January 30, 2008

Spanish Hooky- no sticker fruit

It's not all pork sausage and foie gras around here. Sometimes the Tramontana wind blows me away for a new book project that I'll just call here "Spanish Hooky". Beside the work at hand, TC- intrepid photographer and I managed to eat in a handful of wonderful joints from Bar Boia in Cadaques to Les Cols in Olot. But these natural lemons were scored at the Monday market in C-town before we headed to the volcanic landscapes of inner Catalunya. There we had a stellar meal prepared by Fina Puigdevall of very local, very thoughtful dishes ranging from a simple yet memorable Santa Pau beans and botifarro to a perfectly piggy rib with cabbage and quince. The dishes flowed at a more lively Spanish rhythm than here in France with a friendly and welcoming wait staff. Our tasting lunch 12 courses was anchored by the best bread I have eaten in ages- from Els Hostalets d'en Bas. More on that later. For now, lemon marmalade made with fruit with no stickers. I don't need a 5 digit code to tell me that these were grown naturally. Jordi at the Market told me. But if you're not sure about where and how your fruit is grown, check out this tip from the Ideal Bite - my daily green conscience.

Look for the labels stuck on your fruits and veggies:
  • A four-digit number means it's conventionally grown.
  • A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it's organic.
  • A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it's GM.

January 26, 2008

Charcuterie: Saucisse de Toulouse Part #3- babes in a blanket: the recipe

cleaning sausage casings- chez Sabadini

The piggy nursery is housed in a brick and tile roof building.

There are five sows with their young, around 8-12 each in individual pens.

A red heat lamp keeps the temperature uncomfortable hot for us, wonderfully cozy if you are a hairless little thin-skinned pink piglet.

Bruno Chapolard acts as the nursery ‘dad’ and keeps an eye on the new moms and the little ones; feeding and watering them as needed. They stay here about 3 weeks before they are moved out into more temperate pens and are weaned from the mothers. Weaners, not wieners .

Bruno shushes us to be quiet and not upset the nursing sows. They like it quiet.

But the minute we tiptoe into the hot and very fragrant shelter, and Bruno reaches over to grab a little one for our petting pleasure-- all hell breaks loose. Such little things can make a huge noise!

It’s worth it. To hold the hot squiggling body close to your chest, smell the warmth and not unpleasant baby smell and feel the naked pink critter start to quiet and calm is to begin to understand just how much work all this food making is. As we passed her around, one of my students, a big strong guy from Manhattan, almost dropped the piglet with surprise. “It’s hot!” I think months of handling walk-in refrigerated meat had convinced him that all animals were born at a safe handling temperature!

We place the babe back with the litter and after a bit of scurrying around she dived into the space left for her at the four-legged milk bar. Backing out into the much fresher air, and after very deep breaths all around, we talk about how cool it is to hold the life force soon to be nourished to mature meat. Bruno et frères take their work seriously and the breeding of a good line of healthy pigs is the first stand in producing quality tasty meat. With a very small breeding stock of 30 sows, they maintain enough pigs throughout the year to sell directly to consumer. A healthier stock means less treatment and although not organic, they ascribed to reasonable agriculture practices.

So we want to begin these same careful practices when making sausage. Like the three most important lessons in cooking:

  1. Buy good quality product.
  2. Season carefully with high quality ingredients.
  3. Pay attention to what you are doing.

It’s pretty easy after that. This is the most basic traditional recipe for Saucisse de Toulouse as made in these Gascon parts by butchers and farmers. I have translated the recipe that the Chapolards use to make just a small batch of fresh sausage. Be sure and taste a pinch of sausage to see if you have the salt and pepper to your liking. Some neighbor make their sausage and pates on the flat side, I like mine where the freshly ground pepper is a pungent foil for the salted sweet meat. If you don’t have casings,

Don’t worry, just make crepinettes- little patties the size of cookies, wrapped in caul fat, sometimes larded with a slice of truffle or a bay or sage leaf. After Tim Clinch took these pictures, we ate them with oysters.

