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Wine Bar Lunches in Bordeaux

I’m recently back from another French river cruise. Regular readers may recall my posts about dining on and off cruises on the Loire, the Rhône, and the Seine. The latest one was on the Garonne, in southwest France, which flows into the Gironde estuary and on to the Atlantic Ocean. Same cruise company, Crosieurope, and a slightly bigger ship, MS Cyrano de Bergerac.
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This time I won’t be writing about shipboard dining, which wasn’t noteworthy, unfortunately. Instead, I’ll focus on two days Tom and I spent on our own in Bordeaux, after the cruise. We were staying in the historic St. Pierre district, rich in opportunities for strolling, sightseeing, eating, and wine drinking. This post will be about our lunches there.

Now, we don’t like to eat big lunches; and at home we almost never drink wine with lunch. When traveling, it can be hard to find small midday meals that are as interesting and pleasurable as we hope for as vacationers. That’s the beauty of wine bars, where we can enjoy tapas-style small food items, with wines that we don’t get at home. And Bordeaux is unquestionably world-class wine country.

We took our first day’s lunch at the wine bar of the city’s official Maison du Vin de Bordeaux. Its spacious, quiet, comfortable Bar à Vin offered 30 wines by the glass from all the Bordeaux appellations, and half a dozen assortments of cheeses, meats, and foie gras. Prices were very reasonable: each food plate €10, wines €5 to €10 a glass. Everything on the menu looked wonderful. And in fact, it all was.

We started with two glasses of a 2018 Les Hautes de Smith red Pessac-Léognan (There’s more about all the wines on Tom’s blog) and a plate of charcuterie: pork terrine, cured ham, smoked duck breast, and a dry sausage.
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Next we chose a wine comparison: one glass of a Médoc, 2011 Château La Cardonne, and one of an Haut Médoc, 2012 Château Larose Perganson. With them we had a plate of duck foie gras served with flakes of a special sea salt infused with Merlot wine.
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Even the breads served along with the small dishes were exceptional, especially the lightly raisined brown breads in the picture above. This was a small but perfectly satisfying lunch, leaving us contented and capable of looking forward with enthusiasm to dinner.

On our second day, remembering the many attractive choices we didn’t make for the previous lunch, we went right back to the Bar à Vin. We started with two glasses of a white Pessac-Leognan: 2019 Château Olivier, accompanied by rillettes of trout. It was surprising to see the rillettes arrive in our own little sealed, labeled jar, but the menu said it was a local product.
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Next, it was was back to red wine: two glasses of 2018 Chateau Tour du Termes St. Estèphe, along with the eponymous Bar à Vin assortment of edibles. The plate had three kinds of cheese – Cantal, Saint Nectaire, and Tomme de Savoie – and two cured meats. One was a Swiss air-dried beef, and the other an Italian salted and dried pork coppa.  Each was a paradigm of its kind.
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With all that, we needed one more glass of wine. A 2018 Pavillon du Haut Rocher Saint-Emilion concluded another thoroughly satisfying lunch.

.My next post will be about the equally fine dinners we enjoyed on those two days in Bordeaux.

 

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Tom and I are just back from a trip to France. We spent the first three days in Paris, staying in a small hotel on the left bank, near the Sorbonne. I’d made two advance dinner reservations at long-favorite restaurants, and for our first evening we wanted to try finding someplace simple in the neighborhood.

We absolutely lucked in.

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This is Au Père Louis – an old-fashioned (in the best sense) bistrot and wine bar just a block from our hotel, and a little gem. The friendly but properly serious young staff greeted us with courtesy, albeit mild amusement at my so-careful French. Asked for une table tranquille, they gave us a virtually private one in a low balcony room, overlooking the active bar area. Most of the clientele seemed local.
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The menu was everything we’d hoped for, with classically simple traditional fare, at very reasonable prices. We each started with os à moelle – roasted marrow bones topped with fleur de sel sea salt from the Guérande and served with lightly grilled bread. The marrow was so fragrant and luscious that I forgot to take a photo until we’d almost finished our portions.

