05 October 2013

La Potée — vegetables for lunch

It's not winter yet but we've again had a few rainy, cool days. With the hours of daylight much shorter now than just a few weeks ago, we can feel the season changing. C'est normal — on est en octobre.

Twice I've bought turnips over the past couple of weeks. I guess I had the urge to eat some. My first thought was to make a boiled dinner called a potée in France. I had carrots and onions on hand, but I needed cabbage and some kind of pork and sausages. I ended up cooking those turnips in a curry, so I needed to buy more for the potée Walt and I had been talking about.

We went to Blois last Tuesday and stopped at the big produce market called Grand Frais out in the suburbs. That store has the most beautiful produce of all kinds, at really good prices. I wish it weren't 25 miles from Saint-Aignan, but we make it a point to stop there every time we have a reason to go to Blois.

This time, I chose a leek, a big bunch of celery, some yellow turnips, and a savoy cabbage (chou vert). Oh, and more carrots, since we had already eaten the other ones I had in the fridge. I also got a big bag of brussels sprouts because they were so beautiful.

A potée is a one-dish meal based on salt-cured, fresh, or smoked pork — or a combination of all three. You cook the meat first to make a flavorful broth, with bay leaves, onions, garlic, and cloves (clous de girofle). When the meat is well cooked, you add vegetables as I've described. Potatoes. And sausages, the best being smoked Montbéliard or Morteau sausages from eastern France. (The sausage I cooked this time was a Morteau.)

I started making a potée a couple of times a year back when I lived in Paris 30 years ago, just off the rue Montorgueil in the Les Halles neighborhood. Downstairs from the apartment where I lived there were all the normal shops — fromagerie, boulangerie, boucherie — and especially a charcuterie that I liked.

A charcuterie is a butcher shop / delicatessen that specializes in pork products, fresh or cured, and also salads and cooked, carry-out dishes. The one on the rue Montorgueil (nowadays a "hip" street lined with cafés and restaurants rather than the old-fashioned food shops of yore) always had the most appetizing displays of food products I had ever seen.

And the woman behind the counter liked to tell me how to cook whatever it was that had caught my eye and that I had decided to buy. "Do you know how to cook that [sausage] [cut of pork] [hamhock] [slab of bacon]? Let me tell you," she would say. She'd tell me how long to cook whatever it was, what vegetables to serve with it, how long to leave it in the pot or oven, what herbs and spices to use, and even what to do with the leftovers.

It was great. I'm not sure I ever thanked her enough for all she taught me. The shop (Terroir d'Auvergne) is still there, but I'm sure the woman retired long ago.


  1. It's the zeitgeist. I bought a load of root veg at Thursday's market and made mixed root vegetable mash to eat with grilled saucisses de Toulouse. The potatoes, carrots, celeriac, swede and parsnip all looked in great condition.

  2. Comfort food!!
    After a poor start, almost all the fruit and veg looks wonderfully fresh and appetizing... the only exception was the parsley and basil on the stalls this week... like us, they've noticed the change in the seasons!!


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