Le Gros Souper de Noël:
A Christmas Special in Burgundy, France
From Michelin starred restaurants to weekday suppers at home, gougères are the snack of Burgundy, as ubiquitous as the eponymous wines from the region. Way back when, these treats looked very different, a stew with bacon, eggs, cheese, and blood, all prepared in a sheep’s stomach (that is NOT our version). It is thought that Catherine de Medici brought the original choux pastry recipe (egg, butter, milk, flour) to Paris during the Renaissance. This would later become the go-to pastry base for cream puffs, eclairs, and various other confections. Gougères, though, are savory pastries made with either comptè or gruyere cheese (we used comptè as it is from France whereas gruyere is the same type of cheese produced across the border in Switzerland). In the 19th century, Parisian pastry chef Liénard was visiting the small village of Flogny-la-Chapelle and is said to have invented the original cheese puff. Since then it has become an hor d'oeuvre synonymous with Burgundy and is frequently used for wine tastings in the region. Contains dairy, gluten; vegetarian.
Of all the dishes on this menu, perhaps this potato, leek, and cream soup has the most interesting history. Although the potato was proliferating across Europe after the Spaniards brought it back from Peru, the French - who thought it caused leprosy - outlawed the vegetable in 1748. Along came Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a doctor who was captured by the Prussians in the Seven Years War and forced to eat potato rations. After being released, and without any trace of leprosy, Parmentier researched the health benefits of the potato and the government banned the restrictions. Despite publicity stunts like a potato dinner with Benjamin Franklin and the King and Queen, local farmers were still doubtful. Parmentier was then granted land just south of Burgundy where he had a potato plot heavily guarded by royal soldiers. Thinking they were valuable, people kept “stealing” the potatoes (the guards were instructed to accept bribes) and popularity started to grow. But the real push came during and after the French Revolution of 1789 when potatoes were used to fight starvation and became a symbol of the revolutionaries. Since then, many French potato dishes are named after Parmentier, like this soup which was originally published in the French military cookbook. Contains dairy; vegetarian, gluten free.
Mousse de Foies de Volaille
Foie gras patê, a mousse of fattened duck livers, is a staple in any French Christmas dinner. Historically, foie gras was first produced in ancient Egypt, where Egyptians realized that geese would gorge themselves prior to their migration and the resulting fatty, enlarged liver was delicious. The Greeks and Romans continued this tradition and brought it to France, where the Jewish population in Alsace and the southwest were the main producers of the product. Unfortunately, due to mass production, there are currently many ethical issues with the foie gras industry, so instead we’ve made a chicken liver mousse in the same style. Flavored with cognac, butter, allspice and thyme, this mild yet luxurious spread is perfect over a toasted baguette drizzled with truffle oil for extra decadence. Burgundy is known for its black winter truffles production, making it a classic Christmas delicacy. Contains dairy, gluten.
Salade de Campagne à la Moutarde de Dijon
Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy region of France and the mustard capital of the world. Mustard seeds and vinegar have been a staple condiment since Roman times. Even before the invention of “Dijon” mustard, the city of Dijon itself was already renowned for its mustard prowess - with Pope John X11 even having a personal "moutardier" in Dijon to ensure his food was properly seasoned. But Dijon mustard as we know it really took off in 1752 when Jean Naigeon substituted verjuice (the juice from unripened grapes) for vinegar, resulting in a smoother, less acidic mustard. The mustard world exploded since then. In the late 19th century, moutardier Maurice Grey automated the process and teamed up with Auguste Poupon creating the Grey-Poupon brand that has taken the world by storm since - and is the brand we love using. Our Dijon vinaigrette is poured over an arugula, walnut, beet and goat cheese salad, a light and refreshing interlude between the luxurious mousse and the hearty coq au vin. Contains dairy, gluten; vegetarian.
Coq au Vin de Bourgogne
The origins of coq au vin are dubious at best. Some say the dish originated with the Roman invasion of Gaul, when the Chief of Arverne sent a symbolic rooster of defiance to Julius Caesar, who then returned the favor by killing the rooster and cooking it in wine. Others say that it popularized when King Henri IV promised a “chicken in every pot.” Most likely, though, it was probably just ingenious Burgundian peasant cooking. Old roosters that were too tough to be cooked normally were braised in wine for a full day and made into a hearty stew. Nowadays, normal chickens are used instead of old roosters. For our version, we’re sticking with the tried and true Julia Child recipe. Chicken legs are slowly braised in French red wine and then topped off with caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms. Contains dairy, gluten.
Purée de Pommes de Terre à l’Ail
We’ve talked enough about Parmentier and the potato. So we’ll spare you more spud-related history - just know that the mashed potatoes we know and love today were more or less codified in Europe and in the US around the mid-1800s. Traditionally coq au vin is served with parsleyed roasted potatoes, but we were inspired by a version we had at Le District in NYC that served it with parsleyed mashed potatoes. Here we’ve kicked it up a notch and added copious amounts of roasted garlic to create a truly scrumptious Christmas side. Contains dairy, gluten; vegetarian.
