Kig ha farz: Breton buckwheat dumpling

Kig Ha Farz is a homely, but absolutely delicious, Breton specialty that even few French people know about. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever find it served in a restaurant, even in Brittany, which I learned on a recent trip to the region. I told friends that we were staying with that I wanted to prepare it for them, and we spent a few days trying to find a farz sack to make it in. While shopping at the outdoor markets, we asked vendors that sold housewares if they carried them, but not one of them had any idea what Kig ha farz was, let alone carry a sack for making it.

One was even suspicious that we were from one of those “gotcha” tv shows, called enquêtes, in France, where they do undercover investigations. I saw one where they brought a hidden camera to an outdoor market where vendors were selling eggs from battery chicken farms marked as “cage-free.” (All eggs in France are stamped 0-to-3, which’ll tell you how the chickens were raised.) The eggs were sitting in pretty baskets on beds of hay, but when the journalist busted them for selling battery-farmed chicken eggs as cage-free, the vendor started throwing the eggs at them. (And even other customers started yelling at them, which I didn’t quite get, because they were being sold incorrectly marketed eggs.)

We weren’t there to bust anyone, or to have eggs tossed at us. I just wanted to make kig ha farz.

The first time I had kig ha farz was back in 2007, a few years after I started the blog. Romain had told me about it, but couldn’t really describe it. Or if he did, I wasn’t really getting what it was. It wasn’t until a trip to Brittany where we rented a house that I got my first taste of it. The couple we were renting our guest house from asked us what we wanted as a welcome dinner, and we said “Kig ha farz.” They were surprised, and they told us we were the first people to ever ask for it. But later that evening, her husband came out bearing our dinner.

bretonwithkighafarz.jpg

It’s been nearly a decade since I wrote about it, and after my recent trip, I decided to update the post. (And in case you go to Brittany and are looking to have it, you’ll have better chances of finding it if you are visiting the Finistère part of the region.)

It’s said the tradition of simmering a dumpling-like mixture in simmering meat broth 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. Or you can use a big square of natural fabric that’s not too porous. As for me, I’m never letting my precious farz bag out of my sight again.

Kig ha farz is probably one of the most unusual things that’ll ever come out of your kitchen and it’s not winning any beauty contests, which is why I first wrote about it before the age of Pinterest and Instagram. But as long-time readers know, there are a number of recipes on this site that probably won’t make it to the top of the social media or search engine heap, but I found them interesting enough to share, like plum kernel ice cream or polenta gelato, made with a type of polenta that no one can get, and an oil that I think may have been in production for all of about six days in the south of France.

I’ve been accused of being someone that didn’t follow the herd, so apologies, but I think it’s fun to tackle a new cooking project, especially one as unusual as this one is, and it’s easy to make, no matter where you are.

Buckwheat flour is what gives kig ha farz its hearty, earthy flavor. A reader in the U.S. recently wrote that when she made buckwheat crêpes (called galettes, in France) hers were almost black. I’d made them for years in the States and didn’t have that problem, but another reader helpfully chimed in that some buckwheat flours are whole-grain and quite dark, unlike French buckwheat flour, which they said was partially refined.

I looked at pictures of American buckwheat flour online and didn’t notice them to be much darker than the French stuff, but the helpful reader suggested the closest replica of French buckwheat flour can be found in Japanese stores, the buckwheat flour they sell for making soba, which is sometimes mixed with wheat flour. I’m going to lug my precious farz sack along with me next time I go to the states, and give it a try. (See? I told you I wasn’t letting it out of my sight.) Some recipes do use a mix of wheat and buckwheat flour, so you could go that route as well, especially if you want something lighter.

Traditionally, kig ha farz is served with a pot-au-feu, a French boiled dinner composed of long-simmered meats and vegetables. Various versions abound but all versions I’ve seen (and there aren’t that many!) involve pork belly or bacon, sausages, and vegetables. A few have beef, so you could use any recipe that you have in your repertoire to make this. Just remember that the kig ha farz needs to be cooked two hours, so it should be a recipe that meets that criterion, and has enough liquid to poach the dumpling.