#1- Saucisse de Toulouse: making a French country classic at home.

The essence of simplicity, Saucisse de Toulouse is nothing more than fresh pork sausage, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and placed in natural casings. The succulent flavor relies on the choice of good pork cuts and careful seasoning. This is the summer favorite for Barbeques or when making regional dishes like Cassoulet.


2 pounds pork shoulder meat (also called boston butt)

.5 lbs fresh pork belly

16 grams (approx 2-1/2 tsp) sea salt

4 grams (approx – a scant 2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (8 oz) cold water.

1 meter natural sausage casing (soaked in cold water with a little vinegar added)


Use a manual or electric meat grinder to grind the meat and pork belly with a 10mm (3/8 inch) hole plate. It helps to start with the meat refrigerator cold. Use a clean bowl or pan to receive the ground sausage meat. (Alternately, you can cut this small of amount of meat with a sharp 10-12 inch chef’s knife, using a rocking motion to help break the meat fibers as well as cut them into small pieces. Place in a large clean bowl and work the cut meat with your hands until it begins to stick to itself before seasoning.)


Add salt and pepper to water and stir or shake until salt is partially dissolved. This facilitates the diffusion of salt and pepper throughout the meat. Add water to the meat and knead well until it is absorbed. Note the little flecks of black pepper in this sausage.


Replace the cutting plate with the stuffing accessory on the grinder. Place the entire wet casing over the tube (and this is where photographs help!) , tie the end with a length of twine, then ‘grind’ the sausage into the casing squeezing air out as you go. Remove from stuffer and tie the other end making sure to squeeze out any air. Then using a sausage pricker, ( I use a homemade one made with a champagne cork and some dressmaker pins) gentle pierce the casing to let out any surface air. The sausage benefits from drying slightly and resting covered with a kitchen towel. It can now be cooked or frozen.


Grilling sausage over hot coals must be the all time best way to get that smoky crisp skin and juicy meat. Do not cook too long! Think about a perfect pork roast- just slightly pink meat, juices running clear. A good method for pan cooking sausage is to start the sausage in a cold pan, turn on the heat to and let them come up to medium high temperature with the pan. The meat will be cooked inside by the slower growing heat and then the skins will be caramelized a golden brown by the high heat at the end.

Special equipment:

Meat grinder, stuffing accessory, string, sausage pricker or pin prick cork

January 15, 2008

Charcuterie: Saucisse de Toulouse Part #2- about a Pig

Warning... all lovers of cute pink cartoon pigs should leave the room. Now!

Years ago (early 1970's) I had one memorable close encounter of a pig kind. It was that first pig killing experience that changed the way I thought of pork forever. I'll never forget the flavor of the first fresh pork liver I cooked, grilled over an open fire, on Lopez Island... in the good old days. Amazingly delicious.

In these good old days (and I am sure they are in the making) I expect the best from my meat and get it by buying directly from the artisan producer at one of many weekly markets in my fertile corner of Southwest France. And that is where we are heading today, to meet and talk with Mark, Dominique and Christiane Chapolard at Ferme Baradieu.


It starts with a handful of sunflower seeds that I see scattered on the ground the first time I visit the family farm. Then I see more by the barn; more by the open tractor shed. I'm not paying too much attention because I am excited to see some of the 200-some pigs of all ages that the Chapolard brothers raise, slaughter and butcher before selling them at my local markets. Pink, hairy, big-eared Large White crossbreeds. That's what I've come to see. But instead, I find myself following a trail of sunflower seeds like Gretel and the breadcrumbs. Sunflower seeds here, corn kernels there, some barley scattered there by those small silos.

Marc stops me before we enter the open-sided barn where I can hear Pig Talk going on. And lots of it- it's close to feeding time. These are not pasture raised pigs. But the brothers grow all the grain that they feed their animals on their own land. Jack tends the fields with an army of shared giant machinery, combines and tractors, and Bruno oversees the nursery where sows and sucklings stay cozy under heat lamps. Marc holds out both of his hands and shares the sweet smelling meal with me. "This is the beginning of a very good sausage."