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Having the bones sawn lengthwise as these were makes extracting the marrow much easier than digging it out of the round hole in a cross-cut section of bone. I was tickled by the menu’s picturesquely calling that technique en gouttière, which means gutter-style.
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My main course was magret de canard grillé, avec purée maison. The large, rare duck breast came with a red wine sauce that had an intriguing hint of cherries, and with very flavorful mashed potatoes.
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Tom had saucisse au couteau d’Auvergne – a hefty piece of spicy pork sausage, served with the same good mashed potatoes. Preparing sausage au couteau means coarsely chopping the meat with a knife, not putting it through a grinder. It’s said to preserve more flavor.
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These were two very rich, filling dishes, so for dessert we shared a slice of a rich, filling (!) apple tarte tatin, which came accompanied by whipped cream so thick it was almost butter.

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Our dinner wine was a 2020 Chinon from Marc Brédif. Here are Tom’s comments on the wine.

Marc Bredif is a century-and-a-quarter old Loire winery, with fabled deep aging cellars – really caves – cut into the hillsides. It was taken over in 1980 by Baron de Ladoucette, one of the most esteemed producers of Loire wines, and has since grown in stature as a specialist in Vouvray and Chinon. Our bottle was a classically lovely Loire red, rich with soft Cabernet franc flavors.

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Finally, for digestifs, Tom had a glass of clear eau de vie distilled from Normandy apple cider, and I a glass of Louis Roque’s La Vieille Prune Reserve, a fine plum brandy. Both were excellent, and both did their digestive work quite efficiently.

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This supremely satisfying meal – pure perfection for a first evening in Paris – cost only €146, which is $154. In Manhattan, it could easily have been twice that, and we’d have been hard put to find a restaurant that actually had a quiet table. When we stopped back two days later for a light lunch, we were recognized and warmly greeted. That’s part of the charm of Paris – not just international éclat but also neighborhood warmth.

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As chilly late-fall weather is settling in, I’m again looking forward to hefty, long-cooked, stick-to-the-ribs dishes. A recipe that I’ve been saving for just this season is a peasant dish of pork chops baked with cabbage, a specialty of France’s wild, mountainous Auvergne region and a preparation with some unusual aspects.

The recipe for Côtes de Porc à l’Auvergnate is in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the venerable Time-Life Foods of the World series. Written by M.F.K. Fisher, with consultants Julia Child and Michael Field (how’s that for a culinary trinity?), it was one of my earliest cooking bibles.

The amount of cabbage called for seemed enormous: three pounds for four servings. Half a big head of Savoy cabbage was just enough for two portions. Chopped up, it looked like a bushel’s worth!
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I usually give Savoy minimal cooking to preserve its sweetness, but this cabbage had to get a lot of cooking. To begin, I boiled it for five minutes, then drained and sauteed it in butter with a little onion, garlic, salt, and pepper for another five.
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With the cabbage transferred to a bowl, I used the same pan to brown two big pork chops, in more butter and oil. These were quite a bit thicker than the recipe called for, but since there were two hours of oven cooking ahead, I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
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After removing the chops to a plate, I deglazed the pan with ¼ cup of white wine, cooked until it reduced by half, and poured the liquid into the bowl of cabbage. And here I did something wicked.

I was supposed to have discarded most of the fat in the pan before adding the wine. I did draw off the fats, but I couldn’t bear to lose all those good pork and butterfat flavors. Also, my cabbage had instantly absorbed the entire wine reduction, so I just stirred in all the excess fats as well. Cabbage loves fats.

Now I was ready to assemble the dish for baking. That needed a small, deep, heavy casserole. The procedure was to lay in one-third of the cabbage, then a chop, another third of the cabbage, the other chop, and then the last of the cabbage. I was sorry not to have had a still smaller casserole, because a lot of my cabbage went into the space around the chops, rather than making generous layers between them and over the top one.
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Next was to scald half a cup of heavy cream and pour it into the pot. Sweet cream and cabbage are a combination I’d never have thought of. Seemed bizarre, but I did it; then brought the pot to a simmer, covered it tightly, and put it in a 350° oven. It was to bake for 1½ hours, but because my chops were so thick, I gave it an extra 15 minutes. It was perfuming the kitchen with a rich, savory aroma.

