A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
In 2019 we had the dumb luck to travel to Paris twice - spring and fall. The Spring trip split our time in The City of Lights into short stays. We arrived on a Thursday and I had a couple of days to show Mr. C some of the charm before we jetted off to Greece. When we returned to Paris at the end of our Grecian journey we managed to snag a bright red Peugeot for our drive north to Normandy. I loved tooling around the tight lanes of ancient towns and after a week exploring historic war museums and grave sites, we returned to Paris before heading home. Our time in the city whetted Mr. C’s proverbial whistle and he was excited to return for our annual European Thanksgiving vacation. This time, ten days having just the city to focus on, we fell in love...with Paris and with each other.
We had really just survived a couple of years of just plain difficulty. Mr. C’s prostate cancer, knee surgery, and back to back spine surgeries left us reeling...and in desperate need to have a bit of light, Paris fed us back to some semblance of health.
For the Thanksgiving trip I had rented had a lovely little flat just off of Place du Trocadero with a view of the Eiffel Tower and a very ancient cemetery. What I look forward to when traveling is to have a chance of cooking using local ingredients. For me, cooking in Paris, or anywhere in France (really, anywhere in the world), is pure delight. I always try to find a place with a full kitchen so that I can live like a local even if for just a few days. For the first time, I had signed us up for a cooking class in place of Thanksgiving dinner, I hoped to learn a new recipe and having a kitchen in which to recreate our meal was a bonus. Chicken with Normandy cider and lemon covered two suppers. Snacking along the food counters of Galeries Lafayette one snowy afternoon filled us before a holiday show. We spent one evening dining al fresco at a rather famous bistro with a view of the Eiffel Tower and traffic navigating the roundabout before us. This meal turned out to be memorable as we found ourselves laughing, tears streaming down our cheeks, watching a man on foot enter the traffic of the roundabout at a brisk run, loop the center statue once, and exit out the other side while navigating lorries, autos, motor scooters, and busses. Another night, following time in the Louvre, we found a tiny bistro along the Seine and decided to pop in for a meal. Another memorable meal for quite a different reason.
If you know anything about a traditional French bistro then you know they are full of charm and great food. We chose the bistro that evening based on the classics: brass fixtures, rich colors, half curtains, glowing lighting, and a bustling crowd inside. Once we were seated in a cozy corner table we ordered drinks - coffee for C and red wine for me. One sip in and I was questioning my choice - it tasted off-putting and I flagged our waiter to send it back - something I have NEVER done before. The second glass was marginally better and I sipped without fuss, quietly vowing that I would order a cocktail next. For supper Mr. C chose creamy pasta with chicken and I found myself slightly disappointed he didn’t want traditional steak frites instead. I was delighted to see Andouille sausage on the menu - I was craving something spicy and greasy- plus it was served with fries and a mustard sauce and I knew I would be tasting something otherworldly. So we both ordered something non-French, so what? I’ll order in French and that will make up for our Italian/Creole cuisine choices.
But first I needed to argue with our waiter.
I am the first to admit, my French is not perfect but it is passable enough that Mr. C trusted me with his order as well as mine. And the waiter was patient as I mangled my way through “nouilles pâtes au fromage et le poulet,” but became agitated when I requested the “Andouillé avec pommes frites et sauce à la moutarde.” He cleared his throat, stood about an inch taller and informed me, first in French and then again in English, that no American ever likes the Andouille and the always send it back. I thought briefly about our first encounter, with the wine, I am sure he didn’t want to go through that with me again. But I stood my ground, “Americans,“ I said, “don’t often like spicy foods and so perhaps this is the reason.“ He asked me, “Do you know what this meat is?” I reassured him, “Andouille? C’est du porc, n’est pas? Of course. We have it in America and I love it.” Shaking his head he went on to place our orders with the chef and I eagerly awaited dinner.
And then suddenly I realized our waiter was right.
Anticipation of a great meal is a funny thing. If you’ve been to a particular restaurant before and you had a memorable dish do you order it again in the hopes that it will be just as superb? Or do you try something new knowing that the chef is good and will likely do justice to another recipe on the menu? When I was living in Massachusetts I was lucky enough to work at a company where they treated us to a fabulous dinner at a local fine dining establishment and I tasted, for the first time, REALLY GOOD olive oil. I returned a few weeks later and something had changed, the little porcelain dish did not contain the same grass green elixir which made me salivate on my first visit. This time I was presented with golden oil drizzled with balsamic and in that one switch I abandoned all plans to recreate my first meal and ordered something different. I also never returned. This phenomenon was repeated again at a private resort just outside of Yellowstone where, at a banquet, a spectacular, almost sweet, cream sauce served with fresh trout amazed me day one but on the second evening was a huge fishy disappointment (it should be noted, we ate at the resort’s restaurant the second night). Conversely, when I lived in Boise, Idaho we often ate at Doughty’s Bistro, the closest thing to gourmet that the city had back in the early 2000’s, and I repeatedly enjoyed their cheeseburger with pesto mayonnaise - a unique flavor combination which I have never been able to re-create but their kitchen never got wrong. And my one taste of a delicious andouille sausage grilled to perfection and served with Creole Jambalaya while traveling through Beauregard Parish, Louisiana was the impetus behind my choice that night in this lovely Parisian bistro. My tongue was awash with memories of salty fat, the snap of the casing, and the peppery meat blending with Creole seasonings on that humid Southern summer evening.
