p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…

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: Piperade

enhanced-buzz-29342-1385771009-2A Valentine’s Weekend Brunch concept lead me to search out a dish that was rich in holiday spirit (or, you know, close-ish) and breakfast-reminiscent. What better dish to pick than the Hot, teasingly Spicy, Red stew of Peppers known as Piperade, cooked with Eggs and eaten on Crusty Bread.

The Dish

The Pinnacle of Basque Cuisine, the recipe known as Piperade is shared in the small region crossing both French and Spanish borders. Its beginnings, however, trace towards the French side in the far south-western region of Bearn (also known for béarnaise sauce… huh, that’s two relatively well known mother sauce adaptations they’ve invented), where the end of summer heralded and abundance of ripe, concentrated Tomatoes and Peppers, brought over from the New World and now used to make a sauce.

Which is what it started as and is still often used today, a sweet and rich sauce to go with various meals, sometimes cooked with beaten eggs a-la omelet. But it didn’t stay that way, the newly popular flavor combination moving across the border where they shared use of the same ingredients. Its influence grew, acquiring ingredients in its slow spread and popularity. Onions and Garlic from the Midetteranean, Ham and a Hot Ground Pepper from the Border, and it wasn’t long before the simple sauce turned into a cavalcade of sensational activity. Not only that, the stew’s mixed colors of Red (tomatoes), White (onion+garlic), and Green (peppers) stood representation of the Basque Flag, much like the Margherita Pizza does for Italy.

A simple dish packed full of flavor, Piperade truly stands tall as one of the typical foods of Southern France.

A Word On…

Peppers: Overall, the recipe is pretty easy. It’s just onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers cooked together; and the traditional ingredients reflect that. Bell Peppers, that’s it; usually Green to reflect the “Basque Flag Color,” though there are many recipes that discuss adding a variety of bells for a beautiful color mix. Just stick with this and you already have the classic. No need to do the whole “roasting the skin and peeling off” thing, just keep it fresh before cooking.SAMSUNG

There is one fun option we have though; the main Buzzfeed recipe link uses these little gems, and I just love adding them to dishes whenever I can. Preserved, Roasted Red Sweet Peppers. If you’ve had these in restaurants, maybe on an antipasti plate, you know why I adore these things. They’re soft and rich, smokey and sweet, and just concentrated with that essence of cooked peppers. You can find a can or jar of these, the already emptied casings sitting in an acidic mixture of vinegar and verjus, in any decent supermarket (co-ops, whole foods, etc). Just slice them up and toss in a little later than the other veggies; and I do still use it alongside bell peppers, so I can keep the classic feel and flavors of the dish.SAMSUNG

HOT Peppers: With the sweet peppers we need the Heat. This comes from a little guy called the Espelette pepper, a Southern French product with its own AOC. Finding this in our market, though, is a damn difficult task.

We have options though, just have to find a fresh or SAMSUNGchili pepper with similar Scoville units. And at only 4,000 (which is pretty darn low), we have a couple options. Guajillo Chilies are probably the easiest to get your hands on, and very close at 5,000 scoville; it’s what I got. Other decent options, if you can find them, are Mirasols and Fresno Peppers.

These aren’t added in as-is, which brings our second SAMSUNGconsideration. Normally, the espelette is ground into a French Paprika/Pimento. To make your own with whatever chili you get (if you get a “fresh” pepper, though, just slice it up and add in as-is), start simply by toasting the dried peppers (deseed first). This is simple, really; just heat up a pan, put in the whole peppers and press down with a spatula for about a SAMSUNGminute each side, until those essential oils start to bloom and you can smell it. The skin should start to darken to around the edges.

Move it to your handy-dandy spice grinder (basically, a coffee grinder, cleaned) or food processor. It’ll be soft while warm, so let cool a bit to crisp up, and grind untilSAMSUNG beautifully powdered. This can be used as is, for this or whatever, but I like to still add some decent Spanish/Smoked Paprika to edge the final spice flavors a little closer to the original.

