Because a great deal of my writing career has been spend ghost-writing or co-authoring cookbooks for chefs, people suspect that I am, à la Anthony Boudain, a font of professional kitchen gossip and insider info. Although I do often hear juicy tidbits or get an insider’s peek at secret plans, I have never felt compelled to share confidences. On the other hand, I do love to talk with chefs so I thought it might be fun to pass some conversations along to you.
Currently I am working on a memoir with Alain Sailhac, Dean Emeritus at The French Culinary Institute and one of America’s very few 4-star – at New York’s Le Cygne Restaurant – and 3-star – the world famous Le Cirque Restaurant – chefs. Following is a brief conversation we had about chicken:
Alain: At 14, one of my first jobs at the restaurant (during his apprenticeship in the south of France) was to retrieve the chickens for the chef’s menu.
JC: Obviously, this did not mean calling the purveyor or going to the walk-in.
Alain: You cannot believe what I did – first I had to select the live chickens (or roosters, depending upon the chef’s requirements) and bring them back to the restaurant. Once they were quickly killed by the butcher, I had to catch and save all of their blood, pluck their feathers, and clean them thoroughly. Everything from the chicken was used.
JC: Even the feathers?
Alain: Mais oui, even the feathers. We saved them from many chickens and then, when we had a large batch, the chef sold them to the “feather man.”
JC: What about everything else?
Alain: Of course, all of the chicken meat (including the cock’s comb) was used in the restaurant. The feet were used to enrich soups and stews and all of the trimmings went into the stocks. It was the blood that we coveted the most as it was used to make an absolutely delicious country-style Provençal dish called sanguette. Usually it was made at home but it was often the cook’s meal at the restaurant. It made a frugal meal that was extraordinare.
JC: Can you describe it? Modern cooks are so squeamish that I can’t imagine many of us slitting the chicken’s neck to carefully catch the draining blood. The food police, alone, would have us walking the plank!
Alain: Rather like blood pudding of other cultures, sanguette is a mixture of blood congealed with parsley and garlic and, sometimes, slices of stale bread, bits of bacon or ham, and onions. Simply served, it was seasoned lightly with red vinegar and a little duck fat. Or it was cut into slices and served with boiled potatoes or chunks of stale bread that had been seasoned with salt and pepper, red vinegar and, if you were feeling rich, a nice touch of duck fat. Because of modern health concerns and regulations, fewer small family farms, and modernization throughout France, sanguette is no longer made very often and it is difficult to find even in local farmers markets throughout the south. I so much hope that this ancient recipe, so long cherished by the rural poor, will not be lost to future generations of cooks.
JC: I think that we should include it in the book so, at least, you can document this recipe from your childhood – I, for one, would love to understand it even though I don’t think I would ever attempt to make it. But, my sons might!