The first time I ate boudins blancs, I was living in Paris. It was New Year's Eve, and the aromatic delicacy of those white, most refined of sausages overcame me. This was heaven. I left France and for years tried every boudin blanc I could find. I began to think that the elusive, haunting taste I sought had been created only in my mind. Then I found Jane Grigson's recipe for boudins blancs de Paris in "The Art of Charcuterie." It turned out to be the real thing. Every December since, my husband and I have started from pork casings to make boudins blancs. It is the center of our New Year's Eve supper.
The rest of our meal is provided by friends. Chicken puffs keep us from fainting from hunger before midnight, when the serious eating begins.We then start with herring salad, this German New Year's tradition a lovely combination of sharpness toned and refined by veal. The boudins blancs, which receive their first simmering the day before, are then browned in butter and put on the table with hot, buttery applesauce with calvados.
While mashed potatoes are traditional with boudins blancs, they don't hold, and nobody wants to muck around with them at 11 o'clock. So we have made our own tradition by substituting scalloped potatoes, which have the capacity to absorb breath-taking amounts of butter and cream. All of this is eaten with peasanty French bread, which is put together that morning. A nice wine with boudins blancs is vouvray, particularly one with a light uninduced bubble. And then there's champagne.
Dessert takes care of itself: cookies, pound cakes, Christmas cakes. One year I made six different fruit ices but forgot to serve them; the hour was late and the mind was muzzy.
Boudins blancs can be bought, but I still find the commercial stuff wanting. The closest to the one we make is at the French Market in Georgetown. It is properly white, but I consider the flavor a little pale and undistinguished. Even so, it is not bad value at $5.50 a pound. Suzanne's, at 1735 Connecticut Ave., had boudins blancs with large pieces of mushrooms. They are less white than they should be and the mushrooms give them a strange mottled appearance. The idea may have come from the super-refined version of boudins blancs, boudin de volaille a la Richelieu, which is made with truffles and mushrooms that are minced and the moisture cooked out; but the boudins at Suzanne's fell short of that. However, it is a very good sausage and a very good buy at $4.15 a pound. The so-called boudins blancs at the Georgetown Market's Boucherie Francaise were completely unacceptable. Dark, coarse, flavorless things, they were reminiscent of the worst cereal-filled bangers that one hopes never to meet in England. The price for these was shockingly high at $6.90 a pound.
Boudins blancs are easy to make at home. Sausage casings, which used to entail treks to Baltimore, are now available in most Italian markets. They come either by the hank, by the pound (in one place) or by the cup. The casings sold by the hank are the best -- they are longer and tend not to be full of holes. Those in the cup are end pieces, shorter and can be quite holey. Last year I bought a hank of casings, which is enough for 100 pounds of sausage. I packed what was left over in salt in a jar and refrigerated it; the casings were in perfect condition this year. Mancuso (2208 Rhode Island Ave. NE) sells casing by the hank at $9 and by the cup (makes 25 pounds) for $1.75. Marchone (11224 Triangle Lane, Wheaton, Md.) has casings by the cup at $1.49. Litteri (517 Morse St. NE) sells a hank for $10.95 and a cup for $1.75. Vace (3510 Connecticut Ave. NW) sells casing by the pound, at $6.50. I was unable to learn how many pounds of sausage a pound of casing will make, but I suspect a good many.
The casings should be washed, placed in a bowl of cold water and refrigerated overnight before using. It is easy to clean the inside by stringing a bit on a faucet and running cold water through the casing. This also makes it easy to spot any holes. The part with holes should simply be cut out.
Fresh pork fat is also a requisite for good boudins blancs or any sausage. The salted fat back that is found in supermarkets will not do. The French Market sells fresh pork fat for $1.15 a pound. The Clover Market (5014 Connecticut Ave. NW) calls its fat "streaked lean" and sells this for $1.29 a pound. The Georgetown Market's Boucherie Francaise sells fresh pork fat for $1.90 a pound.
Soft white twine, which is used to tie off sausage, can be found in hardware stores and in some kitchen stores.
We make our boudins blancs about a week before we eat them, so they must be frozen to maintain freshness. They are removed to the refrigerator to defrost the night before they receive their simmer. Boudins blancs can be frozen for four to six weeks before they start to lose flavor.
One of the most critical elements in this sausage is quatre epices, the aromatic flavoring that can be bought off the shelf in France but can be made without any difficulty in the kitchen. White pepper, not black, is necessary so that the color of the sausage is not marred.
