9 December 2009

A Recipe for Acadian Weasel Fricot with a Salted Herbs Recipe...No Weasels Were Harmed in the Making of This Dish

A recipe for Salted Herbs (Herbes Salees)

Here it is almost Christmas and my mind is wandering back to the warm sundrenched days of summer. This is a common occurance this time of the year but I don't usually begin daydreaming until at least January. Perhaps with the first snowfall of the season yesterday I am feeling a little chilled and in need of some comforting foods. Last Christmas in 2008, Canada experienced the first nation-wide white Christmas in thirty-seven years, when we experienced a series of pre-Christmas storms that hit all across the country, (including the normally rainy British Columbia Pacific coast). Every child dreams of a white Christmas don't they so we may have one this year... you never know!!!! Perhaps another reason for my daydreaming is that all of my Christmas shopping is completed, everything is wrapped and I am just waiting for a tree to go up this weekend. I am looking  for other avenues to use up some boundless energy. With time on my hands I am looking into preparing some traditional Canadian dishes for the holiday season.

So what has me dreaming of the lazy days of summer with its warm sweet smells... salted herbs or herbes salees. Late in the summer I was feeling like I needed to make some changes and get back to the simpler things in life. It is a known fact that I am easy to please so it doesn't take much to simplify my life. I hope that my blog has focused more on local ingredients and a simpler way of life without reducing any of the incredible flavours necessary to make a meal enjoyable. I was watching an episode on the Food Network where Ricardo Larrivee used some salted herbs or "herbes salees" in a chicken dish and an idea was born. (A commercial brand, Les Herbes Salees du bas du fleuve, is marketed by J.Y. Roy of St. Flavie, Quebec). I had heard about salted herbs somewhere in the past, in my days of living in eastern Canada, so I decided to attempt to duplicate them in my own kitchen to prolong the taste of summer in my every day cooking.

Year round we can find an endless supply of fresh herbs in packages at our local markets. As we all know the simplest short-term method to preserve herbs is to place the stems in water like cut flowers and place them in the refrigerator. By this method, they keep for only a few days. We can dry or freeze them, but this causes both loss in flavour and colour for most herbs. To preserve their fresh taste, there had to be another way to trap their flavours and highlight their fragrant properties. A quick search on the Internet and my idea of preserving the taste of summer by salting and creating my own Herbes Salees in a time honoured method became a reality. I preserved these in early August and kept them in the refrigerator in a large crock. Look at that vibrant green colour of the herbs that is still present after almost 3-1/2 months!!!!!

Salting has long been a useful practice in preserving food to use during the winter months. The pioneers and early settlers in Canada, as well as indigenous people, employed this method for meats, fish, etc.  Salting herbs is a very ancient method of preservation, dating from the days before refrigeration. It is a method we have simply just forgotten about with all the modern conveniences. It is quick, easy and low tech so I decided to try making a jar or two and enjoy a little history since I found myself the recipient of a large amount of fresh herbs! Salted Herbs are now a kitchen must, especially during these long winter months where fresh herbs are a welcome addition to my home cooking.They add flavour, texture and colour to any meal. They are often found in French Canadian cuisine as well as Acadian Cuisine but are somewhat out of favour in these health conscious times. The argument here would be that in dishes such as soup and stews you would add salt during the cooking process anyway, and depending on their use you can always rinse the herbs so they would be free of salt. Once you discover this kitchen staple, you will never want to be without it!

 To make your own salted herb recipes they usually contain leafy herbs, such as parsley, chives and celery leaves. Some contain finely grated carrot or onion, so feel free to experiment and let your imagination be your guide!!! Making salted herbs is simplicity itself. To use salted herbs, toss a spoonful in a soup (especially pea soup) or a casserole or use it to flavour your favourite meat dish for a lively flavour. One or more types of herbs can be salted in the same preparation. For example, a mixture of chives, parsley and savory can be added to potatoes. Salted basil, placed in a herbal tea ball and dropped in with cooking pasta, gives surprising results. Salted herbs can replace regular salt, particularly in salad dressings, soups and pasta. The possibilites are endless!!!! Have a look below for the recipe.

So now I have Herbes Salees to give away at Christmas and to use in my own culinary adventures here at More Than Burnt Toast. So now what? I have also been looking into exploring some traditional Canadian dishes lately that have deep roots in Canadian history. My last foray into historical cooking was with a traditional French Quebecois Canadian dish "Pate Chinois".  We can't speak of Canadian cuisine without some talk of the Acadians and it’s impossible to talk about traditional Maritime food without a major discussion of Acadian food!!! There are dozens of communities throughout the Maritime provinces in Canada and the United States that embrace their French ancestry with great pride. Acadian cookery is all about the home kitchen, growing your own and getting through the winter.

