Thursday, 17 September 2009

Autumn Casseroles from France - Baeckeoffe

Baeckeoffe is a traditional casserole from Alsace and consists of 3 different meats cooked with potatoes, prepared in an earthenware or ceramic casserole dish. It's a little like a Lancashire Hotpot but includes Pork and Beef as well as Lamb which have been marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries. Leeks, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrots and marjoram are other commonly added ingredients for flavour and colour.

Traditionally, the women would prepare this dish on Saturday evening and leave it with the baker to cook in his gradually cooling oven on Sunday while they attended the lengthy Calvinist church services once typical to the culture. The baker would take a "rope" of dough and line the rim of a large, heavy ceramic casserole, then place the lid upon it for an extremely tight seal. This kept the moisture in the container. On the way back from church, the women would pick up their casserole and a loaf of bread.

Another version of the story of the origin of this dish is that women in France would do laundry on Mondays and thus not have time to cook. They would drop the pots off at the baker on Monday morning and do the laundry. When the children returned home from school they would then pick up the pot at the baker and carry it home with them.

To make rich Baeckeoffe you can add pigs trotters or oxtail to the ingredients and if you don't want to make a pastry seal to keep the juices from evaporating you can use a band of foil instead. It's a good idea to do so as it keeps the wine’s vaporous aroma’s from escaping whilst cooking.

Baeckeoffe

1 lb boneless pork shoulder
1 lb shoulder of lamb
1 lb beef brisket
3 lb waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
4 carrots, chopped

For Marinade:

1 tbsp salt
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch fresh celery leaves, chopped
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ bottle dry white wine (preferably an Alsatian Riesling)

Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and put them in a container. Toss with the salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, celery leaves, and parsley. Moisten with the wine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400º F. Select a large oven proof casserole with a lid. Grease the bottom and sides with the butter lard. If you are using pig’s trotters or oxtail lay them on the bottom and cover with half the potatoes, onions, leeks, and carrots. Remove the meat from the marinade and add, covering it with the remaining vegetables, ending with the potatoes. Strain the marinade through a sieve and pour the liquid over the contents of the pot. If necessary, add some extra wine or water to bring the liquid barely to the top of the vegetables. Seal the pot with dough or foil and cook for 1 hour. Reduce the heat to 350ºF and continue cooking for 1 ½ hours more. Serve with either Crémant d'Alsace, Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

I often wonder why we don't see more Alsatian wine available here in the UK , it really is an unsung region. The sparkling Crémant d'Alsace gives most other bubblies a serious run for their money. Crémant is the French word for "creaming" - this means that they are made with slightly more than half the pressure of champagne. This doesn’t give them any less sparkle but makes a wine with a fizzy mousse of bubbles and a delicious refreshing tingle on the tongue Today, Crémant d’Alsace is the market leader in at-home sales of AOC sparkling wines in France. It’s an undiscovered gem. Having tasted it I can understand why.

Cremant d'Alsace Joseph Pfister (£9.89) is traditionally made in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr and is a pale yellow colour with a dense, very fine mousse lasting to the very last sip in the glass. It is very fruity on the nose with definite hints of apricots, lime blossoms and plums. It is light and fresh on the palate and an ideal wine for accompanying an entire meal, from the aperitif to the dessert.

Also from Ammerschwihr is the Cremant d'Alsace Extra Brut Jean Baptiste Adam (£12.49). No less than 14 generations of winemakers have contributed to the tradition and exceptional skills of the Adam estate. The Adam Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut is a delicate and dazzling wine notes of melon, lemon, ripe pear and toast. It's crisp, effervescent and is a medium weighted sparkling wine with a dry, robust finish.

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