Every year the chocolate show comes to New York, and every year I dutifully trudge off to see it. It’s a classic case of hope triumphing over experience -- chocolate is always just chocolate.
This year, a miracle happened. Someone brought soup. And not some silly assemblage of Ghirardelli melted into Grand Marnier with marshmallows for croutons. This was real soup, rich and gutsy, the antithesis of froufrou truffles and effete single-estate chocolate bars. And there could not be a better discovery this time of year, even if it does come from France.
I found it at a booth run by D’Artagnan, where samples of chocolates made with real truffles were being passed out almost as cover for the savory stuff for sale. The name pasted above the steaming pot -- garbure -- was not particularly alluring, but what was ladled into my cup was the most sublime potage, an aromatic broth floating with juicy shreds of duck, strips of cabbage, nubbins of cured pork and chunks of carrots. No flu shot could compete.
Ariane Daguin, a co-founder of D’Artagnan, later told me that the soup (pronounced gahr-BOOHR) is a staple in her home region of France, which is known for duck and foie gras and other indulgences on the light side.
“It’s typical of Gascony,” she said. “Basically, it’s the soup that stays in the fireplace for days. It’s the main meal of the morning; when the guys go into the fields, it’s what they take with them as the hot dish of the day.”
Often, it’s ladled over a thick slice of bread. And it’s usually finished with a swig of red wine, swirled through the empty bowl. There’s no denying it would give enough strength to harvest a truckload of cabbage.
Every day, Daguin said, the pot is replenished with more vegetables or meat, so that it improves over time, getting denser and more satisfying. By the fourth and last day at the chocolate show, she said, her version was perfection.
“It’s an all-day soup,” Daguin said. “You keep it in the fireplace in a cremaillere [a big pot] and often before you go to bed you don’t have the whole soup, you just have a ladle of the bouillon.”
The “bouillon” is traditionally made from duck stock, but some recipes call for simmering a ham hock or a slab of the French pork ventreche or regular unsmoked bacon with the usual holy trinity of Southwestern French cooking -- garlic, onions and celery -- to make a nourishing broth.
Dried white beans, usually coco or flageolet, are then added. Those alone would guarantee a filling soup. But then a whole head of Savoy cabbage -- sliced, blanched and softened in duck fat -- goes in next, along with carrots and maybe turnips or potatoes. The soup is already veering toward stew when you toss in a couple of duck legs in confit. Garlic is integral to the flavor: Six chopped cloves go into the pot raw and six more are confited in half a cup of duck fat until they are soft and mellow.
Gascons are renowned for their bravery in the face of fat, but I think the soup benefits from a night’s rest in the refrigerator -- it congeals the way an oxtail stew does, and the extra fat can be taken away with no loss of rich flavor.
The soup is served in warmed bowls with the duck and pork shredded or cut into bite-size pieces and distributed evenly with the vegetables.
Calling garbure hearty would be an understatement. Daguin said her father, Andre, a legendary chef in Gascony, says: “It’s soup you eat with a fork.” You can’t say that about chocolate.