Farce Double

Harry Mathews
Harry Mathews

My discussion of the recipe for “Fegato a la Veneziana” has stirred up some interest. But for a recipe to end all recipes, Oulipo member and talented American-born writer Harry Mathews has a recipe that will make your eyeballs bulge in disbelief: «Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)».

It is part of his collection «The Way Home» which can be ordered from http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/mathewsh/wayhome.htm

Here is a brief taste of Mr Mathews’ baroque and heroic recipe:

Marinate the lamb in a mixture of 2 qts of white wine, 2 qts of olive oil, the juice of 16 lemons, salt, pepper, 16 crushed garlic cloves, 10 coarsely chopped yellow onions, basil, rosemary, melilot, ginger, allspice, and a handful of juniper berries. The juniper adds a pungent, authentic note. In Auvergne, shepherds pick the berries in late summer when they drive their flocks from the mountain pastures. They deposit the berries in La Tour Lambert, where they are pickled through the winter in cider brandy. The preparation is worth making, but demands foresight.

If no bowl is capacious enough for the lamb and its marinade, use a washtub. Without a tub, you must improvise. Friends of mine in Paris resort to their bidet; Americans may have to fall back on the kitchen sink, which is what I did the first time I made farce double. In La Tour Lambert, most houses have stone marinating troughs. Less favored citizens use the municipal troughs in the entrance of a cave in the hillside, just off the main square.

The lamb will have marinated satisfactorily in 5 or 6 days.

Allow yourself 3 hours for the stuffings. The fish balls or quenelles that are their main ingredient can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated until an hour before use.


The quenelles of La Tour Lambert have traditionally been made from chaste, a fish peculiar to the mountain lakes of Auvergne. The name, a dialect word meaning “fresh blood,” may have been suggested by the color of its spreading gills, through which it ingests its food. (It is a mouthless fish.) It is lured to the surface with a skein of tiny beads that resemble the larvae on which it preys, then bludgeoned with an underwater boomerang. Chaste has coarse, yellow-white flesh, with a mild but inescapable taste. It has been vaguely and mistakenly identified as a perch; our American perch, however, can replace it, provided it has been caught no more than 36 hours before cooking. Other substitutes are saltwater fish such as silver hake or green cod. If you use a dry-fleshed fish, remember to order beef-kidney fat at the butcher’s to add to the fish paste. (Be sure to grind it separately.)

Note: you can read Harry Mathews’ “An exclusive evolutionary vortex of world excursions: the Chronogram for 1998 ” in Jacket 3.

Photos of Harry Mathews copyright © Arthur Gerbault, Paris, 1991, 1998; from the book «Immeasurable Distances» by Harry Mathews, The Lapis Press, Venice, CA, 1991, ISBN 0 932499 43 0