And we weren’t done yet. The last stage was to sprinkle the top layer with a small mixture of dried bread crumbs and grated parmigiano, and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, for another half hour or until the top was crusty and browned. Again, after testing the chops with a fork for tenderness, I kept the pot in the oven for an extra 15 minutes.
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When I disentangled the meat from the cabbage, it was clear the two chops had had very different experiences in the oven, the one dark and crusted, the other pale and soft. My fault, I guess, since I couldn’t get the upper chop sufficiently covered with cabbage. But putting them on the cutting board allowed me to carve us each some of each chop.
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The cabbage, happily, hadn’t turned into a mass of mush. Though the cream had clotted into it a bit, it had absorbed all the good cooking flavors, to taste almost like a meat-sweet sauerkraut. The chops themselves were a bit disappointing. I just don’t have good luck with pork – it tightens up, no matter how I try to keep it moist and tender. The taste of the chops was fine, but their texture distinctly chewy.
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However, with the addition of little boiled German butterball potatoes, the dish made a satisfying peasanty sort of supper, with the lush, fragrant cabbage actually the star of the show.

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You might think some computer virus had ridiculously scrambled the words of my title above. But no: That’s the name of a new-to-me Thai dish that I made this week. I found the recipe in The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan. A 1981 paperback, with much interesting historical, cultural, and culinary information about Thailand, it bills itself as “the first, complete, authentic, Thai cookbook published in America.”

The recipe’s English title is Fried Pork and Long Beans. I’d have given it a name with a different emphasis, because (a) it’s not what we in the West mean by frying but stir-frying, (b) it uses as much shrimp as pork, and (c) the beans are definitely the largest component. So, Stir-fried Green Beans with Pork and Shrimp. By any name, it’s a good dish and very easy to make.
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Acknowledging the limited availability of Chinese “long beans” in American markets, the recipe promptly allows using conventional green beans, which I did. And, as is truly essential for the speed of stir-frying, I measured, prepped, and set out all my ingredients before beginning to cook. In addition to the shrimp, beans, and pork, here’s garlic, nam pla (Thailand’s ubiquitous fish sauce), granulated sugar, freshly ground black pepper, and cooking oil.
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Into the hot, oiled wok went first the garlic, just long enough to color; next the pork, for a few minutes to sear and seal.
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At that point I had to make a change in the recipe’s stir-frying sequence. The shrimp were to have gone in next, for one minute, and finally the long beans, for only two minutes. I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for my green beans to soften, so I tossed them in with the browning pork and gave them three more minutes together before adding the shrimp.
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Even my shrimp took more than one minute to lose their translucency. No size was specified for them, so possibly mine were larger than anticipated by the recipe. However, they still didn’t take long, and I was soon able to stir in the fish sauce, sugar, and pepper to finish the dish. I must admit, the green beans were still almost raw – very firm and squeaky – but that really wasn’t too bad.  In fact, it may have been ethnically authentic. They made a nice textural contrast with the other ingredients.
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What really completed the dish was the nam pla. On its own, this liquid from salted and fermented anchovies, much like the garum of ancient Rome, is extremely pungent – not to say stinky. But mixing with other ingredients here moderated its intensity and delivered a pleasing dose of umami, giving the dish a deliciously different set of flavors from my more customary Western cooking style. I must try it in other Thai recipes.

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I’ve discovered a terrific stuffing for a pork shoulder roast. It’s made of apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar and a touch of vinegar. The combination is from a recipe for a pork loin roast that I clipped from Saveur magazine several years ago and now have adapted for a piece of rolled and tied pork shoulder.

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There was a fair amount of preparation work to do for the stuffing: slice a medium onion, slice two ounces of mushrooms, chop a teaspoon of sage leaves, chop a thick slice of bacon; peel, core, and slice an apple, and toss the slices in a bowl with just a little sugar. Tom, my obliging knife man, did most of that work, leaving only the apple for me. He may have been thinking of the apple Eve gave Adam.