Speaking of tradition, kig ha farz is sometimes served by the slice, rather than crumbled. I’ve also seen recipes with quite a bit of sugar in the batter, up to 3/4 cup (150g). I share the Breton love of sweets, namely Kouign amann and Sablés Bretons, but I’ll save my sweet tooth for dessert.

And I prefer Kig ha farz crumbled into little bits, which makes it easy to see why it’s referred to as “Breton couscous.” If you are a traditionalist (and let’s face it, some of us can only take that term so far before we reach for what’s handy, or what’s available where we live), you could served it with lipig; a sauce made of melted butter, shallots, and bone marrow, from the os à moelle that you could cook with the meats and vegetables.
Mine was a speedy version, which I made for two. While I simmered the farz, I pan-fried the slab of bacon and a couple of pork chops, then added lightly simmered carrots and turnips that I prepared separately to the pan along with a few generous ladles of the cooking liquid and some stubby smoked sausages, then simmered everything together until it smelled like dinner was ready. Each plate got served with a ladle of the sauce, In lieu of the lipig, you could dab the kig ha farz with some salted butter, which I didn’t do this time, but don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t.
Kig Ha Farz
Print Recipe
Six servings
Adapted from The French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis.Buckwheat flour is good for people avoiding wheat flour. If you don't eat meat, this can be served with simmered root vegetables, like turnips, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, hard squash, and even some cabbage. If doing so, I would add some herbs or other flavorings to the water, or cook them in vegetable stock.I've linked to some recipes below for making pot-au-feu, the classic meat-based French boiled dinner that kig ha farz is traditionally served with. And I've linked to some places where you can get Japanese soba flour (mixed with wheat), as well, which you may want to track down. To approximate the same thing, you could use 80% whole-grain buckwheat flour mixed with 20% wheat flour.I've also linked to some places after the recipe where you can get farz sacks in France, and elsewhere. You could also place 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.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk
4 tablespoons (60g) melted butter, salted or unsalted
1 3/4 cups (250g) buckwheat flour (see headnote)
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. Scrape the mixture into a farz bag, a sack made of unbleached muslin specifically for this purpose. Tie it closed, leaving room for it to expand by about one-third.
4. Simmer the farz in simmering broth, turning it a few times while cooking, 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 the dumpling inside being broken into irregular bits. Continue rolling it on the counter until it's well-crumbled. If it resists being broken up by rolling the sack, open the sack and break the pieces of buckwheat up with your fingers.

Serving: Serve the kig ha farz with boiled meats, vegetables, or simply a pat of salted butter.

Storage: The kig ha farz can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. It can be rewarmed in a microwave oven.

Related Links

Where I discovered Kig ha farz in Brittany

Kig ha farz sacs (Tempête de l’ouest, in France)

Kig ha farz sacs (Coop Breizh, in France)

Kig ha farz sacs (Idees-Neuves, in France)

Kig ha farz sacks, and more here, available globally, on Etsy

Chez Michel and L’auberge du Roi Gradlon in Paris often feature Kig ha farz on their menus, although I’ve not had it at either place.

Breton Pot-au-feu (Saveur)

How to Make Pot-au-feu (Fine Cooking)

Sobakoh (Buckwheat flour mix for making soba) (Anson Mills)

 

Breton Buckwheat Dumplings, a gluten-free, regional French specialty that you can make in your own kitchen!

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40 comments

  • Judith in Umbria
    March 6, 2007 3:32am

    At last! News I can use.
    My father’s family were originally Breton and we had a bag-o’goodies cooked in our pot au feu. It wasn’t this, which I can make since I have a sack-o-buckwheat flour in the freezer. It was really really good though and when I recently made it for lunch guests it disappeared like sparks up the chimney. My favorite part was slices of rolled veal belly filled with herbs and sel gris and the stuff cooked in the cheesecloth sack. Which is how we cooked it. So send me a shirt, please. If Kevin even had one, I don’t own a pole long enough to touch it.
    Britney

  • Mark
    March 6, 2007 4:30pm

    So… can you describe in detail what the French think of sweet potatoes? Do they think that it is something you would feed animals (such as they react to corn on the cob) or do they think they are delicious?

