If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know I have a stack of much-loved French cookbooks that are surely the stuff of which dreams are made…well, at least my dreams. I’m not as much of an armchair cookbook reader as some, though there is always a stack next to my reading chair–even at Christmas. Maybe especially at Christmas. (List of said books upcoming on a blog page. I promise.)
I’m more likely to jump up and turn the stove on, but I, too, have my cookbook hours…and hours. Coming home from France in late September, I promised myself–and you!– I’d keep the vacation alive with a few posts I thought of as, “More Time, French Style.” In order to to carry through on the deal I made, I’ve been loving through these books on a steady basis.
One of my older favorites is SAVEUR COOKS AUTHENIC FRENCH: Rediscovering the Recipes, Traditions, and Flavors of the World’s Greatest Cuisine. (Used copies still available–excellent cooking resource with addictive photography.) No matter how long it’s been on my shelf, it’s one of my go-tos. To get a small, current idea of the sort of thing offered in this book, look through their post, “65 Classic French Recipes to Add to Your Repertoire”.
Cook through all 65 and you’ll have a solid beginning basic education in French cooking and will have saved yourself the cost of a few cooking lessons. (Though my lessons are mostly fun and include both dinner and wine.) You’ll also have eaten happily and well.
BOOKS OR INTERNET? If I have a question about a recipe or a technique, I may very well go to the internet as you do, but I always wonder about the quality of the information. Librarians often used to say, “There’s no such thing as good FREE information.” In other words, who gives away their valuable knowledge? Today there are so many dependable things on cooking websites that we now know folks do share freely, but one must still be able to determine which piece of information is the most valuable. If I look at the cookbooks of well-established authorities, I know I can trust these. I can also easily compare recipes from different books. Believe it or not, some things, particularly old ones, aren’t on the internet; they only exist in hard copy. And, as we all know, snuggling up with a book is a bit more comfy than snuggling up with a laptop. There’s also no weird light involved that troubles your sleep should your stack of cookbooks happen to be next to your bed. (I don’t like cookbooks on my iPad, either, for some reason. I’ve tried it multiple times. I either keep losing the page I’m on as I try to look at something else or the screen times out, or I nearly kill the thing by spilling liquids or food on it. As cooks and writers, we’ll keep working on this option, but it’s not quite there yet. Not for me.)
Glancing through a few books just to get ideas about which direction I wanted my pork stew to go, I was a bit in wonderland. (Sure,I looked a bit online, too.) While pork probably isn’t the most favored meat for main dishes in France (I’d say beef is best loved, but it’s hard to say sometimes), it’s nearly overwhelming how much pork is used for general cooking. Here in Colorado, I happened to have two huge pork loins from my local grocer’s BOGO deal. One goes in the freezer for a dinner party (I roast it with brown sugar and rosemary and surround it at table with mounds of oven vegetables and spicy cranberry sauce); the other is divided up for stew and stir fry. This happened to be stew day and why not French pork stew?
Below is the meat market in Beaune, France.
Flavor is often determined by the fat involved in the dish and pork fat is at the top of many a cook’s lists for flavor. Just think what bacon does for a BLT or for baked beans. What sausage, such as bratwurst, would be like without pork. (We do have other sausages, but they sometimes pale in comparison.) How about sauerkraut without a ham hock or two in the pot? A smokehouse that didn’t serve ribs? Green eggs without ham? (“I do not like you…”) Ham and no beans–not! I’m glad to be an omnivore and you get the idea.
below: indoor marché or market we shopped at in Burgundy for meat, sausage, eggs, cheese, or many other things (a social occasion unlike the American grocery)
There are many sorts of French pork stews and they do often contain sausage, ham, or ham hock in addition to a pork roast, usually a shoulder–for flavor and sometimes for texture/interest, too. Think creamy pots of holiday cassoulet or Potée, a French pork stew cooked in a big earthenware pot, of which I have none, though I do have–you guessed it–a slow cooker. I had no sausage or ham the day I made this (woe is me), so included a little bacon for flavor, just as a French cook might. If you have some delicious sausages–fresh or smoked–brown them with the pork and add them, too!
above: le vendeur de saucisses in the indoor market (the sausage seller)
Another typical addition is shredded cabbage, but I had used all of my cabbage in my Potato, Leek, and Cabbage Soup.
I made the stew anyway, and didn’t forget the garlic–a little, but not too much, is the French way.
below: garlic, garlic, garlic (Note the good prices, which translate into about $3.50 per pound or 16 ounces in American terms. There are about 40 head of garlic in a pound.)
