Andouilles and Andouillettes at Gilles Verot:
Special “wow, that stinks” edition.
The confluence of stubborn tradition, soulful ambition, and epicurean pride centers on inimitable Paris, France, and hard sought apprenticeships for further exposure to the uncompromising practice and theory of traditional European meat trades at decorated master charcutier Gilles Verot and celebrated artisan butcher Hugo Desnoyer.
For 3 weeks in September, on the cusp of fall in enchanting Paris, I had the exceptional opportunity and pleasure of being taken in by the staff at Gilles Verot’s production shop on rue Lecourbe in the 14th arrondissement. While the sheer quantities of raw product exceeded my expectations (1800 lbs of hams, jowls, fat, shanks, blood and loins received on a Tuesday), the fabrications remained deceptively simple. Not easy, but not contrived or needlessly manipulated either. Streamlined –though laborious- steps that ensured a high rate of production and unwavering consistency with minimal processing of Spartan parts.
Not too many mystical fabrications match the genuinely unpleasant appeal (more in terms of robust odor, as with certain cheeses, than flavor) of artisinal products lingering in France’s dusty recesses of charcuterie and its olfactorily offensive offal fraternity: andouilles, and their sisterly andouillettes -a charred tubesteak eaten 4 years ago- composed of innards which carry body badness outwards offering a texture and whiff of organic balloon ends last inflated by the dying breaths of death deities who subsisted on Maroilles and Vieux-Boulogne cheese hot pockets. In the annals of comestible western civilization, many coprophagous analogies have been made. I have come closer to those than most (except puppies and sürstromming consumers). I would gladly regale my own grandchildren with tales of ancestral courage if my proliferation were not sanctioned by the damned prophylactic tongue-wilting barnyard sausage which even copious mouthfuls of strong mustard could not assuage.
The business end of a 150lb batch of “andouillettes à la ficelle” still evokes the collective backsides of Animal Planet and its musky attributes range from removing pleats and wrinkles out of trousers to perm straightening sex panther cologne. These andouillettes are in the style of Troyes, but not named as such since the Code of Charcuterie Usage mandates, like other appellations, that the product must conform to geographical provenance and ingredients*. Ficelle corresponds to the string that is used to pull the filling through the casing. The French homonym of andouille is “imbecile”, though the term is said to be derived from the Latin inductile which means “to introduce into or insert”
Large intestines from pigs are soaked in warm water to remove their packaging salt, stretched flat, cut lengthwise and left to soak in a white wine vinegar and water mixture to neutralize some of the god-awful smell. Pork stomachs are poached -resembling fleshy WWII era aviator caps once cooked, though far more tender- and sliced into strips. Pork deckles are cut into equally sized strips. The middles are blanched until they reach a peyote shape and once cooled are mixed with salt, spices and enough Dijon mustard to sooth the sinuses of 4 college football teams their drug dealers and respective marching bands.
Aside from stifling heavy handed aperitifs the night before, such simple tubesteaks -though lengthy, arcane and very stinky- are a sobering Fernsehturm palast der republik-ish monument to austere, resourceful, natural ingredients, which, along with blood sausage (blood, fat, onions, casings and occasionally cereal grains -a delectable Estonian version has barley) are surprisingly refreshing considering the abusive levels at which American foods are so highly processed and filled with a different, lab derived, kind of (s)crap, though distributed to more traditional –even pioneering- palates.
A revised verdict includes andouilles de Vire (brined belly, cooked stomach, poached intestines and ground pork stuffed into a beef bung, smoked then poached) and Guémené (butterflied intestines, poached then rolled in concentric rings, often with a cured belly center) to be acceptable, both of which can be chewed on cold or hot, though neither repast merits walking any amount of miles in flip-flops to savour. The Troyes variety however remains confined to a personal bastion where it can do no harm.
The true merit of a charcutier’s skill might be measured by the noble, forgotten dirty work. Few fabrications involve such minimally processed, austere raw ingredients. Pork middles, pork stomachs, salt, mustard and spices. Simmered, cooled, cut, seasoned, stuffed, cooked again and kept in fat or its own gelatin. And yet, the final product is a hard pill to swallow, though an appreciation for the humdrum otherwise discarded ingredients in endearing, almost bearable with enough mustard and nasal congestion.
A close relative, Andouille Guemené from Brittany is like scoring an emerald Jujubee in the dark at the movies after a handful of ebony ones. Not quite a fruit cocktail, but at least a palatable flavor reminiscent of toothpaste. Guemené is like a belly section of the pig built like a Combos, but not really snack worthy. A crowd pleasing center of pork belly wrapped in concentric rings of pork middles. Cooked, wrapped in some sort of wax and can be enjoyed cold, like revenge. Or, heated up in rows along side coins of blood sausage slivers and braised pork belly on savoury pastry: a calorie-rich slice of pizza at the rugby equivalent of the SuperBowl.
At the very least, particularly for the sensorially vacant veterans who indifferently jiggle the goods bareback, fabricating andouilles ensures ample personal space on public transportation and a wide “stinking drunk” buffer zone at the bar. Still, it remains a time honored monument to resourcefulness, patience, practice, dedication, discipline and pursuit in making gilded purses from intestinal burlap.
*pig insides have been used exclusively since veal tripe were forbidden in 2000 after the crazy cow case, thereupon halting the production of Andouillette de Cambrai. Since 2008 however, new regulations lifted the ban.