    • Barbara
      October 21, 2017 10:26pm

      I had a delicious sweet potato mash served with a nice piece of Charolais beefsteak two weeks ago, cooked by the chef at the French language immersion school I was attending near Lyon. So I can only assume there’s no blanket assumption that sweet potatoes are only animal feed.

    • October 22, 2017 2:15pm

      Sweet potatoes are all over the market here in Carcassonne. People eat them like regular potatoes (boiled or baked). No marshmallows or brown sugar.

      • October 22, 2017 2:52pm
        David Lebovitz

        Most of my French friends don’t really like them. Like parsnips (which they’re not fans of either), sweet potatoes are on the (naturally) sweet side and they don’t seem to have gained the same acceptance as kuri and butternut squash, but they are available, and yes…delicious.

    • Emma
      October 23, 2017 11:11am

      From my knowledge (I’m French) most of French people who know and enjoy sweet potatoes came to them through African dishes.
      But now you find them in restaurants.
      And they make great fries !

  • Jke
    March 6, 2007 4:51pm

    I like this! It sounds it would taste like something my grandmother might have made. Except she was Friesian and may never have used buckwheat flour in her life. She made very thick, unleavened pancakes instead, with enough butter on them to shorten anyone’s lifespan. My grandfather, who held the buttering record, outlived her by several years nonetheless.

    I am tempted to try Kig Fa Harz and to use an old, thin pillowcase. For lack of any Kevins in my life, or their T-shirts. Or any Britneys – surely she wears T-shirts, sometimes?

    The cooking method is also used for Jan in de Zak (John in the Bag), a Dutch recipe that involves boiling a yeasted wheat dough in a sack in a pot of water for hours. It is then served with molasses, for instance.

  • K1rk
    March 6, 2007 10:55pm

    You sly dog! You’ve at least tripled your accidental Britney hits with this post!

    I LOVE the Susan Loomis cookbook that you mentioned–not a clunker in the entire book. Have you tried the Salade Pet Tsai? I think that is what it is called. It’s a garlicky, mustardy cabbage salad that I am addicted to!

  • March 7, 2007 3:25pm

    I’ve never heard of this dish before, but it sounds quite good. I’ll have to give it the “Old American Try”

  • Moni
    March 7, 2007 4:56pm

    I am so lucky – two of my mates come from Brest, Brittany – lovely girls! Every time they go home for a visit, they bring me crepes, lovely salt (the best, as we all know now) and they also teach me some words of the Brittany language… Last week we had Far Bretagne … lovely cake, it lasted for about 10 minutes – thanks to my husband. Long live Bretagne!

  • Debbie
    March 8, 2007 12:20pm

    David,
    In your recipe you call for buckwheat flour, but the final result looks a lot like kasha (coarse buckwheat groats, not fine-ground flour). Which one are you using?
    –Debbie

    • October 22, 2017 2:54pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’m using what’s called “buckwheat flour” in France, which I mentioned wasn’t a whole-grain flour, like some of the buckwheat flour in other countries is. So I recommended that perhaps people get some of the Japanese-style buckwheat flour, or perhaps use 20% of all-purpose flour in place of some of the buckwheat flour. But it’s hard to tell what’s available in other countries, so I included a photo of the French buckwheat flour in the post.

  • March 8, 2007 6:41pm

    I have a strong feeling I would love this, since I’m a big fan of kasha varnishkes, soba, blini, galettes, and well, basically all things buckwheat. For those of us who do love this grain, it’s simply gravy that it also happens to be high in protein and “good” carbs, whatever that means. Now I guess I’ll have to chop up some shirts, or find a muslin bag or something. Your pork loin and sweet potatoes also sound mouthwatering.

  • March 9, 2007 9:47am

    I’m not opposed to the idea of chocolate sprinkles on toast.

