A Delicious French Holiday Tradition

The holidays are upon us! Despite everything, or maybe it’s precisely because of the peculiar year we’ve had, my neighborhood shop-owners around the town hall of the 20th district in Paris are really decking the halls more than usual.
Our favorite cheese shop, François Priet, is ready to sell us yet another rolling cart (caddy) full of cheeses, yogurts, quince paste, and raw milk crème fraîche. We happily spend a small fortune every time we shop there, and lately the patron or owner has been thanking us with little gifts, like Kampot pepper and some ground galanga. I’m still figuring out what to do with the galanga! Your suggestions are welcome (help!) in the comments section below.

 

Comfort eating
The butchers, the bakers, and the candlestick makers are all ready. They, along with the honey store and the foie gras store (pictured below as “Gastronomie du Périgord”) because so much of the foie gras in France comes from the southwest, including the Périgord region. They’re all preparing for the onslaught of food shoppers in the next couple of weeks. We’ll all be trying to forget about this covid year by indulging in lots of comfort eating, which in France is raised to an art form.
Most of the butchers here are filling their display cases with boudin blanc, or white sausage. Traditionally associated with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in France, boudin blanc is the perfect way to start any holiday dinner, tucked into rolled puff pastry as an amuse-bouche, or palate-tickler, as pictured below (middle photo).

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But this sausage’s subtle flavor and refined texture are also delicious served as a main course, accompanied by a green salad, a few sautéed apples, or with both mashed potatoes and sautéed apples, known as boudin aux deux pommes, as in pommes fruit and pommes de terre.

A smooth transition to the modern sausage

White sausage’s medieval ancestor was a simple hot milk porridge. In the 17th century, this porridge became more dignified with the addition of eggs, white meats, and seasonings. And with these ingredients the modern white sausage was born: boudin à la parisienne, or Parisian-style boudin.
Each region of France has developed its own style of white sausage over the years (centuries!), and one of the most famous is from Rethel, in Champagne-Ardennes. It has “only” been made since the 1700s, and is smooth and deliciously rich. What’s more, it has IGP status, which means Protected Geographical Indication (Indication Géographique Protégée), only a slight step down from AOC/AOP status. Which means it’s still pretty amazing.

Vegetarian sausage?

One contemporary version of white sausage, known as boudin blanc havrais (from Le Havre) is actually a meatless throwback to the sausage’s origins. Legend has it that this particular white “sausage” was invented by monks because it allowed them on Fridays to eat a food that had the shape of a sausage but actually contained no actual meat, even if pork fat was among its ingredients. Hmmm…. Maybe I’ll attempt a vegetarian sausage recipe next year! Or not.

Luxurious holiday feast

No matter where it’s made, white sausage is always composed of a very fine purée of lean meat (pork, poultry) into which is added thickening agents like eggs and a panade, or a paste made from a liquid – here, milk and cream – and a starch. The panade helps the meats retain moisture. Here’s a professional charcutier making boudin blanc in a huge, whizzing machine that creates an emulsion.
White sausage doesn’t necessarily have to be made in a special machine, and it doesn’t need to be sausage-shaped, either! The great news is that you can dispense with the fancy equipment like a meat grinder or a sausage stuffer to enjoy it at home: you can bake the mixture into a terrine mold and then cool it and cut it into slices.

The very best thing is that boudin blanc has all sorts of variations on a theme: you can add mushrooms, foie gras, or even truffles for a luxurious holiday feast. Or how about Kampot pepper or ground galanga? I’ll let you know how those flavors turn out!

Boudin Blanc with Mushrooms

The secret to good boudin blanc is making the mixture in which fat molecules from the milk and cream are bound by the egg yolks to form a smooth paste. Professional charcutiers have special machines (see photo above) to form this emulsion, but the recipe below doesn’t need any fancy equipment that you don’t already have in your kitchen.

Also, most sausage recipes require buying and grinding fatback – what is that, anyway? But using a relatively moist cut like pork belly replaces this step. Gilles Verot, a charcutier with two shops in Paris, uses only pork belly in his boudin, and regularly makes over one ton of white sausage during the holiday season!

This terrine-style recipe is not hard to prepare, since there’s no fussing with sausage casings. But it does take some time and organization. The process has three main steps: first, you make an infusion, which basically means cooking vegetables in milk and cream so that they give all their flavor to the liquids. The second step is preparing and cooking the terrine.

Finally, when it’s cool, you slice the terrine and sauté those slices in a bit of butter. I like to make this terrine-style boudin the day before I want to eat it, since it takes on a better consistency and more flavor.

special equipment: a food processor, a terrine mold or rectangular loaf pan (9x5x3 inches, or 23x13x8 cm)

ingredients:

  • 8 ounces (225 g) chicken breasts, ground (ask your butcher)
  • 8 ounces (225 g) pork belly, ground (ask your butcher)
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • 1 ounce (30 g) mushrooms (I used 2 medium shiitake mushrooms), chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons dried mushrooms (a mix of morels, porcini), plumped for 10 minutes in hot water
  • 2-3 small slices of excellent-quality bread (about 2 ounces or 55 g), toasted lightly
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • a bit of butter for the mold

for milk infusion:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ of a small onion (30 g), finely chopped
  • 1 2-inch piece of leek (white part only, 30 g), finely chopped
  • ½ medium carrot (30 g), finely chopped
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (210 g) milk
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (210 g) heavy cream
  • 1 clove
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1 small branch fresh thyme, or a pinch of dried thyme

seasonings:

  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • ½ tablespoon Port
how to make it:

  1. Spread the ground meats around on a plate. Then wrap in film and place in the freezer for 1 hour.
  2. In the meantime, melt the ½ tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and when it begins to foam, add the fresh mushrooms and lower the heat, sautéing slowly for about 4 minutes. Squeeze all the water out of the now-plumped (formerly dried) mushrooms. Chop them finely and add them to the sauté pan. Continue to sauté for 1 more minute, then set aside.
  3. Now make the milk infusion: in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and when it begins to foam, lower the heat to medium-low and add the onion, leek, and carrot. Cook the vegetables, stirring often, for about 4-5 minutes. They should look softened, but not colored.
  4. Add the milk, cream, clove, bay leaf, and thyme, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat (watch this closely – milk can quickly boil over). Lower the heat to minimum, cover partially, and let simmer very gently for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Cut the bread slices into cubes about the size of your thumbnail. Preheat oven to 320°F (160°C). Strain the milk into a medium bowl and set aside.
  6. Remove the meats from the freezer and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Process them by alternating the pulse command and running continuously for about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add the egg and egg whites, and continue to process. Then run the machine continuously, and very slowly and carefully pour in the still-hot milk. Continue to process, stop to add the bread cubes, and then continue until you have a smooth mixture.
  8. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Port, and pulse once more to mix.
  9. Stir in the mushrooms, and turn the mixture into a buttered terrine mold or loaf pan.
  10. Cover with aluminum foil or the terrine mold’s cover and bake in a hot water bath for 40 minutes, or until a knife poked into the center comes out clean.
  11. When ready to eat, slice the boudin into 1-inch slices (2.5cm), and sauté both sides of the boudin in a bit of butter over medium heat. Or roll cubes of boudin into puff pastry and bake according to pastry instructions. Bon app’!

makes 4-5 main course servings, or about 15-20 puff pastry bites