"I have always thought that it is sauces such as this one that confirm the genius of the French cook" Simon Hopkinson
And yet it is not well-known. And it does not appear in all of my 'authoritative' French cookbooks. Just Elizabeth David and Julia Child give it the nod. And it is Mastering the Art of French Cooking volume two by Julia Child and Simone Beck, or as I see from the cover, by Simone Beck and Julia Child, which is my lucky dip book. I confess I discarded my first go at a 'lucky' page. I can't even remember what it was and now I feel guilty. It wasn't a recipe - possibly a bit of equipment or a technique and probably very interesting. Anyway, I think for the first time, I was so unexcited I tried again (and - oh the guilt - again) and I landed on a recipe for Lapin au saupiquet - which at least is a recipe, and lots of those blogs that I talked about with hundreds of thousands of hits, simply present a recipe a post without much comment. At least I have, as always, a few diversions to offer here.
First of all the book itself. A continuation of volume 1 in which, in volume 2 that is, according to the introduction
"we have selected seven subjects, and having so long ago rejected complete treatises, we have pursued each only in the directions that we felt were most useful or interesting."
They also imply that they have tried to adapt to the modern age:
"We must admit, in Volume 1, to a rather holy and Victorian feeling about the virtues of sweat and elbow grease - that only paths of thorns lead to glory, 'il faut souffrir pour être belle' and all that. However we are teachers; we want people to learn. And if we make it hard to cook through snobbish insistence on always beating egg whites by hand in a copper bowl, for instance, ... we know we have already lost a great part of our audience."
I suspect, nevertheless that they are probably preaching to the converted, ironically by laying out everything you have to do in minute detail and explaining why you should do a particular thing rather than something else. Which, in a way, if you are a complete beginner, you need. But the recipes are long and therefore a bit daunting. But honestly they are long for a reason and if you give it a go the results will be truly worth it. I do not think I have made this particular recipe, although it is possible. The ingredient list would have been appealing. And when I was cooking from this book, rabbit was available.
But before I leave the book itself and move on to the actual recipe, I wanted to include this from the acknowledgements - in the light of having recently read that biography of Paul Child.
"Paul Child, tireless photographer at a moment's notice, pinch-hitting illustrator, clear turner of phrases when the well is dry - we can only continue to love him and to feed him well." Julia Child
Paul, you may remember took endless photographs of what the two cooks were doing, which were then transformed into drawings by Sidonie Coryn.
Lapin au saupiquet is a very old dish from the middle of France. A wild, stunningly beautiful and little visited area of France called The Morvan. Many years ago now we stayed in this beautiful and a bit quaint hotel called Le Moulin des Templiers just outside the town of Avallon. I remember having breakfast on the terrace beside the small river which tumbled over the rocks. It reminded us of home and the sound of the rapids on the River Yarra just beyond our back fence. When you fly over this part of France at night, which I did many years later, you will not see many lights below. It is wild, and largely forested, and it can be wet - which is why we have never lingered there - and stunningly beautiful. There are wolves there. Yes there are.
It is a bit difficult to disentangle the term saupiquet from its two forms as a sauce and as an actual dish. I believe that originally it was a sauce that was poured over a roast rabbit. The first recipe is credited to Taillevent in his book La Vianderie written around 1300. According to the Larousse Gastronomique:
"In the Middle Ages the 'saupiquet' was a wine sauce thickened with 'pain hallé (grilled bread or toast)' which was served with roast rabbit and also with waterfowl." Larousse Gastronomique
The Larousse gives the actual recipe from Taillevent.
"To make saupiquet for coney or other roast, toast some bread and soak in some bouillon, melt bacon fat in a frying pan, put in some onion cut up very small and fry it. To serve four, take 50g/1/2 cup cinnamon, 15g/2 tablespoons ginger, and 7 g/1 tablespoon small spices, some red wine and some vinegar. Mix the bread and all the spices together and boil in a pan, then pour over the roast." Taillevent - Le Viandier ca. 1300
That's a lot of spice. And I have to say that the modern sauce does not really seem to be very similar. Perhaps the only thing it has in common is the name and therefore the general taste - for the name is most probably derived from sel (salt) and piquant - well we know what that means. It seemed to me that the common flavourings in today's sauce were juniper, thyme, and red wine and/or vinegar. Some maintained that you needed the blood and the pounded liver of the rabbit too, but not everyone. I found two recipes, and two pictures from elsewhere. The pictures are both from Marie Claire and as you can see they are not alike even though they have the same name. The recipes are in French but if you really wanted to investigate just key in Marie Claire and sauce saupiquet.
I did find two recipes in English though. One from Simon Hopkinson and one from a book by Valentine Warner called The Good Table.
There is, of course no original Julia Child recipe online - and incidentally it is not a roast rabbit with a sauce poured over it, but a marinaded (24 hours) jointed rabbit which is then braised and served with prunes. Well it's a bit more complicated than that, but not much. But, being Julia Child the recipe has, of course been tried by others. I think the one on the Windy Kitchen blog is the closest. But just to show how one recipe can lead to different results, here are three pictures of the same Mastering the Art dish - all looking very different to each other. I think the one on the right looks the most tempting.
I also saw, by the way that somebody made it with chicken because, as we know, in spite of the number of rabbits overrunning the country it is a bit difficult to actually source rabbit to cook here.
Two more things before I give up, if you will be patient with me. Firstly in another variation, there is a dish called Saupiquet d'Amognes - from the same area of France, which is ham slices, or, in a variation, by Saveur, a whole ham. This comes from Elizabeth David who says of it:
"Saupiquet consists of a sauce piquante à la crème served with slices of ham fried in butter. It is a modernised version of a famous and very old speciality of the Nivernais and the Morvan districts of Burgundy."
Google Books have published French Provincial Cooking online and you can find the original recipe here. Simon Hopkinson has modified it slightly for a whole ham as well. The picture is from a French website and I think shows how it is normally prepared over there.
And last of all - and this has nothing to do with what we have been talking about. When I fed in saupiquet as my original search term I found that most of the results were for a French seafood in tins company, now owned by a British company, I checked it out just out of interest and found that it is the name of the founder of the company one Arsène Saupiquet, who set up his factory in Nantes in the lower Loire valley in the 1870s. He began with sardines and I think was responsible for those flat tins that you used to open with a sort of key that you used to roll back the lid. They are now the largest tinned fish company in France - well that's the claim anyway. There were lovely pictures on their website - including these. That's the man himself on the left.
So I guess this lucky dip was a bit of a curiosity, but now that I see that last picture of the ham slices, I think I may well have made that version at some point in time. It's certainly not a common dish though.