometimes even adding a bit of the supper-tannic and fellow inky grape Tannat.

And this dish needs a good amount of body and richness to stand up with the strong, meaty and beany stewed flavors, but the only actual texture to be found is from the slightly chewy sausage. So though tannin is much requested, we don’t want a lot, which is where the Malbec comes into its element, pairing amazingly with these oddly disjointed requirements.

If you can’t find a Cahors, Madiran would be my second main pick; it’s close and just as dark, using pure tannat grapes. Other southwestern regions could offer some greatly suitable options, but it’s harder to find anything besides those two. Bordeaux wines would serve an easier to find and similarly good pairing, preferably the darker varieties from the Left Bank; though the Right Bank St. Emilion and similar would offer a nicely refreshing, slightly acidic possibility to cut through the dish quite deliciously. Finally, South American Malbec is generally NOT a good substitute, unless it’s a good quality, concentrated and oak aged version.

My Bottle:2009 Château Eugénie Cahors (Cuvee Reservée de l’Aïeul)

There wasn’t all that much to this particular bottle, but it suited its purpose just fine. A bit of tart perfume on the nose and some plummy cassis in the mouth and that was it; the delight in this guy stuck, as many French wines do, in how it filled the mouth. And fill it did, along with a good mouthful of cassoulet, the two standing poignantly side by side, neither of them standing down or messing with the other, simply letting me enjoy the flavors and components of each without issue. Let me just say that the bottle didn’t last long past dinner in our house.

Secondary Pairing – Dopplebock

Something about the absolute rustic-ness, soft meat-heavy and browned stew of this just makes me crave a nice foamy glass of beer. After another consultation with my beer friend, she made the perfect suggestion of picking a Dopplebock, which was soon followed by my own reaction of “Of Course! Makes so much sense!” At least I was close, my tastebuds craving something on the darker, hoppy amber-malty side.

For those who don’t know what a dopplebock is, it’s basically a beer made with Lager Yeast, generally used for those really light, pale, fresher styled fermented items. Unlike other lagers, such as pilsner or certain wheat beers, Dopplebocks use MUCH darker roasted malts(barley), resulting in a drink of amber to dark brown complexion. This thus ends up as a very malty, nicely caramelized and sorta rich flavor, much more so than lighter lagers (or the simple “Bock”), which retains a certain freshness and cleanness in its character from the delicate lager yeast and fermentation process (which is cool, slow and gentle). With the hop level being at a low-ish strength, one has a very refreshing drink with a scrumptious texture and body, perfect to match the cassoulet’s chew much like the Cahors Tannin, with the light hops and distinctive clean character standing up to through the fat and flavor.

2014-03-30 18.39.57Coincidentally lucky for me, I actually still had a couple bottles of my homemade doppelbock in the fridge! So I was able to enjoy a glass of wine and beer with this delicious dish, and they both behaved very nice and similarly. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best quality dopplebock vs what one could find in a store, but all of its flavor and technical notes held and shone through in the mouth without detracting from the food. Put simply, both beer and cassoulet could be tasted at the same time without any aspect being destroyed or lowered in quality; a perfect pairing.

Other beer substitutes, if one can’t find a decent dopple or want to try other things, would probably be a good, darker colored Rye beer, maybe one of the Belgian Trappist Ales, or Porters.

Honorable Mention for your Consideration– Young Red Banyuls, Maury, and other VDN

mauryOr “Vin doux Naturels,” are Fortified Sweet Wines made in the same or similar technique as Port, and are a specialty of many regions in Southern France, especially those found in Roussillon (next to Languedoc). The frontrunner in known popularity is Banyuls, though others such as Maury, Muscat Beaumes de Venise (in Rhone), etc can make options that are just as good. Besides the sweet, orange colored Muscat wines, most of these (again like Port) are made with red grapes, almost exclusively Grenache, yielding liquid that’s dark, fruity and tannic in youth ageing to deeply brown, smooth amber elixers when aged (at the winery, not at your house, won’t happen sorry).

