Thanksgiving in Paris, Trois Fois

| November 26, 2005 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments


Spices for the pumpkin soup–cinnamon, ginger, all spice, cayenne, paprika, cumin, cardamom seeds (not pictured coriander and curry)

I should move out of the country more often. This year I celebrated Thanksgiving not once but three times! That’s three turkeys (or really big chickens), three stuffings, three mashed potatoes, and three pumpkin pies, among a few hundred other dishes.

“So what!?” you say…but bare with me here. You see, all these wonderful things that we take for granted in the good ol’ U S of A such as sweet potatoes with those little marshmallows, pumpkin puree in a can, cranberry sauce (made with real cranberries!), not to mention turkeys, are far from easy to find here and once you do you might as well just hand them your wallet. Ok, I’m exaggerating but a can of Libby’s pumpkin pie mix cost me a whopping 7,50 euros or $9.40! For a can of pumpkin puree! Yikes!

Just last fall France was introduced to the wonders of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice–it made the cover of FUSAC, the local expat magazine–and a friend here was so moved to find real, fresh cranberries last week that she sent out this email:

Blog or No blog, I had to tell……. Well actually I am screaming with excitement!!!! I found fresh, not frozen, cranberries from America at “My Monoprix” Go now!!!!!

You see, it’s the little things in life when you live 6,000 miles away from home and the nearest Safeway.

The first Thanksgiving celebration was last Saturday at Kendall and Bob’s who are from Ohio. They roasted not one but three turkeys, starting at 10pm the night before (!!!) and no fewer than one hundred people showed up! Like the General Session at the UN, there were people there from all over the world. A couple from India made an amazing pumpkin soup that I tried to replicate a few days later with dismal results. A woman from the UK made two delicious stuffings–one had olives in it which I’ve never had before in stuffing. There were many Americans of course and more than a few French curious to learn about this strange American tradition eating this strange bird.

When we cooked chez nous (at our house) my flatmate Pierre insisted upon a capon (a castrated chicken–now there’s a job for ya’!) rather than a turkey. He considers turkeys a ridiculous bird as do most French people which is why they are hard to find here and the price of a small car when you do. So we stuffed a big capon with foie gras, chicken breasts and port and cooked it in a salt crust. It was delicious and moist but made a horrendous mess in the kitchen when we took a sledge hammer to the crust. After the first bite of foie gras stuffed capon, we declared it worthy of the ensuing clean-up.

the foie gras, chicken breast, port stuffing

the capon, stuffed!

the salt crust — gros sel (big salt), flour, egg whites, water (you could plaster a house with this stuff, it is so strong!)

Me, breaking the salt crust with a hammer… How do you know when it’s done? You don’t. We figured when the salt crust turned brown, or in this case, really dark brown, it must be ready… sounded good to me.

Free at last. A perfectly cooked bird. Moist, juicy, flavorful, not dried out or cardboard-y (cardboard-y is an official culinary term).

The mess… note the sledgehammer…

For Thanksgiving #3 this year, I volunteered to make a pumpkin soup. I tried to replicate the Indian pumpkin soup from Thanksgiving #1 with dismal results. Her spices were mixed by then sent from her mother in India and mine were mixed by an American (moi) from a market in Paris. It was at first a disaster but I managed to resurrect it into something edible. My fellow diners showered me with oohs and aahs though I think they were just being tres polite.

Bird #3 this year, Poulet de Bresse (a big, fat chicken from the town of Bresse, near Lyon, which is famous for their chickens), was stuffed with foie gras (do I see a trend?), sauteed ground pork, pain d’epices (spice bread similar to gingerbread), and some other secret ingredients. It was delicious, moist, rich, succulent; sweet from the pain d’epices, unctuous from the foie gras, earthy from the sauteed pork. All I can say is incroyable! A table full of green beans, roast baby potatoes, spring onion gratin, and a good old fashioned apple pie rounded out the evening.

Convivialite with a beautiful, welcoming table

My near disaster spiced pumpkin soup

Poulet de Bresse with the stuffing oozing out. My apologies, we tucked into it before I could get a picture. The carcass was picked clean.

Spring onion gratin with Comte cheese (like Swiss but more flavor, sharper) and…

Good old fashioned apple pie!

I think it will be awhile before I eat turkey, chicken or foie gras again…at least until Christmas!

