Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Question Of Ethics ...

Now it has been drawn to my attention that some people disagree, on moral grounds, with the very concept of foie gras. I am not going to argue with this, I shall just lean back in the armchair, smile faintly but smugly and shut up, and let them go argue the toss with a French-thing. (I learnt, long ago, to do this at the dinner table - only the armchair there was metaphorical because who has dinner seated in an armchair? - in order to avoid the bloodshed and enjoy the spectacle as the right-wing and the left-wing of the extended family drew knives over the vexed question of whether the rich should be taxed at 95%, or just sent to the guillotine and then taxed at 100%. Never did settle that one satisfactorily, but at least everyone escaped with only light flesh wounds.)

Anyway, the inevitable ensuing argument will be fun to watch because the Frog-person in question, feeling unfairly put-upon and persecuted by Anglo-Saxonality, will bring up fox-hunting as a counter-example. And if you let that one in through the doors, you are lost. That way lies madness.

"For", he will say, "you tell me that the gavage of innocent little furry ducks that go coin-coin* is cruel, what then do you say of the chasing of a poor renard, which you English lords do every day before breakfast?" (The French have some odd ideas about daily life in that green and pleasant - or unpleasantly green - land. For instance, les rosbifs, when not hunting foxes, are eating porridge. Which may or may not be deep-fried. The English have equally odd ideas about the French lifestyle: it seems to be a given that all parisiennes are mind-bogglingly beautiful, and that all men have at least three mistresses, and a beret. To my certain knowledge, the first concept at least is totally baseless, and in these hard economic times supporting four ménages is a luxury that few can afford. Although berets are cheap, but also totally out of fashion.)

It is true that the duck, once past its salad days of wandering freely and fornicating at will in the dusty forecourt, is stuffed each day until its death (quite possibly from heart failure) with golden grain, whilst the fox - if things go according to plan (not necessarily, let's be quite clear on this, the foxes' plan) - gets chased only once in its life.

But no-one, to my knowledge, has interrogated the ducks on the matter - nor the foxes, come to that, who would probably rather be eating duck - and it could well be that they actually appreciate the attention. And in any case, I personally would much rather eat duck than fox, recipes for renard looking as they do suspiciously like those for pukeko stew**. Only with more wine.

Also, it is true that the modern urban French are just as clueless as to where meat ultimately comes from, and as sentimental, as any other city-dweller (maybe that's why horse-meat consumption has plummeted over the last thirty years, as the generation that felt good about eating My Little Pony dies off), but if you scratch an urban Frenchman you'll find a peasant underneath, and those things are notoriously unromantic. And when something tastes as good as foie gras, decently prepared, principles tend to go to the wind.

Maybe my ethics are questionable, but at least I recognise that what I eat is dead animals, and as for the vegans - how do they sleep at night, knowing the torture that is inflicted on their behalf on innocent grains and vegetables? Can you not hear them scream as they're ripped from Mother Gaia's soil? Will no-one think of the children?

(Let it be said too that foxes are vile disease-ridden rodents that are nowhere near as cunning as it's said in their publicity handouts. Don't feel sorry for the little bastards, you'll only regret it later when they rip your throat out in your sleep.)

Whatever, I guess that some of you may have been sleeping under a rock for some time, or maybe it's just that you live in Upside-Down Land or one of the old penal colonies and thus are not privileged, as are we Yurrupians, to know of Stephen Fry, Britain's National Treasure™ and definitive thespian. The Register used to have a regular Fryday, featuring such gems as this and this, and also this, which go some way to explaining the esteem in which all right-thinking people hold the Luvvie-In-Chief. But that is not the point. It's just a bit of background, to explain why I snorted coffee out my nostrils this morning when I read Old Key's Almanacke prediction for November 2014: "The iFry is launched, a simulacrum of Stephen Fry that witters incessantly and is small enough to be tossed into a wastepaper basket."

