During the 12 years I lived in France, I was always addressed as mademoiselle when I entered a butcher shop for the first time. But as soon as I asked for an inexpensive cut of braising meat by name, I became madame. After all, no single girl would know how to coax the flavor out of the poorer pieces of meat.
Unfortunately, few French women--single or married--want to be bothered with meat that needs to be cooked for a long time over low heat. They pass over the neck, shoulder and shank in favor of quick-cooking cuts. "All my clients want lamb chops," one butcher lamented. "And a lamb has only so many ribs."
Butchers often rewarded my interest in the cheap, neglected cuts with tips and recipes, so if I started out for the shop with one idea for a dish, I often went home with another. While he weighed my purchase, Daniel Gouret in Paris told me the secret of his fragrant lamb tagine he adds meaty neck pieces to the Moroccan-inspired stew for richness and flavor. Anick Colette, a butcher's wife in the Normandy seaside town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, steered me toward lamb shoulder to make tender blanquette, a delicate, creamy stew. In her family's charcuterie in Beaune, the hub of Burgundy's Côte d'Or, Josette Batteault dictated her simple recipes for pork (they call for no more than five or six ingredients) as she sliced her husband's award-winning rosette sausage.
The merchants I met don't try to do too much when they cook, since few have the luxury of time. Their recipes are the essence of home cooking wherever home may be: economical, traditional and uncomplicated.