“Who’s up for a pot-au-feu for lunch, before the meeting? Or a garbure? Or maybe a cassoulet?”
There’s a sentence you will never hear in real life. No one would ever consider such a feast in the middle of a workday, for fear of the inevitable: having to fart mid-meeting. Discreet farts, to be sure, but farts nonetheless. This is simple digestive reasoning.
Whether it’s pot-au-feu, garbure or cassoulet, some meals have the annoying tendency to wreak havoc in the intestines of even the most seasoned enthusiasts. The grease in these dishes brings on natural discomfort: It slows digestion and produces flatulence. This is also the case with dairy products, rich in lactose, which the body has trouble absorbing in large quantities.
When you take a close look, a French person’s average meal is a minefield, and their stomach a gas factory. White bread is rich in starch, and legumes, leeks, celery, biscuits, and fruit are rich in fiber. For example, when a lentil swims down into your stomach, it ferments and produces gas as your intestinal bacteria does its work. The consequences are unavoidable, and they fit in five letters: farts.
So what can you do to prevent gas? Well-aware of its marketing handicap, one brand of legumes proffers advice on its boxes of peas and beans to try and minimize their disruptive powers. The precautions are overly time consuming: soak before cooking, preferably in the refrigerator (overnight or for 12 hours), then cook slowly. The brand’s website is loaded with additional tips, each more absurd than the next: “chew them well,” “avoid swallowing too much air while eating,” “don’t eat sugar in the same meal,” “start with small quantities so the intestines can adapt to the surplus of fiber.”
Bean vendors can try all they can, but rustic food is out of style. According to a poll completed by the CSA institute, published in Direct Matin in late September 2015, only 3 percent of French people picked cassoulet as their favorite meal. Seven percent picked choucroute. The majority of French citizens (20 percent) prefer the elegance of a seafood plate.
As French people fall out of love with old-fashioned cooking, fine-dining experts have managed to reclaim it, bringing the flavors up to date. Mashed potatoes, the ultimate poor man’s dish, becomes a refined offering and a staple in the chef’s restaurants across the world.
To mark the arrival of winter temperatures, and mostly because French people can’t seem to get enough of these, we’ve prepared a non-exhaustive list of classic, digestion-unfriendly French recipes.
“Slow-cooking is definitely about forgetting,” explains Eric Roux in his Manuel de cuisine populaire (Manual of Popular Cuisine). He dedicates an entire chapter to slow-cooking, peppered with historical anecdotes. “The pot was filled up in the morning, before you went to work in the fields. It was left on low heat and forgotten all day, and when you came back, the food was ready to be spooned up.”
So goes the pot-au-feu. The “French cuisine” Wikipedia page (the one in French, that is) uses this copious carry-all as its primary illustration, capped with the “intangible cultural heritage” heading given by UNESCO to French gastronomy. All of the ingredients for success—and flatulence—are brought together in this dish, which is cooked on low heat for many hours: beef and vegetables that vary depending on the region and the cook, including onions, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, leeks, and celery root. The liquid broth is then served on the side as a soup, or in the evening to seal the deal after a cup of fennel tea.
Other dishes with similar (devastating) effects: poule-au-pot, garbure.
Replace the beef from the pot-au-feu with salt pork (which you’ll have to de-salt), and you’ve got potée. With potée, you’re in for a special kind of party after you leave the table. While it exists in many forms throughout Europe, with the Auvergne, Berry, Burgundy, Champagne, Comté, Limousin, and Lorraine regions each claiming their own variations, there is one area in which the stew is remarkable in its consistency: Rich in cabbage, it makes for a heated night under the covers. If you’re looking to avoid those hot winds, cook the cabbage separately for a few minutes; that should facilitate digestion.
“Ah, well, if you can fart under the stars without any Martians dropping from the sky.” Thanks to a marathon of cabbage soup and farting contests, Louis de Funès manages to make contact with aliens who’ve become alarmed by the strange noises coming from afar: Such is the premise of the slapstick sci-fi comedy that helped cabbage soup find a special place in the hearts of French people everywhere. (Despite it being nothing but a soup.)
Speaking of soup: around the same time, Paul Bocuse, the chef with three stars and three wives, was brave enough to serve one to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then President of the French Republic. The VGE soup is a perfect example of a popular dish that’s gone through fine dining rehab in the hands of a professional chef. Bocuse claimed to have been inspired, among other things, by a chicken and beef soup that farmers in Ardèche topped with truffle shavings. When prepared for a bourgeois like Giscard, though, the rustic soup metamorphosed into a beef broth, served in a porcelain bowl with a brunoise of vegetables, and topped with truffle shavings and a medley of greens—the whole begging to be slurped up in a most inelegant fashion.
At Jojo’s place, the menu was simple and immutable: terrine, onion soup, and apple tartlets. In his small village bar in Deux-Sèvres, the smell of Emmental cheese slowly melting inside a piping hot soup wafted across the room at dinner time. “Ah, soup,” sighs Eric Roux in his Manuel de cuisine populaire, explaining that “in the Middle ages, the word ‘soup,’ of Germanic origins, designated a slice of bread dipped in broth.”
Some soups are success stories: The “traditional” onion soup at the Paris restaurant Au Pied de Cochon is basically a celebrity. Tourists looking to sip on tradition come to the chic bistro in droves, checking it off their list of nightlife to-dos. It is packed with onions, lots of butter, mountains of grated gruyère, beef flavor, and seasoning, and served with dipping bread on the side, which doubles as a sponge to soak up the whiskey-and-Cokes of those who need to gather some strength before passing out for the night.
The same golden rule of flatulence applies with: potage, velouté, and broth.
Petit salé with lentils
Lentils are the “poor man’s caviar.” The ones from Puy, in Auvergne, are an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) since 1996 and a European “protected designation of origin” since 2009. In 1997, chefs Michel Roth, from the Ritz, and Régis Marcon (who holds three Michelin stars) went head-to-head in a promotional contest that had them create 12 recipes with Puy lentils. Chefs Paul Bocuse, Bernard Loiseau, and Georges Blanc found their way onto the panel of judges, propelling the legume high into the ranks of fine cuisine.
For a petit salé, then, you’ll need Puy lentils, salt pork, carrots, onions pricked with cloves, herbs, and at least two hours of time (and up to four if you want to de-salt the meat). And we’ve already warned you about the correlation between lentils and stink bombs, haven’t we? So from here on out, you can’t say you didn’t know.
Avoid pairing this dish with: daube provençale.
A culinary jewel of the Southwest, Castelnaudary’s cassoulet has its own member organization to protect its history. “This pauper’s dish was a complete meal, and provided ample leftovers. It evolved throughout history, depending on the ingredients. The ragout was cooked in the late 14th century in a pot with a distinctive shape, the cassole, which was created in a village near Castelnaudary, and eventually gave the mythical dish its name.”
Whether it comes from Carcassone, Castelnaudary, or Toulouse, cassoulet is one of the heaviest dishes in French gastronomy. Within it, you’ll find: duck confit, sausages from Toulouse, pork meat and pork rind, salted bacon, onions, carrots, and hundreds of white beans. Baptized as the “god of Western cuisine” by chef Prosper Montagné in 1929, the cassoulet will also be the star, this August, of the 28th Giant Cassoulet in the village of Pierrefitte, in Deux-Sèvres.
One dish you should never eat in the same day? Choucroute.
All illustrations by Lucile Lissandre. This article originally appeared in French on MUNCHIES FR.