Saturday, June 25, 2011

Terrine de Boeuf en Gelée

    My French still isn't fluent enough to hold a deep conversation about politics or the finer points of rugby (but then, my English isn't either) but I can definitely read and follow recipes.
    This one had been drifting around the edges of my brain ever since the weather turned warm. High temperatures and the idea of a shimmery jellied dish sounds just what you need as a main course. Not too ethereal--although that's fine for a starter or dessert--but something with meat to it. In this case, beef.
    Just in time, I found the copy of Elle à Table that went missing some months ago. Like all the Elle magazine spin-offs, it's beautiful to look at, and the recipes are always exactly in lock-step with the season. Our unusually hot late spring has pushed everything forward by about three weeks so last year's July/August issue reflects everything you'll see in the markets right now.
    But back to the recipe for terrine de boeuf en gelée. This could be a lengthy post because what I want to do is take you through the ingredients, one by one. I'll put these in bold face, with notes underneath.

    1 kg de boeuf (paleron, gite, joue). These cuts are, respectively, chuck, topside and cheek--all good for braising. I bought mine yesterday at Lavelanet market from the butcher's van. In fact I bought close to a kilo and a half because it's reassuring to know there's enough beef in the freezer to make a daube for two.
   1 pied de veau. A calf's foot. The butcher told me he had none because there's no demand. I explained what it was for. He said couennes would do. To digress a bit--and there will likely be more than a few digressions in this post--couennes are strips of pork skin. Usually they come with the underlying layer of fat attached, and they are one of the elements that make cassoulet so rich and filling. I said to the butcher that couennes might be too fatty. He turned round, opened the door to the refrigerator and produced a handful of fatless couennes. No charge. "Un cadeau." These travelling butchers' vans are one of the joys of being in France. This butcher comes from St. Quentin, a village about 5 km from our house. Every Wednesday morning, another butcher parks his van at the end of the Impasse where we live. That's even closer. It is very, very pleasant on a brisk fall day to have quail stuffed with wild mushrooms and wrapped in bacon brought almost to your door.
    Yesterday, I also bought a length of sausage from the boeuf and couennes butcher. This is destined to go into the stuffing for a round little courgette that I'd bought earlier. Market shopping works like this. You buy something, quickly think what you're going to do with it and then pick up the meat or olives or other veggies you need. Every week I write a shopping list. Nine weeks out of ten, I never even look at it.
   2 carottes. That's easy. Carrots here are often so fresh that juice spurts if you snap one in half. They also turn moldy in a moment. I've discovered the way to keep them fresh is to peel and trim them, and store them covered in water in the fridge. Provided you change the water occasionally, they keep for weeks.
   1 bouquet garni (persil, thym, vert de poireau, céleri, laurier). Parsley (also bought at the market), some sprigs of thyme from the garden, some celery, a bay leaf that my friend Grace gave me. Actually she gave me a bagful. Everything wrapped in the green leaf of a leek and tied with string. A word about that string. A couple of years ago, I bought a roll of butcher's string, and a couple of balls of hemp string at a vide grenier. I have enough string to last several lifetimes.
   4 oignons frais et 1 gros oignon piqué d'un clou de girofle. Four green/spring onions and one big onion (the usual kind) stuck with a clove. The green onions are used later. French recipes don't necessarily list ingredients in the order they're used. And they're not always that precise about quantities.
I think there's a deeper understanding in France of how to cook. For instance, last week, the local supermarket  had a special on quarters of lamb. We bought a front quarter which, as far as I can make out, breaks down into a shoulder (with a bit of front leg attached), miscellaneous chops, some odds and ends that I think will do nicely in a curry or a tagine and a breast of lamb. No handy labels, no explanation, you obviously have to be able to identify, and know how to cook, each cut.
   2 gousses d'ail. Garlic cloves.
   1 petit piment frais. I forgot to buy this. But I did have some dried ones left from a bunch I bought in Lavelanet last summer.
   1 c. a soupe de gros sel de mer. A tablespoon of coarse sea salt.
   10 grains de poivre. Ten peppercorns.
   Persil plat. Flat-leaf parsley.
   1 c. a café de graines de coriandre. A teaspoon of coriander seeds.

Couennes. I used about half of these as I reckoned that would add up to about the same as one calf's foot. The dish can go three ways: A) It'll be perfect, B) It'll collapse all over the plates because the jelly isn't stiff enough to hold it together. C) It'll be so rigid that slices will bounce. Three guesses as to the outcome I'm hoping for.

Make it today, eat it tomorrow--which is what we'll do.

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