The recipe for boudins blancs tells how to make them with a meat grinder or a food processor. We sometimes use both, grinding the meats in the processor and stuffing sausage through the meat grinder. Sausage horns (or stuffers) are large funnels with oversized openings that render sausage-making easy. They can be found in any good kitchen store. BOUDINS BLANCS DE PARIS (Makes 12 6-inch sausages to serve 6 piggy people, 8 hungry people or 12 delicate people) 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks 1/2 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch chunks 1 1/4 pounds fresh pork fat, cut into 1-inch chunks 2 scant tablespoons salt 1 teaspoon finely ground white pepper 1 teaspoon or more (to taste) quatre epices (recipe follows) 3 cups finely chopped onions 3/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs (no crusts) 1/4 cup hot heavy cream 3 eggs, lightly beaten Sausage casings, washed and soaked overnight in the refrigerator in a bowl of cold water 2 1/2 cups milk for the first cooking of the boudins Butter for the browning of the boudins 1 cup bouillon (homemade or canned)
All the meats and fat must be very cold.
Grind the meat and fat using the fine blade of a meat grinder. Add salt, pepper, spices and chopped onions. Put through the grinder a second time. Soak the bread crumbs in the hot cream and add to the mixture. Add the eggs. Beat the mixture well by hand or with an electric beater. Test for seasonings by frying a small quantity to taste. (At this point we usually add another 1/2 teaspoon of quatre epices. ) Fit the meat grinder with a sausage horn and the course blade. The knife is not necessary.
Remove the first sausage casing from the bowl of water. Slip one end onto a faucet and run cold water through the casing. If there are any holes in the casing, cut it off so that the filling won't ooze out. String the casing onto the sausage horn and pass the mixture through the grinder. When the meat starts to come through and fills the end of the casing, tie it off with soft white twine. Be sure that no air is trapped in the casing. Fill the skins and tie into 6-inch sausages.
If the boudins are not going to be cooked within a day or two, they should be frozen at this point. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and place the boudins on this, making sure that none of them touch. Freeze and decant into a plastic bag. Place in freezer. Defrost in refrigerator overnight the day before the first cooking.
The day before the boudins are to be served, bring to a boil 5 cups of water and 2 1/2 cups milk.A french fry pan or other deep pot that will accept a basket is ideal. Place the sausages in a deep metal basket and lower into the hot liquid. The boudins should not be crowded, so it may be necessary to do this initial simmer in increments. Keep the temperature just below the boil. Prick the boudins gently with a needle as they rise to the surface. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the basket and leave it to drain over a bowl. If a second batch must be cooked, turn the boudins into a colander set over a bowl. Continue until all the boudins are cooked. Refrigerate them and complete cooking the next day just before serving. Prick the sausages with a needle and fry gently in butter until browned. Remove the boudins to a warm serving plate, pour off the fat and deglaze the pan with bouillon. Reduce the bouillon by half and pour over the boudins. Or serve over mashed potatoes if these are accompanying the boudins.
To make boudins blancs with a food processor or blender, process the meats, fat and chopped onions to a puree. Proceed with the recipe. Stuff sausages either by using a meat grinder or by hand. If by hand, push the casing onto the sausage horn, spoon in the mixture and help it through if necessary with a chopstick or the handle end of a wooden spoon. Twist to make 6-inch links and tie in between. QUATRE EPICES FOR BOUDINS BLANCS 7 parts finely ground white pepper 1 part each nutmeg, clove, cinnamon
(For seasoning sausages, pate. Also can be added to a mustard and brown sugar glaze for ham. For fresh pork, season an hour or two before cooking. A bit of quatre epices can also be sprinkled on mashed potatoes that are to accompany sausage.) ELAINE KURTZ'S SCALLOPED POTATOES (8 servings) 8 tablespoons butter 3 pounds boiling potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick, to make 9 cups 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
Heavily butter a 12-inch, 2-inch-deep ovenproof dish. Arrange layers of potatoes in it, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper and dots of butter. Dot the top layer with butter. Pour on the cream and bring slowly to the simmer on top of the stove. Bake in the middle of a preheated 300-degree oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Lower the oven if necessary to prevent the cream from coming to a boil. The potatoes are done when they are tender, the cream is abosrbed and the top is lightly browned. TESSA HUXLEY'S HAPPY NEW YEAR COOKIES (Makes about 36 cookies) 5 tablespoons sugar 1/2 pound unsalted butter 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups flour Extra sugar
Cream sugar and butter. Beat in vanilla. Mush in flour with fingers. Roll into balls and put on cookie sheet. They will swell by 1/3. Bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes until pale golden. Check at 3 minutes -- they should not be dry. Roll in extra sugar. ANDREA MITCHELL'S CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE (Makes 2 cakes) Extra butter for preparing pans 6 tablespoons chopped walnuts Extra sugar for preparing pans 1/2 pound unsalted butter 8 ounces cream cheese 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla 4 eggs 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups dried currants
Butter 2 5-cup loaf pans heavily and sprinkle each with 3 tablespoons walnuts, then lightly with sugar. With an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese together until soft. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light. Beat in vanilla. Then beat in eggs one at a time. The batter may look curdled. Resift the flour with baking powder and salt and blend it in. Mix in currants. Turn into nut coated pans.
Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until cake tests done. Let stand on a rack for 10 minutes and then turn out onto rack to cool. BILL RICE'S APPLESAUCE (8 servings) 8 large Granny Smith apples 1/4 pound unsalted butter 1 cup dry white wine 1 cup heavy cream 4 tablespoons calvados Pinch of salt Sugar and lemon juice to taste
Peel, core and cut the apples into a quarter-inch dice. Cook them gently in the butter in a covered frying pan. Stir from time to time. When the apples are golden, remove to a serving dish and keep them warm. Add the wine to the pan juices and boil down by half. Pour in the cream, add calvados, salt, sugar and lemon juice to taste.Pour this sauce over the apples. Serve immediately with boudins blancs. NANCY POLLARD'S FRENCH BREAD (Makes 2 loaves) 1 envelope dried yeast 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon sugar 2 cups lukewarm water (about 120 degrees) 6 cups bread flour or 5 cups unbleached white flour mixed with 1 cup gluten (available at co-ops and health food stores) Butter Cornmeal Lightly beaten egg white
In a bowl, dissolve the yeast, salt and sugar in the warm water. Sift the flour and mix it gradually into the liquid until the mixture absorbs no more flour. (The 6 cups is only an indication of what might be used -- more or less flour may be necessary.) Knead the dough on a floured board or with the dough hook of an electric mixer until it is slightly elastic, or for about 3 or 4 minutes. Let it rise for 1 hour in a greased bowl, covered with a damp cloth, in a warm corner of the kitchen or in a turned off gas oven with a pilot.
Butter a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cornmeal and shake off the excess. Without working the dough too much, divide it into 2 parts and shape into long narrow loaves on the cookie sheet. Mark a row of diagonal slits across the tops with a razor blade, a baker's "lame" or a sharp knife. Let the loaves rise another 45 minutes. Brush them lightly with the egg white and bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 5 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake another 35 minutes. GINNY MITCHELL'S CHICKEN PUFFS (Makes 70) For the puffs: 1 cup boiling water 1/4 pound butter 1 cup bread flour 4 eggs Butter for cookie sheet
Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. Add the butter and heat until it is melted. Add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously over low heat until a ball forms in the center of the pan. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Drop by teaspoons on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. This should take anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes. Can be made in advance and frozen or refrigerated. If they are not freshly made, dry the puffs out for a few minutes in a 350-degree oven. Cut off the tops, fill with a dab of chicken filling and replace lid. These can be finished a few hours before serving. For the filling: 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped fine 1 cup celery, finely minced 2 to 3 water chestnuts, finely minced (optional) Mayonnaise to bind 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard or moutarde a l'ancienne Salt and pepper to taste Combine all ingredients MARIANNE GINSBURG'S GERMAN HERRING SALAD (8 to 10 servings) 1 cup finely chopped herring filets in wine sauce (drained before chopping) 1/2 pound finely chopped cooked veal 1/2 cup finely chopped cold boiled potatoes 3 cups finely chopped canned beets 1/2 cup finely chopped apple 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 1/2 cup finely chopped dill pickle 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar Salt and pepper to taste 3 hard-cooked eggs 1 tablespoon dijon mustard 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1/4 cup salad oil 1/4 cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
Combine herring, veal, potatoes, beets, apple, onion, pickle and four tablespoons fresh dill. Add wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently with a wooden spoon.
Separate the yolks from the whites of the hard-cooked eggs. Mince the whites and set them aside. Force the yolks through a sieve into a small bowl with the back of a large spoon. Beat in the mustard and then gradually beat in the vinegar and oil. Then beat in the cream, a tablespoon at a time, until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream. Pour over the salad, mix lightly but thoroughly, cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Just before serving, transfer the salad to a platter and sprinkle it with the minced egg whites and the remaining chopped fresh dill.