Before cooking, his mother put them through a merciless scrubbing followed by an overnight soak in a pot of water laced with vinegar and baking soda and another washing the next day. They had to have been the cleanest chitterlings in town. Next, she simmered them for a long time in a broth of celery, onions, carrots, and a dash of red pepper flakes (he also adds beer to the broth). She then cut the chitterlings into small pieces, dipped them in beaten egg and flour, and fried them. They were accompanied by a piquant pepper sauce, a bottle of which was always on the table alongside the salt and pepper and the napkin holder. The sauce, made by steeping hot a peppers in cider vinegar, was sprinkled generously over greens, meats, and vegetables.
Chitterlings were often part of the refreshments at fund-raising events. People would walk around holding a chitterling sandwich while talking about the purpose of the gathering. This peripatetic exercise came to be known as the “chitlin strut”.
Another gastronomic surprise was his first French cassoulet, a name that originally suggested to him a rare delicacy. Upon tasting it, he realized it was actually a close relation of his mother's chicken, sausage, and bean casserole. The composition of a cassoulet is a subject of endless dispute among French chefs, but the fact is that it varies with the traditions of the region of France where it is made. Basically, it consists of beans baked with a combination of game, goose, lamb, pork, sausages, or mutton. When cooked, the meats are not always identifiable, the flavor depending largely upon the mixture of juices and the cook's seasoning skill. It is substantial country fare, a hearty treat on a cold wintry day.
During one of his first French dining experiences, he discovered something called creme brullee on the menu, a dessert which until that time had eluded him. Being adventurous in the food department, however, he decided to try it. Imagine his pleasure when the waiter brought a favorite sweet of his, cup custard but with a hard layer of brown sugar on top. He was immediately reminded of the custard he had loved since he was a boy, only his mother covered the smooth pudding with a thick dark caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. To this day, caramel custard has remained a part of his cooking repertoire.
I hope the heat breaks soon, my waist is expanding at an alarming rate.
Recipes for Mom’s Onion Soup,
and, for the fearless,
Southern-Style Chitterlings are at hand.