Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recipes from Burgundy, France

This week we're back in France, and I have to confess that I really don't get what all the fuss is about French food. At least not the stuff from Burgundy.

Yes, it was good, but I wouldn't go to a fancy French restaurant and spend $100 a plate for it. Of course one might argue that French food cooked up by a French chef in a fancy French restaurant is probably going to be different than similar food cooked up by a frazzled mother of four in an underfurnished Northern California kitchen. But in this case I think it might actually just be preference.

Food from Burgundy is rich. It's buttery, creamy and fatty. It's heavy. Now, most people like stuff that fits that description. I guess I do too, but in very small doses. Certainly not in every course of a four course meal.

Burgundy is located in east central France and from a non-culinary perspective must not be particularly interesting because I could hardly find anything about it online, not even in Wikipedia (though I'm sure I'll hear about that "not particularly interesting" comment from someone at some point). What I did learn is that Burgundy is sparsely populated, has only a few minor tourist attractions and is mostly famous for its vineyards. Historically it was held by some very wealthy dukes, one of whom was the guy who turned Joan of Ark over to the English in 1430 for the nice tidy sum of 10,000 gold crowns. How much is that worth in today's dollars? I don't know. I'm guessing a lot.

But anyway, the food: After the usual frustratingly exhaustive search, I'd nearly concluded that the only thing they actually eat in Burgundy is Beef Bourguignon. And I really, really didn't want to make beef bourguignon. Three reasons: 1) too easy 2) way too mainstream and 3) carrots. Did I mention how much I hate carrots?

Then I found a site called, which features a complete menu of Burgundian dishes, four of which I ended up using for this entry.

Here they are:

Escargots de Bourgogne (Yes, that's right. Snails)

  • 12 large canned snails
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 tbsp Italian parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Corniottes (Savory Cheese Pastries)

  • 2 cups fromage blanc or 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere or Swiss-type cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound puff-pastry dough
Lapin à la Moutarde (Rabbit in Mustard Sauce)
  • 1 3 to 4 lb rabbit
  • 4 strips bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • salt and pepper
  • If needed: 1 tbsp butter mixed with 1 tbsp flour
Tarte de Semoule au Cassis (Semolina Tart with Black Currants)

For the dough:
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp fine sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold margarine
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • pinch of salt
For the filling:
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 pound blackcurrant berries,
  • 1 vanilla bean
I did need a side dish, too, so I used my recently discovered trick and Googled "Recette de pommes de terre bourgogne" (French for "potato recipe burgundy") and found this one on a website called "Bourgogne-Recettes:"

Gratin Dauphinois au Bleu (Potato Gratin with Bleu Cheese)

  • 3 lbs golden potatoes
  • 2 cups cream
  • 8 oz Bleu d'Auvergne or other French bleu cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
Now I wasn't originally planning to do two appetizers, but for some terribly misguided reasons that I won't get into here, I really wanted to try eating snails. So I added the escargots to my menu. They were easy to make, and thank goodness for that because they were also quite easy to throw into the trash. Wait, just let me pause to hear that collective gasp of horror from foodies all over the world: < GASP! > OK are you done? Thanks.

Snails, as I'm sure you know, can't be purchased in just any grocery store. You need a shop that deals in gourmet groceries (or an online grocer). I got mine at Corti Brothers in Sacramento.

So to make these escargots, first drain and rinse the snails. Yes, they look as gross as you might expect them too. Now mince the shallots, garlic and parsley (I forgot to include the parsley so I just sprinkled some on top when I was done) and mix it into the softened butter with the salt and pepper.

Now the recipe says you need either snail shells snail dishes to cook these in, which of course I didn't have and wasn't about to invest in since I had a feeling this wasn't something I was going to make again. So I used muffin cups. How's that for resourcefulness?

So first spoon a little bit of butter into the bottom of the muffin cup (shell or snail dish). Then add a snail and top with a little more butter. Put the snails in the fridge for at least one hour, or until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pop the snails into the oven and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the butter is bubbly.

