Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rata Rapide, 1905

Rapid Ratatouille, French Army, 1905
(Rata Rapide)

     This is the official version of "rata", the ubiquitous French Army stew of World War 1. Unlike the more familiar Niçoise ratatouille of eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, it is a rather simple potato and vegetable stew. It was designed to be prepared rapidly after a march, upon encampment. Prior to the beginning of the march, potatoes were distributed to squad members. Upon arrival at the campsite the first task was to put the water on the fire to boil. While the water was heating up the potatoes were quickly peeled and cut up, as they took the longest to cook. The squad members would then return the peeled and cut potatoes to the squad’s cook.

Yield: 4 servings

US                               Metric                       Ingredients
4 oz                             120 g                          salt pork
36 oz                           1 kg                            potatoes
3 oz                             80 g                            fat or lard
3½ oz                          100 g                          carrots
5 oz                             140 g                          onions
1 tsp                            2 g                              pepper
to taste                        to taste                        salt
1 each                         1 each                         bouquet garni

 Ingredients for Rata Rapide

A bouquet garni is a bundle of culinary herbs added to soups and stews. Here I used parsley, thyme and a bay leaf, tied together with kitchen twine. French soldiers would have used whatever herbs were available.

1.      Peel the carrots, onions and potatoes; cut into small pieces.
2.      Boil the water, and then add the potatoes, carrots and bouquet garni.
3.      In a small frying pan, place the lard and heat until it melts.
4.      Add the onion and the salt pork to the lard.
5.      Cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently.
6.      When the potatoes and carrots are cooked, drain the excess water and add the salt, pepper, cooked onions and salt pork.

                                          Completed Rata Rapide. (She is a très sexy dish, no?)


  1. I tried this one out over the weekend using my original French army gamelle de campement (also referred to as a "boiler"). As I sometimes do, I made subsitutions to suit what I had on hand. However, the only thing I substituted was a quantity of leftover grilled chicken for the salt pork. The result was good, at least to my taste, and reminded me of corn chowder in spite of containing no corn (didn't have any anyhow) or milk. I think it was the salty potatoes, which I overcooked. I should have put in more carrots, too.

    Concerning this French boiler, which is about a 2 1/2 liter can, it is a handy size and shape for camp use but not so great for stove top. But I wanted to use it anyway as an experiment. I even used a pocket knife for preparing the vegetables, something I've never tried before. That part worked out okay, too, which made me reconsider my selection of camp gear.

    1. Hi Blue Train,
      Great to hear that you're trying this out with some original equipment. Judging by the size of the boiler, it sounds like you have a "marmite de campement", which was issued one per 8 men. Prior to and during WWI they were made from tinned steel; later versions were aluminum. It was nicknamed "Boutheon" after its designer. The individual mess kit was the Mle.1852 "gamelle individuelle", which had a 1.25 liter capacity. The gamelle individuelle was in essence a small slightly tapered bucket with a lid and a pan that inserted inside for transport.
      To cook with the Boutheon, French soldiers would dig a small trench, build a small fire in the trench, and place the marmite so that its wide side was perpendicular to the trench and straddled it on either side. Alternately, they would build 2 small walls of scrap bricks or stones and place the Boutheon over the space between the walls and the fire within. The Boutheon probably was built more with transportability in mind rather than cooking efficiency. On a stovetop I think you might be limited to using a small burner. Maybe with your next recipe you could try it outdoors and let us know how that works out.
      Thanks for commenting!