|By JULIETTE ROSSANT |
What makes Pork & Sons (Phaidon 2007) such a fabulous book? Stephane Reynaud writes beautiful recipes that stretch from simple home cooking to fanciful dishes using the whole pig. Jose Reis de Matos' marvelous piggy cartoons and excellent photographs by Marie-Pierre Morel illustrated the book.
But perhaps it is the story of the rural folk in Stephane's home village of Saint-Agreve in the Ardeche, the rugged faces, the passion and purpose, and the very nature of swine that make this book so good. Pig meat is delicious and these people know it. Preparing a pig correctly means turning out the subtle and robust flavors of France. This is a book that glorifies but never sentimentalizes a family tradition.
Last year, the French version won the Grand Prix de la Gastronomie Francaise. It is not hard to see why. Stephane's restaurant, Villa9trois in the Paris suburb of Montreuil sous Bois specializes in pork. The story starts with Stephane's tipping his hat to his maternal grandfather, Francois Barbe and his dedication to his butcher shop/charcuterie and his passion for acquiring the best animals. The store passes down to Stephane's uncle and times change. Animals are no longer butchered on premises, but that doesn't stop Stephane exploring the world of slaughter, preparing the pig, and the creation of charcuterie.
Opposite a photograph of the chef (pp. 10-11) staring resolutely in front of him, with a simple backdrop of canvas, is a list of details of his first pig slaughter at age 7 and present day at age 40. Not much has changed except a more grown-up meal of wine, cheese, and pate to replace the hot chocolate, bread and butter.
Before any recipes, Stephane goes to the high plateau of the Ardeche on a frosty February to a pig slaughter. In photographs and in the text he records how the team prepares the pig. He profiles each of the teammates starting with the farmer Eric who has fattened the pig. In the photo, (pp. 20-21) Eric stands beneath drying sausages. He is dressed in a cable sweater and a wool cap and looks pleased and capable. There is no blood anywhere, and in fact, the photos are not gruesome. It is difficult to see this as death for the pig; rather it is the preparation and the eventual products that are the focus. Another portrait shows two brothers:
These two brothers are the living history of peasant life. Welcome guest at the pig=killing – they look after us and make sure we don't go thirsty. Pierre and Charlou are like two oak trees that have been around for ever. No one can imagine one without the other.The photographs on the following pages show the two men at mundane tasks like reading the paper, making a fricassee, and the enormous frying pan full of sliced potatoes that will, no doubt, be part of the meal. The recipe is on page 48. There is a recipe for making blood sausages and finally a photo of the blood pudding being put into casings. (pp. 28-29)
A short lesson in anatomy (pp. 44-45) shows the cuts of pig using the cute piggy cartoons – one pig outlines the loin on the other. A chapter on blood sausage recipes follows including rustic dishes like Blood Sausage with Fall Fruits (p. 52) and a luscious Blood Sausage Gratin with Caramelized Onions (p. 54). Move over Wolfgang Puck — here is Stephane's Blood Sausage, Apple, Potato and Fennel Tart, a stunning pizza in post-modernist colors (p. 56).
The following chapters cover sausages and sausage making with a useful guide to regional sausages (p. 68-69). Another on hams includes plenty of recipes for great sandwiches only the French can make with their Jambon de Paris and cured hams. Stephane has marvelous recipes for Pates and Terrines, and tells the story of the cooks who make them. There are more chapters on Granny Pig (p. 210), Barbecued Pork (p. 262), and A Piggy Party (p. 280). The book ends with a chapter on Wild Boar (p. 340) and luckily has a source section for wild boar, blood sausage and other special products. These recipes should be made, though, of course, it would be so much better to be in the Ardeche and taste them at the source. In fact, Stephane encourages readers to visit Saint-Agreve, though its unlikely that hordes will make the climb into the mountains.
And a message to my readers: why not visit Saint –Agreve? It's well worth it, for although you have to negotiate sharp bends in the road, you get to breathe clean air at a height of 3,300 feet. Spend some leisurely time here and you'll soon be a Saint-Agreve addict (p. 9)Super Chef will be there.
Sidney Morning Herald, Publishers Weekley, TIME, New York Magazine, Boston Herald, The Australian, Irish Times, L'Humanite, L'Express
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