Next the nursery...

January 10, 2008

Charcuterie: Saucisse de Toulouse Part #1


It was nearly a year ago that we danced around the Chinese pig, ate dumplings and spiced pork belly- then got distracted by black truffles and other good winter food. We all declared that night that the year of the pig (as Charcuterie) would go mainstream; we weren’t far wrong.
New books on charcuterie appeared like Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie or Stephane Reynaud's 'Pork & Sons'; old books resurfaced (I found an old edition copy of Jane Grigson’s ‘the Art of Charcuterie’); several blogs about going whole hog appeared; lots of drying, curing, and stuffing talk at farmer's markets across the lands.

To put in perspective exactly what I do--when I cook and teach is, quite simply, I simplify. Cooking French in France is easy; it should be at home too. I want you to want to cook, not think it's too difficult or not worth the bother. I cut my teeth cooking on a 42-foot yacht before graduating to my own 85 foot barge. Hey, that’s a big boat…but it still has a small galley. These small cooking surfaces informed my style- fast, and the techniques that I use- simple. There are very few appliances due to space and electricity issues when traveling. When I cook in the Relais de Camont- where I teach my classes and workshops, it doesn’t change much. The space is much larger but I still leave the big machines to the fancy schools; it began as an aesthetic decision to fit the 18th century kitchen but I soon realized it fits the way I cook and keeps the focus on the product not the technique. And it is all about the product here in the French Kitchen!

So with that in mind, I’ve invite you to play along and take this virtual charcuterie class with me. Comment to your heart's content, cook along highly encouraged, and questions willingly answered. We begin with the pig, the noble Prince of January, and will tackle a handful of recipes from the classic French repertoire. I am not inventing any of these recipes, and you can search through the 2,000,000+ recipes on line for differences, variations on a theme, and history- some true and some lost in cyberspace fiction. (Remember that game of Telephone? Just imagine what happens with a 100,000 food bloggers pick up and post an ‘authentic’ recipe; by the time it reaches the audience it is sometimes unrecognizable!)

Step#1- a most basic and authentic recipe.

First things First: consider the source. See this man? Mustaches and Beret aside, this is the one of the most trustworthy souls on this earth- Dominique Chapolard, his wife Christiane and brother Mark are the source for these basic French charcuterie recipes- the charcutiers themselves. Before I begin to cook I want to know more about what I am cooking and that lead me to the people who grow the pork, in this case a family of butcher brothers and their wives who run the excellent Ferme Baradieu near Mezin, here in Southwest France. They aren’t the only producer/butchers in this area of the planet, and they might not be the most new wave as far as technique or the most old-fashioned in terms of heritage breeds, but they are caring and careful workers in all they do, from raising the grain they feed their animals to butchering and curing their pork products in the farm laboratoire. I have a special relationship with the family Chapolard because they offered me an inside scoop on their life and work that helped me understand what real porc was all about. I have been barging in to the family farm for several years now and, of course, my own sweet 100 pounds of Bacon de Barici is a true ‘Chapolard de Gascogne’.

On Saturday morning when the lines at the Chapolard “L’Art du Cochon” stand is snaking past the foie gras merchant and over to the poulet rôtissoire, I wait my turn and pray that they don’t run out of Saucisse de Toulouse before I get my turn. It seems that no matter how many kilos they make that week and bring to the market, it all goes home to French households for a Saturday night supper or to use for a Sunday barbeque or in a Classic Cassoulet. So although I have already posted another Saucisse de Toulouse recipe here, I asked Dominique to share their official butcher’s version with us.


Simple. Very Simple. Not elaborate. A bare minimum of a recipe. And so it makes sense that the very few ingredients used are the best. This is the most important part. I assume that if you are going to the effort to make your own Saucisse de Toulouse you will also go to the effort to buy good quality pork. That’s your first job. FIND THE PORK! So plan to spend a little time to go shopping for good pork. Pasture-raised, organic, natural, massaged or beribboned—it doesn’t matter as long as the quality you buy is the best you can find. I’m preaching to the choir here, so let’s leave it that you will seek out the best quality pork in your shopping circle and commit to learning just what makes Saucisse de Toulouse tick. Our first task in this Saucisse de Toulouse workbook is to get thee to a butcher.

