Ragoûts, Daubes, Sautés . . .

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Braised meats are those which, discreetly moistened, cook slowly over a relatively long period of time. When the meat is cut into pieces, they are dubbed stews and may be said (without denying the pot-au-feu its importance) to form the philosophical cornerstone of French family cooking; they embody—or spark—something akin to an ancestral or racial memory of farmhouse kitchens—of rustic tables laid by mothers, grandmothers, or old retainers.

Les petits plats qui mijotent au coin du feu is a phrase that is used like a word and it rarely fails to garnish a conversation about food. It would be unfair to accuse those who use it—albeit at times as a crutch—of leaning on a vain cliché, for they know it—or sense it—to be a magical formula: the incantational touchspring that unites a diverse people in a single reaction. It means “slow-cooking stews,” but it symbolizes “the good life” and somewhere, shadowlike, behind its words lies a half-remembered state of voluptuous, total well-being (“Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté”).

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