Well, that was fair enough. On to the cooking.

To begin, you crisp the bacon in a skillet, add the apples, and sauté them in the bacon fat until tender.
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Remove the apples and bacon to a bowl, melt a generous tablespoon of butter in the skillet, sauté the onions in it, add the mushrooms, and continue cooking until everything is tender. (The green bits you see below are scallions, which I used instead of yellow onions.)
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Raise heat, add two tablespoons of vinegar and stir until it evaporates. (The recipe calls for cider vinegar; I had sweet apple vinegar, which worked just as well.) Stir in the chopped sage, salt, and pepper.
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Finally, return the apples and bacon to the skillet, mix everything together, and set the pan aside to cool.
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For the recipe’s intended loin roast, a pocket is to be opened down the middle of each segment that will become a chop when the roast is carved, and as much of the stuffing as will fit is put in, with any excess being strewn around the meat in the roasting pan. For my piece of shoulder, I untied the strings, made one deep cut down the middle of the meat, filled the opening with all the stuffing, and retied the piece.
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I salted and peppered the meat, poured about half a cup of water in the roasting pan, and put it in a 350° oven for about two hours, basting occasionally. The little roast plumped up and browned beautifully . . .
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. . . though I must confess that it sliced rather messily.
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Nevertheless, it made for gorgeous eating: There was a wonderful exchange of flavors between the sweet, juicy pork and the varied medley of stuffing ingredients. This is a combination I look forward to making many times again.
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P.S. Jennifer, our dinner guest, looking on as Tom and I prepared to serve the meal, sneakily took a picture of me as I was taking a picture of the meat. She caught me leaning forward: I assure you my head and hands are not as much too big for the rest of my body as they appear here!
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On our Rhône cruise a few weeks ago, Tom and I took one evening away from the boat to dine at Le Gibolin, a restaurant in Arles about which we’d read many good things. I’m away on a trip again now, so for this week’s post I’ll copy out the entry I made in my travel journal about the perfectly splendid evening we had there. I’ll add that it followed upon an uncomfortably cold, wet day of touring.

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All today’s misery was amply redeemed by the most delightful dinner we have had in almost forever. Le Gibolin, on a tiny street in Arles, to which through a wicked rainstorm we were taken by a very pleasant young taxi driver, is the answer to a dream. Twenty covers, maybe four staff members, décor preponderantly bottles of wine, run by a most formidable but handsome woman, who was first very annoyed with us for arriving 20 minutes too soon, while staff dinner was still happening. (But then, why was the “open” sign on the door?) We were welcomed by the little dog of the house, however, and Madame’s anger didn’t extend to sending us back out into the rain. We were allowed to sit at our table and wait.

In time, Madame relented and placed the big chalkboard menu before us. It looked fabulous: classic Provençal dishes. Two courses for €28, three for €35, with five or six options each for entrée and plat.
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Our choices mollified her a bit, as did our request for her to select us glasses of wines for each course and – as the meal progressed – Tom’s knowledge and appreciation of them.

I had a croustillant de pieds et tête de cochon to start, and Tom had pâté de campagne. Impossible to imagine better of their kind. Even the cornichons were amazingly good. My dish had a green condiment so intriguing I had to know what the herb in it was. Madame seemed pleased to be asked. It was tarragon, but it didn’t at all taste of licorice. How did they do that?!
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The first wine she poured for us was a 2015 Cairanne from Oratoire Saint Martin, made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah. (Tom has more to say about the wines in his blog.)

Our main courses were, for Tom, poitrine de veau rôtie aux épices douces, and for me, carré d’agneau de Provence rôti. (€4 extra for the lamb.) Both, again, as lovely as could be imagined.
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Madame asked if we’d like more of the same wine with this course and we said no, a different one, please. So she brought a Côtes du Rhône from the same maker, called Les P’tit Gars, which was a blend that she said had more Mourvèdre. An amazing step up in richness from the first.