It’s Thursday today, I’ll be going to the market on Saturday. See if you can find some good quality pork shoulder before then. It doesn’t have to be a precise weight. It’s ok to let it sit and rest in your refrigerator until then. What part of the whole hog do you buy? Ask for a whole shoulder roast and a piece of unsalted pork belly (that’s fresh bacon); the natural fat to lean ratio of a good farm-raised pig is about 20-80 and that is what we are looking for. The Label Rouge certificate, much valued here in France, limits fat to 20% in fresh sausages and to meats from noble cuts. So get over the idea that sausage is a catch-all for undisclosed body parts. That is why we are doing this together.

Notes on Seasoning: Traditionally Saucisse de Toulouse is quite simply- just fresh sausage and is deceptively simple for that reason. Salt seasons and helps cure the meat but there are no masking herbs and spices (except pepper) to hide the quality of the meat. Recipes for Saucisse de Toulouse often add different flavorings like garlic, nutmeg, and sugar; It has been said that in Toulouse white wine is used and my farm neighbors here in the Southwest routinely add a pinch of épice Rabelais, a commercial secret blend of charcuterie spices that can be dangerously heavy on cloves; I do love the package but use it with a very restrained hand.

While you are checking your cupboard, make sure you have sea salt (coarse or fine) and fresh black peppercorns. That's it. By no accounts do you want to see this on the label of any sausage you make:

Viande de porc 88%, sel, acidifiant E325,E262, sucres: saccharose, lactose, dextrose de blé, épices et aromates (moutarde), exhausteur de goût E621, colorants : E100 et E120, antioxydants E316 et E300

rather the Label Rouge for Saucisse de Toulouse designates "sans colorant ni conservateur"- no coloring and no preservatives.

Sausage casings: this might be trickier depending on your neck of the woods. In these here French woods, even the supermarket, in the small country towns, will carry natural sausage casings. we are looking for about 25mm or 1 inch casing; Saucisse de Toulouse is a generous size sausage. Ask the butcher or maybe comment on where you found sausage casings chez vous! in a worse case scenario you can make crepinettes, little fla patties wrapped in caul fat. where do you get caul fat? Same place you get sausage casings.:)

Notes On Machinery. If you are talking to a real butcher, I mean a live human being like the charming Butcher of Moissac above, then ask him to grind the pork shoulder for you. Now that’s easy! If you live in plastic-wrap land, when you get that hunk of meat home, take it out of the plastic, rinse it, dry it and wrap it in a tea towel or cover with parchment paper and refrigerate. We’ll grind it later. Oops! don’t own a grinder. Well, hang tight and let’s see how easy we can make this. Get your knives sharpened. Anyone wishing have some more kitchen toys, oops, I mean tools, can find all the grinders you want here.

But first we’re going to take a little trip to the farm and learn a bit about pig raising in Gascony...

January 05, 2008

Ten French Recipes from Gascony you should know how to cook

Cupcakes running amuck; Mister Greenjeans back on the tube; next, we'll be eating small hamburger without buns and calling them meatballs!

As most of my friends know, I am generally unplugged here at Camont. It’s deliberate. Except for the high-speed wireless connection and my 10 million Skype-mates, I can spend all day seeing nobody at all: maybe a cyclist on the towpath; a hunter trespassing the neighbors field; the postman delivering the latest supermarket ads.

