Saturday, April 9, 2016

Baeckeoffe – A traditional Alsatian peasant stew that made the big time.

from
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan G. Newman
    

A Baeckeoffe.
Photograph courtesy of Agathe

What meats are in a Baaeckeoffe?

A Baeckeoffe today will include cuts of beef and pork and lamb; that may be pork loin, a pig’s trotter, other pork cuts, a cut from the beef chuck and boneless lamb shoulder.  Some chefs will add goose and or Alsatian sausages. The vegetables will have been chosen according to the season but will always include French white haricot beans, onions, carrots, leeks, and potatoes.
  
                                                                         
Baeckeof, Baeckeoffe, Baaekenof, Baekenhofem, Backenhoff or Potée Alsacienne –  The name Baeckeoffe and the similar-sounding names above all mean a Baker’s Oven in the Alsatian dialect. The original Baeckeoffe included vegetables plus France’s Haricot Blanc, dried white beans, and whatever few pieces of meat that was available; usually, that meant the parts that could not readily be sold.
   
N.B. The two departments of the Alsace were moved back and forth over hundreds of years between France and German states and then again with a united Germany; the last time was during WWII. The Alsace borders Germany to the North and Germany and Switzerland to the East.  The local German dialect is called Allemand Alsacien or Elsässerditsch, but all the citizens also speak perfect French. In most restaurants the menu with be in Allemand Alsacien along with French.
    

Where is the Alsace?
   
For hundreds of years when a baker had finished baking that day’s bread, then the villager’s cooking pots would be placed in the baker’s oven where their contents cooked while the oven slowly cooled. Each family’s cooking pot contained whatever they had available, and when taken home, they would be kept hot on the family hearth. The slow cooking allowed all the tastes to mingle and produce wonderful stews from limited ingredients.
   

An old baker’s oven.
    
Today's restaurant Baeckeoffe will include cuts of beef and pork and lamb; that may be pork loin, a pig’s trotter, a cut from the beef chuck and boneless lamb shoulder.  Some chefs will add goose and or Alsatian sausages. The vegetables will have been chosen according to the season but will include onions, carrots, leeks, and potatoes.  The chef will have added, an Alsatian white wine; that may be a Riesling AOP or a Gewürztraminer AOP, and the herbs and spices will include garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns.  Baeckeoffe is still cooked slowly; it is the slow cooking that produces the wonderful tastes and aromas that make a Baeckeoffe.

Similar stews with slightly different recipes are called a potée or a potée boulangère in the rest of France. The word potée means a cooking pot and a boulangère is a baker.
     

From Brittany their version of a Baeckeoffe
 a Bretonne Boulangère.
  
In the Alsace, when coming in from a cold winter’s night, a modern Baeckeoffe along with a large Alsatian beer may be just what the doctor ordered. (For the link to All the French you Need to Order Beer in France click here).
   

Alsace produces over 40% of the beers sold in France.
   
In Jewish villages, there were remarkably similar dishes called cholent that was prepared for the Sabbath lunch.  In the Alsace, the Jewish family’s recipes would be very similar to those of a Christian peasant family’s. The two communities, mostly lived side by side and they did share many recipes; however scraps of goose would have replaced the forbidden pork. The pot of cholent would be taken home from the baker before the Sabbath began on Friday at sundown and it was transferred to the family’s hearth.  When the fire in the hearth had been stacked correctly, the family would have a hot stew for their Sabbath lunch.
   

Cholent
    
Baeckeoffe de Poissons  –  This is the Alsatian baaekenof meat stew made with freshwater fish instead of meat; sea fish and shellfish may sometimes be added.
  

Baeckeoffe de Poissons
  
My own experience, and twice was enough, saw that the slow cooking used to combine the flavors can only apply to the meat recipe; the fish would have disintegrated if cooked for a long time.  The Baeckeoffe de Poissons was tasty, but offered few of the subtle flavors of the slowly cooked beef stew. Stay with the traditional Baeckeoffe for a meat stew and for a fish stew consider a thoroughly traditional Alsatian freshwater, sometimes freshwater and seafood, fish stew, called a “matelote.”

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Bryan G. Newman
 
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016
  
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman
at
behindthefrenchmenu@gmail.com