Bon Anniversaire A Toi

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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the birthday boy unwrapped his new ukelele

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everyone grabbed an instrument

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and set about doing what comes naturally, in every language.

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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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6 Comments on “Bon Anniversaire A Toi”

  1. Silvia Carry Says:

    Darn, fat is always at the core of delicious flavor, no doubt.
    Cassoulet is one of my favorite things, along with duck confit and the glorius dishes of Paula W.
    Do you suppose you could try and duplicate this one or at least get close?
    I’m dying here….(g)

  2. Dick Says:

    The cassoulet is mouth-watering, and the party sounds like a blast, but (pedant mode ON) you might want to retitle this one “Bon Anniversaire à Toi,” au masculin (pedant mode OFF). And please feel free NOT to post this gratuitous comment on the blog (g)!

  3. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thanks, Dick! That was a total brain fart on my part, and when it comes to grammar, the more pedants at the party the better. Of course a birthday is masculine, as are so many good things in French life. The accented a, however, isn’t required for a capitalized letter, which I find to be mystifying. It’s just one of those things I’ve come to accept.

  4. Abra Bennett Says:

    Silvia – the Toulouse cassoulet in Cooking of Southwest France is close, but it has a lot more meat and does use breadcrumbs for the topping. If you have that book, the Catalan lamb cassoulet is really delicious. It’s not Castelnaudary style, but it’s a great dish. For my taste the Toulouse style one is too meaty and heavy.

  5. Dick Says:

    My ridiculously pedantic quibble was directed at the gender of Anniversaire, not at the unaccented A. (L’accent est grave mais son absence ne l’est pas (ouch!). (Oddly enough, the accents are used on capitalized letters in Québec. Go figure!)

    And I neglected to mention how great Shel looked at the party!


  6. It was also my Wifes’ birthday that day , so a feminine birthday was quite in order . I’m still getting over that meal , and we will order another when you come back Abra !


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