Many habitantes here in Nouvelle France came from Normandy. Before butter became one of the flavors associated with Norman cuisine, “graisse normande” was the chief cooking medium. Each farm would have added its own signature vegetables/herbs in its preparation, giving graisse characteristic flavor and imparting the unctiousness associated with goose and duck fat in Southwest France. The Norman Table: the traditional cooking of Normandy, by Claude Guermont, gives a particularly great recipe for graisse, which I will share with you. It will keep, frozen as “ice cubes,” indefinitely; up to four months in the refrigerator. This is one of the secrets in my garde manger.
8 oz very firm beef fat and 4 oz pork fat (I use a mixture of duck, chicken, and/or goose fat for these fats as I don’t eat pork products)
½ cup coarsely chopped onions
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 leek (green part only), cut into ½ inch lengths
1 small bouquet garni (parsley stems, sprigs of fresh thyme, and 1 bay leaf in a cheesecloth bag)
Salt and pepper
• Chop fat into small pieces and place them in a heavy pot. Add 1 cup water.
• Place the pot over a low fire for 2 hours and stir occasionally. The fat will melt and begin to clarify.
• After 2 hours, add the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Stir, then simmer for about 2 hours more, or until the fat is clear and the vegetables have released all their flavor.
• Remove the pot from the fire and let it rest for about 30 minutes. This will allow the particles to settle to the bottom of the pot. Strain the fat mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth once or twice if necessary to remove all the particles.
• Season the graisse with about 1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Place in a tightly closed jar in a cool place.
Use graisse to season soups; as the fat for frying dry meats, such as venison, or left overs and to flavor farces.