Now for the palatable appetizer, the corniottes.

Fromage blanc needs to be poured into a cheesecloth-lined strainer, set over a bowl and chilled for at least 8 hours, which is one of the reasons why I didn't use it. And also because they didn't have it at Safeway. If you're using ricotta instead, you just need to mix it with the crème fraiche (or sour cream), 3/4 cup of the Gruyere and one of the eggs. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Now roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface. Cut into rounds about 5 inches in diameter. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with wax paper and prick them all over with a fork. Chill for 15 minutes or until firm.

Beat the other egg in a small bowl and brush around the edges of each round.

Drop some filling into the center of each round and pull up the edges to make a triangular shape. Take care not to let any of the filling get on the part of the pastry with the egg wash, or it won't stick well. Now put back in the fridge and chill for at least 30 minutes (this is supposed to prevent them from opening during baking, though it sure didn't work for me).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake until lightly browned (15 minutes or so). Now sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere (which was pointless in my case because mine were just like little bowls of melted cheese anyway). Bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until the Gruyere melts and starts to brown.

Now on to the dessert, which takes some time but can be made in advance.

First blend the four, sugar, margarine, oil and salt in a bowl with your fingers until you get something that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the water a little at a time until a crumbly dough starts to form. Roll it into a ball and dust it with a little flour. Wrap it in wax paper and chill for one hour.

Now in my part of the country, you can't get black currants. You just can't. The closest you can come is dried currants, which I already happened to have on hand. So I just took some of those and soaked them in water for a few hours, then followed the instructions from there.

The recipe says to mix the currants with sugar and water and cook over high heat until they form a thick sauce. Now I assumed that they meant add the sugar in the amount called for in the recipe, which is evidently not what they meant since that amount of sugar is used later on in the semolina topping. So anyway I ended up with currants that were way too sugary. I saved them, though, by pouring off most of the syrup and then mixing in a little currant jelly. Which also helped the consistency since the dried currants never did make the thick sauce the recipe wanted them to make.

So after you've cooked the berries, make the semolina topping. First split the vanilla bean in half (I actually scraped mine so there would be a more intense vanilla flavor) and add it to the milk. Heat the milk and vanilla until it just starts to boil (take care, milk is easy to scald). Remove the bean and stir in the semolina. After the mixture has cooled for a few minutes, add the egg yolks.

Now beat the egg whites until you get stiff peaks, then add the sugar. Fold the egg white mixture into the semolina.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a tart pan and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Line the pan with the dough and prick all over with a fork. Return to the fridge for 10 minutes or so.

Spread the currant mixture over the pastry dough, then spread the semolina topping over that.

Smooth with a spatula and bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Are you tired yet? Only two more recipes.

The potatoes are easy but they have to cook for a while, so let's do those next:

Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices. Place them in a bowl and season them with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Arrange the potato slices in a buttered casserole dish. Now crumble the blue cheese into a bowl with the cream and pour over the potatoes.

The Google translation of this recipe now says to "dispense with the butter," whatever that means. I just chose to cut the butter into cubes and place on top. You could probably have just poured melted butter over the mixture as well, but since it didn't say anything about "melting," that's not what I did.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and cook the potatoes for about 1 1/2 hours. If they aren't browned on top by then (mine were) you can finish them under the broiler until they have a nice crispy surface.

Finally, the rabbit. Now I've only eaten rabbit a few times, and I've only actually cooked it one time. The last time I cooked it I kind of just closed my eyes and threw the whole carcass in the crockpot. A dead rabbit just looks way too much like a dead rabbit. This time, sadly, I had to cut the danged thing up. And I don't mind telling you, I've never even so much as cut up a chicken. It's just so much easier to ask the butcher to do it.

But I did it, thanks to this site. It actually wasn't that hard, except for the whole dead Thumper thing.

Poor Thumper.

Anyway once your rabbit is cut up (into six pieces), rub it all over with Dijon mustard and let it marinade in the fridge, covered, for three or four hours.