As you stir up this balanced one-pot dinner, I think you’ll be warm, happy, and full as were we. A simple family or company dish, my pork stew leaves the rest of the day for other activities. Like reading French cookbooks or going to the wine shop. Besides, you’ll have something to make in your slow cooker other than beef stew. Pick up a loaf of crusty bread to dunk and go French–no butter and no bread plate as the bread goes right on the table or in the bowl if you’ve dunked it. Try this:
SLOW COOKER FRENCH PORK STEW WITH WHITE BEANS
Don’t like potatoes? Skip them and add 2 cans of drained Cannellini beans, instead of one, for the last hour of cooking. No bacon? Brown the meat in olive oil instead or skip the browning step totally if you’re in a real rush. See cooking note below.
- Olive oil
- 2 pieces bacon, chopped
- 2 pounds pork loin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces (can sub 3/4 pound baby carrots)
- 2 stalks celery with leaves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes (can sub a second can of beans at end if you like)
- Large handful chopped fresh parsley–add half to pot; reserve half for garnish
- 15-ounce can tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, dried basil, crushed dried rosemary (rub the rosemary between your fingers to crush.)
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch Piment d’Espelette ( can substitute crushed red pepper)
- 15 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (added one hour before serving-use Great Northern beans or Cannellini beans)
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese for garnish (about 2 ounces)
Cook bacon until crispy in a heavy skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and refrigerate. (Add at end with beans). Toss pork with salt, pepper, and flour. Brown in batches in the bacon fat in the skillet, adding a little olive oil if the pan becomes dry. Add browned meat to 6-quart slow cooker, along with the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, tomatoes, broth, wine, herbs and Piment d’Espelette. Cook on low about 6 hours–or until meat and vegetables are all nearly tender, stirring in beans and reserved bacon to cook for the last hour. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot in warmed bowls garnished with a garnish of reserved chopped parsley and grated Gruyere cheese.
*COOK’S NOTE: You can skip browning the meat if you like (I think it’s better to do it if you have time), but then you’ll need to whisk the flour into the chicken broth before adding to pot so the stew thickens as it cooks. (You might also add a tablespoon of the bacon fat to the mixture for flavor.)
Instant Pot Note: I didn’t try this in the Instant Pot, but will do so next time. I’m thinking about following the basic pattern of my recipe–sauté bacon and then pork, followed by slow cooking. I’m not usually in a terrible hurry, as are some cooks, and I enjoy the blossoming aromas around the house If you’d like to try a pressure cooked faster version, you might try something like this. If you give it a go, tell me about it!
WINE: Stick with the French theme and pick up an inexpensive French Burgundy (they do exist) or a red Côtes du Rhônes for this hearty stew.
Personal note: This is my week to co-coordinate cooking for homeless families in downtown Colorado Springs at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ; it’s one of three times per year that this happens. I’ve been cooking for what has been locally known as IHN (Inter-Faith Hospitality Network), and is now part of Family Promise, for many years, but have just begun as a coordinator over the last several months. It’s a heart-warming, positive thing to be doing in our country that’s so divided and full of hate and violence. In our community, 30 local churches, temples, and mosques take turns housing the homeless for a week at a time, cooking dinner for the people and providing ingredients for breakfasts and lunches.
For all the talk about homeless folk, I’d tell you that most of the homeless I’ve cooked for in the Family Promise network work but are unable to make enough money to support their families. They sometimes have less education than it takes to make a larger salary, or perhaps have fallen on hard times due to illness, job loss, or family difficulties. The families are mostly, but not always, headed by single moms without health insurance or working family support systems. One of our city’s largest problems is the lack of affordable housing, as a two-bedroom apartment rents for over $1,000 per month–and the waiting list is long. Saving up first and last month’s rent plus deposit is a tall order and is sometimes insurmountable.
Picture this if you’re a single parent making $250 per week trying to support a few kids and paying daycare. Last night I had to run to the store and buy one can of dry formula, six tubes of baby food, and a small pack of diapers. My bill was almost $50. Before entering the Family Promise program, often these families lived in their cars. The trauma that sort of homelessness causes takes many months to heal and sometimes longer. It’s a double-whammy.
A LONG-TERM SOLUTION
On average, 74% of the families we serve will gain long-term housing while in the program, in nine weeks. Not only does this high success rate mean many more families stably housed, it is also a tremendous cost saving to the community as diversion from far more expensive interventions. Our approach of keeping families together, identifying their strengths, partnering with the community for solutions means that families are at much lower risk of returning to homelessness.
If you’re thinking about holiday giving or a volunteer program in your community, consider Family Promise. You won’t be sorry.
Make some stew; cook for someone soon, whatever you do,