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On heresy and bouchons au thon

My French host mother was tall, trim, and proper, with a sing-song voice and a name that skipped and chimed and rang off the tongue. She moved through the house as though on pointe—softly but decisively—and she wore silver bracelets that clicked delicately against each other when she lifted her hand to secure the barrettes in her long brown hair. She was also very Catholic, with four children, ages 9 to 17; a Labrador puppy; and a husband who’d gone—or rather, all but moved—to Canada to find work. It was complicated and exhausting. She did an admirable job, and she often fell asleep in the bathtub after dinner. But most importantly, dear reader, my host mother was the French equivalent of a Tupperware saleswoman. She tested, cooked in, and sold Flexipan and Silpat products, those fantastic (and fantastically expensive) silicone baking pans, molds, and sheets. I was lucky enough to live under her roof—and within close proximity to her kitchen—for six months. You can well imagine the glory that might have been, had I not taken down the crucifix she’d hung on my bedroom wall.

I arrived that fall, barely twenty-one, deep in my smoky-black eye makeup phase—an era that hasn’t yet ended, actually—and with the short, spiky hair I wore throughout college. I was also a pseudo vegetarian, which threw more than a few grains of sand into the gears of her well-oiled kitchen routine. But she sensed that I was only slightly heretical and very eager to please—still my greatest weakness, I’ll freely admit—and so she took me on, gently correcting my French, delivering clean sheets to my door with admirable regularity, and teaching me how to eat. I arrived a somewhat calculating eater, well-schooled in nutrition and suspecting that butterfat was the devil’s work, and I left smuggling aged chèvres and mimolette in my suitcase.

Each weeknight at eight I’d climb the stairs to the second-floor kitchen and join my squealing pre-teen host brothers (Ta gueule! Casse-toi! (Shut up! Get the hell out of here!)) and catty teenage host sisters (Ta jupe est moche, tu sais? (Your skirt is ugly, you know?)) at the table. We’d begin with a simple grated carrot or beet salad, or half a grapefruit. The boys might argue over the warm steamed leeks with vinaigrette, each wanting the sweet white part closest to the root. Then, depending on the season, we’d move on to a gruyère soufflé; pasta with a sauce of tuna, chopped tomatoes, and sautéed onions; or tartiflette, a wintery baked casserole of potatoes, lardons (absent from my half of the dish, merci), and rich Reblochon cheese from Savoie. It was at that table that I first ate sauerkraut and learned of the nightly cheese plate, stinky and irresistible, with hunks of baguette from the boulangerie next door. And of course there was always dessert: homemade applesauce, a grandmother-style apple or pear cake, or in January, a galette des rois.

At least one night each week we’d have a “Flexipan dinner,” a meal centered on a recipe that my host mother was testing in her silicone molds. Her individual tartlets of caramelized endive with goat cheese were staggeringly good, as was the almost-flourless chocolate cake, which quickly became a staple. But my favorite were the squatty, ugly, and completely delicious bouchons au thon (literally, tuna corks), a mixture of canned tuna, tomato paste, crème fraîche, gruyère, and eggs, baked in muffin molds.

With a texture somewhere between the filling of a quiche and freshly-made country paté, the bouchons tamed the flat, fishy pungency of canned tuna with the smooth richness of dairy and the sweetness of tomato. I gave thanks daily for all that Flexipan brought to my life, but mainly for bouchons au thon.

And as luck would have it, that spring, when my host mother went to visit her husband in Canada, she left me and my youngest host sister alone with a freezer blessedly full of bouchons. Seizing the opportunity, I invited my brand-new French boyfriend over for a dinner of the little tuna corks, roasted vegetables, carefully selected cheeses, crispy-crusted baguettes, and oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. It was a pure, starry-eyed triumph all around, right through to the next morning, and frankly, I credit the bouchons. I also credit them with earning me, upon my host mother’s return, my first and only “Molly, ce n’est pas un hôtel!” (Molly, this is not a hotel!) speech. I was almost as horrified as she was; apparently I was more heretical than even I’d known.

And it was only the beginning, in so many ways.
When I flew back to the States one painful month later, I tucked the recipe for bouchons au thon in with the contraband cheese.