Tomatoes: I’ve talked about quality tomatoes a bit in one of my other Posts, and when it comes to getting the BEST ones for such a tomato-focused cooked dish, then stay away from “fresh.” Unless you can really get those rich, concentrated, deep red organic/home grown fruit right from your own garden (or a quality farmer’s market), then stick with canned. It sounds counter-intuitive, but think of it this way; organically canned tomatoes are picked and preserved at their PEAK of flavor and sugars, keeping them at their best flavor.SAMSUNG

You have to know which ones to buy though. I love the Italian San Marzano tomatoes (well, everybody does, haha), and there are also some really great local, Whole Roasted Organic options. Whole Foods has a great stock on these options.

Cured Pig (and Focal Points): Traditionally, one cooks this dish wish an Air-cured meat called “Jamon de Bayonne” (from the Bayonne region of course). Finding this in the non-Chicago Midwest, much like the Espelette, is next to impossible. The main substitutes to it, for our concern, would be Italian Prosciutto and Spanish Serrano Ham. Which iteration one pics of these, then, is dependant with how it’ll be used.

SAMSUNGI like to think that there’s a bit of a tug-of-war battle between the Egg and the Ham, each vying to see which one will act as the main showcase with the different recipes. Do you tone down the amount of eggs and top it with big chunks of fresh sliced or sautéed Ham; or do you keep the meat in with the veggies as it stews, the flavors mingling and overriding any subtle and delicate flavors it might have had.

Focusing on the Brunch aspect, I chose a cheaper prosciutto, which holds a very rough and simple personality but has a stronger flavor to stand up with the stew. This I had Sliced Thick, sautéed and mixed back in right before baking (I still want to ensure one can taste it). If one were to HIGHLIGHT the ham, then I think Serrano is the better choice: lighter and finer flavors, a little more of that cured pork fat still attached, and much closer in personality to the Bayonne. What I’d actually do is make a nice, refined veggie “sauce,” poach the egg on the side, and stack on the plate with a couple fresh, delicately thin slices of the Serrano.

Two extremes with many a variation in between if one explored them. The choice is up to you.

Eggs: Nowadays baked along with the stew, the original French dish was more closely tied to an omelette, or “frittata” style, with the tomato-pepper sauce cooked in. However, changes in preferences and styles have introduced baking of the eggs as a viable and now classic substitution, and the one which I chose to follow at the time.

Piperade
4oz Prosciutto, Serrano, or similar meat, Thick Sliced
1/3-½  cup Olive Oil
1 Onion
½ Head of Garlic (5-7 medium cloves)
1 Large or 1 ½ Small Bell Pepper/s (any color)
2 Tb Guajillo (or similar) Chile Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp crushed Thyme (fresh or dry)
Salt n Pepper
1 cup Roasted Sweet Peppers
1 pint Can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes
2 Tb Fresh Parsley, chopped
5-8 Eggs

Some good, Crusty Bread, sliced and Grilled

DirectionsSAMSUNGSAMSUNG

  1. Turn oven to 350F.
  2. Cut your dry-cured meat into even-sized cubes (or julienne sticks, depending), turning the cooking pan to Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Once hot, add Olive Oil; it should start Shimmering quickly. Toss in cubed meat, sautéing until colored and lightly crispy around the edges.
  4. While this is going, slice your Onion, Garlic, and Bell Pepper into thin strips.
  5. Transfer cooked prosciutto to paper towels for draining, SAMSUNGreplacing them in the warm pan with your sliced veggies.
  6. Gently cook on Medium/Med-Low until they start to get soft, making sure they don’t get any color. Toss in the Guajillo, Paprika, Sugar, Thyme and Seasonings, continuing so they “bloom” in the warm oil.SAMSUNG
  7. Slice Roasted Sweet Peppers, adding in as the veggies get closer to full softness.
  8. Remove whole Tomatoes from the can, chopping them into thin pieces. Add, along with the can sauce/juices, simmering for 5 or so minutes until SAMSUNGlightly reduced and “incorporated.”
  9. Stir in the chopped Parsley and Cooked Prosciutto.
  10. Ready your Eggs, carefully cracking into small bowls/ramekins for easy transferring.
  11. Carefully make a few “wells” into the cooked veggies and peppers with the back of a spoon or spatula, gently easing the whole eggs into each of their new resting places.SAMSUNG
  12. Transfer to the hot oven, letting the Eggs and Stew bake until the white is set, 6-8 minutes.
  13. Remove, scoop onto a plate, and serve alongside drinks and some good Toasty Bread (and maybe a sausage if it’s breakfast, num).SAMSUNGSAMSUNG

