Eric Ripert Tells Us Why It's So Hard to Find Andorran Food in NYC

Anthony Sasso's "sexed up" escudella
Anthony Sasso's "sexed up" escudella
Sara Ventiera for the Village Voice

This city is deep in cuisine from other cultures, but it doesn't have everything. Andorran cuisine, for example, is lacking, as we discovered recently, when we scoured the boroughs for it.

We finally called Mission-Andorra to the U.N. to get some details on where to find restaurants, or even a dish, from the country. Their advice: Call Eric Ripert — the French chef is the leading authority on Andorran cuisine in NYC.

Turns out Ripert lived in Andorra as a teenager, and he says there's no restaurant dedicated to the small principality because Andorra doesn't have a gastronomic identity of its own; it mixes Catalan cuisine with other Spanish influences. (Catalan is the official language of the Pyrenean microstate.)

"It used to be a very poor country until last century," says Ripert. "Basically, farmers cultivated potatoes, because the climate is very harsh."

Ripert's mother moved to Andorra when he was ten. He frequently traveled back to France on weekends, but lived there, with her, until he was seventeen. As an adolescent, he fully embraced the rugged lifestyle, regularly heading off for excursions skiing, camping, hiking, hunting, or fishing. While Ripert always knew he wanted to be a chef, his experiences in Andorra stimulated his fascination with food. "We were really living with the seasons," says Ripert. "For me, it was an inspiration to find mushrooms in the woods. It was cool. I was happy out there."

Foraging is a common activity in Andorra. With narrow valleys and very little land, not much grows there, says Ripert, aside from cabbage and potatoes. There are cows, which are used for dairy, but you can't find Andorran cheese here, as there's no aging tradition (we asked!). Pigs and rabbits are reared, but most of the meat and produce is wild. The izard, a native animal that's sort of a cross between a goat and an antelope, is commonly consumed. Chanterelles, morels, and berries are picked during season. Baby chicory, which is found under chunks of melting snow, is popular in spring. Lake trout and frog legs are prevalent.

While it doesn't have an overarching style of cuisine, Andorra does have a few typical dishes and cooking methods. Imported bacalao is cooked in various ways, mostly in stews. Slate-grilling over a wood fire is widespread; Andorrans use native white rhododendron (note: North American rhododendron is highly toxic).

And escudella, a hearty stew with a rich tonkotsu-like stock, is ubiquitous in the winter months.

The dish is popular throughout Catalonia, available in many variations. In brutally cold Andorra, it's usually filled with blood pudding or sausage, cabbage, potatoes, pork, and pasta. Ham bones are used to flavor the stock. "It's like a soup, meat to nourish you to handle the cold and blizzards," says Ripert.

We couldn't find escudella on the menu at a single restaurant in New York, but Casa Mono (52 Irving Place; 212-253-2773) head chef Anthony Sasso, who specializes in Catalan cuisine, offered to make it for us.

Shortly after Sasso became a chef, Spain was in the midst of a culinary resurgence; his cousins urged him to come over to see what was happening. He spent time in the kitchen of renowned marisquería El Hogar Gallego. Sasso returned to NYC a better cook and an ambassador of Catalan cuisine.

In Catalonia, escudella is more of a homecooked dish. If it shows up on a restaurant menu, it's usually part of a ten-euro prix-fixe lunch. Sasso hasn't seen it since he left the Iberian Peninsula, and he's thought about trying to offer it at Casa Mono, but soup isn't the easiest dish to share in tapas format. Still, the chef re-created the dish for us with his own twist.

He started by slowly roasting beef and chicken bones, then throwing them in a stock with an onion-heavy mirepoix, allowing it to simmer for about three hours. The result is a rich broth that's good enough to eat on its own. When it was done, Sasso added cooked shell pasta, steamed brussels sprouts, turnips, jerusalem artichoke chips, and freshly sliced ham (all the ingredients could be cooked in the broth, he said). He finished it off with a drizzle of olive oil. Sasso's variation is nowhere near as rustic as the Andorran national dish (that's what you should expect of a Michelin-rated chef), but he closely followed the sentiment.

You can make your own escudella with this recipe.

New York boasts residents from just about every country in the world, and many of them have opened restaurants dedicated to their homeland cuisine. We're celebrating the resulting diversity of this city's dining scene by eating around the globe, from A to Z, without leaving the city limits. Every week, we'll be hunting down a restaurant that represents a different country, from Afghanistan all the way to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between. Check out our progress in our Globetrotting the City archives. Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.




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