Bouchons au Thon
Adapted from Demarle, Inc., and my host mother

These bouchons—a crustless tuna quiche of sorts, I suppose—are delicious warm or at room temperature, with a green salad and a good baguette.

180 grams canned tuna in water (preferably chunk light), drained
3 Tbs tomato paste
5 Tbs crème fraîche
3 large eggs
1 cup finely grated gruyère cheese
2 Tbs finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
¼ cup minced onion

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray 8 wells of a muffin tin with cooking spray (unless, of course, you have a silicone muffin mold, in which case no greasing is necessary). [I've also baked the batter in a single 7-inch silicone cake mold, which essentially negates the name "bouchon" but makes for a nice variation.]

In a medium bowl, break up the tuna with a fork, smashing it to a rough paste. Add the tomato paste, crème fraîche, eggs, gruyère, a good pinch of salt, Italian parsley, and onion, and mix well. The batter should be relatively smooth.

Spoon the batter evenly into 8 wells of the muffin tin, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until set and golden around the edges. [If you choose to use a 7-inch mold as mentioned above, the baking time will be longer; bake until the batter looks set and does not jiggle.]

Serves 4 as a light meal with side dishes.


Blogger pipstar said...

Oh Molly I can indeed see why these were such an outstanding success!! I am absolutely desparate to try these -and must this weekend start looking for a suitable creme fraiche substitute!!

11:22 PM, March 09, 2005  
Blogger LeeLoreya said...

"Les voyages forment la jeunesse" as they say then!
I love the little teenage interjections in french!

And with a couple of black olives, these bouchons will transport us right in Provence!

5:39 AM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Pipstar, as far as I know, you can make creme fraiche (or something very close to it, although perhaps not as thick) by doing as follows: stir together 1 cup whipping cream and 3 Tbs lowfat (not nonfat) buttermilk; cover; and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours. You'll wind up with about one cup, which is much more than you'll need. I tried this once, when living in the creme-fraiche-free state of Oklahoma, and it was passable, though not very thick. Let me know how it turns out!

And LeeLoreya, yes, off to Provence! If only it were so easy...

1:52 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Pusekatt said...

Who knew that tuna and eggs could go so well together! And thanks for the creme fraiche tip...would you mind linking it to your recipes? That way we can search for it at a later date :-) Thank you so much!

2:53 PM, March 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a teen translation for those of us unfrenchies?

3:47 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Done, Pusekatt. The link is on my recipes page, listed under "Miscellaneous."

And Anonymous, please pardon that oversight. It's been corrected...

4:04 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Update on the creme fraiche! I've done a bit of research around the Web and have found a number of sources that mention that you must heat the whipping cream to roughly "wrist temperature" (100 degrees Fahrenheit or so) before adding the buttermilk. And it could take anywhere between 12 and 36 hours at room temperature to achieve a good, thick consistency. Pipstar et al., hope that helps...

4:26 PM, March 11, 2005  
Blogger LeeLoreya said...

"wrist temperature?" lol that's quite an odd expression.

Seems like dairy products are really specific to a country: I'm always desperate to find sour cream or buttermilk in france but it just doesn't exist so it's basically a same kind of experiment that I must do : very thick creme fraiche (better if bought at the local market) with a spoonful of vinegar and let rest for a day...

12:29 AM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger Jen said...

Molly, I found your site through not martha, and I'm so glad! A friend of mine once called cookbooks fairy tales for grown-ups, and I love the stories that surround your recipes. I can't wait to try the bouchons au thon with friends this weekend.

7:04 AM, March 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Jen, thanks so much for making the trip over from not martha! I love the idea of cookbooks as fairy tales for grown-ups...so true. That's perfect. Please do let me know how you like the bouchons!

8:55 AM, March 22, 2005  
Anonymous Aaron said...

I read this today (while i should have been working), stopped at the store on my way home to get the supplies and served them for dinner. Thanks much. This is a great and easy recipe. Two of us ate half with an easy green salad (mixed greens/radishes/peas from the garden), a little french bread and some wine - not bad at all. As a lifelong fan of the tuna casserole this will easily become a regular. This would be great with salmon or crab as well...

10:16 PM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Aaron, I'm so glad to hear this! Your salad sounds delicious, by the way.