The Verdict

I really love how this recipe turns out. Really tart, tomatoey-pepper rich stew, firm chunks of salty pork, and a fatty egg yolk to round it all out. The heat is low and gentle, the paprika-chili pepper flavors notably present but only offering the barest hints of capsaicin. Enough to arouse the palette without being too needy. Everything had its own strong, distinctive notes that just make you crave it throughout the day. It was all the beauty of a typical Chinese meal, designed to hit all 5 points of flavor (and the soul and SAMSUNGelements and whatnot): Sweetness from the Peppers, Acidity from the Tomato, Umami from the Egg and Garlic, Saltiness from the Prosciutto, and Bitterness from the Charred Bread.

Ultimately it was a fun brunch, and a delicious thing to put on top and soak into that crunchy garlic bread.

Primary Pairing – Sagardoa (Basque Cider)

Again, a Cabernet Sauvignon with this dish? I think Buzzfeed must have been in a red wine coma when they put this particular article up. Not only is there no real texture to require the deep red’s tannins (crunchy bread doesn’t count), but much like the cheese we have another culinary pitfall for wine: Eggs. To be specific, egg Yolks, the fatty substance which is noted for having the tendency to coat and impede the palette, obstructing and inhibiting flavors from wine and drink. That and some compounds that can change flavors into the negative, tannic and more complex wines like Cab are immediately a no-go with any dish that highlights this ingredient.

So what kind of drink do we pair with this odd ingredient? Why, we just have to look at the rest of the dish; tart, strong, with little “weight” but still having singular flavor identity to it that, though not really complex, isn’t boring either. There are many White Wines that fit this diagram quite well (Rias Baixes, Vinho Verde, Txakolina, Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, Mosel Riesling, etc), but there’s only one thing that stands out at the top around the Basque Region. And that’s their Cider.SAMSUNG

Cider’s a beautiful thing. Low alcohol, deliciously tart and acidic, with an intensely unique, piercing flavor. It can cut right through the coating fat of the egg yolk, its personality simple and strong enough to not be displaced and confused by the twisting placebo compounds. And just a refreshing glass to have for brunch; who needs a Mimosa? (please oh please god do not tell my Mother I said that)

My Bottle: 2011 Isastegi Sagardo NaturalaSAMSUNG

Was so happy to find this unique little item in a local store. The acidity matches perfectly with the tomato-pepper stew while still pushing through the difficulty of the egg, with a bare off-dry sweetness to counter the light salt of prosciutto. Then it gives a fun little muskiness, as should any good cider, to keep you excited and wanting more. I think the best way to describe its qualifications is that it has the same amount of “satisfaction” in it as the comfortingly poignant piperade.

Secondary PairingGaillac or other SW France Rose

This was actually going to be my primary choice, I mean it was Valentine’s weekend; but then I found I could actually get a Spanish Cider (and cheaper), so I just had to go with my other option.SAMSUNG

It’s a bit surprising, I know, since apparently us “wine snobs who roll their eyes at the mention of rose” must HATE the idea of using this very versatile and food friendly style when it comes to pairing. But I guess sometimes even we deem to lower ourselves to -gasp- “enjoy” a wine that tastes delicious and refreshing. Just a bit of those red-reminiscent fruit flavors and aromas to be mentally appealing next to the distinctive tomato-pepper stew, while holding the piercing tartness and personality of a white to stand next to the dish’s difficulties.

