Saturday, January 10, 2009

Taking stock

Day 2: Potage

Your portfolio might be in the ditch but this is one stock that'll rally you in the short term. It is the backbone, quite literally, of the Seven-Day Adventurist plan.

John Phillips, late of Chiang-Mai and The Chalkboard, made us a delicious, fortifying potage high in the hills above Caunes-Minervois, in the little mountain house he'd bought in Castanviels. I will assume he used the sweet, tender onions of nearby Citou, if for no other reason than to instill the memory. (Whatever the state of his larder, it was the coldest January in 30 years and the season for Citou onions was likely long gone.)

The addition of chilies in John's potage took it out of the countryside and into, a bit, the Vietnamese soup stalls that he'd recently returned from, having taken the train across northern China to accompany an antiques trader named Ditmar, also of Caunes. But that is entirely another tale. It was spicy, not so terribly hot, a fitting addition with the fire blazing a few feet away.

"A Frenchman would never build a fire without a meal in mind," John once said. Wearing a T-shirt and in a fury, he fanned the flames with a billows he'd picked up at a flea market.

A potage - an old farmhouse dish - can be any combination of vegetables, generally flavored with ham or bacon, and pureed. What you're after is a thick, nearly unpourable, consistency. An onion is good, a carrot or two, cerely stalk, a small potato, and some kind of foundation. I prefer split peas. Fresh herbs add subtlety.

The key, though, is chicken stock. Whether you stewed your chicken of Day 1 (which left you with a pot of stock) or roasted it (which means you'll have to make one, with any leftover bones - cooked or raw - and the usual organics). Toasted slices of bread, crouton, and you're good to go.

I'd finish with cheese: a mountain choice of some kind, probably from the Jura. But I live in the heartland where there are cows but no cheese. Who am I to say whether $25 a pound, cave-aged Gruyere is worth it?

Day 3 … Beans and rice.

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