9:01 AM, March 24, 2005  
Anonymous jenne said...

hi! im the other diner of the meal aaron made and oh my goodness was it delicious today - encore -for lunch smooshed onto a warm baguette - i think my favorite part is the crunch of the onions. Thanks for posting such a delicious recipie - we will be trying more!

2:26 PM, March 24, 2005  
Blogger Jen said...

Note: When you're lazy and don't have time to make creme fraiche, sour cream and a little lemon juice will yield a nice flavor. The buchons were too dense and not very pretty, though. Picky Husband's response: "What are those orange things in the fridge?"

I made them properly last night, an "every man for himself" dinner night, and used the silicon muffin mold that my mother-in-law sent me, and voila! Golden, yummy buchons. Picky Husband's response: "These are really good -- are there enough left for me to take some for lunch tomorrow?"

Molly, you're my hero. He didn't even complain about the onions. :)

5:13 AM, April 06, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Jen, I'm thrilled for you and Picky Husband! So, did you let him steal a couple for lunch?

5:08 PM, April 06, 2005  
Blogger Jen said...

I did let him have them, but I was trying to end my comment on a happy note. :)

6:15 AM, April 11, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Molly - I finally made these bouchons (see here), and will be making them again soon - they were really delicious and different! Thanks for the recipe!

1:37 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi, i found this via Pille's site. I made a version of these cobbled together from what I had in the fridge for a quick lunch today.
I used spring onion, greek yoghurt and cheddar cheese. They turned out great just like the consistency you describe. I'll try them with the correct stuff, but thanks for introducing me to bouchon au thon.

6:55 AM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Pille and Mark, I'm so glad you liked the bouchons! It's a funny combination of ingredients, but together, they bake up so well. Mark, I'm glad to know that they worked with some substitutions, too! I'm playing with this recipe for my book, and it's good to know that they can be tweaked without too much trouble...

12:54 PM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger pomegranate said...

Ok, Molly..

So I went to Pearl Bakery in Portland and Roommate and I loved the chocolate bouchons. WOW. Also, if you combine the fact that they were still a bit warm, the air was cool, and we had steaming coffee from the bakery as we walked to the train; it does not get any better!
Today I wanted to read the recipe you'd posted for the chocolate bouchons and then I re-stumbled upon this one and was delighted to see that it had been commented on so recently -- making my comment all the more appropriate!
In conclusion, I loved the bouchons from Pearl and these tuna ones smell great in my oven right now, an excellent indication.

2:32 PM, March 19, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh good! You got the chocolate bouchons! Hip, hip! No trip to Portland would be complete without one. So glad you got yours.

And how is the tuna version? I hope you liked it...

9:25 AM, March 20, 2007  
Blogger julie said...

Your story was so delightful I had to try these. They're lovely. Way better than they have any right to be. Thank you very, very much.

3:39 PM, August 07, 2007  
Blogger Nanna said...

Hi Molly, these sound absolutely delightful - living in the Western Balkans at the moment where finding fresh, never mind exotic, produce can be a challenge - thus tuna in a can has become my stable for lunch. In a salad, on a bun etc. you get the picture - I have a question though, are you referring to the net weight of the tuna or the weight of the can itself? As its packed in water or oil there can be a big difference... Many thanks and love your blog!

11:45 AM, November 17, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Nanna, the quantity of tuna called for above is the size of the can, not the weight of the tuna itself. Good question - thank you for asking!

2:08 PM, November 17, 2007  
Blogger katrine said...

I just started reading your blog - it's fabulous, and definitely resonates with me since I'm in the throes of deciding whether grad school is right for me or not.
Anyway, I substituted quite a bit - Greek yogurt for creme fraiche, ketchup for tomato paste, and provolone and cheddar for gruyere. While I'm sure the original tastes rather different (and yummy!) this version turned out quite well also, tangy but creamy. I did have to finish them by broiling for a minute as they were a bit jiggly on top, but that made the cheese inside nice and gooey. Thanks! You're an inspiration!

- Kathryn

4:56 PM, August 08, 2008  
Blogger denise said...

made them. loved them.

4:40 PM, April 27, 2009  
Blogger Mary Ann said...

I just took this recipe from your book, and holy moly - they are delicious! I'm adding this to my stack of favorite dinner recipes.

2:43 PM, May 11, 2009  
Anonymous Jill said...

