This week, I made another recipe from my new French cookbook: stuffed cabbage. Or, in fact, I think a more appropriate and appealing name is stuffed mini cabbages (Choux farcis in French). The recipe involves creating four to six smaller reconstructed cabbages from overlapping cabbage leaves, stuffed with sausage meat.
This week, I’m treating you to a few more interesting terms to mull over.
One is chevaucher. Originating from cheval (horse), one sense is ‘to sit/be astride’, or ‘to straddle’ something – be it a horse, or figuratively, two concepts or areas. I love terms like this which are so visual they almost don’t need an explanation.
It can also mean (particularly when used as a reflexive verb, se chevaucher) ‘to overlap’. And it was this sense which featured in my recipe.
A dish of a term
Another interesting few words for you: marmite, cocotte, and fait-tout.
Each of these terms refer to cooking dishes which look something like the iconic Le Creuset pictured below.
It seems that cocotte is often used to refer to a smaller dish, for instance you might have mini individual ones for a particular dish, however this doesn’t always appear to be the case, and sometimes it’s a larger dish. For instance, my recipe called for a cocotte but it was clearly large, since it had to fit all my mini cabbages, other veggies, and stock. A cocotte minute is also a pressure cooker. And an œuf en cocotte is an egg baked in a ramekin (baked egg or shirred egg).
As with many words, and especially French words, cocotte has multiple non-cooking-related meanings as well. A few are: a term of endearment (i.e. darling, love, honey, babe, sweetie – take your pick), a mistress or prostitute (although apparently this usage is outdated), and a word for hen or chicken. Confusing then, when you consider œuf en cocotte again – I suppose this could be interpreted as an egg inside the hen…
Marmite and fait-tout
These two are near synonyms of cocotte, but it seems you would only used marmite to refer to a large dish, rather than those sized for individual servings. Someone once pointed out to me that if you look on the label of British marmite* (the spread made from yeast extract) there is actually a picture of a marmite – perhaps this is where the English name for it originated?
I love the term fait-tout. It means ‘do everything’ and makes perfect sense to me, since I use my own version of this to cook almost everything.
What about in English? Casserole (dish), Dutch oven?
I conducted a bit of a straw poll on twitter to see what others call this sort of dish. My extremely unscientific evidence indicates it seems to be mostly called ‘casserole’, or ‘casserole dish’ in the UK. Meanwhile, ‘Dutch oven’ appears to be more common in North America.
However, many in the UK seem to agree that a casserole dish may not necessarily be suitable for the hob/burner/stove and might only be oven proof. So we could always clarify by saying ‘cast iron casserole dish’ or ‘flame resistant casserole dish’ or similar. Indeed, French often clarifies, using cocotte en fonte (cast iron).
Interestingly, the lovely folk of the twittersphere also helped me discover the Midwest ‘casserole’ or ‘hotdish’ (see wikipedia’s definition and the Daily Meal’s definition. As above, by extension the dish used to cook this meal in is also referred to as a ‘casserole’/’casserole dish’ but is a rectangular oven dish in this case – see Andie’s comments below:
Maybe to avoid these complexities, many of us simply resort to the brand name.
Just to confuse matters further, a casserole in French can either be a ‘casserole’ (the meal) – let’s call a ‘stew’ for ease here – or in terms of a recipient, it is actually a ‘saucepan’ or ‘pan’, as you can see on the meilleur du chef website.
If we’re talking about small versions of the dish for individual servings, I’m not sure we have a name for this in English. Probably because I’ve never seen an English recipe calling for them. Maybe we’d just call them ‘mini Dutch ovens’ or something similar?
*Tangentially – another marmite-related story – Marmageddon
There is a New Zealand version of marmite which is different to the British. Although it is also a yeast extract and is similar, I can assure you that it is not the same. The kiwi version is more like the vegemite from our neighbours across the ditch (Tasman Sea) – being darker in colour, thicker in consistency, and slightly sweeter in taste than the British variant. It is made by a different company and is branded differently than the British one.
It is the one thing I ask NZ visitors to bring to London. And I’m not the only one who believes the British variety does not cut the mustard. In the wake of 2011’s significant earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ, one consequence was ‘Marmageddon.’ The marmite factory having been forced to close from damage, marmite became increasingly hard to get hold of. Tubs were selling for exorbitant prices on trademe (a homegrown auction site similar to ebay). My brother, dutifully fulfilling my request for two jars, went to a corner shop (off licence) to pick them up. There were only two left in the shop – perfect! Yet the lady behind the counter would only sell him one, saying she wanted to save some for the next person. Ensuring this precious resource was shared equitably, I can only presume. Never fear, another jar was procured from another shop.
Some savvy folk saw an opportunity in the shortage and tried to capitalise – running a promotion on British marmite. But to no avail. The kiwi consumer knew what they wanted, and British marmite was not it.
Sound a little far-fetched and not sure you believe me? See the BBC’s coverage.
For those who haven't grown up with this rather unique spread, the concept can be hard to get your head around. Especially if you go ahead and slather some on a slice, or even worse, take a teaspoonful. With marmite, a little goes a long way, and in my opinion, is best enjoyed on a slice of toast liberally topped with butter, and thinly spread with marmite. Or even better, do the same, but then add cheese on top and pop in the oven until the cheese is melty deliciousness. It's a very particular taste, and they say you either love it or hate it. In fact, in the UK you can say 'that's very marmite' to refer to something which is just as divisive.
No issues with the cooking, although it was a little fiddly to remove the leaves without breaking, and to ‘re-construct’ the mini cabbages. It was quite tasty. Although I’ve noticed this cookbook doesn’t include many herbs – this recipe had none – and I would add more in the future, or use herbed sausage meat.
Currently looking for inspiration!