QUESTION: My French mother-in-law used this on green beans, but I don't know what it was. It was a dark, hard block of something like a bouillon cube, but a little harder, which was cut thinly and then tossed with green beans. Any idea what it was? She lived in Albi and Provence, so it could be some regional thing.
ANSWER: Hi Gail! I apologize for being so long in answering. Your question has been haunting me for weeks.
Your reference to a bouillon cube stuck in my head, so I began by imagining your mother-in-law cutting up a Kub Or. These are dark colored, full flavored bouillon cubes found on pantry shelves all over France.
I scoured French recipes in search of perhaps a salad or vegetable dish that might somehow use these. To no avail. Also, it just doesn't make sense to me. How could you slice a bouillon cube anyway - it just crumbles? And then the flavor seems like it would be just awful. Even a small amount packs a lot of salt.
So I gave up on the bouillon cube idea.
And that is when I came upon gizzards. Not just any old gizzards, but a nicely-cooked-in-their-own-fat gizzards. Called les gésiers confit in French, you would be surprised how often these animal parts will make their way to your plate in France.
(As you may or may not know a gizzard is a special stomach that some animals have that is used to grind up seeds and other hard foods. The bird might eat a few pebbles and what-not which then act as grinding stones for the hard food particles. Goodness that sounds like an uncomfortable way to get your calories but I guess it pleases the birds!)
These might be chicken (gésiers de volaille) or duck (gésiers de canard) gizzards, and are sold ready to use in salads, or wherever else the enterprising cook might like to add them. The gizzards are dark brown and sold in pieces a bit smaller than a golf ball. Typically they are cut in thin slices before being added to the dish and yes, many people add them to green beans!
So, to me this sounds an awful lot like what you described your mother-in-law doing. Also, Albi is in the south-west, a part of France known for its varous duck and goose specialties. What do you think? Is it possible that gizzards were the mystery ingredient?
Just in case you are curious enough to try them yourselves, those of you living in North America can order a plateful of these lovelies from Amazon.com: Duck Gizzards Confit.
Alternatively, it is possible to make your own confit if you are able to get your hands on fresh gizzards