I just made these after reading your book (which I devoured in about two sittings) to rave reviews, especially from my four year old who deemed them "delicious tuna cupcakes!"

I have quite a few visitors coming over the next few weeks and was wondering how these do in the freezer?

4:25 PM, May 11, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Tuna cupcakes! I love that, Jill. And re: freezing them, they do very well. I've noticed that sometimes they seem a little spongy upon thawing, but once you rewarm them a little bit, you probably wouldn't notice.

8:24 PM, May 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've made these several times now, using yogurt or sour cream, onion powder or flakes, a dash of hot mustard, and sneaking in some finely chopped fresh veggies (for my carnivore hubby).

Insanely good, and can survive endless variations.

7:40 PM, June 04, 2009  
Anonymous Becca said...

Can't wait to try these! I too was an exchange student around the same age so this was a fun story to read that I could relate to. I was in Spain, and not having a very adventurous palate at the time, I told my host parents that I was vegetarian. They thought I was crazy, and so they made me all sorts of chicken dishes - thinking I of course still ate chicken - right?? Anyways, little my little I tried new things and today many of my favorites come from things I tried while I was abroad - such as the membrillo with manchego - yum!! Love your blog!!

9:33 PM, July 19, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just made these tonight. I am not a tuna casserole or tuna melt kind of girl, but these were delicious!

4:54 PM, December 03, 2009  
Blogger kookiegoddess said...

We had these for dinner and for once I didn't tinker with the recipe. Very tasty indeed, thanks so much, I'm hoping that my little girl will like them for lunch tmw too...

Of course now I really will be tinkering, I would add a dash of tabasco, more herbs and perhaps another egg as they are really rich. I like the idea of black olives that LeeLoreya mentioned too...

Perfect with a crunchy salad and warm bread. My husband liked them too.

2:39 PM, January 13, 2010  
Anonymous fiftyfinally.blogspot.com said...

have been looking forward to making these since i read your book, had to sub balkan style yogurt (added 1/2tsp lemon)and used up all the cheeses i had on hand (motsa, cheddar, swiss, montery jack). Although the 18mnth old ate it, the 30 mnth old did not. They were OK, but that's about it. I would classify this as a tuna meatloaf. Maybe if I do this again I might add some b/powder,seems to need to ouf up a bit. It's been an hour and half and I'm sitting here with my second glass of wine, and there is an after taste. Doubled the recipe and I will wait for tomorrow lunch (4 muffins left) to decide if I make these again for our "fish once a week dish" So far the "Basa Fingers" are way better and we all look forward to those. I really wanted to like these, but eeeh....I don't think so much.....

5:43 PM, March 17, 2010  
Blogger fromkansas said...

molly - for the bouchons au thon, what is the recommended method for thawing/reheating? Thanks.

9:45 AM, September 20, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

fromkansas, that's a good question. I thaw my bouchons at room temperature, and to be honest, I can't remember how long it takes, but it shouldn't be more than a couple of hours. To reheat, I've tried a number of tactics: microwaving, warming in the toaster oven, and warming in the regular oven. The last two work best. (The microwave has a tendency to make the bouchons spongy, so I'd avoid it.) Set your toaster oven or regular oven to a low to moderate heat (300-350), and warm until the bouchons are hot to the touch.

9:34 PM, September 22, 2010  
Blogger Kelsey said...

Made these tonight with home canned tuna and loved them! I'm a bit new to cooking and am not sure the best way to freeze them. Individually in baggies? please help!

6:29 PM, February 02, 2011  
Blogger Kathlove said...

I made these this weekend- I wasn't sure about the texture fresh from the oven, but at room temperature and then cold the next day they were divine. As with most things I love, I incorporated mayo into the mix by serving them with a smoked paprika aioli, which was INCREDIBLE. Thank you for the wonderful, simple recipe.

9:53 AM, February 22, 2011  
Anonymous Giselle said...

I read your book cover to cover on our honeymoon last week. It was great to reflect on our own courtship and wedding prep and our meals day in and out while doing so. I have to say, I identified more with the cooks in your story than the bakers (because that's me) and I couldn't wait to get back to try bouchons au thon. I just made them for our lunch today and I'm so happy I've met you, your blog, your book and your life!

7:49 AM, November 16, 2012  

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