Cooking Chicken In A Pig's Bladder (It Sounds Better In French) With Bill Buford In his new memoir Dirt, chef Bill Buford recounts his experience working in Lyon, France. We met up over Zoom to make Poulet en Vessie -- chicken cooked in a pig's bladder.

Cooking Chicken In A Pig's Bladder (It Sounds Better In French) With Bill Buford

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Eighteen years ago, Bill Buford was an editor at The New Yorker. He reported a story about learning to cook professionally in a restaurant. He became obsessed, quit his job and moved to Italy. The result was "Heat," a best-selling food memoir. Now, 15 years later, he's out with a sequel. In "Dirt," Bill Buford moves to France. Here's NPR's Rose Friedman.

ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Bill, I have to tell you - this does not smell very good.

BILL BUFORD: No, it doesn't. (Laughter).

FRIEDMAN: Bill Buford was recently married when he moved to Italy. He and his wife had been looking for an adventure. But this time, moving to France, he was nervous.

BUFORD: There were two big reasons, and their names were George and Frederick.

FRIEDMAN: They had young twins. It wasn't the easiest time to move to a new country, let alone Lyon.

BUFORD: Lyon is really quite - I mean, it's a big city, but it's also very provincial. And they don't like outsiders.

FRIEDMAN: Buford eventually did find friends and culinary success in Lyon, first as a baker's apprentice and then in the kitchen of La Mere Brazier, one of the city's famous old restaurants. He learned about making fish quenelles, blood sausage and the dish we decided to recreate together - poulet en vessie.

I was in New York City where, on a good day, I can use two burners at the same time in my tiny kitchen. Buford and his family had decamped to a friend's place in Maine. Before they left town, I swung by his building, and he handed over some ingredients he said I'd need, including the chicken, some wine and what looked like a deflated football loosely wrapped in plastic. He wouldn't tell me where he got it. And it smelled - well, it smelled. But it was part of Buford's plan.

BUFORD: You prepare your bird in the normal way you would for roasting. You put lots of goodies inside its cavity. We are putting foie gras and wine and an eau de vie. Some people do port. Many people have tucked truffles underneath the skin. And then we are going to slip it into a pig's bladder.

FRIEDMAN: It's a technique borrowed from Lyonnais farmers who use every part of an animal.

BUFORD: It's almost like an early practice of vacuum-seal cooking. It's like sous vide cooking. But instead of having to use a fancy machine and special plastic bags to take the air out, you're using something that comes from an animal. And it's - well, we will see. But it can produce really astonishing results of tenderness.

FRIEDMAN: So we got started - stuffed our chickens into bladders.

BUFORD: We're about to set it afloat on boiling water. And we will then start ladling like mad over the top to make sure that it is getting heat from above and below.

FRIEDMAN: We both plop it into the water.

BUFORD: And it sank. I don't - I'm not sure if it was meant to sink. (Laughter).

FRIEDMAN: My bladder in New York floated just fine.

BUFORD: Right, OK.

FRIEDMAN: Floating aside, Buford is comfortable in the kitchen now. He can talk me through removing a chicken's wishbone over Zoom. He can tie a bladder into a knot like a balloon. But his experiences cooking in Lyon were not always positive.

BUFORD: I got bullied.

FRIEDMAN: His tormentor was a fellow cook who humiliated Buford in front of the staff.

BUFORD: It started with his making me, in effect, stand in the corner. And that was the beginning of a really, really ugly relationship.

FRIEDMAN: The bully ordered Buford around. He sabotaged his dishes, hid pots and pans or stole ingredients from his station. Others had it worse. A young female cook angered the sous chef so much he threw pans at her head. Buford watched. He says whether it was because he was a journalist and there to observe or because he was being hazed himself, he didn't intervene.

BUFORD: I really wondered why I didn't. Here was an act of great brutality and bullying and immorality, and I didn't. I regret that I didn't. It doesn't reflect well on me.

FRIEDMAN: Buford says that kind of hazing was almost expected in ambitious French kitchens.

BUFORD: American kitchens can be very rough, and they can be very misogynistic, and they can be very crude. But nothing was like what I was seeing in a French kitchen.

FRIEDMAN: French kitchens are based on a system called the brigade, modeled after military hierarchy. Buford says it tolerates bullies. But he wasn't about to leave. He'd invested a lot in this adventure, and he had a book to write. His kids were at the local public school. His wife was working towards a degree. He had to stick it out. And then his bully quit the kitchen.

BUFORD: And so once he was gone, I could feel comfortable again.


FRIEDMAN: Eventually, Buford's hungry family started migrating into the kitchen.

BUFORD: Are you hearing this?

FRIEDMAN: It was time to slice open the bladder.

BUFORD: It's bursting. It's bursting. See it? It's coming out.

FRIEDMAN: Then it was my turn.

OK. So I, like, slice off the top? OK. Oh, oh - I got squirted. But it was great.

Buford made plates for Jessica and the kids. My chicken was delicious. It was tender. The stuff in the cavity had melded into a kind of ethereal sauce. Buford's son Frederick agreed.

FREDERICK: Mmm. Oh, it's really good. I didn't expect it to be good. It looked really gross. It was made in a bladder.

FRIEDMAN: Buford says that in a way, sharing food and experiences with his kids and with Jessica was the whole point of writing this book.

BUFORD: We had an enormous adventure. It financially was insane. But we wouldn't trade that experience in for anything.

FRIEDMAN: Savoring memories of a happy time, the Bufords tucked into dinner together.

Rose Friedman, NPR News, New York.

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