Now fry the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned, then drain on paper towels. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of oil from the skillet, then add peanut oil and the rabbit pieces with the mustard. Saute for 10 minutes or until brown, turning once.

Add the bacon, onion, herbs and white wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes or until tender.

Now add the half and half. Stir and cook for another five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Arrange the rabbit on a serving plate, leaving the sauce in the pot.

If your sauce needs thickening, mix the flour with the softened butter and wisk in. Boil for one or two minutes or until thick. Serve the rabbit with the sauce spooned over.

Now I already gave you a pretty good idea of what I thought, but I'll give you a brief rundown anyway.

The snails were actually surprising. They weren't slimy and they weren't rubbery. They were almost like a mushroom, but a little bit firmer. They actually tasted good. But let's face it, they were snails. It was really hard to get past the idea that I was eating that slimy, mucus-trail leaving thing that slithers around in the garden.

Martin ate one snail, chewed it up thoughtfully and then said "that's the first and only snail I will ever eat in my life" and carried the remaining two back into the kitchen, destined for the trash. I ate two of my three, but only so I could say I'd eaten one more than Martin did.

The corniottes were good but not really that unusual. I only ate half of one, not because I didn't like it but because it was so heavy and rich I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat much of my main meal if I finished one off.

The rabbit was good, but again, rich. Not so much because of the preparation but because rabbit is just a really rich meat. Though I think I could have done without the bacon. The potatoes were more of the same; good, but rich. Too much cream and--dare I say it--too much cheese. And finally, the tart--tasty but I think mine could have been cooked a bit longer. The pastry was a little doughy. But overall it was quite unusual compared to the standard run-of-the-mill American desserts. It was probably my favorite part of the meal.

But, as I said, not something I'd pay $100 a plate for. Now perhaps all that richness was just a Burgundy thing, (Brittany's dishes were a little rich too, but not so overwhelmingly rich). I do have six more French regions to go, so I guess the jury is still out.

Next week: Burkina Faso

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Hey Becki! Great concept for a blog :) Cayman has some awesome food

    You can use that canned breadfruit for a breadfruit salad:

    Cayman Style fish is an easy and delicious main course:

    And you HAVE to do a cassava heavy cake for dessert :)

    Good luck!

  2. Lol I guess I'll be the first. Burgundy- where some of the world's finest wines are born! Full of old Gothic churches and monasteries and rich in history. Gorgeous vineyard landscaping. Famous for my three favorite artisan foods- Bread, cheese and wine! Thank you for including Burgundy in your blog. I have never tried snails before, but I am curious to know if they use a specific kind in France and if they differ in taste and texture?

  3. Hi Becki,
    Your Burgundy menu definitely did turn out very rich (haven't read the Brittany one yet)! As you have more French regions to go, and are sounding a little disillusioned, thought I'd tell you about my two favourite English language books on French cookery: Mireille Johnston's French Cookery Course (especially Part 1) and French Country Cooking by the Roux Brothers. Both have a regional layout, which should be helpful for your project, and are now quite old (published in the 90s) - both are available second-hand very cheaply from, and make quite interesting reading on France as well as cookery! I bought both while I still lived in England (I've lived in France in France for 14 years, and I've just realised it's 14 years exactly today!!), and still use them regularly.

    Re. snails, I'm no expert as I don't much care for them, but from observing other more adventurous souls, I've gathered that commercial and restaurant snails seem to be a particular large (nay, huge!) variety, but round where I live in the country people go out and harvest their own, and I believe any and all snails go into their pots (after proper preparation of course).

    Still enjoying the blog, and looking forward to trying some of the recipes when I get home after an extended stay in the UK. Hope you're having a good summer, Lyn :-)

  4. Lyn, thanks for the book suggestions! I always love to find non-internet resources and these sound like they'd be perfect, especially since they're organized by region and I still have a few regions to go. And snails, yeah, even if they were smaller I still probably wouldn't eat them again. Nothing wrong with the flavor, just that mental block in my brain!


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