By: Richard

Andouillettes are smaller than Andouille, and always eaten hot. They may be nicely formed like a professional sausage or they may be rather coarse misshapen objects. They may be pork or veal. They may not have much of an aroma or they may reek of the barnyard so much as to disturb your tablemates. Beware, not even the French are universally enamoured of them. With considerable touting, I have only managed to make two American converts in almost forty years. They may be simply grilled and served with a bit of mustard or with a nunmber of traditional sauces including mustard and a rich cream sauce along with fries or mashed, your choice. I am probably more of an aficionado than a connoisseur as I’ve enjoyed all I’ve had, with the possible exception of the first one. I wasn’t quite sure I was enjoying it until I realized I had almost finished it. After the first few bites, I thought I’d just have a few more tastes out of curiosity. In fact it had all the charm of road kill at first, but by the time I was finished, I learned that first impressions are not always enough to form a meaningful opinion. We don’t always know what we like.

My first andouillette was in a one star restaurant in Joigny at a time when Cotes St. Jacques had no stars at all. I am reluctant to make any anatomical references to race horses in a paragraph that speaks of first experiences. Let’s just say I knew only that it was a sausage and a local specialty and that there was nothing small and delicate about the object set before me. I was young, adventurous and fairly commited to learning all there was to know about French food, but I was unprepared for a plate of food that smelled more like a stall in need of cleaning than, … well, a plate of food. I was proud of spotting a local specialty on the menu, even if I was unsure of exactly what it was. I recall Esilda asking what it was and replying that it was “a local specialty, I think it’s a sausage.” I also recall selecting a local wine a vin gris de someplace near Chablis I have never heard of or seen since. It was excellent with the tripe. When the dish arrived, I suspected that a little research might prove to be worse than no research at all.

To make a short account of what seemed like a very long meal, I will say that a combination of embarrassment and curiosity led me to attack this thing, albeit it initially with trepidation rather than gusto. Throughout most of the course, I felt I was one bite away from stopping with Esilda’s less than encouraging “You don’t really have to finish it,” ringing in my ears, yet each time I put that one last bite in my mouth, I found some reason to have another. Admittedly, some of those reasons, especially early in the course, had more to do with machismo than than anything else, but somewhere close to the finish, I was hooked on the whole thing and I became a convert. I believe I said something to the effect that it wasn’t as big as it looked, when I finished. I’m not sure today if I prefer the more delicate, or the coarsest packing of guts replete with all the aroma that separates the men from the boys.

There is apparently no rhyme or reason why French verbs take either a maculine or feminine form. The sexing of inanimate nouns is a mystery to Anglophones, even those who refer to ships as “she.” Those who attempt a physical and logical explanation need only take a look at a recent object of my affection, a true andouille which served six and could have served eight to ten people.

Prior to having my share of this beast, which was followed by a green salad and a far(a traditional Breton egg pudding with prunes), I thought of andouille as a “cold cut” a cooked sausage served thinly sliced at room temperature. It’s been a staple of our picnic lunches in France whenever I found it in better charcuteries. I’d be loathe to order it in a lesser charcuterie, but then I don’t understand why anyone would settle for a lesser charcuterie in France except on pain of starvation.

An excellent andouille has always seemed to be one of the most earthy offerings of provincial France, rivaling the coarsest peasant terrines and sausages, even in shops specializing in rustic cooked and preserved meats. It is rustic and simple, yet can be a work of great finesse and fine craftsmanship. I was more satisfied than surprised, when elegant tissue paper thin slices were served as part of our amuse bouche some years back at Michel Guerard’s temple to haute cuisine in Eugenie-las-Bains. It assured me that he respected quality over luxury and that my money would be well spent on the dinner to follow.

The andouille I prefer and the ones served at Michel Guerard are rather neatly formed with concentric circles of chittlins. A slice looks much like a horizontal cut through a tree trunk. That may just be a bit of esthetic affectation. I suspect it has no effect on the flavor. Then again I find different shapes of pasta have different tastes in my mouth. The andouilles I’ve had, have all been smoked and the artisanal andouilles have tended to have been heavily smoked as was the one we had recently. This one was also generously seasoned with black pepper. It was the first time I’ve had andouille served warm as a main course. As it was precooked, it needed only to be poached in water to bring it to serving temperature. It was garnished simply with potatoes boiled in the water flavored by the andouille. Tripe may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found this to be one of the most succulent dishes I’ve enjoyed, which I trust is not discouraging to the chef who carefully boned a capon and stuffed it with foie gras for my benefit just a couple of nights before.

Although andouille is most usually served cold, I’ve learned that it is not uncommonly served hot. My only previous encounter with warm andouille was as a garnish at Chef Michel Helio’s small one-star restaurant in an inauspicious location in an almost abandoned industrial port area outside St. Brieuc in Brittany. Although fish and sausage combinations are popular in Iberian cuisine, I was unfamiliar with such combinations in France was surprised to find a gratin of thinly sliced potatoes and andouille sausage served with roasted John Dory (St. Pierre). (M. Helio has long since relocated to Sables d’Or Les Pins, but I regret we haven’t been able to get there.)

The andouilles of Brittany, Normandy, and Burgundy are justly famous although andouille is found rather widely throughout France. Those of Guemene, Vire and Troyes are among the most well known and respected.

Andouillettes (see column at left) are yet another thing, although deeply related to andouille. The are looser bundles of chitterlings, also precooked, but meant to be grilled and served hot, with or without a sauce. Above all else, don’t confuse either of these sausages with Cajun andouille whose relationship appears to be in name only. I’ve found but a few attempts to replicate the French versions here in the U.S. All that I’ve sampled have been unsuccessful.

I don’t mean to imply that the American sausage of Cajun descent that’s usurped the good name, but not the style or substance, of the original French andouille is anything but real or true. It is a real andouille, but not the real andouille, and unrelated to what a Frenchman expects to get when he orders andouille. As far as I know, it bears no resemblance to anything sold as andouille or andouillette in France. By the same token I’ve heard stories of a few Americans in France who were suprised, to say the least, dismayed or revolted by what they got when they ordered andouille or andouillette in Parisian bistro. Descriptions in English, of the French andouille, whether on the web or in otherwise respectable cookbooks, have generally been misleading and, no doubt in my mind, the result of misinformation or unqualified suppositions. I beg to be corrected if there are sausages in France that go by the name “andouille” or “andouillette” that bear a physical relationship to the Cajun sausage. Are there in fact, any at all that even combine chopped pork with the essential chitterlings If there are, I’d love a reference.