I’m not hiding out completely in a black hole and while I do read blogs and websites on a rather haphazard basis, I’d rather prune the fruit trees, re-arrange the herb garden, walk the dog. But I do read the news online, listen to NPR while making coffee and without having eaten one, I do know that cupcakes were big this year, very big. So I was delighted to see on Epicurious’ new trends for 2008 post that cupcakes will now take a back seat to frozen yogurt and that greens, mostly plants, will join the standard romaine lettuce on chain food restaurant menus. Maybe that will make Michael Pollan happy. I am all about making Michael Pollan happy because even though I don’t know the guy, I like him. I like it when he tells us to eat good, whole food that your grandmother would recognize. You see, I have been saying that to my cooking students for years...17 years exactly. And yes, that’s why I have a cooking school here, in Gascony. That’s what this food is all about here—recognizable and whole. And yes, the farmers are the new star; just ask any celebrity chef who rocks. Or see how often I write about the Butchers, Bakers, & Armagnac-makers-- or my neighbor, Denis Sabadini.

photo by tim clinch

So as I welcome you to a new year of cooking, living and writing my French Kitchen Adventures in Gascony, I wondered what I might share with you- from my kitchen to yours? What can I tell you from here that sheds a little more light on this good food, eat local, slow food movement? It amazed me how successful 'Camp Cassoulet' was (in reality as well as virtual) so I decided to come up with a New Year's list of “Ten Good Recipes from Southwest France that You Should Know How to Cook.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll introduce you to my ‘rock star’ neighbors and explain how I came to learn these so very 'French Kitchen Basix' … and how you can cook them, too, even if you are snowed in – in Vermont at Sugar Mountain Farms. So, here's to all you new celebrity farmers and don't forget the pigs gotta still eat even if you are now going to be famous as say... Mario, or Emeril or... Yvette and Brigtte.

photo by tim clinch

My Top Ten

'French Kitchen Basix' recipes

that you should learn to cook in 2008.

  1. Cassoulet
  2. Charcuterie- learn to make something from scratch like Saucisse de Toulouse
  3. Confit de Canard
  4. Poule au Pot
  5. Garlic soup
  6. Lapin aux pruneaux
  7. a very good wine and shallot sauce
  8. perfect roast chicken in a pan- a la poêle !
  9. Navarin d’Agneau- lamb please.
  10. Pintade/ guinea hen or other game and fowl with armagnac

Since #1- le Cassoulet is here, and here and here… why don’t we start with #2- Charcuterie and clear up a few ill conceived notions about sausage. Next stop: Saucisse de Toulouse- from field to table. Here's one of your teachers- Mme. Yvette Sabadini of the Ferme Bellevue...just up the road from Camont.

A bargeman's holiday in Paris...

This is what barge captains do in Paris on their holidays.
walk along the Seine and look at ...barges, of course.
And walk along the Canal St Martin and watch les pompiers de Paris
try their hands at starting a barge wash.

And when the city sights fail to amuse, there is always
la Tour dressed up in her sequined gown.

My room with a view. XX2DL

January 01, 2008

First day and the year to come.

I love the little celebrations of a New Year's Day best of all. I wake these foggy mornings on the Julia Hoyt to a pair of poule d'eau (moor hens) splash landing outside the galley window; the smoke from the salon stove mingling with a drift of fog; the cushioned quiet of French holiday in the country. Even the distant TGV from Paris is muffled as la Mere Garonne reminds us of her atmospheric influence as she weaves a magic spell of fog and mist far from Paris city lights.

This is 'Gloomy Gascony' at its winter best. Winter doesn't last long here. There'll be time enough in February for early spring breakthroughs, March plum blossoms and April wisteria. Summer begins with May roses heralding the growing season before June and July paper the countryside with sunflowers; The potager-garden loves August and spills a carpet of tomatoes from garden to market before September and October fatten the pantry with wine, mushrooms and other wild things. By the time that November rolls around we are all ready for a rest; chocolate earth is turned in fat lumpy furrows of clay and river silt. We tie the year with a December ribbon of good food and fêtes before we look behind and ahead at yet another New Year to come.

Best wishes for a 2008 of great pleasure and little celebrations in your kitchens, at your tables and in your hearts. Bacon and I return to the farm today for a celebration with his Chapolard family and the beginning of a year of 'Butcher, Baker and Armagnac-maker'- and all the good food from the French Kitchen table.