I married into a French Canadian family. Quebecois, they call it. My father-in-law was born very north of Quebec City and moved to New England when he was young without speaking a word of English. Now, of course, he’s completely fluent, so much that you would never even know that he spoke French. My mother-in-law also French Canadian, grew up in Massachusetts, although I believe she is first generation. Don’t quote me on that, though. She also speaks a little French, albeit with a thick Boston accent.
I remember the first time I had visited Laura and her parents at their house while we were dating. We had a small Christmas break during school (culinary school only had a four day break instead of the two week break all the other schools had,) and I was invited to spend Christmas with her and her family. It was the first time I had ever spent time with a family that had such deep rooted Christmas traditions. Granted, my family always had traditions, but there was never a sense of heritage. I’m a mutt, after all (though I’m part Irish, so I just claim that.) But there was a sense of pride in culture with Laura’s family! It isn’t as though there were Canadian flags flying everywhere, but rather a love and passion that has been slowly simmering and poured into their soul. I mean, the food alone! In my short visit, I was introduced to charmingly simple foods like Coquille St. Jacques, tourtiere, tarte au sucre, and the Buche de Noel.
And don’t forget the ragout!
A very simple dish that is easy to prepare, and often open to interpretation. Traditional ragout de boulettes will often be flavored with pork hocks in addition to the pork meatballs. Some recipes I’ve found also mix the ground pork with ground beef, although I don’t believe that is a traditional method. The recipe I’ve chosen has been adapted from my father-in-law’s recipe and consists of pork and onion meatballs and russet potatoes cooked in a brown gravy. This is commonly served with pickled beets and “christmas pickles”, which are cucumbers that are pickled in a very sweet brine with cloves and maraschino cherries.
Mise en place!
- 1 pound of ground pork
- 1/2 of an onion
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground clove
- 1/8 teaspoon (a pinch) of ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 3/4 cup of all purpose flour, browned (I’ll tell ya how)
- 4 cups of pork stock (or chicken stock)
- 3 small russet potatoes
still can’t separate these divs without some invisible text
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
This recipe uses browned flour to thicken the sauce. This is very easy to do. Just place the flour in a dry saute pan (that means no oil!) and turn the heat to medium. It requires a little baby sitting and stirring, but soon the flour will start to change color. Once the flour is a golden brown, remove from heat and set aside. It will be very aromatic, kind of like roasted almonds, and those flavors will meld nicely with the sauce.
- While baby sitting the browning flour, peel the potatoes and cut in half. Place in cold water to prevent them from oxidizing.
- Start small dicing the onions. They should be fairly small, about a 1/8 inch, as they will be mixed with the meatballs. A food processor can be used if your knife skills aren’t up to par.
- Heat a small saute pan on medium heat and add a little oil or butter. Saute onions until they are soft and translucent. Set aside to cool.
In a bowl, combine the ground pork, salt, half of the cinnamon, half of the clove, half of the nutmeg (you could just mix the three together and just half that) and the onions and mix with your hands. OPTIONAL: Add a small handful of unseasoned bread crumbs (such as panko) to make the meatballs a little more tender. This is not traditional, but it tastes better.
- Roll pork into one or two ounce meatballs. I’m meticulous, so I scale each one on a digital scale, but you can just guesstimate if you want. Just be sure they are all the same size, to ensure even cooking. Place meatballs evenly spaced on a greased sheet pan and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Set aside to cool and turn off the oven.
- Now we make the sauce. Add three cups of your stock and the remaining spices to a 4 quart or larger pot and place on high heat.
- Remember that browned flour? Combine that with the last cup of stock in a container with a tight sealing lid, such as a tupperware or gladware. Shake the crap out of it to make a thickening slurry. If the slurry seems thick, add a little bit of water and shake again. Be sure that thie slurry isn’t lumpy, otherwise you will end up with lumps in the sauce. If lumps are present, just strain it with a mesh strainer. BE CAREFUL: I made the mistake of combining the flour with the stock while both ingredients were hot (I had to thaw the pork stock in a sauce pot because it had been frozen.) Sealing this hot mixture in the gladware and shaking it created an explosion of slurry all over me due to the pressure that built up, so be sure that both ingredients are cool before performing this step. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.
- When the stock begins to boil, slowly pour in the slurry while vigorously whisking. Continue to whisk until the sauce starts to boil again and thickens. If sauce is too thick, add a little water until it is the consistency of a thin gravy. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Turn the sauce down to low setting. Drain the cut potatoes and carefully place in the sauce. Place a lid on the pot and cook the potatoes until done, about 30 minutes.
- When potatoes are done, add the meatballs to the ragout and cook until fully heated.
- Serve with pickled beets!
This recipe serves up to four people. Enjoy this comforting meal in the wintertime to warm the soul, or in my case to remind me that it’s still winter!
Let me know what you think!
UPDATE 12JAN2012: So, I stand corrected by my dear loving wife. Her mom isn’t first generation, and she insists that her mom speaks French fluently (although her mom admitted to me once that although she speaks well, she doesn’t consider herself fluent.) Also, Laura says that her mom’s accent is Boston, because she grew up south of Boston. Apparently different parts of Mass have different accents that are only distinguishable by those who grew up there 😉