Lard Work


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There are endless ways to die with this cookbook — and so much animal fat that I expected each recipe to come with a doctor’s warning. You don’t even have to be particularly accomplished to do it; all levels of difficulty are represented. Sure, I could have cured my own pork belly, but damn it, my “vacuum-pack machine” is at the cleaners. I could have also tried to make my own terrine, which would include me deboning and curing a duck. I wanted something chic and simple, so that when I made my big reveal at my dinner party, I could brush off the oohs and ahhs with an easy, “Oh, this is nothing,” and not be tempted to curl under the table to nap while everyone else ate.

So instead of haunting eBay for a vacuum-pack machine or risking life and limb to debone anything, I turned to the simpler recipes. They looked as if they provided a big payoff for less stress. Even the side dishes came crammed with animal fat, braised in wine, or drowning in sauce. The Oignes Farcies (Stuffed Onions) sang to me from their picture. Onions, stuffed with pork, coated in sticky reduced demi-glace. I wasn’t sure if it was a practical joke that led to the recipe being filed under “side dishes,” but I was sure that with a few other sides, it would be more than enough food.

I started to write out the shopping list: Pork shoulder, beef stock, eggs, a quart of demi-glace. I thought I should add a salad to the meal, just for appearances if nothing else, and found only two recipes. One included lardons and used the leftover bacon grease as the oil for the salad dressing; the other used three types of meat. I went with the Crispy Bacon Salad, further tempting fate.

All of the recipes were easy enough to make, to the point that I was able to remember to put on some mascara and change out of the skirt I’d been wiping my hands on all night. I’ve certainly hosted dinners where I was so exhausted that when company arrived, my hair was still in strange contortions, barely held together by an elastic band, with flour all over my face and clothes. But no. The potatoes were made quite quickly, the salad dressing thrown together at the last second, and the onions were that magical combination of being quick to make while still looking very dramatic. The directions look extensive, but that’s only because the authors are very thorough and clear with their instructions — there are even pictures illustrating how to correctly hold your knife while coring the onions. The result is stunning, even for someone who has a serious issue with making  her food look pretty. Don’t contradict when guests say, “This must have taken you ages!” — just take in the impressed looks and hearty appreciation.

After dinner, I imagined that the answer to why French Women Don’t Get Fat was “drink more wine, smoke some cigarettes.” Just in case it wasn’t, I figured I could always double my ballet classes this week — that is, if having my insides coated in pig fat didn’t wind me. My friend the pastry chef starting flipping through Bistros and Brasseries. She took one look at the Mousse au Chocolat recipe and declared, “I am going to make this.”

I pointed at the five raw eggs the recipe called for. “It will either be delicious, or it will kill us, ” I said.

“Possibly both,” she replied.

Thankfully, it was only the former, and it was delicious. Somehow we had cheated death, and would live to pour bacon fat over our salads another day. • 26 August 2008

Oignons Farcies (Stuffed Onions)
From Bistros and Brasseries: Recipes and Reflections on Classic Café Cooking

Serves 6

6 medium Spanish onions (6 to 8 oz each)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste
1 3/4 cup cepes, chanterelle, or cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
12 ounces ground pork shoulder
1 teaspoon dried sage
nutmeg as needed
2 tablespoon chopped parsley, divided use
1 large egg
1 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper as needed
1 quart demi-glace

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Trim the root end of the onions, removing the roots but leaving the root end intact to hold it together as it braises. Peel the onions from the root up, removing only the first layer of peel. This may leave some peel at the top from the second layer of the onion. Don’t worry about it — your onions should have a nice point to their tops.

2. Blanch the onions in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Refresh them in cold water until they’ve cooled. Cut off about 1 inch of the tops and reserve.

3. To prepare the onion to stuff, you must remove the inside. To do that, hold your paring knife horizontally so that you can insert the tip into the onion, piercing it about 1/2 inch up from its base, and about 1/2 inch from the other edge. Cut across the onion (your cut should be parallel to your work surface) to within 1/2 inch of the other side. Be careful not to cut completely across the onion. Next, cut into the top of the onion holding the knife vertically so your knife blade can cut from the top of the onion and around the center of the onion. This cut should be about 1/4 inch in from the edge. Cut all around the onion, and down to the horizontal cut. When you have completed the circle, you can fish the inside of the onion out with the tip of your knife.

4. To prepare the stuffing, heat the butter in a medium pan and sauté the garlic for 30 seconds over low heat. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté for 2 minutes, or until they soften. Add the wine and reduce the liquid by half over medium heat. Remove the mix from the burner and allow to cool.

5. Add the pork, sage, nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley, egg, and bread crumbs and mix it all well; season with salt and pepper.

6. Stuff the onions with this mixture until they’re full and cover them with their tops. Place them into a 2-inch deep roasting pan just big enough for the onions to fit snugly.

7. Bring the demi-glace to a boil and pour it over the onions. Liberally baste the onions with the demi-glace, and then bake the onions, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, or until they’re tender. Baste them frequently throughout the cooking.

8. When the onions are cooked, carefully remove them from the tray and onto a serving dish; keep them warm. Reduce the braising liquid over high heat until it coats the back of a spoon. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and spoon it over the onions. Sprinkle the onions with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley and serve.