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Poulet de Bresse Farci avec Foie Gras et Pain d’Epices ~ Bresse Chicken stuffed with Foie Gras and Spice Bread

adapted from Elle a Table and my friend Kristin.

3-4 lb (1.5 kilo) chicken
2 red onions
1 lb baby potatoes

1 large white onion, finely chopped
8 oz (250 g) ground pork, sauteed
giblets from chicken
5 oz (150 g) foie gras cut into 1/2″ dice
10-12 slices pain d’epices (gingerbread)
1 egg
2 tbsp honey
3 pinches cinnamon
olive oil
1/4 stick butter (optional) cut into small dice
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
1-2 cups white wine (dry, full bodied such as a Savignon Blanc or Reisling. I don’t recommend Chardonnay)

1. Heat oven to 400F / 200C.

2. Saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add pork and chicken livers, saute and brown on medium heat

3. Cut gingerbread into 1/2″ cubes. Place half of the cut up gingerbread in a large bown and add the foie gras, egg, honey and cinnamon. Mix well. Add the pork/onion/giblets mixture and slowly incorporate the remaining gingerbread in 1/2 cup increments to ensure all the moisture is absorbed evenly.

4. Salt and pepper the cavity. Slide pieces of butter under the skin. Rub olive oil on the skin and sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of the pepper mill. Stuff the bird with the foie gras mixture, tie the legs together (I’ve been known to use dental floss in a pinch). Place in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup white wine to the pan. Cover the bird with foil and seal well. Cook for 45 minutes.

6. Boil the potatoes until about half cooked, maybe 30 minutes. Drain.

7. After the first 45 minutes of bird cooking, add potatoes and onions to the roasting pan. Baste the chicken and add another cup of wine if it evaporated. Reseal tightly and cook for 30 more minutes.

8. Remove foil, baste, and cook for a final 30 minutes. Take the bird out, cover with foil and thick towels and let sit for 30-45 minutes. Spoon out the juices and make gravy or simply skim off the fat and serve the pan juices which are delicious by itself.

9. When it is time to serve, untie the legs and spoon out the stuffing. Slice the meat or as we did, simply place the bird in the center of the table and have at it. Bon appetit!

Potage Epice de Potiron ~ Spiced Pumpkin Soup

This is not how I made it originally. This is how I should have made it originally then I wouldn’t have had to put it on life support. Initially my soup came out thin and bland so I ran to the store, bought another chunk of pumpkin and a carrot or two and roasted them (400F, 45 minutes) til caramelized. Then I added them to the original soup with more spices and pureed. Here you go, with the good recipe…

1 pumpkin (approx 2 pounds of flesh) cut into 1″ dice
2 carrots cut into 1/2″ dice
1 leek halved lengthwise and cut into 1″ pieces
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
spices — cinnamon, curry, cumin, grated fresh ginger, crushed coriander seeds, all spice, chili powder, and whatever else you like…
1/4 cup orange juice
1 overflowing tablespoon honey
1/4 cup cream

1. Select a pumpkin that is firm and bright orange on the inside. Cut away skin and cut the pumpkin into 1″ dice.

2. Cut carrots into 1/2″ dice. Cut the green part off the leeks. Keeping the root end intact, slice lengthwise and rinse under running water to remove all the dirt. Then slice crosswise in 1″ pieces. Chop the onion and garlic.

3. Toss the pumpkin, carrots and leeks in 1 tablespoon olive oil, a shake of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Coat thoroughly. Add a pinch or two of some of the dry powdered spices to give depth and a layering of flavors to the soup (don’t add all–more will be added into the pot later to better control the flavor). Place veggies in one layer on foil on a sheet pan and roast at 400F for 45-60minutes until just starting to caramelize.

4. When pumpkin is cooked, add 1 tablespoon olive oil (and 1 tablespoon butter–optional) and chopped onion to an empty pot on a medium high stove. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic, saute for another few minutes. Add roasted pumpkin, carrots, leeks to the pot. Pour in enough water to reach the top of the vegetables, cover and bring to a boil. Once it starts boiling, uncover and simmer for an hour. Add a 1/4 cup of orange juice & a little honey to the pot while it is simmering for a different flavor.

5. If you have coriander seeds, crush a few tablespoons with a rolling pin or the back of a pan, place them in a mesh tea ball, and add to the pot. Keep it there for 15-20 minutes then take it out, otherwise the taste overpowers the soup.

