The French Connection: Preserved Meats
Though French cuisine has a reputation for being hoity-toity, la cuisine classique is remarkably simple, makes use of seasonal ingredients, and lets nothing go to waste. Even the most memorable pâté is simply ground meat, fat, herbs, and a little brandy or Cognac.
Perhaps it’s his French ancestry that compels people to gift my husband with the spoils of the hunt; on more occasions than I’d care to count, he’s been the recipient of one wild beast or another. Once, early in our marriage, I returned home unexpectedly to find him in the kitchen, a glass of wine in hand and a massive deer haunch protruding from our kitchen sink. After I calmed down, he explained that his intentions were admirable, that he was in pursuit of the perfect sausage, and that all of his efforts were for me.
His culinary sweet talk made it impossible not to forgive him, especially after I sampled the remarkably delicious venison sausage he made. Not long after, though, I came home to discover a pig’s head in my refrigerator and laid down the law. He could butcher and cook any wild beast his heart desired, but it would need to take place in my absence and he had better not leave any trace behind. He agreed and many blissful years transpired.
Recently, on a sleepy autumnal afternoon, I heard my husband’s phone ring and a short muffled exchange ensue. He quickly stepped from the room and I overheard bits and pieces of his whispered conversation. Whether or not my wifely sixth sense had kicked in is debatable, but I was pretty sure a wild animal—or two—were on their way to our kitchen.
I questioned him; at first, he was reticent, but with very little prodding, he confessed. Exuberance was his downfall. An acquaintance had shot two wild geese and hadn’t a clue what to do with them. It would be tricky work, he confided, for wild geese are lean and gamey, but he was certain he could rise to the challenge.
I still don’t know when the birds made their way into our house, for my husband is a gentleman and exercised discretion. Late one evening when I returned from an engagement, I was met with the most marvelous and savory smell; it permeated the entire house, and seemingly hung in the air. It enticed me straight into the kitchen, where I anticipated entering into a marvelous culinary scene, where with a fork in hand, I would sample each delectable morsel, oohing and aahing until my belly was full.
But the kitchen was empty, every surface spotless, and, on further inspection, nothing on the stove or in the oven. Anxiously, I opened the refrigerator and, to my dismay, discovered only six small jars, their contents sealed beneath a thick layer of fat.
I found my husband fast asleep in his chair and it wasn’t until morning that I learned he had made goose rillettes: goose meat cooked down in its own fat until it’s infused with avor and then preserved with another, thicker layer of fat.
He promised we would sample it later, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I begged him to unseal a jar and give me a taste and though I was acutely aware that, like any Frenchman, he would be loath to waste a scrap, I knew, too, this habit could very well be the secret to his delectable pâtés, his extraordinary sausages, and his to-die-for cassoulet.
I tried to show restraint, but his goose rillettes were so spectacularly delicious, I simply couldn’t stop myself from greedily devouring every morsel, then forgetting my manners and using the last crust of bread to wipe the jar clean. ough I didn’t say it, I secretly hoped he would come across a few more wild geese—and soon.