Provençal Comfort Food
The voluptuous daubes of Provence are among the world’s greatest stews. Paula Wolfert adapts an outstanding recipe for the American kitchen.
I’ve been corresponding with Indiana native Barbara Wilde ever since I discovered her terrific cooking and gardening Web site and blog, L’Atelier Vert (frenchgardening.com). An expatriate now living in Haute Provence, she writes wonderfully about what she calls "the frustrations, humor and sometimes almost heartbreaking beauty of daily life." Barbara is highly knowledgeable and passionate about the food of her adopted region, where the fine local ingredients include honey, wild mushrooms, olives, olive oil and lavender, as well as the legendary herbes de Provence. When I asked her to name a favorite local recipe, she didn’t hesitate. "Certainly one of our daubes," she replied, referring to the deep-flavored, wine-based stews. These stews are cooked slowly in potbellied earthenware vessels called daubières, which are designed specifically to seal in moisture.
In Provence, daubes are made with pork, beef, lamb or game cooked in red or white wine. One of Barbara’s favorite daubes is prepared with the wild boar that is so plentiful in Haute Provence. I’ve had superb results adapting her method to pork, especially with meat from heritage breeds like Berkshire and Duroc that have been raised the old-fashioned way.
Following Barbara’s advice, I begin by marinating the pork in white wine with onion, carrot, aromatic winter savory, thyme, juniper, lavender and bay leaf to replicate the marvelous herbs of Haute Provence. The second step is the actual cooking: browning the meat, sautéing the vegetables and braising the pork in the oven. The third step is the easiest: letting the daube rest for a day or two to allow the flavors to meld.
But it isn’t done yet. Sautéed mushrooms are added and the daube cooks again for an hour and a half before serving. The best daubes, Barbara told me, get reheated at least twice. Why? Because the sauce reduces each time, making it more intense and voluptuous. Indeed, the best daubes are nicknamed "caramels" for their rich and caramelized consistency.