Of course, these are all Dessert wines, something one would never usually consider along with anything but a sweet treat at the end of the meal, or as a digestif to sip and contemplate on a lonely night in front of the fireplace. Used correctly, however, I think these are wines that could do beautifully with certain savory dishes, of which I think Cassoulet stands out as a strong contender, considering certain requirements are met. The well aged, rancio white and dark brown versions are of course out of the picture, but the dark young reds still have great potential. Same with the Vintage Ports, they possess a richness in body and chewy tannins that, on their own, go amazing with any rich and heavy foods. A strong enough acid base is required in these wines to stand up to the sugar content, and this can cut through the fatty skin and stew meat with little to no problem.

When we deal with Sweetness in wine, it’s usually contended by pairing with similarly just-as-sweet dishes so the wine doesn’t overpower and disrupt its non-sweet flavors (somewhat complex process, don’t even know the specifics myself haha). On the other hand, we can ALSO use sweetness to cut through certain kinds of senses; in particular, it’s used quite successfully with Spicy and Salty foods. When done a certain way, with the confit and sausage and seasoned beans and etc, cassoulet can naturally have a strong Salt backbone to it (not like “oh my god so much salt” of course, but in the sense of bacon and cured items have on their own). Thus, I believe it can stand up to these hot, dusty sweet wines from one of its home regions, and make a very unique and beautiful pairing. I could talk more about what kinds of flavors and aromas one could get from these Grenache-centric fortified bombs and how it’d go with cassoulet, but I’ve already written enough s#$& as it is.

My main suggestion, particularly for the everyday shopper, is to try and find a Maury wine; they’re the same style as Banyuls, though usually seen at lower quality (definitely more Rustic) and often offer a better deal price wise. The Maury region also has a dry style, “Maury Sec” AOC, and Banyuls has a separate dry AOC called Colliures, so one could also get a powerful dry wine from either region if they don’t want something sweet.

p1: Gratin Dauphinois

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-25038-1386024391-7Gotta love scalloped potatoes; I was going to save this dish for some other time in the future, maybe a rainy day, but I had a day full of absolutely nothing and a week to go until my next dish, this was a simple item on either list that I could whip together.

Overall, the term Gratin actually harkened back to the little fond or crust left in a baking dish after cooking, or that burned piece of cheese and cream at the bottom of a fondue pot. Always the prized piece of a dish, this would be scraped up and snacked with much affection. After some time, this word transferred to certain foods identified by being cooked in a low, wide ceramic pot that would develop an even, thick crusty top.

Though these can be made with practically anything, the epitome of the Gratin world has been and always will be based on the Potato. Gratin Dauphinois is no exception, having originated in the Southeastern Dauphiné region, being known for something quite unique as opposed to when one normally thinks of “gratin.” At the time of creation, thought to be around the 1700’s, cheese was quite the luxury ingredient, at times being used in a form of currency. A very rustic dish, made by those with not as much money to waste on luxuries for the sake of taste, thus excluded the use of the highly-prepared curdled and aged dairy product. As such it was, and still is, only prepared with Cream or Crème Fraiche and various seasonings.

There’s not much more to say about its history besides that; it became somewhat known after being served with Ortolans at a dinner for Dukes or something, but that’s about it. With a dish like this, who really cares? I just wanna dig right into it and forget all about anything else for a while.

A Word On…

Potatoes: It’s hard to say whether or not there’s a properly “traditional” potato to use for this dish, though I’ve found a few recipes that call for “Desiree,” a French Red potato that supposedly has a yellow, creamy center. What I can say is that most good and/or classic version use either only Waxy (red and sorta yellow) varieties or a combination of Waxy and Starch (brown/russet and sorta yellow), with them keeping a great structure after the long baking while still delivering a creamy flavor.017

The one thing you SHOULDN’T do is you ALL Russet/Starchy potatoes; you just end up with a soft, sorta mushy mix of potatoes and cream… which isn’t bad by any means, I’d eat it. But to make it “proper,” stick to the other kinds. For fun, and because the Buzzfeed recipe link did it, I decided to do a combo-strategy for my own, using some leftover Golden potatoes along with the firm, waxy reds.

Milk and Cream: A lot of recipes seem to differ in how much of each to use, and in fact many instances simply claim the dish uses “milk or cream.” Some use all cream, some almost all milk, and everything in between; the only thing I suggest one not do is use all Milk.

For the purposes of this post, I decided to go with a 3:1 ratio of Cream:Milk, recorded in another blog recipe as a certain chef’s claim to be a good quality, traditional mix. Plus, if I’m gonna make this dish, might as well be cream heavy right?

