Gourmandistan

Paleoanthropology and persnickityness in potée

Potée Sarthoise While other forms of cooking undoubtedly predate the pot, there certainly couldn’t have been too many of them. Once humanity got the hang of fire and sticks, some genius must shortly have realized that cooking meat in liquid makes not only better meat, but (bonus!) a nice broth as well. Whenever this happened, however, it was a mind-bogglingly long time ago, as we were recently reminded by watching Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary about the Chauvet Cave paintings. Chauvet’s astonishing art was created over 30,000 years ago, a span almost impossible to conceive for those accustomed by the Internet to be impatient with load times longer than a few seconds. Several years ago we were lucky enough to see some not quite so old French cave art in the Dordogne (from a mere 14,000 or so years back)—and be assured, by that point, folks were very likely familiar with cooking in pots.

Our wonderful Dordogne cave guide, Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, writes that the Ice Age artists represented movement with “perspective (unequalled again until the Renaissance), three dimensions, and even cubism!” and utilized “deliberate forms of stylization and abstraction … reminiscent of twentieth century art.” While some of the early Europeans’ artistic techniques may have been lost until picked back up by Picasso and Braque, the idea of cooking stuff in pots seems to have stayed around, just morphing into regional variations such as garbure, pot-au-feu, poule au pot and this version known as Potée Sarthoise.

Potée Sarthoise

Perhaps the Paleolithic residents of the Pays de la Loire region (of which Sarthe is now a part) were a bit more fussy than the average French cave dweller, because this recipe calls for rolling one’s own sausage and a few other steps more complicated than the “drop stuff in pot, let stew until tender, then enjoy meat and broth” sort of directions cavemen (OK, Steve) usually appreciate. However, even the more primitive member of Gourmandistan really enjoyed the pistachio-studded fresh sausage, smoked sausage, beef, rabbit and especially the broth, which we enriched both with country ham and rabbit stock. It may be a technique that predates recorded history, and it may not quite conform to today’s “Paleo Diet.” But, every so often, a one-pot meal really leaves an impression.

POTÉE SARTHOISE

(adapted from Lois Anne Rothert’s The Soups of France)

  • 2 lb. beef chuck
  • 5 quarts rabbit stock or water
  • Bouquet garni (parsley sprigs, bay leaves, thyme sprigs)
  • 1 large onion, studded with 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 lb. smoked sausage (e.g. kielbasa)
  • 1/4 lb. smoked ham
  • About 3 lbs. rabbit, cut into pieces
  • 1 head cabbage, cored and cut into eighths
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into 3″ lengths
  • 6 slender carrots, peeled and cut into 3″ lengths
  • 4 or 5 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered
  • Pistachio sausage (see below), optional
  • Black pepper

If using, make pistachio sausage (see below) a day or so before making soup.

Put beef and stock or water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add bouquet garni and onion. Partially cover and simmer.

After 30 minutes, add smoked sausage, ham and rabbit.

Continue simmering for an additional hour. Check meats. Remove any that are tender and place on a plate, tented with foil. Continue simmering, taking remaining meats out as they become done. This may take an hour more.

While soup is cooking, poach pistachio sausage in a separate pan or small skillet, as follows:  Bring water (enough to cover sausage) to a boil. Reduce heat to low, then add the sausages (still in their cling wrap).  Simmer for about 20 minutes until cooked through. Remove from water and, when cooled, remove wrapping. Set aside on plate with other meats.

When all the meat cooked and removed from the soup pot, discard the onion and bouquet garni, strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Place back in soup pot and bring back to a simmer. Add pepper and taste for seasoning.

Add carrots and celery and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add potatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes more. Then add cabbage and simmer until all the vegetables are fully cooked but not mushy.

While vegetables are cooking, chop meats in to chunks.

Remove vegetables from pot with a slotted spoon. Arrange to one side of serving bowls.

Return meats to the hot broth to reheat. Once warmed, remove with a slotted spoon, arranging in the serving bowls. Pour hot broth over and serve along with bread and French mustard.

PISTACHIO SAUSAGE:

  • 1/2 lb. ground pork shoulder
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey
  • 4 TB lard or chopped pork fat
  • 1/4 c. pistachio nuts
  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 TB brandy

Mix all ingredients together.

Divide sausage mixture in half and form into two logs about 1″ in diameter. Wrap in cling wrap, long enough to leave a couple of inches on each end. Roll the cling wrap tightly around the sausage logs, like a jelly roll. Twist the ends of the cling wrap and tie off with kitchen twine. Refrigerate overnight.

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22 comments

  1. Wow, this is spectacular- artful both in writing and cooking! Love how Gourmandistan is painting the history of mankind in the light of this gorgeous pot! It´s just my kind of hearty meal (diet, how does one spell that?), but most of all I love your pistachio stuffed sausage making, a combination almost Frenchier (?) than French. A real wonder dish!

    • Thanks so much, Sabine. We love hyperbole around here! Hearty is exactly right (though I always have to think about that one, even as a native English speaker, as hardy is so similar). The sausage was great. We actually made double the amount and had the remainder fried up. So good.

  2. Great post. I’ve had something similar in Colmar in Alsace. And my mother always made leftovers into Pot au feu. Haven’ made it to those caves yet, but I’d love to.

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