Bon Anniversaire A Toi
A French birthday party on a stormy springtime Sunday. Chased indoors by thunder and hail after a welcoming glass of Champagne and little sausage bites on the patio, we settled in for a festive afternoon. I tried to explain that we have a similarly pastry-wrapped sausage nibble, but somehow cochons en couette, although I think it’s a good translation of pigs in a blanket, fell strangely on the ears of our friends. It’s one of those things that just sounds better in English, although it tasted better in French, being made with puff pastry and really good sausage.
We all agreed, though, that this tempting starter should be given a special name, and we settled on Crevette dans son Berceau de Verdure, shrimp in a cradle of greenery. This turns out to be one of those things that sounds a whole lot better in French but tastes good in both languages.
But the oohs and aahs that greeted the appearance of this cassoulet were bilingual, universal, and fervent. This was a cassoulet delivered directly from Castelnaudary, which is the Cassoulet Mecca of France. Having made several versions of cassoulet at home, both in the US and here, I was delighted to finally have a chance to taste the real deal.
Will you permit me a paragraph of complete cassoulet geekery? I know that some of you are avid cassoulet makers, and will be wondering about the minutest of details. First of all, the raging debate: to Tarbais or not Tarbais? These beans were lingots, not Tarbais, and they were perfectly tender yet held their shape. To top with crumbs or not? Nope, here the crust was formed entirely by turning, and it was more chewy than crunchy. The sausage wasn’t like any other I’ve had, and I think the reason was the fat, which I imagined was gorge de porc, the same pork fat I wrote about here. The sausage was almost dissolving into the whole, and broke apart at the slightest touch. The ensemble was more unctuous than any cassoulet I’ve eaten, not mushy from being overcooked, but melting in the mouth, undoubtedly from the fat content, without being greasy. It was, in fact, quite awesomely delicious, and met its match in a glass or two of a beautiful Saint Emilion.
Incredibly, inevitably, there was also birthday cake. And then, as a digestif, to help the sweet medicine go down,
the birthday boy unwrapped his new ukelele
everyone grabbed an instrument
and set about doing what comes naturally, in every language.
Once again, it seemed to be all about the music. But I have to admit that the cassoulet came in a close second. Very close.
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