 Acadians are the descendants of a group of French-speaking settlers who migrated from coastal France in the late sixteenth century to establish a French colony called Acadia in the maritime provinces of Canada ( which are now the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) and part of what is now the state of Maine in the States. Forced out by the British in the 1700's, a few settlers remained in Maine, and in the Maritime provinces of Canada but most resettled in southern Louisiana and are popularly known as Cajuns.

There's something about being born in the Maritimes that carries with it an inherent sense of place. Once a Maritimer, always a Maritimer. That's why at Christmas Maritimers return home, if only in their imagination, by eating traditional foods, listening to the unique music of the coast, and giving each other gifts that carry memories of their roots in Atlantic Canada. Early settlers lived off the land with whatever was available or what they had stored for winter. For the Acadian people pioneer feasts included a variety of indigenous fish and meats such as venison, moose, caribou, salmon, lobster, wildcat, raccoon and beaver (a delicate meat which reportedly tastes like mutton). Acadians also prepared tourtieres, fricot (chicken stew) and rapier, which is a sort of meat pie layered with vegetables and meat. Meals were also served with lots of bread and pork and beans. Don't forget the desserts which included sugar pie, bread pudding and sweet dumplings. These were simple but satisfying dishes that are still made in Acadian ancestral homes today.

A recipe for Fricot a la Bellette

According to the Internet..." If there was one dish that I could call typically Acadian, it would be Fricot, a soup containing potatoes and meat. I remember a memorable Poulet Fricot at the hands of a neighbour growing up. The dish has been a long time favorite in Acadian households, so much that the word fricot was once synonomous with a good meal and a common call for dinner was often, "Vous etes invites au fricot!" This recipe below for a potato fricot was prepared when neither meat nor fish were available, and given the tongue-in-cheek name, "Weasel Fricot" (Fricot a la Belette). If you ask Acadians about the origin of the name, they will smile and say, "Parce que b'lette a passe tout drouete (Because the weasel went right on by.) On Prince Edward it is called Fricot a la bezette (Ninicompoop Fricot) where bezette roughly translates as "nincompoop". It is known as butte fricot, salted herb fricot and potato fricot."

Whatever we want to call it it is a welcoming soup for these cold weather days and is often served with a large slice of buttered bread and molasses or in this case Handerchief Dumplings. It is a simple dish that takes us back to a simpler time when we as Canadians lived off the land . The pioneers, indigenous people and Acadians were our first "locavores" and lived on the 100-Mile Diet each and every day.

Christmas dinner menus may have changed over the years to accommodate customs, ethnic backgrounds, traditions, and the availability of exotic and easily accessible ingredients ...and of course convenience, but, the Christmas season continues to be a time to prepare specialty and regional dishes for memorable feasts no matter where you are. Our own Christmas traditions are strongly influenced by other cultures with the Christmas tree from Germany and steamed Christmas pudding from the British. I am sure you will enjoy the holiday season no matter how you choose to celebrate.

**Fricot A La "Belette" ("Weasel" Fricot/Soup)**

1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon Salted Herbs(recipe below)
4 cups water
3 cups potatoes; diced
salt and pepper, if necessary to taste
1 tablespoon flour

Saute the onion and salted herbs in butter for 1-2 minutes or until the onion is golden brown. Add the water, potatoes, salt and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes. To thicken the broth, add dumpling or flour mixed with water.

Serve with.....

Handkerchief Dumplings (Pates en Mouchior de Poche)

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold water

Mix flour with salt. Gradually add cold water to the dough as one would when making biscuits. Roll the dough fairly thinly, cut into 1- 1/2 inch squares and place the squares in the fricot. Cover and simmer 7 minutes.


**Salted Herbs (Herbes Salees)**
Must be made weeks in advance (Printable Recipe...)

 Recipe Source: A Taste of Quebec by Julian Armstrong (Hippocrene Books)

1 cup chopped fresh chives
1 cup chopped fresh savoury
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped fresh chervil
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup chopped celery leaves
1 cup chopped green onions
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarse salt

In a large bowl, combine chives, savoury, parsley, chervil, carrots, celery leaves, and green onions. Layer 1 inch of herb mixture in the bottom of a crock or glass bowl and sprinkle with some of the salt. Repeat layers until all of the herb mixture and salt is used. Cover and refrigerate for 2 weeks. Drain off accumulated liquid and pack herb mixture into sterilized jars. This recipe makes about 5 or 6 cups and I keep them refrigerated until I need them. This makes a really neat gift at Christmas time and I usually attach a few recipe cards with it and it creates quite a hit.Refrigerate until ready to use.