They’ll have some more body than the cider, probably along with a bit of “heat” and musk/earthiness that reminds one of Mediterranean Basque. A great regional pairing fully incorporated with the French side of things.

If you can’t find any rose from the SW of France, there are some great offerings from Provence and Southern Rhone at decent prices, just ask an employee about their suggestions to lead you to the right bottles.

p1: Coq au Vin

For me nothing feels more right to kick off these recipes than tackling that all-time super classic, both in making and drinking with wine, Coq au Vin.

The Dishenhanced-buzz-7517-1385793394-3

Consisting of a rooster marinated and braised in wine-heavy stock, Coq au Vin’s simple concept twisted around carefully constructed French technique has vaulted it to the forefront as one of THE country’s dishes. And with SO MANY versions of it too: a Coq au Riesling made in Alsace; Coq au Blanc with Chardonnay; even a Coq au Vin Jura made from the small, tucked away region’s specialty, Vin Jaune (an almost sherry like wine that’s had HALF its volume disappear through evaporative aging). But the heart and soul of this classic, traditional dish will always lie in only one place with only one wine: Bourgogne Rouge (-cough- Red Burgundy).

One can actually speculate this rustic dish to go back multiple centuries. Its true origins ARE unknown, though it’s likely to date back to Gaul times (very old “kingdom” covering much of what is now France), after the introduction and spreading business and interest in wine of course. Many families, farmers or non, were known to have often kept at least one hen and rooster for themselves; once lived its life in full, the then-old rooster would be put to final use for a family dinner. With very tough meat, and times where people would most often have to stretch food out through stew and soup creations, it’s easy to see where the processes of marinating in the protein-softening-acidic wine (local of course, so easy to use) followed by long braising would come into play.

Of course, none of this was ever written down or recorded, so we can only speculate on how the dish officially started its footpath in this culture. Which many people have done, loudly, and with intent, enough so that we now have two little “myths” to how it began, which may or may not have ties to true events. Which, even if they do, it’s doubtful they are the origins of the dish itself, but a focal point to when coq au vin jumped into the public eye as a firmly rooted Burgundy recipe. Well, that and Julia Child (amazing how many foods in this list she’s brought to our attention).

The first Story starts with Napolean, who simply put arrived at an unexpected and ill-prepared Innmeal one night, the owner of which had little food (possibly due to a certain general’s wars) besides rooster and some cheap wine. One thing led to another as one would expect from these stories, and delicious food was born!

The second involved Julias Caesar, which stated that upon his conquering of the area was presented a rooster, which he had his chefs cook with wine, a popular drink with the Italians at the time. A myth which is most likely full bs, though the idea of Mediterranean culture interaction may bring about a clue as to why this dish is so often fond of Egg Noodles… either that or their past interactions with and geographic closeness to Germanic cultures.

Whatever the origin, the fact remains this recipe is delicious and proof to the epitomes of the simpler, rustic French culinary technique. I know I’m excited to finally dive into this classic, I do so hope those reading are too.

A Word On…

Chicken: the name of this dish truly does highlight the two components that separate it from other dishes and make it what it is. The Wine, and the Co-… er, Rooster. Any TRUE, proper, highly traditional coq au vin should use an old, beat-down, no-longer-useful-on-the-farm Rooster. Why? Because it’s a TOUGH F@#%^er, those muscles are tight and stringy and LAST through long, vigorous stewing so well, like a pork shoulder or leg or whatever section you stew. Not to mention all the flavor it’s developed through its years of walking and running and all that, which will allow it to stand out and accompany the very strong sauce we end up with. Take that next to a super-young, unhappy mass-produced hen one finds in a regular supermarket, with little to no flavor and flesh so weak and soft it’ll break apart and/or dry out before you’re even done cooking half of it.

