The minute I saw it on the menu at Les Vapeurs in Trouville, I knew I was going to order it. I like to try new things when I travel, things I can’t get at home, things that are unique to an area. And on this particular night that thing was candied gizzard salad. After all, isn’t that what traveling is all about — immersing yourself in a different place, a different culture.
I’ll never forget a story a former coworker told me. She and her husband had just returned from a big trip to San Francisco. It was a trip they’d saved for and looked forward to for months. They’d never been as far away from home as California, and they were excited to go. She told me about the bus tours they went on and how they had seen the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Then she said how they had driven by Chinatown, but they didn’t stop because … well … there were so many Chinese people there (which is a whole other issue that has nothing to do with food). Then she told me all about the wonderful dinner they had … at Chili’s.
They went all the way to San Francisco where you could try just about anything in the world, to San Francisco which is arguably one of the culinary centers of the universe, and apparently crippled by fear of the unknown or, at the very least, lacking the adventuresome spirit of a traveler, they sought comfort in the neon glow of the nearest Chili’s. The very same Chili’s chain that you can eat at right here in sweet home Alabama.
So when I saw candied gizzard salad on the menu, I thought of my former coworker, and in my best French (which is horrible, just so you know … this Southern mouth has a hard time forming the proper French sounds) I ordered the salade de gésier, s’il vous plaît.
I didn’t know what to expect. I like it that way. What they sat down before me was a big bowl of lettuce and herbs topped with tomatoes, cold potato cubes, and purple onion which had all been tossed in a vinaigrette. Mixed in were several dozen gizzards — maybe chicken, maybe duck, I don’t know. What makes them “candied” (I think) is that they’ve been cooked using a method called confit, which means “to preserve” and is accomplished by slow cooking the aforementioned gizzards in duck fat. Duck fat is the next best thing to bacon grease.
I speared me a gizzard with my fork and popped it in my mouth. Now these aren’t the gas station hot bar fried gizzards like you’re used to — the ones you shake around in the box with some hot sauce. This one was warm and had a very mild flavor, like the dark meat on a chicken thigh. I was expecting a more liver-y taste, so I was pleasantly surprised. It was fork tender and not chewy at all. There was a slight tang from the vinaigrette and just the teenchiest hint of sweetness. Combined with the potatoes and the sharp onion and the fresh herbs? It was something else.
Delicious. Delectable. Divine. I can’t even find the right words to describe just how good candied gizzard salad is.
Now I would be remiss in describing our experience at Les Vapeurs if I didn’t mention our main course. The restaurant specializes in seafood because Trouville is a fishing village right on the English Channel in the Normandy region of France. And one of the most popular things that many of the local restaurants offer is a seafood platter served family style. It’s a tray, really, bearing a mountain of crushed ice. On it you will find some combination of oysters, clams, big and little sea snails to be dipped in mayonnaise (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!), langoustines, shrimp, and crabs which have all been steamed and chilled. The server will bring you all the necessary tools (and tools are necessary) so that all you have to do is roll up your sleeves and dig in, which is exactly what we did.
After about an hour of cracking, slurping, prying, and picking all the yummy bits out of various and sundry shells, Brother, our friend Landry (who lives nearby and was kind enough to show us all around and recommended this veritable heaven on earth of a restaurant), and I were stuffed! Too full for even the tiniest bite of dessert. But at La Vapeur, your experience doesn’t end when you’ve finally reached the wet wipe stage.
Normandy is also known for its Calvados, which is an apple brandy. That’s why when our dinner was finished and the plates and shells and trays and tools were all cleared away, the waiter brought three little gold rimmed glasses and set one down in front of each of us. He then filled each one to the brim with Calvados — a little after dinner lagniappe and the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Gizzard salad, sea snails, and Calvados. You’ll never get that at a Chili’s. Vive la France!