Toulouse Impressions: Gascony cuisine

Recipe of Cassoulet Castelnaudary in Carcasson
The Gascony area has had many scientists stupefied by what is called "a Gascony paradox": the diet in the region has the highest fat content in France, but people here live the longest in the country, while their blood pressure and coronary heart diseases rates are the lowest! The Gasconians themselves attribute it to the healthiest ingredients, garlic, wine, and Armagnac, of course!

Typical meals of the Gascony region embody three adjectives - hearty (as in rich), unpretentious (as in rural), and delicious. In spite of its proximity to Provence, the cuisines of the two regions have nothing in common. Quite opposite to the sun-lit Provence with the abundance of olive oil, vegetables, and a variety of meats and fish, in Gascony duck rules the table.

Duck is stewed, cured, poached, smoked, dried, fried, and roasted; all parts of it are utilized including liver, which is used for making spectacular foie gras; neck, which is served stuffed with truffles; gizzards are fried and used in salads. Finally, goose and duck fat is used instead of butter and olive oil.

The four most renowned dishes of the regions are these:

1. Cassoulet is the heart-and-stomach-warming casserole that signifies the richness of Gascony. The key ingredients are local white beans, duck, pork rind, and Toulouse sausage. I've also seen recipes that include lamb, pork, and even ribs. Very similarly to pilav there are dozens of recipes of the dish, each one claiming to be authentic. However, Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary lay most serious claims to the origin and the authenticity of the perfect cassoulet. I've had it in both Toulouse and Carcassonne and found the latter much tastier and more delicate, in a way.

2. Saucisse de Toulouse - the origins of this garlicky fatty sausage, which is a key ingredient of Caussoulet, is not being disputed by rivals. You'll many see shops in Toulouse displaying coils of uncooked sausage in the windows.

3. Confit de Canard - a centuries-old method of preserving duck legs is very much in vogue today. First, the meat is cured for at least 36 hours, then poached till done and stored in its own fat. I'm not sure if this process is followed to a "t" in restaurants, but the confits I had were incredibly tender and delicious, with a distinct flavor that is typical in duck. Usually, it is accompanied by potato slices, fried to perfect crispness in ... well, you guessed it - duck or goose fat!

4. "Foie Gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France".
French rural code

Is there anything else to be added? This is the dish that I had fresh and well-prepared. Its buttery texture and unique delicate flavor make a rare combination that would want me cross the Atlantic again!

The wine
The Gauls and later, the Romans knew what they were doing when settled in the territory. The sun is hot and soil rich and quite different in the terroirs, which are the perfect conditions for growing grape. Gaillac appellation traces its history back to the Gallo-Roman times and is the second-oldest wine-growing region in modern France. Cotes du Frontonnais - another appellation, which makes wine predominantly from the Negrette grape variety, which is rarely found outside the area. It is used as the dominant variety in both red and rose wines, and brings a perfumed character to the wines, which are best drunk young.

Armagnac - "It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralyzed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits."
Cardinal Vital Du Four

Little needs to be said in addition to this quote of a Dominican philosopher, turned Cardinal, of the late 13C. Haven't experienced its effect on retardation of senility, but I certainly like the preservation of youth claims!

Somehow heavy flavoruful meals, light-textured wines, desserts, and Armagnac as the finishing touch, easily come together for a tremendous-sounding concerto of rural gastronomic sophistication it its purity and simplicity! Beware though, that if you have a lot to see and do, this type of food brings your mental and physical activity to null.

1 comment:

Caspian Canuck said...

Gulya, make sure to practise cooking all those delicious dishes so that by the time you get back to Canada you can indulge us in your culinary mastery!