SAMSUNGThat said, FINDING a rooster is a bitch. Good chances it won’t happen unless you live in Europe, California or New York. As for me, I called many a butcher, simply and high quality, and the best I could find was Capon (which is AWESOME, and a male chicken, but not used for something like this). What I ended up doing, and I suggest if you’re able, is getting a large Stewing Hen. They’re at least a year old, not so much as Rooster’s but definitely much better than regular chickens. Most often you’ll find it frozen but my local meat market gets some in fresh occasionally.

If still having trouble finding these, your wallet is a bit tight, or you just prefer working with regular chicken, then I implore you to skip getting a whole chicken and just buy a bunch of thighs and legs, preferably at a co-op from organic and/or free range chickens (they’ll have a BIT more flavor and exercise).

Wine: “Coq au Vin should be cooked with Burgundy.” That’s the underlying idea anyway, as is any wine-stewed dish with the regional wine of choice. Fact is though, it barely matters; the flavors and structures of any wine will change drastically once it’s cooked as-is, let alone reduced tremendously along with a strong stock, herbs, veggies, and chicken. It is definitely all right to just find and use a cheap Pinot Noir, which is the same grape that Burgundy is made from (and you should use the same “level” of red wine, don’t want a really big and tannic bottle like Cabernet or Nebbiolo). Other decent substitutions would be Merlot, Chianti, Valpolicella, lighter Red Blends, etc.
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That said, if one wanted to keep the flavors traditional with how much wine is being used, there are some cheaper, competitively priced “Bourgogne AOC” wines out there for about $12-14 a bottle (or less) if one looks hard enough. These bottles have grapes which are basically sourced from wherever throughout the whole region of Burgundy and as such do not qualify for any Village-level designations. Often they will actually print “Pinot Noir” on the levels, which any QUALITY Burgundy should never be allowed to. As such it makes the perfect wine for cooking in volume! Because you never want to use a delicious, quality wine for this; all that complexity and subtlety WILL go out the window in this dish.

Cured Pork Fat: One of my favorite ingredients, in this dish and in life. Keeping traditional, one should try to find “Salt Pork,” which is easily available at any butchery of quality. Noting, you don’t want this for the actual meat; you want this for the fat, so get a block of the most fatty you can find, good chances there’ll be at least one that looks like almost pure lard (like mine!).
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Though due to popular trends and ease of finding, there are many recipes that just use Bacon instead of Salt Pork, which if one wants to keep the PROPER flavors of the dish they should never use. The smoking of the pig and the particular cures used in bacon make its final flavor wildly different than a pure, simple salt pork. Not to mention it’s much harder to find one that’s pure fat.

However, I myself also like the idea of using bacon to thus impart that Smokey flavor and highlight the darker, earthier flavors of the stock and wine even further than classically designed, so it’d still make a very tasty and delicious meal. Just different.

Stock: unless you’re gathering random animal bones in your house on a semi-constant basis, it can be hard to try and make a proper animal stock; which for those unaware is made by simmering leftover bones with water (and maybe veggies and herbs depending) for hours on end. Even when I’ve had a chicken carcass to work with, leaving overnight, the resulting liquid probably had only half the concentration as opposed to what a restaurant could get (this is mainly due to the ratio they’re able to get between cramming so many broken up chicken carcasses into a giant pot and then filling the remaining space in water. VersSAMSUNGus one chicken in a single pot, filled to the top with water, much higher ratio difference). If you’re able to achieve a stock you’re satisfied with at home, then congrats and all the power to you.

If this is still out of your reach though, that’s fine. Both simple and higher end markets do sell Stock, and Chicken Broth is a very acceptable substitute (they’re practically the same thing): just make sure you buy one that’s Low Sodium, otherwise when reducing it like this recipe does will get you a pretty salty sauce. What I ended up doing, since the broth is still lighter than I want, is poured it in a pot with the leftover Chicken CarcSAMSUNGass, which I roasted, and simmered overnight (adding water back in as it evaporated), thus reinforcing and adding even more rich chicken flavor. It’s a great option for any cook.

