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Posts Tagged ‘pintadeau’

Christmas dinner needs an important dish for a centerpiece. This year Tom and I started cookbook research and planning for the meal weeks in advance. We finally chose an elaborate recipe that we’d never made before from Raymond Oliver’s La Cuisine: Pintadeau farci Jean Cocteau, stuffed guinea hen served with boudins blancs, boudins noirs, and sautéed apples.

What did Jean Cocteau have to do with the dish, you ask? We wondered too. It isn’t explained in La Cuisine, but I found out that, five years before it was published, Oliver had produced a very small, elegant printing of another book called Recettes pour un ami, with a preface and many illustrations by Cocteau, for whom three of the dishes were named. That book is a collector’s item now, listed for 375 pounds sterling when last available, so I’m never likely to see it.

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La Cuisine’s photo of the guinea hen looked good; all the ingredients were interesting, and the instructions seemed quite plausible when we read through the recipe. It wasn’t until we actually began to make the dish that we realized how bizarre it was. (I must mention that this was a cooperative cooking adventure; Tom and I prepared the whole dinner together.)

To start with, the recipe’s proportions were Gargantuan. To serve two persons, it called for a two-pound guinea hen, four boudins blanc and four boudins noir (that’s a good pound of sausages per person), eight fried croûtons the size of the sausages, and four apples. I’d like to have seen Cocteau and his ami Oliver eating all that!

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We had a three-pound bird, which we knew would be ample for our four diners in the context of the rest of our menu. Ditto one each of the apples and black and white sausages. In a fit of abstemiousness, we skipped the croûtons.

The stuffing mixture was bread, hard-boiled egg, raw egg, the hen’s giblets, nutmeg, cinnamon, tarragon, chives, and chervil. We made the amount given for a two-pound guinea hen, and it was way too much even for our larger bird. I had to squeeze some of it into the neck cavity and sew it up tightly with a darning needle and thread.

The bird was to be wrapped in pork fat and casserole-roasted on top of the stove, with white wine and a mirepoix of carrots, onions, and garlic. Gargantua struck again here: You were to chop three whole carrots and three whole onions for the mirepoix. Even allowing that vegetables in France 40 years ago were probably smaller than ours are now, that still would’ve been a vast amount. And the whole cup of wine called for would’ve made a very acid gravy. So again we made adjustments.

Now, continuing the impractical instructions (don’t worry; this story has a happy ending): The whole guinea hen, once browned, was supposed to be done in 25 minutes. Have you ever tried to brown a bird that’s wrapped in pork fat? It’s simply not possible. And our larger bird took 45 minutes to tenderize. Then you were supposed to reduce the pan juices and just pour them over the bird for serving. Our mirepoix vegetables, even though chopped fine, and even after the longer cooking time, were still in recognizable bits, so the sauce would have been pretty ugly. We pureed it.

Here’s the dish as we brought it to the table:

Note how different it looks from the mahogany-brown bird in the book’s photo, above. Note too how pure white the book’s boudins blancs are, totally unmarked by sauteeing in butter, and the absence of apples or gravy in that photo. One more fraud perpetrated by the food stylists!

The good news is that the dish was really excellent. Odd as the combination was, the bird, the blood sausages, the mild sausages, the apples, and the gravy all came together felicitously. With them we drank a 2005 Moillard Beaune Grèves Premier Cru, and happy we were.

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A few more words about Cocteau and food. In addition to his serious writings, he did a jesting piece called Petit lettre à la dérive, which creates a litany of the dinner-table imperatives that parents deliver to their children:

Mange ta soupe. Tiens-toi droit. Mange lentement. Ne mange pas si vite. Bois en mangeant. Coupe ta viande en petits morceaux. Tu ne fais que tordre et avaler. Ne joue pas avec ton couteau. Ce n’est pas comme ça qu’on tient sa fourchette. On ne chante pas à table. Vide ton assiette. Ne te balance pas sur ta chaise. Finis ton pain. Pousse ton pain. Mâche. Ne parle pas la bouche pleine. Ne mets pas tes coudes sur la table. Ramasse ta serviette. Ne fais pas de bruit en mangeant. Tu sortiras de table quand on aura fini. Essuie ta bouche avant de m’embrasser.

Cette petite liste réveille une foule de souvenirs, ceux de l’enfance. C’est très longtemps après qu’on arrive à comprendre qu’un dîner peut être un véritable chef-d’oeuvre.

As a New Year’s wish, therefore, may we all, in 2012, eat our soup, sit up straight, not play with our knife, wipe our mouth before kissing anyone, and enjoy many dinners that are veritable chefs d’oeuvre!

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