Kig Ha Farz: Breton buckwheat dumpling recipe
Kig Ha Farz is a homely, but absolutely delicious, Breton specialty that few French people even know about. It’s highly-unlikely that you’ll ever find it served in a restaurant although I’ve heard reports of one Breton crêperie near Montmarte which makes it one day a week, but I haven’t investigated further. But if you travel through Brittany, some old-fashioned stores sell the simple sacks which are used to cook the kig ha farz, which means ‘meat’ and ‘stuffing’ in the Breton language, and you can make it yourself at home, like I do.
When we rented a house by the north coast of France last summer, the retired owners who lived next door offered to make us a stack of galettes au sarrasin, the buckwheat crêpes the region is well-known for, as a nice welcoming gesture.
Curiously, if they’re made with buckwheat, they’re not called ‘crêpes’, which is why if you go to a French crêperie and ask for buckwheat crêpes, they might not know what you’re talking about. I might suggest they change to name to galetterie, but that doesn’t quite have the same appeal, for some reason.
Instead, we asked if they’d make us kig ha farz, which really surprised them and they told us we were the first people to ever ask for it. But they were more than happy to comply!
It’s said the tradition of simmering the crumbly, dumpling-like mixture was done using the sleeve of an old men’s shirt. So if you have one lying around that you don’t mind ripping the sleeve off of, you might want to give it a try. If so, I would use one made of natural cotton, preferably undyed.
Kig ha farz is probably one of the most unusual things that’ll ever come out of your kitchen and I like to surprise friends by serving them this very unusual but versatile side dish. But once you pour your first batch from the cotton sack, you’ll find it’s simply delicious and easy enough to do over and over again, especially if you love the hearty taste of earthy buckwheat.
Although kig ha farz is normally simmered in the meaty broth when you’re cooking up big hunks of lard, fatty strips of belly bacon along with boiled vegetables, I simply cook mine in water with a bouquet garni: a bunch of fresh thyme and bay leaves tied together.
Because I ingest ample fat from chocolate, ice cream and the big jar of foie gras that I opened last week, I served my kig ha farz the other night with a lean pork loin which I cured myself in a brine of cassonade sugar and allspice. I then pushed slivers of garlic deep into the meat then rubbed it all over with lots of freshly-chopped thyme and sea salt. The loin got oven-roasted with lots of minced shallots and a few centimeters of fruity Breton apple cider in the pan. And it was fantastic.
Alongside were sweet potatoes that I caramelized separately in the oven with crispy lardons of bacon. The French don’t normally eat sweet potatoes, not as much as their American counterparts, and they’re always curious when I bring them to the table. So I like to serve them as much as I can and watch how they take to them when they actually do try them.
Kig Ha Farz
Many Breton women were happy to share their recipes with me, often scratched on pieces of worn paper with rather sketchy instruction, sometimes in a mix of French and Breton. But when I got home, I had a bit of difficulty reproducing them. Those darn French housewives and their astuces! So I use this recipe, an adaptation from one of my favorite books on French cooking: The French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis.
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (125 ml) whole milk
- 4 tablespoons (60 gr) melted butter (salted or unsalted)
- 1 3/4 cups (250 gr) buckwheat flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1. Mix together the eggs, milk, and butter in a large bowl.
2. Gradually add the flour, sugar and salt, stirring until smooth.
3. I drop the mixture into my farz bag, a sack made of unbleached muslin specifically for this purpose. I tie it closed, leaving room for it to expand by about one-third.
If you don’t have a sack, Susan recommends placing the mixture in the center of a clean, damp piece of cotton cloth about 2-feet square (60 cm). Gather the corners of the cloth and secure them tightly with kitchen string, leaving room for the mixture to expand by one-third.
4. Simmer the farz in simmering broth for about 2 hours.
5. Drain the sack in the colander very well for 15 minutes. Then take the sack and roll it on the countertop, pressing it firmly back-and-forth, until you can feel it’s broken into little tiny bits inside. Don’t worry about any tough or large pieces. Those are my favorites!
Open the sack and pour the kig ha farz onto a platter or serving dish. Serve hot with boiled meats, vegetables, or simply a pat of salted butter. Some like it drizzled with maple syrup as well.
(For more about kig ha farz, read a previous post.)