Poires au Beaujolais et Cassis
While many regions in Europe poach pears, perhaps the most famous version comes from the Southern Burgundy region that produces Beaujolais wine. Historically, people would poach fruit that was still under-ripe post the harvest. By cooking the pear in a syrupy wine mixture with herbs and spices, the natural sweetness of the fruit shines. The dish was further popularized in the 1860s when Auguste Escoffier created a dessert called Poire belle Hélène, which is a nearly identical dessert topped with vanilla ice cream (pro tip: if you have any ice cream lying around, it would be fantastic with this dessert). Our version uses both wine AND Crème de Cassis, the classic Burgundian blackcurrant liqueur also from Dijon. We then braise it with rosemary, lemon, peppercorn, vanilla, and cinnamon. Vegan, gluten free.
2018 Domaine du Riaz, Côte de Brouilly, Beaujolais, France - $17
Available at Arbor Farms Market
Beaujolais is technically part of the Burgundy wine region, but it very much charts its own course. First off, while all other Burgundian red wines are made with Pinot Noir, Beaujolais are made with Gamay. Second, most wines from Burgundy are aged for several years (or decades) and are world renown for their hefty price tag. Beaujolais, on the other hand, consumes most of its wine within weeks of harvest, known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day on the third Thursday of November. That said, there are 10 Beaujolais Crus known for their higher quality production. Côte de Brouilly is one of the Crus, known as the “elegant wine on the hill” after Mount Brouilly. With fresh notes of strawberries, cherries, watermelon and orange but with firm tannins, this wine pairs perfectly with our menu, especially the coq au vin and the goat-cheese salad.
For a long time, global fine dining was French food. Georges Auguste Escoffier and Marie-Antoine Carême defined the rules of the cuisine, streamlined kitchen efficiency, and set the precedent for what haute-cuisine would be for generations. This heavy, rich, sauce-forward cuisine was then replaced by nouvelle cuisine in the 1970’s by the likes of Paul Bocuse. Focusing on simplicity and the large plate / small portion / splattering of sauce aesthetic was a paradigm shift for the entire culinary world - the equivalent of the guitar going electric for rock music. This was the basis of the modern farm to table movement. Using in-season, locally sourced ingredients defines our collective culinary conscience today.
But enough about French cuisine; that’s too much history to unpack in one meal. Instead, we wanted to do something festive and decadent for Christmas. It’s been quite a year and we could all use a bit of un-fussy luxury. And that’s where Burgundy comes into play. It’s not overly self-conscious Parisian cuisine; instead it’s humble, hearty, and gloriously satisfying.
During the 4th century, a group of Germanic peoples from the Baltic Sea region settled in the Western Alps and founded the Burgundian Kingdom that was later usurped by the Franks. In the Middle Ages, Burgundy was home to some of the most important Catholic churches in Europe and Dijon became a major cultural hub, outshining the court in Paris both economically and culturally. Culinarily, Dijon mustard, Bresse chicken, beef Bourguignon, Meurette sauce, and escargot are some of the many claim-to-fame dishes of the region. But what really sets this cuisine apart - and what really gives the food an extra umph - was, is, and always will be the wine.
When Forrest and I took the exam for the Sommelier certificate, the most complex region we studied was Burgundy. In the Middle Ages, the church owned much of the land in Burgundy. It was cultivated by monks who judiciously studied every parcel of land for optimal wine production. After the French Revolution, all the land was returned to the people, and to this day there is a strong sense of pride of ownership and lineage. But this makes things complicated. For example, the 125-acre Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru vineyard belonged to the church, but currently has over 80 distinct owners due to the French Napoleonic rules of inheritance. Add the fact that wine Negociants buy from multiple owners and make their own blends and what you get is a web of owners, growers, middlemen, producers, and vendors that is infinitely complex. That said, some regions such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée and Montrachet produce some of the best, and most expensive, wines in the world. And these great wines find a way into the cuisine of Burgundy, present in almost all the stews, sauces, and patês in some form or another. For us, a coq au Burgundy or Poires au Beaujolais is just so perfect - simple food cooked in fantastic wine creates a dish greater than its individual parts.
Lastly, we did want to make this a Christmas special. In France, Christmas Eve is a big deal, with the main meal known as le gros souper (the large meal) right before midnight Mass. Traditions vary greatly from region to region, such as the 13 desserts in Provence that symbolize the 12 apostles and Jesus, but all include foie gras, roast poultry, and sweet desserts.
While this may be a unique Christmas season for all of us, we want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and blessed holiday season. Both Forrest and I want to thank everyone who has supported us in this crazy endeavor - we are blown away by the reception so far!
Thank you Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Stay safe.
Featured Recipe: Gougères
Makes 28 puffs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Large pinch of coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
3.5 ounces shredded Comte cheese (1 cup), plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg for beating
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.
Scrape the dough into a bowl; let cool for 1 minute. Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. When making the choux pastry, it is important to be sure that each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next.
Add the cheese and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg.
Using a tablespoon, scoop the dough and shape it roughly into a circle about 1.5 inches in diameter and place onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Paint with beaten eggs (very small amount, do not let drip down on the baking sheet as it will prevent it from rising), sprinkle with cheese and bake for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.
Once removed from the oven, make a small puncture in each one to release steam. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven until piping hot.