When my dish came I could taste the sausage in the air.
Alongside a pile of perfectly golden fries was a pot of grainy mustard mixed with some tarragon and white wine and, typical of me, I dove in for a long cut of potato dipped in some sauce while admiring Mr. C’s Alfredo. He was presented with a large bowl filled with al dente noodles silkily ennobled in cream sauce and topped with tender slices of grilled chicken. It looked heavenly and I told him that he made an excellent choice. My dish, a large white platter, was simply laid out. The pile of fries to my right, a small cup of mustard sauce, and the sausage on the left which was starting to leak its juices. Normally I would be happily sopping up spicy oil with a broken fry but something about the scene made me pause. I think now that I should have looked around to find our waiter, I am quite sure he was peeking around a corner, hidden from view and awaiting my reaction. Instead I was trying to comprehend exactly what was in front of me and if my senses were telling me right.
The smell emanating from the sausage was indescribable.
Well, not exactly. I could describe it but to do so, in English or in French, would be to utter words not suited for polite company. So I sat there in stunned silence for a moment and just thought about the situation. Here I was in Paris with a man who I believe is the best looking guy on the planet at a beautiful bistro situated along the Seine and we are dressed impeccably and not as tourists and we have become global travelers and I simply do not know what to do when i always find a way to do something in any situation. I was dumbstruck. And so I reached for my cocktail and took a large swallow.
That odor was not going anywhere and it was permeating our little corner.
I believe that when one travels one should set aside all pickiness try new things.. Thus far on our trip I had taken a bite of fois gras and found it too grainy for my liking, this was just another adventure I told myself. I peered at the fat link on my plate through squinted eyes. The charbroiled casing had split allowing full view of the contents inside. There was none of the cayenne colored oil, instead a pool of grey water flecked with pepper (?) threatened to invade the pile of fries. Inside I did not see chili flakes or finely ground pork, what I did see was a maze of tubular like shapes threaded through a concertina of membrane (??). What in the hell was this and how was I going to eat it..
I have never tried Limburger cheese, but I love cheese and would be willing to overcome the rumored stench just to know if all the hype was worth it. Perhaps this sausage was the same - overcome the stench and you’ll fall in love with the flavor. The problem was that I feared the flavor was the stench. And it was a a stench of raw sewage. Next to me, Mr. C was happily chowing down on his entree and he looked up to see that I had not yet taken a bite. I asked him if he could smell the sausage but his olfactory senses are weak and he had not yet had the pleasure. “Is it good,” he asked. “I cannot believe you don’t smell this,” was my reply. He took a moment to bend toward the table as far as the titanium rods in his neck would allow and took a whiff. “That smells like shit.” I gave a half hearted laugh and said, “Now you can smell it.”
“Do you want to sent it back?” He asked. “No, “ I replied, “I don’t want to be that person.” And with great aplomb I lifted my knife and fork and cut a small slice. Breathing in through my mouth I placed the meat towards the middle of my tongue but before I could close my mouth I was overcome with nausea and with a “Thhhhppppttt, thhhpppptt, thhhppppttt,” I half spit, half gagged and the meat came tumbling out and down the front of my dress. Nope, this was definitely NOT andouille sausage.
Embarassed for me, Mr. C summoned our waiter and told him, through controlled laughter, that I am not normally so difficult but if he could please take this away and bring me anything I asked for, “Except more sausage,” we would pay for my uneaten meal. You could almost hear trumpeters playing a victory march as the waiter gave me a knowing smile and whisked my plate away. I really and truly do not remember what I ordered to replace that, vegetarian pasta probably, but I do know that my appetite was ruined for the night and I only ate out of remorse and respect for the waiter’s efforts. It wasn’t until we were finishing our drinks that I remembered the encyclopedia on my phone and Googled “Andouille sausage.” Yes, there is an oily, spicy Creole creation but there is also a version which one can find in France called, no - spelled ANDOUETTE. Not andouille. Not as it was spelled on the lovely menu in this lovely bistro along the lovely Seine.
A typo, intentional or mistaken, was responsible for an unforgettable meal.
The evening ended light, the waiter was forgiving and we all laughed as we bid bonne nuit and headed back to our pied a terre which boasted a washing machine and some floral scented powder sure to rid my clothing of the perfume of that memory.
“So what is andouette?,“ you ask. Let me enlighten you. Andouillette is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork, chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. Tripe, which is the stomach lining of a cow, is sometimes an ingredient in the filler of an andouillette, but it is not the casing or the key to its manufacture. True andouillette will be an oblong tube. (Source: Wikipedia). It smells like the worst smell you can imagine and looks just as bad. There are other stories on the internet of fellow unsuspecting travelers who have mistakenly ordered this heinous sausage, I am warning you not to make the same mistake when you next find yourself in France.