The strips of fat pork, rolled and tossed until well coated in the mixture of garlic, herbs, and seasoning, are each forced with one’s finger into a deep, narrow incision pierced with the grain of the meat using a small knife; depending on the size and the structure of each piece of meat, it may receive one, two, or three lardons. The double purpose of seasoning interiorly, forming tiny pockets of isolated flavor, and nourishing it to keep it moist is served particularly well with long-cooking stews, although rabbit—and especially the saddle section—also profits from this treatment. The aromatic elements may be altered to taste. The meats should be larded before being put into a marinade.
Use, if possible, a heavy copper plat à sauter for the browning process, large enough to hold all the pieces of meat at their ease, side by side. Lacking that, use a skillet and transfer everything to a large cocotte for the braising process.
If the garnish includes lean salt-pork lardons, begin cooking them in the fat over a medium flame until they begin to take on color. Add the carrots and onions and cook all together, stirring or tossing regularly, for about ½ hour, removing the lardons and putting vegetables aside as each arrives at the correct stage of surface crispness and color. The carrots and onions should be lightly colored, the onions caramelized but not dark brown. Empty them into a sieve, being certain that no fragment of onion remains in the pan (it would burn over the high heat necessary to brown the meat, lending an acrid taste to the sauce), and return the fat to the pan.
If the pieces of meat have been marinated, drain them (collecting the liquid for subsequent moistening), sponge each dry with a towel or absorbent paper, and salt on all sides. Brown them over high heat in the same pan and the same fat used for the vegetables, turning the heat up or down as necessary to keep them from either stewing or burning and, when all are regularly colored on all surfaces, sprinkle over the sugar (if included), turning the meats around, permitting it to caramelize lightly, thus reinforcing the color of the sauce and effacing the flat sweetness of the sugar.
Lower the heat, sprinkle over the flour, and continue turning the pieces of meat until the flour is lightly colored. Turn the heat up and moisten, first with the marinade—if the meats were marinated—or with wine, scraping vigorously all the surfaces of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to dislodge and dissolve all traces of caramelized adherences. If tomato is used, add it at this point, reducing it with the wine so that it may cook apart a bit, mingling with and coating the meat—or, if no wine is used, add the tomato, stirring around well before adding the other liquids. Return the onions and carrots to the pan, add the garlic (if it has not been added with the marinade) and the cayenne, and tuck the bouquet garni into the heart of the thing. If an eau de vie is to be added, heat it in a small saucepan, set fire to it, and, when the flame has subsided, pour it over. Add enough stock or water to barely cover the contents of the pan, gently packed together so that they may be moistened with a minimum of liquid, bring to a boil, and adjust the heat so that, covered, the liquid’s surface is maintained at the suggestion of a simmer (if you have been working with a pan—or with pans—too small to contain all the ingredients, transfer meats, vegetables, and bouquet to a large cocotte before sprinkling the pans first with sugar, then with flour, deglazing, and, finally, pouring the slightly thickened liquid over the meats and vegetables to cover). The stew may be cooked in a slow oven or on top of the stove—the precise adjustment of heat necessary to maintain the desired simmer is more easily achieved on top.
Skim off surface fat two or three times and, when the meat is tender—still slightly firm, remove it, piece by piece, to a plate and pour the remaining contents of the pan into a large, fine sieve placed over a saucepan. If a particularly delicate, translucid sauce is desired, press the solid remainder gently to extract all the juices and discard the vegetables and the bouquet. For a rougher sauce with more body, remove the carrots (they may be added to the meats to serve as garnish—overcooked and impregnated with flavors other than their own, they add little; their work has already been done), press the bouquet and discard it, and purée the onions and garlic into the sauce.
Return the meat to its cooking vessel, add the garnishes chosen from the first part of the list, cover, and put aside until the sauce is ready.
Bring the sauce to a boil and move the saucepan somewhat to the side of a medium flame in order to maintain a light boil at one side only of the sauce’s surface. A skin will form on the undisturbed part of the surface that should be gently pulled to the edge with a tablespoon, removed, and discarded. Give it time to form—the firmer it is, the more fat and impurities will be contained in it and the easier it will be to remove. Repeat this procedure four or five times over a period of ½ hour or so. If at this point the sauce isn’t sufficiently reduced (there should be only enough to generously coat the meats and garnish and it should be light-bodied but consistent—not watery), turn the flame high for a couple of minutes and reduce, stirring the while with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt.
Grind pepper to taste over the meat and garnish, pour the sauce evenly over, return to a boil over a low flame and simmer, covered, for another 15 or 20 minutes, gently shaking the pan from time to time to encourage the intermingling of flavors and the even coating of all the elements by the sauce. Remove any further evidence of fat on the surface (cast off by the lardons or the vegetables that have been cooked in butter), soaking it up with the corner of a paper towel, if in tiny globules. Scatter over the terminal garnish, freshly prepared, and serve, preferably from the cooking vessel.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.