Have you ever been in a gourmet group? I was in one once, we celebrated National Chocolate Day once a month. We skipped dinner and had three courses of homemade chocolate desserts (we were younger then). Here in the French countryside, gourmet groups are just a little bit different. Illustration by José Reis de Matos.
In our village, there are eight folks who get together every year, as my friend Françoise tells me. First they stop by a local farm, and they pick out 3 (live) fat pigs. The pigs arrive a bit later, butchered, on the doorstep of Françoise’s house, and are laid out on a big work table in her garage. The other three couples arrive, and for two full days, they gussy up those hogs. Roasts are trimmed and wrapped, ready to freeze. The large hocks are cured in salt water then hung up to dry, to make jambon cru, or raw ham. Then they make seasoned sausages and boudain noir and boudin blanc (these are fat sausages made from 'parts', the noir with blood and the blanc without. A taste I think you must acquire in childhood, as just the smell of them will clear out a room full of expats). They also make fromage de tête, or head cheese, a terrine set in aspic and made from the pig’s head.
What a party! There are festive lunches mid-day, of course, and at the end everyone has a goodly supply of porc fermier (farm-raised pork ) in their freezer.
Another couple here has a large group of old friends who rendez-vous in Paris every year to do the same thing, but with ducks. This year they prepared 27 ducks among them. They return home with confit de carnard, foie gras, and so on.
Françoise, telling me her story, laughed as I shuddered at the mention of boudin noir. “We’re true country people here you know,” she said. And I do admire the fact that the French use every last morsel of the animals who gave their lives for the party. Still, this sometimes/almost vegetarian is happy not to been given an invite to join the gourmet groups---I think I’ll stick to chocolate.
RECIPE: Spicy Shrimp Burgers
I didn't have the heart to do a pork recipe after all that, so let's give the pigs a rest and switch from land to sea. Le Hamburger is all the rage in France right now, especially in Paris, where the big-deal chefs are offering them. And in the states,where folks are less carnivorous, everyone seems to be experimenting beyond the cow. Shrimp burgers are popular in the south, and I've tried many recipes before coming up with this one. Also you can pretend it's summer, and they don't require a grill. For me, the secret to this recipe is using raw, crunchy veggies; if you cook the veggies first, you end up with something similar to a crab cake instead of a burger.
I tend to keep a supply of coarse homemade bread crumbs in my freezer, but you could use panko instead. Make the burgers well ahead so you can chill them. Serves 4.
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon horseradish
- 1 tablespoon of any chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, chives, tarragon
- dash tabasco
for the burgers:
- 1 lb. (454 grams) boiled shrimp, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons green tops of scallions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons white bulb of scallion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons celery, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped radishes
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or fresh basil
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¾ cup homemade bread crumbs
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1/4 t. cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
4 hamburger buns
Toppings as desired: lettuce, tomato, avocado, red onion slices
Stir together sauce ingredients and chill. Combine burger ingredients (down to flour) then shape mixture into 4 patties. Cover and chill a couple of hours or more. When ready to serve, gently roll them in flour and cook them in a cast iron skillet with hot oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Drain briefly on paper towels. Serve on hamburger buns with sauce and desired toppings.
In the Comments: Lots of praise for my step-daughter Kelly's new book, Sailing to Jessica. Please check it out if you haven't!
And to all, my warmest wishest for a happy, healthy new year---bonne année!