As for overall amount, basically everything I’ve found states the use of 500-600ml (2 ½ cups ish) of Dairy to every Kg/2.2lbs potato.

Cheese: NO! You move on now! Put the cheese down and go back to the cream! Gratin Dauphinoise does NOT use any of that stuff! If you wanna make a cheesy gratin, fine, but you will NOT slander this classic dish by gluing its name to it! The true, traditional recipe for this (and many others online say and follow the same rules, so I’m backed up on this) use only the cream and/or milk for the classic dish. You should too.

The same goes for using Eggs, a no-no.

Of course I’ve seen quite a few posts saying that, though comforting, this creates a somewhat bland potato dish. To which I say, any TRULY “bland” food is made not from the dish but from the cook who didn’t season the food properly like they should have. Don’t be afraid of the Salt and Pepper; I put it in the cream and on the potatoes as I layer them. At the end of the day it makes something that’s full, rich, with that heightening and deepness of milk and cream fats that’s simple, yes, but oh so good.

Cooking: A lot of people, when it comes to this dish that only relies on potatoes, milk, and cream, basically rely on Boiling the potato slices in the dairy for a while before layering and baking it out. This is a great technique and makes a nice, thick, blended combobulation of food, really bringing the starch content out to set the sauce. However, some researching has found that, again, a True dauphinoise gratin ONLY relies on Baking the potatoes in the hot cream. Going for the classic sense as I am, I of course am sticking with this style, of which a few things should be taken note.

First, I’d say it really is important that, in this situation, one should stick with the higher cream content strategy in their dairy (all cream would work). Secondly, since you can’t just set the potatoes directly in the boiling milk right after cutting, one needs to work quickly in the peeling, slicing, and covering in the dairy mix so they don’t start to brown and oxidize. Finally, NO WATER! No rinsing, no soaking, no doing anything of the sort, like many recipes call for to clean or whatever. Though important in many other recipes, we need to reserve as MUCH natural starch as we possibly can, and contact with water just washes off some of this. So be a dear, save it for the cream, it needs it!

A final note, this cooking is usually done for a long time on a lower degrees, about 320F, until fully baked through; supposedly needing to be turned up at the end to get a crisp top, though I found there was no problem of that for me.

Seasonings: I’ve already talked about the salt and pepper, which leaves the issue: what else do we flavor this with?

Well, if you’re trying to stay truly traditional, then nothing, other than garlic. And even that you’re only use to rub the baking pan with. However, there are a couple very classic, non-obtrusive French practices when it comes to making cream-based sauces that I think are acceptable while still keeping the dish “true.” A little seasoning of Nutmeg is always fine and increases depth a bit, and I made the decision to take the rubbing garlic and toss it in the cream while it was heating up, just so it was a bit more present.

And if one doesn’t care too much about precise historical practices, Herbs! Herbs are amazing with gratins like this, whether it’s some fresh-picked thyme between the layers or chopped chives sprinkled on top for serving. Oh, and not to forget Leeks and Green Onions, they’d be pretty good… bacon too… I mean overall this dish is an amazing canvas in which to add almost anything to customize to your own tastes or whatever it’s being eaten with. Of course at that point it’s left true dauphinoise territory and moved into just delicious gratin, but who’d complain about on a Friday night?

Gratin Dauphinoise
3 Garlic cloves
1 7/8 cup Cream
5/8 cup Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs mixed Red and Starchy potato

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 320F.013
  2. Cut or crush a clove of Garlic, rubbing it thoroughly around your chosen baking/casserole dish. Thoroughly butter the sides after and turn to your food prep.016
  3. Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.015
  4. While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.019
  5. Once the cream has come to a boil, start putting together the gratin. Layer half the potatoes into the dish, no need to make it pretty. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pour over half of the hot cream on top, straining as you do so.020
  6. If not already done, finish slicing the rest of the potatoes, arrange on top in a nice layer (if desired), pouring the rest of the hot cream on top until it comes just below the rim of the potatoes.021
  7. Move to oven, baking for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy.           Note: unless the baking dish is raised notably higher than the potatoes, I suggest placing it on another sheet, as it’ll likely start bubbling over.023
  8. Remove, letting rest and cool at least 5 minutes to settle. Scoop up and serve with desired protein, roasts work good, or grilled shrimp if you wanna go for an “alfredo” feeling.