As we ate our main course, the petit chien of the house, who had been quietly sitting under the table next to our feet all the while, began gently tapping at our legs to remind us of his patient attendance. We each rewarded him with a few tidbits. Later he sought out other patrons, but came back when we ordered cheese.

We each received a whole little round of a goat called Pelardon – young, fresh, and intensely good. Le petit chien didn’t get any of them.
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With the cheese, we asked for yet another different wine and received an Ardèche Côtes du Rhône, made from old vines and with Alicante as the main component of the blend. Alas, we didn’t catch its maker’s name. It was brighter and more acidic than the previous wines – great with the cheese.

Madame was in full charity with us by now, and when after ordering a marc de bourgogne and an eau de vie de poire that she had declared was extraordinaire, we asked to purchase a bottle of the poire, we were definitely personae gratae. Without that €65 bottle, our bill came to €131, no single cent of which we begrudged. It was a magnificent dinner. Oh, that we could come back another time!

When our faithful taximan returned to pick us up, the rain had finally stopped, and I tried to get a picture of the restaurant. Not much luck – too dark on the street.
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After a short ride through the quiet town, a supremely satisfied couple stumbled up the gangplank to our boat at about 11 p.m.

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Spareribs, Friuli Style

This dish began with a mistake. Here are some unprepossessing pieces of pork.

 

 

How did I get them? I asked the butcher for country-style spareribs, but I didn’t look closely at what he brought out from the back of the store. What I recalled as country ribs were like regular spareribs but with a much thicker layer of meat. When I got home I saw that I had two big odd-shaped slabs of pork with odd-shaped bones attached to them in odd places. (There are three here because I cut one in half.)

Subsequent research has taught me that country ribs come from the ribs right up against the animal’s shoulder, so they have more shoulder bone on them than rib bone. OK, but shouldn’t they still have been shaped like narrow rectangles – in effect, long bones with meat on them? Not these. One of them even looked like a misshapen loin chop. Clearly, some miscommunication had occurred.

Well, they were what they were, and I’d have to make do with them. But what should I do with them? They didn’t look as if they’d reward broiling or grilling, as normal spareribs do. Long, moist cooking seemed to be what they’d need.

Happily, I found just the thing in Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes. Spuntature di Maiale alla Friulana, or Spareribs Friuli Style, is a brown braise – not the kind of preparation that immediately springs to mind when thinking of Italian cooking. Friuli is the region at the extreme northeast of Italy, bordering on Austria and Slovenia, as well as the Dolomites and the Adriatic. There are strong German and Slavic influences in its foodways.

Whatever its heritage, I felt sure I was going to like the recipe. Its first step is to flour and brown the ribs in olive oil.

 

 

When the ribs come out, the same oil is used to soften and brown chopped carrot and onion.

 

 

After that, the pan is deglazed with white wine and the ribs go back in, along with some good broth (Tom’s rich brew from mixed bones, meat scraps, and vegetable trimmings, which we always have in the freezer).

 

 

My ribs simmered along in the covered pot for the recipe’s 1½ hours and then needed another 15 minutes to be fully tender. The recipe didn’t say to strain or puree the gravy, and it had thickened nicely by itself so I didn’t mind the remaining soft little bits of carrot and onion.

 

 

Plain boiled Romano beans and mashed potatoes both liked that gravy just as much as the spareribs did. A very tasty, homey, comforting meal, and really quite simple to make.

 

 

Of course, it wasn’t exactly a summery dish, but never mind that. Though we ate it on one of our many ghastly hot, humid days, the level at which Tom keeps the air conditioning in our apartment is perfectly conducive to cold-weather fare. He claims it’s all for my own good: He needs it cool to boil up all that useful broth.

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When you’ve got a good recipe, it can be tempting to try to turn it into another good recipe, just by varying the ingredients. Some of those times, you may wish you’d left well enough alone. Other times you may get a dish that keeps the best of the original and embellishes it with something new. I managed to do that recently.

