Time for another instalment of my French flavours series. I realise I have only got to ‘E’ and we’ll never get to the end at this rate, so this week I’ll do ‘F’ as well and you get two for the price of one. Both dishes are traditional recipes from Aveyron dating back centuries. You learn a lot about history and culture just by studying what people eat.
E is for Estofinado
Estofinado is a popular dish in Aveyron, although I have to say it’s not the first thing I would choose from a menu. It’s made of stockfish (dried salt cod, or haddock in some cases), which is reconstituted in water, flaked and mixed with mashed potato, hard-boiled egg and a lot of garlic. The ingredients are not dissimilar to those of the Provençal dish, brandade de morue, but that is blended to a purée.
Estofinado’s origins go back a long way, when flat-bottomed barges plied the River Lot, whose upper reaches run through Aveyron. The barges transported coal, wood and cheeses down to Bordeaux and fish and other goods back up. Since the journey upstream could take some time, it was no good bringing back fresh fish, hence the dried variety.
Christian Signol, who has written many novels about the region, published a three-volume saga about a family of bateliers (barge boatmen), La Rivière Espérance. His trilogy is based on the River Dordogne, but the way of life was similar on the Lot. The coming of the railway spelled the end of this ancient line of work.
I won’t give the recipe here. You can find a good one on this site.
F is for les Farçous
Unlike estofinado, you don’t often find les farçous on a restaurant menu. I came across this speciality of central Aveyron only when someone offered me one during a picnic. What are they? A kind of fritter, of which the main ingredients are Swiss chard and sausage meat. They are absolutely delicious, can be eaten hot or cold and are the ultimate on-the-hoof food.
The origin of the word is the Occitan fars (farce in French), i.e. stuffing.
I like to think of the 13th-century workmen who built the massive Collégiale (cathedral) in Villefranche-de-Rouergue snacking on les farçous when they took a break. Or pilgrims walking le chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. This tasty and sustaining snack is easy to transport without spoiling it and is the business when you’ve been hefting around blocks of stone or tramping along for hours in the rain.
The exact recipe is a matter of some controversy, as these things often are in France. Some people use breadcrumbs, others say it shouldn’t contain meat. I don’t think it matters. The recipe below is the meat version (les farçous gras), but vegetarians could just omit it and it’s just as good without it (les farçous maigres). In that case, you might want to add breadcrumbs, or bread soaked in milk, to bulk them out a bit.
If you don’t want to make les farçous yourself, you’ll find them on market stalls or in butchers’ shops.
5-6 Swiss chard leaves, spine removed
100 g sausage meat
1 garlic clove
Handful of chopped parsley
2 level tablespoons flour
20 cl milk to moisten the mixture
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop finely the chard, sausage meat, onion, garlic and parsley and mix together. Mix the eggs, flour and milk to a thick batter and add the chard and sausage meat mixture. Shape into flat patties and fry in batches in hot olive oil. Serve hot or cold.
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