  • Jean-Paul
    May 30, 2009 9:08pm

    not to be missed for the Kig ha farz: the “lipig”, a sauce made with melted butter and onions, you put it warm on the far and the vegetables… yummy… :)

    Kenavo (good bye in Breton)
    Jean-Paul, a Breton in San Francisco

  • October 21, 2017 2:37pm
    David Lebovitz

    Hi David:

    Dark (and more chewy) buckwheat flour comes from ground unhulled buckwheat, rather than buckwheat groats, which have had the tough outer layer removed. In the US, I think you’d have to look harder for unhulled buckwheat flour, though it can be found in the organic or health food sections of grocery stores, so maybe your friend with the dark crepes had purchased this variety of flour.

    I looked for somewhere online which explained the difference in case I wasn’t clear. I couldn’t find a perfect link, but this is pretty good:
    http://www.cooksinfo.com/unhulled-buckwheat

    I’m looking forward to trying this recipe.

  • James George
    October 21, 2017 4:47pm

    Great obscure dish, I can’t wait to try it. And the photo is gorgeous, David. Would you happen to know the company that makes that beautiful stippled plate? – James

    • October 21, 2017 5:53pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know who made the plate. It’s vintage and on the underside, it’s marked in very faded letters “Made in France,” but the logo/crest for the company is really blurred and faded. Sometimes doing a Google image search helps me find things. (Etsy is another good resource.) Good luck!

  • Clare Shomer
    October 21, 2017 6:05pm

    My family is from Cornwall across the Channel from Brittany my grandmother made a similar dish called suet pudding. Made with flour and beef suet and boiled in a piece of muslin and served in slices with a roast dinner or pot roast. Sometimes it it was served with butter and Lyles golden syrup.

  • Rick Free
    October 21, 2017 6:44pm

    David, I’ve been loving your blog for years. This post reminds me of one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo (Shijuku), Shimahei. It’s “all buckwheat, all the time,” so to speak. There is some soba noodle, of course, but much, much more. Last time we had buckwheat dumplings — sort of “quenelled” over a hot water bath — that were amazing and a bit similar to this recipe. Thanks for your writing!

  • Katy
    October 21, 2017 6:50pm

    You make my life brighter every time I see a post. I love buckwheat in all it’s forms so this is a wonderful idea for me.

  • Heather
    October 21, 2017 7:18pm

    Love that plate! Dots make everything cheerful. No doubt from your fabulous collection!

  • Patsy
    October 21, 2017 7:35pm

    It looks like haggis – which I love. But the recipe is actually like ‘mealie’, which is toasted oatmeal mixed with suet, onion and peppery seasonings and either fried or stuffed into skins to make ‘mealie pudding’. Sounds horrid but is actually very tasty – like haggis!

  • Judy
    October 21, 2017 7:49pm

    Does the farz have to be immersed in the cooking liquid, or can it perch on top of the meat and veg?

  • Michael Quear
    October 21, 2017 9:29pm

    Your kig bag looks like what my grandmother called cheese cloth which she used for draining her cottage cheese and wrapping a fresh ham in salt for curing back on her farm on RR1 in IN. Frenchmen must be tough to wear that as a shirt. Anything dumpling I’m going to give it a whirl. Thanx

  • October 22, 2017 1:46am

    This was completely fascinating to me, and I fervently, selfishly wish you will call the King Arthur Flour company right away and suggest doing a collab with them to make kig ha farz sacks, and the appropriate flour & recipe, available asap. They would make the sacks well, I am sure, and how could they not want to work with a baking god such as yourself?

    • October 22, 2017 2:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      I was hesitant to post this originally, because the sack kind of makes the dish more fun (at least to me), although one can use a cloth. Then I found some people on Etsy who sell the sacks and will ship worldwide (I linked to a few at the end of the post), so they’re available, although someone handy could probably make one, too ;)

  • Nina
    October 22, 2017 7:52am

    In Slovenia, we also have this dish, though it is made only of buckwheat flour, put into a large pot ofsalted water and then cooked. The flour is heated through although it stays in one clump and it is raw in the middle. After half an hour you mix water and flour together-it is hard work-so there is no raw flour and it is the right consistency. You leave it to res for 5 min or so and then break it up in these small part with two forks and a boiling hot oil or grease. We call it ZGANCI and the dish is served with boiled or baked meat or with a stew or with vegetable soup. We eat this a lot and can be made with anykind of flour though I prefer buckwheat. This is how they look like https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajdovi_žganci
    Similar aren’t they and less ingridients. Still you need practice to make them bit are incredible delicious.

