We are happy to invite you on a discovery of our many different cuisines, a real immersion into the history and geography of a country where tastes and flavours still reign supreme.
There is no such thing as a French cuisine, but rather a multitude of cuisines which simply add up to make French gastronomy. Indeed, one could compare France to a huge gastronomic buffet featuring a great variety of traditional produce originating from unique “terroirs”. To say the truth, our country boasts an unbelievable culinary history coming from every corner of the country.
NORD PAS-DE-CALAIS: THE POT-AU-FEU CULTURE
In Lille as indeed throughout Northern France, everything is cooked in a pot. So, specialties such as Waterzoï, a kind of bouillabaisse made from different kinds of fresh water fish or Hochepot, a dish featuring a mix of different meats, ox tail and boiled vegetables , all end up in the pot! On the coast, eel has pride of place, prepared with butter, cream or sweet herbs. In the city of Cambrai, one finds Bêtises and chitterlings sausage…but also an excellent cheese called Tomme de Cambrai, matured in beer! This is a region where all cheeses bear in common character and a rather pungent taste. Northern France also has a great beer making tradition, white beer, Gueuze and Trois-Monts all vie for the preference of beer lovers. And to end on a strong note, a drop of geneva will be a choice punctuation for the initiation
Now, some specialties to whet your appetite and give you good reasons to head our way.
In the city of Lille, sample flemmish carbonade, small pieces of beef slowly cooked in beer and light brown sugar, and always washed down with a local beer. Try it at the Chez la Vieille café, 60 rue de Gand , Lille.
In Metz, in the heart of the Lorraine region, you will be more likely to go after dessert such as tarte aux mirabelles ( mirabelles plum pie). If pastry is your thing, then roll up your sleeves and start working with a rolling pin until dough is quite thin. Garnish the bottom of a baking tin with mirabelles. Mix together sugar, almonds, milk and eggs, then poor over the fruit. Bake in medium heat. Before serving, sprinkle with some icing sugar. And keep the secret all to yourself…
150 gr sugar,
2 pints of milk,
100 gr of crushed or powdered almonds,
400 gr of mirabelles plums
30 gr of icing sugar
You will also love Baeckaoffa and should you not be in a position to travel, here is the recipe:
To serve 5/6 persons:
500 gr of boneless lamb shoulder or loin chop,
500 gr of debonned beef brisket or chuck steak,
1 kg of potatoes,
250 gr of onions,
2 to 3 garlic cloves,
½ litre of white pinot or Riesling wine,
salt and pepper.
Cut the meat into equal pieces and put it to marinate for 24 hours adding some wine, some onions, garlic, the bouquet garni, the salt and pepper.. In a clay pot, spread a layer of thinly sliced potatoes, add the meats, sliced onions and a new layer of potatoes and sliced onons. Close the pot with its top and cook in the oven at 180° Celsius for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Serve straight out of the cooking pot.
Wines such as pinot blanc, tokay pinot gris or pinot noir will go very well with this dish. And just in case you can make the trip, head for the town of Mulhouse and restaurant Zum Sauwadala, 13 rue de l’Arsenal, 68100 – Mulhouse.
PICARDY: A KITCHEN GARDEN
A major wheat growing area, Picardy offers a rich and yet simple traditional gastronomy.. The Somme river valley is an incredible kitchen garden which produces in abundance delicious regional vegetables: carrots, water cress, chicory (or French endives), glasswort, rhubarb and apples which are grown here for cider and desserts. The Somme provides a variety of fish such as eel, trout, carp, pike and zander which will bring substance to soups or fricassees.
On the coast, sea fish such as sole, dab, sea bass and herring. Picardy also offers a wide selection of shell fish and other seafood. We recommend you give a try to ficelle picarde, to marinated herrings Abbeville fashion, without forgetting the traditional “gâteau battu”. Stop along the way to sample duck pâté en croûte from Amiens and the city’s famous macaroons made with a mix of honey and almonds. And then, to wash things down, sip a couple of glasses of cider, the traditional drink of the area.
Since you are already in appetite, here is for you and you only the recipe for ficelle picarde (serves 2): Prepare a pancake batter mixing 75 g of flour, 1/8 litre of milk, one egg and salt. Make 4 pancakes as thin as possible. The garnish will consist of 100 g of Paris mushrooms, 1 shallot, a glass of milk, 4 slices of ham, 100 g of fresh cream and 100 g of grated cheese (gruyère or equvalent). Put the slice of ham on the pancake while browning in a frying pan the chopped mushrooms with the shallot and butter. Then spread and roll the pancake. Poor the fresh cream and the grated cheese over the rolled pancakes and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Must be eaten while hot and with the utmost greediness.
ALSACE: HOME OF THE TRADITIONAL CHOUCROUTE (SAUERKROUT)
Supposing I say: foie gras (goose or duck liver) and choucroute? That’s right, we’ve just arrived in Alsace and we are now on our way to Strasbourg where we will unearth untold culinary treasures. But first, lets pause for a while in order to talk about choucroute. Now you might as well be told choucroute is not the tradional dish of Alsace, it is THE dish of every single Alsatian who, according to tradition, would prepare himself his own choucroute and this right until the beginning of the 20th century. It is a family dish, a Sunday dish, which still has a long way to go. Same thing for foie gras, which is also an Alsatian idea. Indeed, the idea of cooking it was born here. It came from the cook of Maréchal de Contades, and the recipe for smooth and nearly melting foie gras spread like wild fire to Versailles… For an aperitif, it is always accompanied by beer and the unavoidable bretzel.
