The food of the Quercy in the South of France
In this region of the South of France the splendid goose has been King for a thousand years. Although perennially popular, goose is expensive and revered and so generally used only for feasts and special occasions. The liver of course makes the fabulous Foie Gras, unrivalled the world over. The stately goose itself is at it’s most delicious when roasted, perhaps with prunes from Agen and a good Armagnac (see Goose with Prunes and Armagnac for the recipe). The precious fat, carefully saved, is used for just about everything connected with potatoes for weeks afterwards.
Did you know that the South of France, particularly the south west, has one of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the world? It’s true. As one of my ancient neighbours bellowed to me the other day, through a mouthful of black tobacco, “drink a litre of red wine and eat goose fat every day and you’ll live to be a hundred.” I don’t like to inquire as to his exact age, but he looks like a living testimonial to me!
Ducks meanwhile queen it royally in every delectable form on just about every restaurant menu, and you’ll find them for sale in every market as well. Confit de Canard is one of the classics, an essential ingredient in that great southern hot pot, Cassoulet. Duck also forms the main ingredient of the delicious local summer dish, Salade Quercynoise.
You’ll find them everywhere; roast, grilled, fanned, smeared with elegant sauces and stewed in savoury casseroles. Every little country auberge across the South of France has it’s own recipe.
Which brings us to our Jack-of-all-trades, the pigeon. They are supremely useful and greatly underestimated birds and the Quercynoise discovered their attributes hundreds of years ago.
Pigeonniers famously litter the plains of the Quercy Blanc in south west France and every sizeable house has one. Even today when most of the meat consumed in the Quercy is bought from producers and many pigeonniers have been converted to living accommodation, a good few country households still keep pigeons. Indeed, our neighbours do, I often return from a shopping expedition to find a carrier bag stuffed full of something distinctly feathery, hanging from a nail on the southern terrace. One of the favourite ways to prepare these delightful little birds is farci, stuffed (see Pigeons Farcis for a recipe) and again there are as many ways of stuffing a pigeon, as there are restaurants to serve them.
If you don’t have a kindly neighbour to keep you supplied you can easily buy pigeons in the markets. I often use the breasts alone, fry them quickly and serve them with a sauce and salad. They also make an extremely flavourful addition to a good pork pate. But why not try them as the Quercynoise prefer them; they are utterly sublime and make a very elegant dish for a dinner party.
©Amanda Lawrence 2005
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For more regional recipes from the South of France, visit our Food and Drink section.