Every gourmand and gourmande should be able to wiggle his or her nose or wave the magic wand and land in France for a Sunday lunch with a big extended French family. Preferably out in the country on a day when the tables are set outside. I would choose Provence, of course, but there are no bad places to eat in the provinces of the magnificent hexagon known as France. And since this is magic, said gourmand would also be able to understand and speak French just like a native (avec un accent délicieux, of course). Understanding Oncle Jacques and Papi when they start singing war songs or when the jokes begin would be de rigueur. And worth more than a few giggles. At this meal, sure to last several hours, calories do not count and watches and cellphones will be checked at the door.
Just to whet your appetite, I will now quote Stéphane Reynaud (page 7). And just so you know what he looks like as you read, here is a photo from the book--
I remember the Sundays of my childhood (just one a week was never enough), when, once everyone was seated around the table, we seemed to put down roots so that the moment became frozen in time. Everything came to a stop; benevolence reigned. We needed solid constitutions to withstand the advancing tide of entrées, brave the bounty of meats with all the trimmings, find a residue of appetite when faced with the groaning cheese board, and finally close our meal with creams and cakes. The meal lingered on for hours-- there was a lot to be eaten! "You'll have some more gratin, won't you, mon p'tit? You're shooting up, at your age you need to eat," my grandmother would say to me, wrapped in her flowered apron, after having already served me two helpings.
There was something noble about eating; it was a true privilege of the strong of body. To be well-built you need a good appetite; and appetite, believe me, was something everyone had. The smell of strong coffee hung in the air and escargot-scented burps rang out the feast's end. We were blissfully content, slumped over the table that looked like a victorious battlefield, our bellies filled with memories of good food. With the benefit of hindsight I suspect that was also due to the effect of the eaux-de-vie (spirits) taken at the end of the meal: the product of many fruits distilled by a family friend, they encouraged a mood of congeniality and a shared lethargy.
Songs punctuated the day, old classics at the beginning of the meal, turning X-rated once the Vieille Prune (a plum brandy) got the upper hand. In short, the Sunday meal had a perpetually festive air, and the reddened faces bore witness to it. The late-afternoon walk, a gentle excuse to digest, allowed the 6 o'clock champagne to chill in peace. We kids got sponge cake to dunk in flutes filled to the brim. A Sunday that begins well must end well. Out came the boules, the crowd is reassembled, hunting and fishing memories turn into epic tales, football matches into World Cup finals. It's a ripaille-- a rip-roaring French feast-- and it's good. It's late, the leftovers are gone, the bottle's dregs have dried up, the yawns are contagious, the time has come to say goodbye.Bring on next Sunday!
Now, I ask you, is that not a man to love? A country to love? A meal to dream about?
The BFF found this book at Parker and Otis, a restaurant and food shop in downtown Durham. It is published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in New York. It is 480 pages of M. Reynaud's writing, photos taken by Marie-Pierre Morel, illustrations by José Reis de Matos, and recipes.
And although it is still quite early in the morning, I have a craving for pork rillettes. I haven't had any since I attended a wine class at Wine Authorities last fall. Mon dieu! They were made by Matt Kelly, chef at Vin Rouge, a French bistro here in Durham. Go ahead, click on this link and take a look at the dinner menu... I dare your mouth not to water, regardless of the time of day. The pork rillettes are right there, for $7.00. Hmmm... I just happen to have a gift certificate for Vin Rouge. Rillettes and French bread washed down with a glass of Morgon (recommended by Stéphane and indeed on the wine list at Vin Rouge)-- le paradis for a gourmande such as myself.
I have never made rillettes, but here is the recipe from French Feasts.
Rillettes de cochon
for six 7-ounce pots - preparation time: 20 minutes- cooking time: 5 hours + 48 hours resting time
Pork loin-- 1 pound 2 ounces
Pork hock or shank-- 1
Bacon-- 3 1/2-ounce slab
Pork belly-- 3 1/2 ounces
Thyme-- 3 sprigs
Lard-- 2 1/3 cups
White wine-- 4 cups
1. Chop all of the meat into 1-inch cubes.
2. Melt 2 cups of the lard over low heat. Add the chopped onions, all of the meat, and thyme leaves. Cook, covered, very gently for 5 to 6 hours, adding the wine at regular intervals and stirring frequently; the longer and more gently the mixture is cooked, the better the pork spread will be. Season once the meat has cooked down and the mixture has a uniform texture.
3. Spoon into six small pots, pressing down well, and cover with remaining rendered lard. Chill for 48 hours before serving.
Bon appétit, les gourmands américains et français!