  • RebeccaNYC
    October 22, 2017 7:03pm

    Kouign amann and Kig ha farz are such unusual names…can you talk about the origin of these words? Is this perhaps a hold-over from the time when France was Gaul? Or are they from the time of the crusades…the Sarrasins gave their name to buckwheat flour….and all things buckwheat now have arabic names? This is so fascinating to me.

    • October 22, 2017 7:25pm
      David Lebovitz

      They’re from the Breton language, which is actually endangered. I think it used to be taught in the schools in the region, but isn’t any longer. (Harvard University has started teaching the language, in hopes of helping to preserve it.) There are websites that have information deeper information about the history and evolution of the language, but terms like Kouign amann mean “cake (kouign) butter (amann),” in the Breton language.

      • Taylor
        October 28, 2017 1:00am

        It’s the other way around: “kouign” means cake and “amann” means butter.

        Also, “kig” means meat and “farz” means stuffing or something stuffed (e.g. in a bag), giving us meat with stuffing or ‘kig ha farz.”

        These Breton recipes all look spectacular and I can’t wait to try them. Trugarez deoc’h!

        • October 28, 2017 11:57am
          David Lebovitz

          Whoops! You’re right. I got it mixed up. My Breton is a little rusty ;)

          Thanks – and do give it a try!

      • yvonne
        November 1, 2017 4:11pm

        my kids speak the language , as it is still taught here in Finistere

  • Armelle
    October 22, 2017 9:38pm

    Year ago, I was on the Pacific coast of the USA, 10 000 km from Brittanny which I call home, and I decided I should make Kig Fa Harz for a young man I wanted to impress. Except I did not have a Kig Fa Harz sack. I called Mom asking her how I could get one and her answer was something like “you have to ask your great grand mother to hand sitch one for you from thick linen that no one weaves anymore”. I ended up sewing a makeshift sack out of some random fabric, cooked that dinner and a few years later I ended up married to that special yound man. I don’t think I’ve made Kig Fa Harz since that day, but after reading your story, I feel that I should ;).

  • vivian
    October 22, 2017 10:03pm

    Cheesecloth bags in various sizes with drawstring closures for cooking rice or other grains inside big pots of cholent or hamin are readily available in housewares stores in Israel, and possibly in “the Pletzl” in Paris — worth a try.

  • Rosa
    October 24, 2017 11:07am

    Hi!

    As I read your polenta gelato it reminded me some kind of flour made in Canary Island called Gofio.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gofio

    It is not dificult to find it here in Spain and even in Amazon.
    Hope that helps
    Rosa

  • Peter Levitt
    October 24, 2017 11:06pm

    David
    Do you think there maybe connection to Polish Kieszka (kasha buckwheat and pork blood puddings) and then the distant American Jewish Kishka?

  • October 24, 2017 11:15pm

    Interesting dish. Thanks to Susan Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cooking I was able to bake my very first sourdough bread when I moved to the “Land of the Wonderbreads”.
    Here in Maine, we have an albino variety of buckwheat, used for our French Acadian Ployes, a pancake-like flatbread.
    Those don’t look too great either, but taste very good, so I’ll give the Kig Ha Farz a try.

  • Pamela
    November 1, 2017 12:12pm

    Here in Japan some soba restaurants will make a traditional soba porridge or you might even call it a wet dumpling called “soba gaki”. It is very thick and warm and creamy. It is made by mixing the soba/buckwheat flour with hot water. It is very thick and a chopstick or spoon will stand up in it.

  • priyanka
    November 1, 2017 1:55pm

    Love that plate! Dots make everything cheerful. No doubt from your fabulous collection!

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