This delicacy in France was favored by former French President Jacques Chirac.
I made my way to my friends’ parent’s home in the peaceful and bucolic area of France known as the Savoy region. It is located in the town of Brison Saint Innocent, situated near the Swiss border and in the French Alps. But until I arrived, I had no idea what an amazing cook his mother would be. While I know that French women seem to be born with a skill to whip out a meal at a moment’s notice, who knew that I would be served a traditional delicacy that even features on the top favorite list of former President Jacques Chirac.
While there are many options in the French home for a smorgasbord of favorites, this simple much loved French dish I was served, which Lucette Vaudey cooked up for me (and her family), is called Calf’s Head. It’s a traditional delicacy dating back to the late 1700s.
And, while Chirac is a fan of the Calf’s Head meal, the dish was first served in remembrance of the decapitation of another French head of state: King Louis XVI, after the French revolution of 1789.
Indeed, Vaudey must have been cooking all of her life, this dish in particular, and what she knew about working in the kitchen was stunning. It left me only to watch her work with a sense of wonder that made me just a little envious.
Outside the window of the home is also a garden, where all types of vegetables and fruits grow from plums to pumpkin to tomatoes and giant blackberries. Of course, those veggies and fruits also featured prominently in my French feast while visiting.
Almost a little cliché, but quite ordinary to the Vaudey family as well, the large vineyard growing on the side of the home also yields bottles of Gamay wine each season for the locals.
Again, a little of this and a little of that, ordinary to my native French friends, but when put together, it became an extraordinary meal that day. It ranks as high on my list as any French chef’s menu, even a chef with a Michelin star.
Taking the Calf’s Head meal one step further, Vaudey served it with a sauce called sauce Gribiche, with roots in the Normandy region of France. The word “Gribiche” originally referred to a “bad witch” or a woman in a bad mood. It goes on to indicate that, in legend, the sauce was so called and earned its name because it tasted so good that a spell must have been cast on it by a witch.
Quite creamy, sauce Gribiche is often compared to a mayo-based sauce, and can be served with fish, chicken, hard cooked eggs or steamed asparagus if a calf’s head is not readily available.
French cookbooks dating back to 1919 contain versions of the recipe that are still popular today, while variations exist all over France reflecting regional tastes and ingredients.
In the Savoy region of southeastern France, calf’s head served with sauce Gribiche is a common dish at the dining table of Vaudey, and she says she “always serves it with the traditional calf’s head.”
Our lucky day: Vaudey was kind enough to share her Gribiche sauce recipe with me – calf’s head optional.
Lucette Vaudey’s Gribiche Sauce
Mix together the following:
Teaspoon of Dijon mustard
The yellow part of two hard boiled eggs
Grapeseed oil to taste
Add 1/3 cider vinegar
Then mix together salt and pepper, the white part of the boiled eggs and five or six cut up Cornish pickles along with about ¼ cup of red onions, parsley and eight to 10 capers, drained, rinsed and squeezed dry.
Mix all the ingredients together and store the sauce in the refrigerator for one day before serving.