Michel is a meat guy. A retired charcutier and avid hunter, he routinely heads off into the woods packing heat and hunting wild boar….sanglier, from which he turns out amazing pates, roasts and sausages.
One time I showed up for a family gathering with a big honking prime rib, a cote de boeuf, and he elbowed his way to the front, and in French loosely translated to “I got this,” grabbed the boeuf and headed off to the fire. So as Karen was preparing her turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, Michel was an intensely interested spectator, looking over her shoulder at every move.
When we told him we had brined the turkey overnight he did a double take. This American woman, who had already established herself among the women of the family, was clearly doing some interesting things. Michel wanted to know more.
To roast a turkey Karen takes a length of cheesecloth and soaks it in melted butter. Then she wraps this dripping mass of cheesecloth around the bird, covering the entire turkey. The cheesecloth covers the turkey in butter, and there is no need to baste, and when the cheesecloth is removed you have a crisp, golden skin.
Michel and Genevieve are watching this. The cheesecloth itself is a mystery, and the process of melting the butter and soaking the cheesecloth has them completely baffled. Michele, who speaks no English, keeps pointing to it, “Qu’est-ce que c’est? Qu’est-ce que tu fais?” What is this? What are you doing?”
Karen, who is busy manhandling the turkey, floundering around in French trying to explain the concept, with little success. Michel is still completely baffled about what this mad woman is doing, and finally, the best I could do was blurt out, “Michel, c’est une chemise de beurre!”
For a moment it was stone silent. Then a look on Michel’s face like a light going on. His eyes widened, and a look of sudden, total understanding.
“Ahhhh, ‘ said Michel. “Oooo la la, UNE CHEMISE DE BEURRE!!! Genevieve, Karen fait une chemise de beurre!”
Well, that was the big event of the day in the kitchen. By the time the family was around the table Michel had regaled everyone about the chemise de beurre, and it gave Karen and me a good laugh. The meal was a huge success, so much so that two of the other women used the same technique for their Christmas dinners, and all reported it was a huge success.
So successful was the turkey that Karen was asked if she would be willing to do it again for New Years, and of course, she said yes. But now, being The Time of Turkey, we didn’t have to do a drug deal with The Guy From Le Mans, we could just go next door and order one from Manu, to be picked up on Saturday. No problem.
Come Saturday, Karen and I walk into the butcher shop, make the usual exchange of bonjours to those in attendance, and when Manu sees us enter he gives us a bonjour and dashes off to the back, reappearing moments later with a large white bundle. Then, to display what a wonderful fowl he is presenting and I assume to prove that it is indeed a turkey, he unwraps it and holds it up in front of us, by the neck, head and feet still attached. Then, after making sure we didn’t want those bits, he pulled out a cleaver and whacked off those appendages. He had also removed a large quantity of fat from the bird and offered it to Karen, presumably to use for basting or a stock, but Karen just nodded no.
“Ce n’est pas nécessaire” said Karen.
And Manu leaned in, gave her a conspiratorial wink and said, “Ah, une chemise de buerre, eh?”
For a moment, neither of us said a word. Karen looked at me. I looked at her, and we exchanged a silent, “WTF?”
Manu cheerfully went about wrapping up the turkey, rang up the bill, and waved us goodbye, wishing a Bonne Anne. Outside we just stood there, incredulous and a little freaked out.
“Chemise de beurre? REALLY? How did he know?”
We never found out.
There are no secrets in a French village.