Mushrooms: the fungus of choice for coq au vin always has been and always will be White Buttons, which are great for home cooks. Simple, readily available and price friendly. I do have to say though, I couldn’t help but want to use some form of Wild or other Quality Mushrooms when I made this, and considering all the end result does is help to emphasize the mushroom-y qualities even further I think it’s an alright and justified recipe change even when keeping traditional. Since it was winter when I attempted this, I ended up with a mixture of both buttons and King Trumpets (no wild mushrooms on the shelves, sad).

Oh, and I’d suggest not using rehydrated Dried Mushrooms. Though they’d be great to soak in and flavor the stock, they just don’t get that “right” texture that the fresh mushrooms do once sautéed. Can be sorta springy methinks.
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Pearl Onions: they’re a pain in the ass to peel. I decided to follow tSAMSUNGhe advice of Alton Brown and blanch in boiling/simmering water for about a minute, stems cut off. As you can see they just squeeze right out of the skin with a bit of pressure so easily.

Days: there are some that say a true Coq au Vin takes 3-4 days to properly create and marry the flavors… let me just say that I may be a bit snobby at times in keeping things traditional here, but even that’s too much damn useless work. Ignore the stuck-up Frenchies in this case!

That said I also don’t really like the idea of making this dish in under a day unless I have to. If one is able to, I ultimately prefer the middle of the road technique displayed from Alton Brown’s recipe of completely everything up to searing and deglazing the day beforehand and then letting the chicken, wine, and broth sit and marinate together overnight. It really best allows for a bit of development and mingling with a hands-off approach, and you don’t need to wait most of the week till you can finally chow down.

Coq au Vin

1 Whole Rooster or Stewing Hen (7-9lbs)
6oz Salt Pork
¼ cup Flour
Salt n Pepper
8oz Mushrooms (Button and/or Wild), quartered/chopped
2 Tb Tomato Paste
1 ½ Bottles Red Burgundy
1 ½ cups Dark Chicken Stock
Mirepoix Veggies
1 stalk Thyme
3-4 cloves Garlic
Bay Leaf
Egg Noodles
Braised Pearl Onions (recipe follows)

Directions

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    1. Separate chicken into desired components; suggested 8-piece of legs, thighs, and split airline breasts.

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2. Dice Salt Pork into cubes, throw in crockpot (or other one-pot cooking pan) with 2 Tb of water, cover and heat to medium/med-high, turning it back to med-low as water evaporates and the fat starts to render.

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3. While it’s cooking, season and toss chicken pieces into a bag with the Flour, tossing to lightly dredge and coat. After about 15-20 minutes, the cubes of pork will have shriveled and crisped up into crunchy, fatty Cracklings. Scoop these out and reserve in separate container.

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4.Your pan now filled with a thick layer of hot, delicious pork fat, lower the chicken in to slowly sear, back on Med heat, for about 3-5 minutes a side, until the skin and flesh have achieved a crispy golden brown layer. For obvious reasons, this should be done in batches.

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5. Reserve seared chicken on the side and add Mushrooms to hot oil, sautéing until shrunken, browned, and tender while still retaining a small bite. Remove and reserve.

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Note: If you would like to keep a lot of this fat for future use, I suggest pouring most off BEFORE adding the mushroom. The soak up a LOT of that stuff, and only gave back a little afterwards.

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6. Pour off any remaining fat and add Tomato Paste, quickly stirring to very briefly “cook/caramelize.”

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7. Deglaze with small amount of wine, thoroughly scraping up all the deliciously developed Fond on the bottom of the pan.

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8. Remove from heat and layer the bottom with large cut or whole Mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot), thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Stack reserved chicken over (white meat, if used, being kept on top) and fill pot with Stock and remaining Wine.

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9. Cover tightly and chill in fridge overnight, along with the reserved mushrooms, cracklings, and braised onions if already made (many recipes have these three mixed together in the same bag, but I like keeping them separate so as to better keep the pork crispy).

