There are cookbooks which you breeze through and pick things out as you flip pages quickly, never actually reading much. Then there are cookbooks where you read every word, then you read every word over again and you keep reading the book from cover to cover and accidentally forget to ever cook anything from the book despite the book overflowing with dishes that appeal on most levels. The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is the second kind. To me, it is an instant classic – mixing retro French cuisine and their own playfulness. The book exudes fun and punches pretension in the throat, but sadly I have taken only inspiration, but not any dishes. On Easter, that would change.
The page with the highest volume of greasy prints as I opened it most recently was Pied-Paquets with Sauce Charcutière. It was a simple dish founded on a mistake. The original dish is trotters and tripe boiled hard, wrapped in caul and cooked as a little bundle. At Joe Beef, they switched from sheep offal to lamb neck, but the trotters and caul remain. I love braising and roasting lamb neck and my affinity for trotters is apparently more well known than I knew as I was gift some Chinese vinegar braised trotters a few weeks back.
At its core, this is more or less a lamb dish that uses the gelatin from the trotters as meat glue. I braised the lamb and trotters in white wine and water with aromatics until the meat was wobbly. Once it was cooled enough to handle, the trotters and neck were pulled from the bones and mixed with some of the braising liquid, spinach, and herbs. Once the mixture was combined thoroughly, I spread the caul fat onto a cutting board and spooned the mixture into lemon-sized servings.
After slicing the caul into pieces large enough to make little bundles, I formed them into small cylinders, wrapped them and let them chill overnight. In the morning, I made the Sauce Charcutière substituting the braising liquid for the beef stock. It was packed with dijon, vinegar, gherkins, and capers, but never lost the inherent animal stock quality. It was alternatingly lamby, sour, and salty. My best advice is to make enough of the sauce to use all week because you will want it.
Once the sauce was chilled, I heated the pied-paquets in a high oven. In a matter of minutes, the caul fat melted into the packets and lunch was ready. This was a Spring lunch at its finest. The gaminess of the lamb combined with the rich texture of the trotters and the green qualities from the spinach and herbs was compelling. It was rich, but not heavy. When combined with the powerfully savory, sour, and salty sauce, each bite provided a hit of adrenaline. My heart raced and little beads of sweat gathered at my temples. The little lamb packets fit the book perfectly. Each bite made me want another. Each bite was compelling, but never too serious.