Saturday, 27 March 2010

It's all in the mind

I was buying a chicken on the market the other day and I asked the lady if she could cut off the head for me.
- C'est marrant, personne veut la tête aujourd'hui! (It's strange that nobody wants the heads today)
- …parce que vous en faites quoi?  Pour faire du bouillon?  Soupe? (...what can you do with it?  Make stock for soup?)
I'm now a dab-hand at chucking the chicken carcasse back on to cook in a pan full of bouquet garni and flavourings to make wonderful stock, so I automatically assume everything I would previously have got rid of could potentially be stock-able...

But no...the lady went on to explain in quite gory detail that you can eat the brain, you just cook it with the rest of the chicken, smash the skull and help yourself.  That in her family they fight over it.  That there isn't a lot of it, but it's a lovely little taste of brain.

My eating habits have changed a lot in the last 12 years in France; I've come along way from the land now famed for deep-frying its Mars bars.  I now prefer my meat cooked rare and marvel at a time that used to microwave it within an inch of its life, as it were, if there were any pink juices to be seen.  Steak tartare, which no, isn't just raw mince, is one of my favourite foods, although it is quite hard to find a restaurant that serve it "properly", so you can dose the flavourings and spices yourself.

I have tried frogs' legs, which I thought tasted like chicken but are a lot more fiddly.  I tasted snail, which made me think of eating rubber (which I haven't).  And I'll let you in on the biggest culinary secret in France: no-one's that fussed about the snails, it's the persillade (buttery garlicky parsley sauce) they're served with that really makes the dish.

To my shame, I only recently tried boudin à la crème; had I known how good it is, especially served with mashed potatoes and caramelized apples, I would have been having it at least once a week.  Don't ever listen to anyone who says it's the equivalent of "black pudding"....

But eating brain...well, I just can't.  It's terrible, I know and it runs at odds with everything that I say to Puce: "You can't say you don't like it til you've tried it - now eat your spinach!" sort of thing.  Something holds me back with brain, the thought of eating something integral to the functioning of any living being literally makes my brain ache.  Monsieur R insists it's a delicacy.  My mother-in-law has explained in great detail how you clean the brain before eating, going into all the little ridgy bits...and the room starts to swim.

It's regularly on the menu in restaurants here, especially since Lyon's speciality is offal...but this may be the one French delicacy that I have to pass on, even if it is all just in the mind...

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