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  • 10. Heat oven to 325F next day, transferring the crockpot (which I let come to room temperature beforehand), still tightly covered to cook for at least 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until “tender.” (not falling off the bone)

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Note: Even being a stewing chicken, the breasts can still get a little dry, so I suggest either taking it out 1-2 hours early or add in during the last hour of cooking.

11. Carefully take out and move chicken into a covered pan to keep warm, best left in a 160-170F oven.

12. Strain the liquid from remaining veggies and herbs and return to the now empty hot, now moved onto med-hi to high heat. Reduce by at least 1/3 to ½ the liquid until thickened and sauce-like. This can take 20-45 minutes depending.

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Note: it’s possible the liquid may not properly thicken up as desired no matter how much is reduced, despite the flour in the sautéed chicken supposedly being used to help this. If so, squish together equal amount of soft butter and flour and add a few tsp sized balls, whisking in. This should help much like making a roux for a sauce.

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13. Mix in the reserved braised onions, salt pork cracklings, and sautéed mushrooms, stirring until warm. Add back in the warm chicken, turning to coat in sauce.

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14. Serve chicken and stew over warm egg noodles, and Enjoy.

Braised Pearl Onions

1 Tb Butter/Fat
1 small bag Pearl Onions, peeled
1 clove Garlic
2 twigs Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
½ Cup Wine, Stock, or other flavorful liquid of choice

Directions

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    1. Heat sauté pan to medium/med-high and add in butter or other fat of your choice (I used some of the rendered Salt Pork Fat from earlier).

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2. Toss in onions to coat in fat, stirring very often in hot pan to better get an even browning around the spherical surface.

3. Once nicely golden and crispy-looking, add rest of the ingredients, turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer until onions are tender and liquid has reduced down to a thick sauce. Depending, this can take up to 1 hour and a half or just 20 minutes.

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4. Season carefully according to taste and reserve until needed in Coq au Vin or any other desired dish.

The Verdict

Chicken. This actually tastes like flippin’ chicken, as any properly cared for, farm raised hen should. And despite the rich, concentrated stewy flavors of the wine sauce (which just blankets the firm and crispy meat and veggies so nicely, keeping that subtle earthy and vine-y taste of the wine nicely), the old stewing hen was able to keep the integrity of its flavors and identity so well.

THEN there’s the mix-ins: the earthy and savory al-dente like mushrooms, the rich little balls of stocky onions, and of course the super crispy-crunchy pieces of cooked pork fat. With the noodles it almost felt like one of the best earthy-winey Italian pasta dishes ever, if of course my attention wasn’t always drawn to take big bites out of that bone-in chicken. And though MY final outcome ended up saltier than I wanted (‘twas quite noticeable, though nothing a chocolate cookie-vanilla milkshake couldn’t fix), I believe the true worth, highlights, and potential of this classic dish was able to shine clearly, so I’m very satisfied with the final outcome.

Not to mention how damn good it is eating cold from the fridge the next day (and it only lasted one)… or in the middle of the night wearing pjs.

Primary Pairing – Red Burgundy

Is it cliché? Yes. Is there a reason for that? Oh HELL Yes, because it WORKS. As do almost all regional pairings with European Wine and Food; they grew up together, those making the food drank wine and those making the wine ate the food, each unconsciously adjusting each other through the centuries to ensure they had two things and tasted amazing together.

This is the prime example. A bottle of decent burgundy has a solid, weighty Medium body, enough to match this heavier version of Chicken, and a firmness in Acid to “cut” the richness (which isn’t technically a thing in any way, but when I have any rich or fatty dish I want some acid to juxtapose it, otherwise it’s just flabby) and match the tangy wine. Then there’s the nose: the almost concentrated, earthy aromas, often affected with some ageing in an old barrel (not new barrel, we don’t want any raw oak flavor in this), that just helps it stand up but not overpower the round intensity of the dark chicken stew. Finally, they contain that perfect middle-ground of tannins; not light but not super big and sandy and overpowering, which is much better for OTHER dishes.