For an upcoming dinner, I was thinking of a large piece of moist-cooked meat. La Tavola Italiana, my first cookbook, has a very pleasant recipe for braciolone – a rolled stuffed flank steak braised in a small brown sauce – that I hadn’t revisited in years. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of braciolone recipes, owing to the many possible variations on both meat and filling. My filling was a modest one: just small amounts of prosciutto, parsley, grated pecorino, raisins, and pignoli, with bread crumbs and raw egg to bind.

This time, I envisioned my dish as a pork roll braised in tomato sauce. I had a nice 1½ pound piece of butterflied pork shoulder to use for it, which isn’t large as braciolone cuts usually are, but I’d be feeding only three people that evening, and it would be enough. I pounded the meat as thin as it would go.
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Pulling things out of the refrigerator for the stuffing, I was suddenly gobsmacked. I had no raisins or pignoli! How was that possible? I always have raisins and pignoli.

But no, I’d used them up and neglected to replace them. Their sweetness and crunch are important to the dish, and it was too late to dash out to a store. What to do? Well, desperate times require desperate measures: I smeared the surface of the pork with a thin layer of Indian mango chutney.

In case there might be need to mitigate that “uncanonical” flavor, I added some minced mushrooms and onion, softened in olive oil – which I had been considering using anyway – to smaller quantities of the remaining stuffing ingredients. Then I got ready to roll.
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I have to say I’m terrible at rolling and tying meat. If I clumsily try to wind a single piece of string around the cylinder, it never stays closed, so I have to strangle it with individual ties. Nor can I ever manage to fold in the ends of the roll so the stuffing can’t leak out during the cooking. Here I had to sew the ends closed with a darning needle and heavy thread. My braciolone wound up looking like the victim of a bad auto crash.
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Well, it wasn’t pretty, but neither was it the worst-looking roll I’d ever achieved. I tenderly carried it to a casserole and browned it in olive oil. Predictably, some of the stuffing immediately started to escape.
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Once the meat was browned I removed it to a plate, deglazed the pan with white wine, added eight peeled and chopped plum tomatoes and let them soften a bit, then returned the meat.
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My braciole cooked covered, being turned and basted occasionally, until it was perfectly tender – about an hour and a quarter. Long before then it had been perfuming the kitchen with gorgeous aromas. The sauce was pleasantly nubbly from the escaping bits of stuffing that had merged with the tomatoes and meat juices. The meat was pretty messy to slice for serving . . .
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. . . but it was excellent. All the flavors harmonized beautifully. There was a just-detectable hint of the sweet chutney spices, which complemented the natural sweetness of the pork. Really, pork and tomatoes love each other: The pork enriched the sauce and intensified the flavor of the now-melted tomatoes, and the tomatoes drew out even more succulence from that tender, juicy cut of pork. That’s why I always make at least a little more of this dish than we need for dinner: It’s even better the next day.

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Greek Pork and Celery Stew

 A bundle of boneless pork chunks discovered in my freezer this week sent me browsing through cookbooks for a recipe to make with it. A dish we always enjoy is pork long cooked in tomato sauce for pasta, but I wanted something different for a change.

When it’s the unusual I’m looking for, I often turn to Joyce Goldstein’s Kitchen Conversations, a book whose gonzo recipes I’ve written about several times before, making them with various degrees of success; e.g., here and here.

The Hirino me Selino Avgolemono recipe I found there this time – in English, a Greek pork and celery stew – filled the bill for me: I know almost nothing about Greek cooking. The recipe looked straightforward, and I thought the sauce with the avgolemono mixture of egg yolk and lemon juice would be an intriguing taste experience.  And so it was.
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I gathered my ingredients and went to work.

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First was browning the small-cut pieces of pork in olive oil; quickly over high heat, as instructed. Next I took the meat out of the pan and put in the chopped onions. These were to cook 8 to 10 minutes – which, if I’d left the pan over high heat, would have incinerated them. I’ve found Goldstein’s recipes often sloppy about such details. I turned the gas way down and cooked the onions gently.
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The pork then rejoined the onions, along with half a cup of white wine and a cup of water. The recipe also didn’t say to deglaze the pan, but it certainly needed deglazing, so I did – then covered and simmered it for 35 minutes. At that point I added the celery.
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After about 20 more minutes of simmering, both pork and celery were tender. I removed them to a warm platter and quickly reduced the remaining liquid in the pan. Meanwhile I’d beaten an egg yolk with two tablespoons of lemon juice. Into that I stirred small spoonsful of the pan juices to keep the egg from coagulating when it hit the heat, then added the egg-and-lemon mixture to the pan along with some salt and pepper, and poured the finished sauce over the platter of pork and celery.