 "Tread the Earth Lightly"

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. A very interesting recipe! It surely tastes wonderful!



  2. handkerchief dumplings - they look and sound so dainty!

  3. whew--for a minute there, i was afraid that weasel was actually being consumed! this is a much more appealing alternative. in fact, it sounds perfectly comforting and i love the tradition behind it!

  4. I loved your story about Acadian food and traditions.

  5. Thanks for the education on both Acadian culture and the use and making of salted herbs. Informative as always.

    The "weasel" is certainly an eye-catcher in hour post title! I keep thinking, "He looked at Zaphod as if he had just asked for a weasel." Then, "He looked at Zaphod as if he had just asked for a lightly grilled weasal on a bun with french fries."

  6. Val, we have snow every year whether we want it or not. ;o) I didn't realize you had snow free Christmas. Also, both foods listed are something I am totally not familiar with. Very good post...thank you! Oh, and I love the photo of your herbs!

  7. "Forced out by the British in the mid-sixteenth century"

    - the expulsion of the Acadians occurred between 1755 and 1763, so it was in fact the mid 18th century, not the 16th century.

    Otherwise it's great post - I love fricot!

  8. When something really grabs my attention I always say I'm "intrigued"...and I'm definiely feeling this way about the salted herbs! I am bookmarking this to try Val...I love it! Very interesting to read about the Acadians and about heir hearty dishes...the Fricot a la Bellette really looks and sounds like a filling winter dish! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  9. This whole post just has me drooling, Val! I love that you are exploring more of the regional Canadian dishes!

  10. Duly noted and changed Stamatia, a little blip in the memory card:D

  11. I spent 3 months in Nova Scotia a couple of years ago and learned a lot about Acadian life. I bought herbes salees but was never really sure how I was supposed to use them. I did add instead of salt, sometimes. I actually sauteed them and thought perhaps that is how they are to be used. If I understand you correctly, you are limited only by your imagination.

  12. No weasels were harmed in the making of this dish Grace.I always remember hoping for snow even as a kid for Christmas HoneyB, we wanted to try our new sleds, etc...this is Canada but we are not always The Great White North when we want to be.It is your season Peter so you would be able to make the herbes salees "down under".

  13. When I was visiting my sister, one summer, we went to were they make the Les Herbes Salees du bas du fleuve. It's a nice little place. I am missing 'Herbes Salées' so much. I have this cookbook and will make the recipe. That will remind me of so many memories. I think in every fridge in Québec you can find 'Herbes Salées'. People use it so much. I love it on mashed potatoes. And your delicious Fricot reminds me when I was living in New Brunswick. It was the first time I ever heard of that dish. It's really good. Every Acadians have their own recipe.

  14. Mmm soup with little dumpling?? I'm alll over that. Sounds great.

  15. First...I bow to your organizational and planning skills...all your Christmas gifts bought/made & wrapped!!! Awesome.

    The rest of the post is awesome too. Gorgeous photos, great recipes and a lovely history lesson.

    You've outdone yourself this time!

  16. I really enjoyed learning about Acadian traditions and delicious food, I'm intrigued by the salted herbs!

  17. I know my husband would adore this with the dumplings. I think I am one of the strange ones because I never dream of the upcoming warm weather...I just love the cold! Crazy but true. Your photos are gorgeous!

  18. I was far less concerned about weasles being harmed than what they would actually taste like - I imagine them to be kind of gamey.

    I'm partly jealous of your snow, but partly because it's been so freaking cold down here that it seems like we should at least get some snow out of the deal.

  19. Interesting post & recipe. I, like Grace, had my curiosity piqued by the "weasel." ;)

  20. It would have been very interesting if the dish had had in fact weasel in it. LOL

    It feels like Xmas, right? I am wishing for a white one, too. I'll ask Santa in my letter to grant me this last one wish :D

  21. I imagine salted herbs bring so much more depth and flavor to any dish. I would love to try this. The soup looks warm and inviting as well.

  22. I have a similar recipe for Arcadia
    Turkey pie and Rabbit . Cool recipe

  23. I am an Acadian through my father and a Quebecoise through my mother but it is the first time I see the Herbes salées meeting the Fricot.

  24. You are amazing. What a beautiful post this was to read. I'm Acadian & have learned so much from what you've shared here. I make the Tortier each Christmas eve & feel like I'm stepping back into times of long ago. Thanks for all the inspiration here :)


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