As for choice, I like to think Village-level (or is it Sub-Regional? I forget) Burgundy is where you want to go; this is not where one gets that cheap Bourgogne AOC we just used for cooking. At the same time, Premier and Grand Crus are not only really expensive but probably a bit too complex, containing certain subtle and delicate aromas that aren’t likely to survive long with this dish. Simple but deep and powerful is where we want.

So look for names that just say Santenay, Aloxe-Corton, Chorey-les-Beaune, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, and the like. Maybe even a “Haute Cotes de Beaune/Nuits,” which are from a larger and “lower quality” region on the golden slopes of Burgundy, but do hold possibilities of good, tasty deals. I’m sure the particular Wine Staff would be happy to point you in the right direction.

As for Burgundy Substitutions, which I almost don’t understand why even bother at all at this point (but hey, wallets are wallets), I think German Pinot Noirs (Ahr is a great region) are fun, Chateneuf-du-Papes and Chianti blends can provide the same features (if you find the right ones), but I think Valpolicella would probably be my favorite non-French choice. You can find all of them at much better prices, and you’re still staying to the Old World (very important, as New World wines focus more on fruit and barrels and basically have absolutely no real flavors of “earth” in them like Old Worlds).

My Bottle: 2010 Givry, Domaine Voarick
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Being a bit price conscious, I decided to choose this little gem from one of the Five AOC villages of the Cote Chalonnaise, the large region just south of the main Cote d’Or section of Burgundy (the center of the “quality” wine production, not counting Cru Beaujolais of course). Givry is located on the Eastern edge just in the center of the not-so-tight escarpments, and along with the rest of the reds from the area produces a slightly lighter concentrated, “rustic” Pinot Noir. Though they’re seen as lower quality, one can find some of the best price-to-flavor/experience deals throughout the whole Region (the Norther region is notorious for being complex to navigate quality through different villages, making for a dangerous dice roll of overpriced wine for those not familiar with the producer).

For $20 I was very happy. It still held a beautifully simple, concentrated nose with all the main aromas of Burgundy I look for, with a strong enough flavor and body to stand up to the meat. I swished and chewed and sat back in a happy daze, with no off qualities distracting my enjoyment. When it comes to wine, that’s sometimes all that I find important; just need a proper bottle to get me there.

Secondary Pairing – Nada Yamahai Junmai Sake

I LOVE ge628x471tting into Sake and being able to pair it with non-Asian fare. For many of those who aren’t aware, the potential complexities and flavor molecules in sake actually reach even higher peaks than wine. Thus enforcing its ability to be matched with so many different foods, so long as one knows which bottles to look for.

With a dish like coq au vin, I would really want to be able to get the more masculine, earth and mushroom-based sakes, one with a bit of quality complexity and depth in that department, but still kept back somewhat so the body and flavor isn’t overpowering (like a Bordeaux would be).

Nada, and other more southern regions in Japan, present with some of the bigger, rounder, earthier styles of sake as opposed to the north.  Pair that with a Junmai sake, where the rice is milled down to at least 70% its original grain, keeping some of the raw, naturally tight, earthy grain qualities from the outer rind but cutting its power and rawness down considerably. Thus it has developed very little, or none, of the more delicate and weaker fruit, floral, and other aromas that a Gingo or Daigingo (milled down to 60 and 50% grain) would have.

Finally we bring in the Yamahai style of developing the Koji mold (a very important process of inhibiting certain bacteria, developing enzymes to convert rice starch to carbohydrates, and influencing final flavors), a mid-way method that’s not so old and classic as Kimoto but rougher than the super-lazy modern, and is known for creating some of the most earthy rich, dense and complex styles of the three.

Combined we have a sake that inhabits much the same earthy, barnyard characters of a traditional Burgundy with a wonderfully complex, medium-heavy nose, a body enough to match the stew and a mouthfeel to go along with the heavier but tender chicken meat. As for qualities such as acid, sweetness, etc, there is sure to be a few sakes in this category that fill the final criteria. But that’s less a thing of regionality and more knowing the producer (as is much of the sake world; it’s fun a super complex).

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