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It was a good dinner dish – very interesting in the combination of the smooth, sharp avgolemono sauce, the sweet pork, and the astringent celery. It was a bit reminiscent of what in my youth used to be called fricassee, usually made with chicken. I don’t know whether this recipe is an authentic version of the Greek dish (some of Goldstein’s ethnic creations are very idiosyncratic), but it was quite enjoyable.

Oh, and I’ll add that I preceded the stew with an appetizer of my only prior Greek culinary accomplishment: a bowl of homemade tzatziki, to be scooped up with triangles of toasted pita bread.

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Rillettes: A Sad Story

Rillettes are a signature dish of the cuisine of the Loire Valley. Lush and succulent, it’s potted pork: lightly seasoned, lengthily cooked, shredded, and packed in its own fat. I was eager for rillettes on my recent French trip, but nowhere was it offered. Since France wouldn’t cooperate, I determined to make it at home.

Making rillettes looked easy enough, though time-consuming. From Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking I learned that different cities in the area have different versions, some adding rabbit, duck, or goose to the pork. I used Willan’s recipe for the rillettes of Tours, which is only pork. And pork fat: She says you should use at least half as much fat as lean and you can even use equal amounts of both.

I went to a supermarket to buy the pork, and to my surprise found the cuts were quite closely trimmed. I needed more fat. I settled for two loin chops and some fatty chunks of pork belly. (That may have been my first mistake.) I cut them in pieces as directed.
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The meat, fat, and bones went into a heavy pot along with salt, pepper, half a bay leaf, and tiny pinches of nutmeg, allspice, and thyme.
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I added half a cup of water, brought it to a boil, tightly covered the pot, and put it in a 320° oven. The recipe said it would take four to five hours for a much larger quantity than I was making. Every half hour I checked to see if it needed more water to keep the meat from frying. The belly fat was extremely reluctant to melt. Even without rind, there seemed to be something cartilaginous about it. The pot needed a lot more additional water than the recipe implied, and even so the meat was getting awfully crisp. After the full five hours I took it out of the oven.
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Next was to discard the bones and bay leaf, take out the pork, reserve the fat, and shred the meat with two forks. It did not shred easily. The larger chunks of belly had to be cut up with a poultry shear, and even the softer bits of meat were pretty stringy.
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Hoping against hope, I continued with the recipe. I mixed the cooled liquid fat with the meat. There was less fat than seemed right, so I melted down some lard and added it. Then I packed it all into a small crock and faithfully followed Willan’s quaint instruction to cover it with waxed paper and tie the paper in place with string.
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It rested in the refrigerator for two days, during which time I thought perhaps it would all soften. When I took out the crock and tried spreading some of the rillettes on a slice of baguette, it was immediately apparent that it hadn’t.
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The flavor was okay, but the texture was terrible. None of the fat had permeated the tough, dry, bits of meat. We couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it.

The next day I tried to rescue my rillettes by pureeing them through the mini food processor. That didn’t work either. It left me with a semi-smooth base of puree threaded through with stringy bits. Sigh.

So, post mortem: What went wrong here? Various possibilities, starting with the wrong kind of pork and/or too poor a quality of it. Maybe too large a pot, so the meats were too spread out in it and dried before they could tenderize. Probably much too much cooking because of the intransigent belly fat. I don’t think I can blame my recipe for any of this, only myself.

Neverthess, I’m not giving up my determination to make good rillettes. Sometime soon (but not too soon; not until after the trauma fades) I will try again, with better pork, better fat, and more attention to the procedure. It seems such a simple recipe; I should be able to do this.

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