6. Once the soup has cooked thoroughly, take off the heat and blend with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender or cuisinart). Now comes the fun part. Add a dash or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Blend. Taste. Now start adding spices in small amounts, and an occasional tiny pinch of salt, blending and tasting until you have the desired result.

Salt accentuates the flavor but do this at the end and sparingly as once you go over the salt ravine, it’s hard to climb back up. I’ve been taught to add a cubed potato to an oversalted soup and cook for a while as the potato will absorb the salt but I’ve never tried it. Take your time and let the flavors meld. And go sparingly when adding cayenne!

7. This is optional but I did it: once you have achieved the desired taste, whisk in a 1/4 cup of cream. For those of you freaking out about the fat content, this gives you about 8 bowls of soup so a 1/4 cup of cream divided by 8 is barely 1 tablespoon per person, so relax and enjoy the food.

Serve in a bowl and garnish with a flat parsley leaf and/or a thin strip of red pepper or something of a contrasting color. Bon Appetit!

Warmest wishes this Thanksgiving holiday from very cold Paris.

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About the Author ()

After a decade in Silicon Valley, Laura traded her keyboard for a cutting board and moved to New York City to immerse herself in food and wine studies and restaurant operations. She graduated from the French Culinary Institute where she studied under Master Chefs Jacques Pépin, André Soltner, Alain Sailhac, and Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. While in New York, Laura cooked with some of the world's most highly acclaimed chefs including Mario Lohninger (Danube), Morimoto, Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti (Farallon), Michael Romano (Union Square Café), Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan, Jonathan Cartwright (White Barn Inn), Martin Heierling (Bellagio), Dave Pasternack (Esca), Richard Reddington (Redd, Auberge du Soleil), and the legendary Alice Waters (Chez Panisse). After working as the Back Kitchen Chef of Jacques Pépin's PBS cooking show, "Fast Food, My Way", Laura moved to France to cook her way around the country. She cooked at the Cannes Film Festival, then to the northwest corner of France, to Britanny, to cook on a lobster boat, then east to Paris to the world famous Pierre Hermé Patisserie where she made thousands of his macarons every day! Laura cooked for the fabulous Olivia de Havilland and interned at 3 Michelin Star Le Cinq under Chef Philippe Legendre and Pastry Chef Fabrice Lecleir. Laura was the executive chef and cooking instructor at the DaVinci Code chateau outside of Paris where she was on set during the filming of the movie. In Fall 2007, Laura worked on Jacques Pepin’s most recent PBS television series as prop and food stylist. "More Fast Food, My Way" should air in the Spring of 2008. “My Keyboard for a Cutting Board ~ Adventures in a French kitchen v1.0”, Laura’s first book highlights her first three months cooking in France, was published in Summer 2006. Convivialité is her second book and will hopefully be published in the fall. Laura now splits her time between Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area doing private chefing, teaching cooking classes and leading market tours when in Paris. Bon Appetit!
  • abbyladybug

    Haha. I scrolled down and was like WHUH?! What’s up with the hammer?! I had to stop and actually read. Fun times.

  • cucina testa rossa

    hey abby! who needs a chef’s knife when you’ve got a sledge hammer ;-) it was probably one of the most fun holidays i’ve ever had. we didn’t start shopping until 6pm that evening! i was getting so impatient but my flatmates just said “don’t worry, no rush”. what a refreshing change from the past years of stressed out holiday dinners…! gotta’ love the French!

  • Melissa

    Wow, now that’s how to celebrate Thanksgiving! I love the idea of the salt-crusted chicken – I made a clay chicken once and was amazed at how succulent it was. I can only imagine how foie gras and port would add to the ecstasy!

  • cucina testa rossa

    hi melissa! did you use the romertopf clay pot? i had never cooked a chicken in a salt crust before, only with whole fish. we added flour to the salt mix which turned it into cement, hence the need for a sledge hammer :-) but it certainly kept in the moisture… and yes, the port & foie gras were divine!

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that chicken looks amazing! I will have to try that myself some Thanksgiving.

    -sy

  • http://cuisinartimmersionblender.org Louisa Walter

    The Spiced Pumpkin Soup looks so yummy…I am admiring your creativity. Never know pumpkin cook that way before. I will try it for sure…