Sunday, April 28, 2013

Being A Carnivore

The mobile meat market usually has quail and partridge, pheasant and rabbit, and I know I've seen hare and wild boar and pâtés made of everything from deer to duck, so it probably wouldn't be too hard to find some of the more exotic game meats and birds to recreate the dishes enjoyed by wealthy French landowners on their servant-assisted woodland hunts and by poor French peasants poaching in those same woods. According to La Cuisine de Monsieur Momo in the chapter titled "Of Fur and Feather," snipe, woodcock, thrush, dove, pigeon, scoter (a type of marine duck), chamois ("if you happen to be by a glacier such as Wildstrubel"), and even squirrel were cooked regularly. Madame Peg insists that no spices should be added to squirrels when they are cooked slowly in butter, wrapped in thin slices of pork belly, so that the exquisite nutty flavor of the flesh can be appreciated.

Ever since I became a vegetarian, and more so after I started eating meat again, I've tried to live by the principle that if we're going to kill animals for meat, we should treat them well in the process, and use every possible bit of them in the end. I don't have a moral problem with eating meat, having set myself the test of killing something before eating it, and passing that test, though that was only with a lobster and later with a chicken. I have watched a newly-killed steer being butchered, muscles still twitching as the skin was stripped away. If I continue to live and work on farms, I expect that I will be at more slaughters, and may even participate. That doesn't bother me, and I don't see raising animals for meat as cruel.

(Note: The links in this paragraph contain graphic images.) But this bothers me, the process of factory farming. Chicks being cauterized, flung around, sent through a meat grinder while still alive - that is cruelty. The "lucky" male chicks that grow up to be meat get treated even worse, and laying hens are crammed together into cages, valued only for the eggs that they let helplessly fall through the wire floors of their cages, the wire floors that cut their feet bloody because they can never even really sit down. And that's just chickens - what factory farming does to pigs and cows is even more appalling. So my choice is to not eat much meat, and when I do, to do my best to make sure that it's from a small and sustainable and ethical producer. I'm not saying that France is immune to the problem, and there are large farms here (as well as McDonald's outlets, and prepackaged frozen meals with whoops! horsemeat and who knows what else, or from where). But the tradition of eating locally is more firmly fixed in France, with a much longer tradition, and the move from a mostly agricultural society towards a more industrial one didn't really take off until the middle of the 20th century. And of course there's the long French tradition of assigning great importance to what one eats, and when, and how it's prepared, and that starts with quality ingredients.

Back in the 19th century, if you didn't live in Paris, you probably took care of getting your meat for yourself, either going out and shooting it, or raising it at home (and then shooting it). Madame Bayard, who also provided the recipe for the alpine huntsman's instant soup mix, gives us a direction on what can be done with the results of the hunt.
Having killed, on a September morning just at daybreak, several marmots who were warming their bellies in the sun, noses to the wind, skin them and carefully put aside the large quantities of fat which is an excellent ointment for massaging the stomachs of pregnant women, for the knees, for the ankles, for strained joints, and also for shoe leather.

Cut the marmot into pieces* and cook it as you would a jugged hare; it will have a distinctive wild flavor to it.
* and give the entrails to the cat, obviously

I decided to do a jugged rabbit, using one of the recipes provided by modern-day chef Antoine Westermann, but cutting the recipe in half, and using the front quarters and saddle of a rabbit instead of the thighs.

Le Civet de Lapin au Vin Rouge

Marinate two rabbit thighs for 24 hours with most of a bottle of red wine, half a carrot, half a leek, half a branch of celery, half an onion, a clove of garlic, one clove, two juniper berries, a branch of thyme, and a bay leaf. The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and dry it, reserving the marinade and the vegetables.

Salt and pepper the rabbit pieces and brown them in 4 Tbs olive oil, then toss them with a teaspoon of flour. Mix well. When the pieces are nice and golden, take the pan off the fire, remove the rabbit pieces, and set them aside.

In another pot, boil the marinade and then strain it. Deglaze the pan you browned the rabbit in with two cups of water, and add salt and pepper. Add the rabbit pieces, the vegetables from the marinade, and the strained marinade. Cover the pan and let cook over low heat for about an hour and a half.

When the rabbit is cooked, take it out of the sauce and thicken the sauce with another teaspoon of flour. Adjust the seasoning and put the rabbit back in the sauce. Reheat the rabbit pieces gently and serve with sautéed potatoes.

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