Alouettes sans Tetes

I am reading through Paula Wolferts Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking this week.  I try not to let a cookbook like this discourage me.  Sometimes I fancy myself as a Mediterranean culinary explorer, but now this book has made it painfully clear to me that Paula Wolfert already discovered it all and wrote about it all.  The age of discovery has ended; this territory has been charted.  Then, I wonder how many people actually read all 311 pages of her stupendous work and of those,  are perhaps a good number so overwhelmed at the end that they never make a thing?  This is exactly where I see my mission.  I will choose to read through the great works and then actually pull out some gems to remember for myself and present to others who might not comb through them.

Paula Wolfert wrote in the introduction to this recipe that in France, this dish is called Alouettes sans tetes which means larks without heads.  This, of course, got me humming the French children’s song Alouette, so I researched to learn what the connection was.  Following is the French with the English translation:

Alouette, gentile alouette          Lark, gentle lark

Alouette, je te plumerai             Lark, I will pluck you

Je te plumerai la tete                 I shall pluck your head

Je te plumerai la tete                I shall pluck your head

Et la tete                                        And your head …

Following with beak, neck, back, wings, feet, and tail.

This is a terrible song!  I had no idea, but darn is it catchy.  The connection comes from the shape of the beef rolls once they are stuffed and tied.  I guess, if it was your point of reference, they might look like small decapitated song birds.

BeefThis recipe has a few different bits to prepare; I won’t lie to you.  It would work especially well if you had a kitchen friend to help prep up the various elements.  However, once it goes to braise, you only need check on it a couple of times per hour.  I am aware that I did not cook this is a clay pot.  I think, like maybe a lot of people, that I’m not completely confident in my clay pot collection.  Most of them are partially glazed, in some way, and I don’t know if they are up to this important task.  I really can imagine how clay pot cooking could add a final delicious dimension to this dish, and I will work toward that goal.

Beef Paupiettes with Tomatoes and Wild Capers

Beef Preparation

  • 8 slices boneless lean beef, cut 1/4 inch thick from a cross rib roast, each roughly 7 by 4 inches (about 1 3/4 pounds, total), pounded*
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • 8 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon mashed garlic, plus 4 garlic cloves, halved
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, broken into small pieces
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste, canned or homemade
  • 3 cups meat or poultry stock, heated

Herb Bouquet

  • 3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 celery rib, stuck with 2 cloves
  • 1 strip of orange zest


  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoons each chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and thyme, minced garlic, and grated orange zest for garnish

1.  Lay the slices of beef out on a work surface and pound gently to flatten slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

2.  In a mixing bowl, combine the pancetta, mashed garlic, parsley, celery, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Mix with your hands to blend well.  Divide the stuffing evenly among the beef spices.  Roll each slice up over the filling at the wider end, fold in the sides, roll up, and secure with white kitchen string or toothpicks.

3.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup hot water;  let stand for 30 minutes to soften.  Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeezing the mushrooms to release the liquid into the bowl.  Reserve the liquid.  Chop the mushrooms.

4.  Heat the olive oil in a cazuela or cast iron dutch oven, set over medium heat.  Brown the beef rolls on all sides, then remove and set aside.  Add the onion and carrot and cook until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the white wine, herb bouquet, garlic halves, tomato paste, mushrooms, reserved mushroom soaking liquid, and stock.  Raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer.  Return beef rolls to the pot.  Reduce heat until it gently bubbles.  Cook on the stove top for two to three hours, until the liquid has reduced by more than 1/2, turning the beef rolls, from time to time,  until the beef is very tender. If you can, chill the dish at this point and degrease before serving, even the next day.

5.  Before serving, stir in the vinegar and capers, simmering for a few minutes longer.  Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Garnish with the chopped parsley and thyme, garlic, and orange zest.  Serve at once with mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.

*There is an art to pounding beef for paupiettes.  Use a kitchen mallet and a combination swoop and tap, working from the center to the outer edge to achieve even thickness.  Be sure not to pound too forcefully, or the beef slice will tear.


One thought on “Alouettes sans Tetes

  1. oh my god this looks good. Every part of the recipe sounds wonderful. I’ve never had help in my kitchen, but I can see why it would be helpful for this masterpiece. And the song? My mother is French, and I never had a clue about the lyrics!!!

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