I have an ambitious idea for this year - and I hope that you will also be excited about it. My grandmother was French - she was born in Nice, France, but immigrated to the US after meeting my grandfather while he was there as a US soldier in WW II. She passed away when I was about 15 years old, and I was given a very old French cookbook from her (said to be from her mother). It was one of the only things I inherited from my grandmother, as I was the only one in the family who could speak French.
It is so old and fragile, it has to be kept in a plastic bag. I tried taking it out ten years ago, but it started falling apart, so I put it away again. Last week I went to cook one of the old stew hens we had butchered, and wanted to see if it had a recipe for Coq Au Vin.
It didn't, actually, but it had lots of other interesting recipes. I have to read it with Google translate on hand, because it has a lot of vocabulary I'm not familiar with - like le gesier (gizzard) or Egoutez-les (drain something after soaking). Stuff I've never heard or had to say and isn't in my French dictionary.
I am fascinated by the fact that the poultry section begins with how to kill and clean a bird, and distinguishes between old hens, chickens, capons (castrated male chickens), and pullets. It's very old-fashioned. And it doesn't have any lists of ingredients, just a paragraph or so explaining what to do. I looked it up on Amazon to see if I could find a modern, not-falling-to-dust copy. I did find it on the French Amazon page - one copy in slightly better condition, for 93 euros! I also found that it was published in 1930.
The title is La Cuisine: Guide Practique De La Ménagère by R. Blondeau, Chef de Cuisine. Google translates it to either "The Kitchen: Handbook of Household" or "The Kitchen: Practical Guide to the Housewife," depending on how the words are typed in. I thought it sounded more like "The Kitchen: Practical Guide of Managing," as it is not written for housewives, but for cooks hired to cook for a family, but don't quote me on that, because I don't actually know what La Ménagère means.
So....the ambitious plan? I thought it would be interesting to translate the recipes - not just into English, but also into a format that we lazy, modern folks can work with, and test them out with seasonal goods from the garden. I'll start out with a translated version of the original recipe, and then have a more modern format, with notes for what worked for me in the kitchen.
POULE AUX OIGNONS
Cut 125 grams of lean bacon into pieces, and brown with a spoonful of butter in a casserole pot. When it is browned, take it out and set it aside. In the same pot, brown a whole chicken. Remove and set aside. Add a spoonful of flour, and allow it to brown slowly in the fat to make a roux. Mix in a half litre of broth, add a carrot, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and put back in the bacon and the chicken. Leave to cook for five hours.
An hour before serving, sautée a half-litre of small onions until soft in butter, and add to the pot with the chicken. Season with salt and pepper on top, and serve when the onions are well-cooked.
POULE AUX OIGNONS - A MODERN VERSION
1/2 cup of diced lean bacon
1 Tablespoon butter
1 whole chicken
1 Tablespoon flour
1 quart of broth or stock
A bouquet of fresh parsley
Several sprigs of thyme (or a teaspoon dried)
A bay leaf
2 cups of small onions
More butter for sauteeing
Salt and pepper
1. In a cooking pot that can hold the whole chicken, brown the bacon in the tablespoon of butter. When it is browned, removed from the pot and set aside.
2. Add the chicken to the pot and brown on all sides. When it is browned, remove and set aside.
3. Add the tablespoon of flour and mix with the hot fat in the pan. Lower the heat and let the flour brown slowly, stirring constantly. When it is toasty-smelling but not burned, add the broth slowly while stirring to avoid lumps.
4. Add the carrot, the bouquet of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Add back the chicken and bacon and leave to cook on a low flame for four hours. The recipe does not say to cover, so I left it uncovered and added more water to cover the chicken better. You could add more broth if you had it. An old hen, rather than a broiler as I used, is smaller and would fit under the broth better. I also turned the chicken at the end, to make sure the breast was cooked.
5. After four hours, sautée the onions in more butter (not specified - I used a chunk that was about a tablespoon) until they are soft, but not browned. Add them on top of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, and leave to cook another hour on gentle heat (I covered the pot at this point).
Notes: Really you are supposed to use a hen with this recipe, but I used one of our broilers, and it was still very good (an older hen would have more flavor). I also used onions from the garden, sliced, as they had not bulbed much yet, and we had it over boiled cassava, which is very like potatoes. We found this dish to be intensely savory and flavorful.
The broth or stock I used was part chicken stock and part stock from boiling the last ham Ethan cured, and the bacon was the home-cured stuff that didn't taste exactly like the bacon you find here. I imagine the flavor of this dish changes with what kind of ingredients you use (personally, I like things changing in flavor, as long as it's good - no matter what the food industry says about it having to taste as similar as possible).
This recipe might sound like a pain with the long cooking-time, but it was actually not that bad. I got it all set to cook early in the afternoon, and it cooked until we got back from doing the chores. I quickly sautéed the onions and added them, and left it to cook while we peeled the cassava and made a salad.