In other news, kittens bounce. Backup cat was feeling adventurous the other day, picking his way delicately along the top of the barrier around the terrace, and eventually came to the vertical wall at one end and thought he'd jump up. See kitty jump! Watch as he scrabbles to the sheer concrete with little claws! Gasp! as he goes "plop" onto the street three metres down. About 30 seconds later he'd rushed around the house, jumped up another vertical wall and thence onto the roof and back down to the terrace. Hardly limps a bit, but seems a bit warier now.

I honestly do not know how I managed to escape alive from Carcassonne this morning. As is my wont I headed off to the market - a bit later than originally planned, for I had to intervene when I discovered Margo trying to throttle her computer but that's neither here nor there - and visited the usual suspects, and as I had to stop off at a supermarket on the way back home anyway, to pick up some small preserving jars for the foie gras that is even now macerating in sherry, I thought I might as well make a brief call to a place that Margo had pointed out on more than one occasion.

It is called "Discount Alimentaire" and I kind of expected it to be, like many of these hard discount warehouses, a place where you had odds'n'sods of end-of-stock items, or the last three palettes of duck gumbo that Carrefour couldn't push out the door. Unbelievable "bargains" that you know you'll never find again, barring exceptional circumstances. As it happened, I was wrong not totally correct.

Half the barn-like interior was taken up with fresh fruit and vegetables - now some of those, I will admit, looked as though they'd seen better days but others were fine: just have to be picky, I guess. The far end was the butcher's stand, along twelve metres or so, with a real butcher behind it, and I shall have to go back some time when I really need meat because it would be criminal to pass up a nicely marbled côte de boeuf at 13€/kg, or a shoulder of lamb at 9€/kg. Being halal I doubt I'm going to find pork there in the near future, but I can live with that.

But what really turned me on were the aisles in the centre, laden left and right with herbs and spices and dried fruit and sauces and godnose what else. Now I know where to go if I wish to buy some za'atar, or spices for keuftes, or dried hibiscus flowers. Or a kilo bag of Madras curry, come to that, although that's unlikely because I'd have difficulty getting rid of all that in six months and I will not have stale spices around the kitchen.

Thought I did really rather well to finally make it out with so little: some tortilla wrappers, filo pastry, toasted sesame seeds, mixed grains to go into some bread, some more orange essence and a kilo of powdered almonds. (For it is time right now for the galette des rois, and both of these last are essential if you want to fill one with a properly fragrant frangipane cream, redolent of oranges and butter.) So I was quite pleased with myself. But I will go back, next time with a decently capacious shopping basket. And maybe a gastronomic dictionary.

Anyway, I have those two livers to see to, and four large plump mushrooms to be stuffed with herbed pork mince before going into the oven - and I suppose that the puff pastry is not going to make itself. So I had better get into the kitchen, and make myself busy. Mind how you go.

*French ducks - those raised for their livers at least - are an odd breed with a cleft palette and prolapsed anus, and consequently incapable of going "quack" as God intended. They make a noise transcribed phonetically as "coin", which sounds like a whoopee cushion deflating under an elephant. Or a noisy liquid fart, on a kazoo.

**For our foreign readers - a NooZild delicacy, equivalent of the famous French pot au feu, in which a stringy, muscular, and particularly rancid waterfowl (the "pukeko" in question) is stewed for days in a cauldron with stones: granite and schist are considered indispensable, and a few lumps of quartz are held to add flavour. When tender the bird is removed and disposed of with extreme prejudice: the cooking liquid is served as a soup; the rocks are carved at table and, garnished with pebbles, make a satisfying, if somewhat heavy, main dish for a festive occasion. Vegetables are considered superfluous. Oddly enough, a cheap retsina accompanies the meal to perfection: paint-stripper makes an adequate substitute.


  1. recipes for renard
    1. Mix with donkey meat.

    foxes are vile disease-ridden rodents
    Now you're just trolling the Mammalia taxonomists.

  2. French ducks - those raised for their livers at least - are an odd breed with a cleft palette and prolapsed anus, and consequently incapable of going "quack" as God intended

    Apparently 'queck' is a valid alternative.