The Verdict

I can see why this is one of Pepin’s favorite home comfort foods; when done right, it’s just soft, creamy goodness. You almost forget there’s no cheese in here, with how rich and developed that dairy comes through. Those saying that it’s bland are just psychotic, I could eat this kind of food every day and be happy; speaking of which, it really IS good cold the next day, the cream thickens up and sticks to it like a nice, gooey glaze.026

Which does come to my one issue; while cold it’s perfect, I found this particular method of Dauphinoise a bit lacking in the liquid consistency after baking. Or, put simply, the cream didn’t thicken up as much as I had wanted to while cooking. Still tastes damn good and all, but it’s a bit disconcerting seeing all that leftover sauce still in the dish and not sticking like glue to those creamy potatoes.

I think next time I might try the boiling-potatoes-in-cream-first method, see how that turns out. But either way, this guy’s already moved up as one of my new favorite go-to sides for any dinner.025

Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch

024When I’m eating something so rustic, comforting, and soul-satisfying as these potatoes, my first choice of inebriation almost always goes to a good beer. And after a brief consultation with a friend, we both agree that the best to go with this dish are gonna be the Pale, Low-Bitter and lesser Hopped varieties, Ales preferably but Lagers fit right in of course. The top two choices of course are the German Kolsch and Wheaty Hefeweizen (meaning “yeast” and “wheat”); my first pick going to the weissbier for its cloudy, creamy unfiltered body that just goes great with potatoes.

But both styles have a great, full white head, a sharp crispness and BARE hop to cut through the fat, and simpler, subtler flavors that mix and don’t compete with the gratin. Following that style, I would also advocate, and personally crave, a nice cold glass of Pilsner, especially if I was cooking/eating this with plenty of herbs to match the slightly higher hop content.

Of course final decision always depends on what protein one eats this with, if any. My friend also suggested the use of Barleywine (a big, high alcohol and super malty and hoppy creation) as an option to fully compete and contrast the heavy, rich aspect of the dish. And I myself would say it’s a perfect option if having it with a nice Roast Beef.

022My Bottle: Blanche de Bruxelles

‘Cuz I had a bottle in the cupboard, and ‘cuz it’s one of my favorite pale beers! I remember drinking a couple glasses after a day of work in the kitchen, was always one of the most refreshing items on tap.

A Belgian “white beer” that implements wheat along with its barley, this light and cutting drink brought that element of frothy, creamy texture that lifted the rich potatoes perfectly. A slight fullness, that delicate simple flavor of citrus and yeasty fruit that goes so well with cream dishes, and a bit of bitterness to cut any needed fat (and also went well with the charred shrimp I ate it with). It might not have been the “ideal” pairing, not sure if it really was strong enough to truly stand up or not, but it worked well and I had a very enjoyable experience with it, yet again.

Secondary Pairing – Southern/Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Being sorta in the Languedoc/Meditteranean coastal area of France, the white wines close to the Dauphiné haven’t gained much fame, mainly due to the changing developments in the region from mass-produced wine lakes to quality focused vineyards. Varietal choices are still across the board, as are styles and personality.

Not as close but still in the vicinity lies the Southern Rhone, mainly known for their blended Reds, also offering Whites blends made from a mix of the typical area Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and various other random grapes. Though, like the reds, overall flavor and balance varies greatly, in the glass they end up generally low key, medium acidic, slightly fatty wines when done well, and simple pitcher wine when not-so-well. Either way, they end up a pretty good option to go with the sorta-heavy, single-note flavors of these soft potatoes, a nicely neutral simple companion or a balanced glass of light florals and heady skin, something that’ll refreshingly cut through and/or fill and lift the palette nicely alongside. I had a really great white from Chateneuf-du-Pape a while back that would have held itself beautifully next to these potatoes.

On a side note, though Red wine certainly isn’t my first choice to eat with this (unless it’s paired with a protein that demands it), I will say that Buzzfeed’s choice of using something from Beaujolais wouldn’t be too bad. I think you’d have to be careful of your choice, since the unique flavors and tannins from the carbonicly macerated Gamay grapes could have really odd interactions with the fat-heavy Cream, but of the French Reds it’d be one of my first choices. Even better, the Beaujolais Blancs made from Chardonnay might yield even more impressive results.