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Odile was born and grew up in the Tarn in southwestern France, a region with a rich culinary tradition (but then what part of France doesn’t have a rich culinary tradition?)…
…and she had a magic touch in the kitchen, probably the only place where she was truly happy. Away from it, she was dour and embittered, emotionally crippled by the series of hard punches life had thrown at her. She was a tough grandma, unyielding and distant. Hard to love. But in the kitchen, she smiled. She would call out to us when we arrived on our weekly Sunday visit, lift up pot lids, open the ovens for a minute giving us a glimpse of the baking apple croustade, a peek at the roasting home-raised chicken, offer a spoonful of her hare civet, a forkful of the terrine she was slicing. As a child the kitchen was the only place where I felt safe with her (elsewhere her tongue was sharp and her bite ferocious). Now I realize that cooking was probably the only way she could express love and that she took great pleasure and comfort in watching us eat what she made.
Her crêtes-de-coq were sublime: she rolled out a butter dough, cut out rounds with an inverted glass (actually she let us take care of that part and we loved it), put on each a spoonful of whatever meat had been leftover from other meals, chopped up with onions, herbs and maybe a little garlic, folded them over, crimped the edges with a fork and deep-fried them to fragrant crispiness. We could never get enough of them.
She never used a cookbook (didn’t even own one) and regrettably never wrote anything down, leaving us with nothing but memories of her feasts. I have made my grandma’s crêtes-de-coq for my kids as they were growing up when I still owned a deep-fryer and didn’t think twice about the amount of fat and butter in a recipe. Now that the Man has to watch his cholesterol, though, I had to look for another way and his birthday dinner offered an excellent opportunity to try my hand at a lighter version. He loved them and, as my grandma before me, I took great pleasure in seeing him devour them.
These little patties make an excellent tapa, especially if served piping hot with crisp French cornichons (sour pickles) but I would settle for some with a mixed green salad any night of the week and call it dinner.
I am not posting exact weights for the filling as I pretty much used whatever leftover meat I could find in the freezer (I had chicken thighs and sweet fennel sausage), added some parsley and basil from the garden, some onion and garlic, chopped up everything and wrapped it in bread dough.
Anything can be used that won’t leak and make the patty soggy, including chopped up greens (Swiss chard with crumbled feta and fresh mint for instance) and mushrooms (but I would cook those first to make them yield their water) with leeks, etc.
For the dough, I hand-mixed:
- 500 g of flour
- 250 g of water
- 11 g of olive oil
- 10 g of salt
- and 4 g of instant dry yeast until smooth and pliable.
I let it rest 90 minutes before rolling it out thin with a rolling pin.
I had dough and filling left over but when I reassembled the pieces of dough and tried to roll them out again, they were not so compliant anymore. So I gave them to my 4-year old granddaugher who promptly put them to good use…
…and I made pan-fried “sausages” of the remaining filling. They will be scrumptious cold with a salad or in a sandwich.
As for my granddaughter, she opened up the crêtes-de-coq, extracted the filling and threw out the crusty wrappers: “I like meatballs without bread”, she said, handing me the empty shells. I smiled at her. She was creating her own memories…