But there are many other specialties such as baeckeoffe (potatoes and pork), flamed tart and spaetzle (a noodle variety) that will go well with any poultry or game. A great variety of tarts are also to be found on the Alsatian table: flammekueche or flamed tart, made from bread dough, cream, onions and pieces of sliced bacon. Neither must we forget ginger bread extremely popular in the region.
Last but by no means least comes white wines with wonderfully different tastes and aromas: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Muscat, Tokay pinot gris, Sylvaner, Pinot blanc and Pinot noir to mention but a few.
IN NANCY AND THROUGHOUT THE DUCHY OF LORRAINE, THE TALK IS ON MIRABELLES AND BLUEBERRIES
In Lorraine and around the city of Nancy, food is prepared in many different ways ( in pots, as preserves, pâtés, jellies, brandies. The variety is quite endless and recipes have names which accurately translate the region’s love for good eating. Ingredients are many, with a sublime mixture of produce from the terroir, like game, charcuterie, fish, wild mushrooms, and yet again fruits and wild berries. There are also scores of brandies, like eau-de-vie made from mirabelle plums, the Clair de groseille (redcurrents), the Perlé de rhubarb – speaks for itself here. In Nancy, the Dukes of Lorraine old capital, it’s the macaroon which has pride of place. But you must also have a try at boudin, Nancy style omelette, bergamot and chocolate cake…
And if you feel like bringing a present back home, just pick a jar of honey from the Vosges mountains. Made from the flower of fir trees, it also enters into the making of gingerbread and honey sweets well known and appreciated throughout the place.
BURGUNDY: COOKING WITH RED WINE
First and foremost, Burgundy is a land of wines, of excellent wines, and they are quite naturally featured throughout the local cuisine. From the traditional beef bourguignon to dishes labelled “en meurette” – that is to say cooked with bacon dices and red wine. The same goes for the preparation of eggs, poultry (coq au vin), including charcuterie and parsley sprinkled ham. In fact, all regional dishes are prepared or consumed with wines produced from the wonderful Burgundy vineyards. On the hillsides overlooking the Saône valley are born some of the greatest wines, or grands crûs: Aloxe-Corton,Nuits-St-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin…
Next we reach the city of Dijon, the reputation of which spreads far and wide thanks to its mustard and Kir, an aperitif featuring a subtle mix of burgundy wine and black current cream. In Mâcon, home of Pouilly-Fuissé, one comes across Charolais cattle famous for its premium meat. Not too far away lies an area called Bresse, home to outstanding free range poultry. In a nutshell, a land so rich and generous that it well deserves to be explored in depth.
As far as fish is concerned, the river Saône provides all the ingredients which will enter into the making of a local specialty: pauchouse, a bouillabaisse style soup made from fresh water fish such as tench, perch, eel, carp, pike, white wine and garlic croutons. Then you might fall for a charlotte “rigodon” or a pear “tartouillat”! Yet again a region worth the detour. You have already been told, France is rich, very rich indeed in the field of gastronomy.
FRANCHE COMTE AND JURA: THE LAND OF CHEESES
Here is the Jura forest, home to countless numbers of hares, wild boars, deers and rabbits which share the favours of the undergrowth. Franche-Comté also abounds in fowl game: thrush, partridges and plovers. Morilles – one of the best eating mushroom – are found at the foot of fir trees.
One finds quantities of first class ingredients in the local rivers and torrents: trout , usually prepared with hazelnuts, succulent crayfish, pike quenelles, eel brochettes, lamprey and carp. All can sometimes be found in the local fish stew called pauchouse. Then, there is also a wide array of renowned charcuteries such as Morteau and Montbéliard smoked sausages.
As far as cheeses are concerned, sky is very nearly the limit. Any selection would include Bleu du Haut-Jura, Vacherin, Concoyotte, Comté and Emmenthal. This is an area where soup is served with every meal. Lentil soup, Barley soup with chicken (or frogs), fruit soup with cherries, oranges and hazelnuts, onion soup, etc… It is also the country of the small and ever so flavourful cherry. Whether sampled as a fruit “nature” , in soup or as kirsch brandy, it reigns supreme everywhere, mostly at Christmas time.
You should also know that Jura white wine is to be found equally on the table as in the dishes it accompanies so well, like chicken for example, quite always prepared with wine and cream. Pastries are also all time favourites with brioches, ginger breads, pancakes or doughnuts. But the collective crush goes unquestionably for griddle cakes.
AUVERGNE: ROOTED DEEP IN LOCAL TRADITION
Fed from the terroirs of Auvergne, Cantal and Haute-Loire, Auvergne cooking is proud of its peasant origins. It gives a large place to cabbage which is often served stuffed or marinated in a soup, or still in a stew featuring also various pork cuts and charcuteries. For pork is also the meat which most often finds its way to the local tables: dry hams, saucissons, grilled pigs totters, petit salé with green lentils from Le Puy.
You can also add succulent meat from Charolais cattle grazing the rich pastures of the Allier region as well as Salers cows from Cantal. Very often, “truffade” (potatoes cooked with fresh tome (cheese) from Cantal or aligot will accompany its dishes for even more distinction. Spring fishing brings on to the table magnificent catches: wild trout, salmon, char, pike or zander. Come autumn and it is the turn of strong meats to be featured on buffets: deer, wild boar and water fowl. This is also the time when forests are replete with all sorts of wild mushrooms and berries.
Finally come cheeses: Saint-Nectaire, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert, Cantal, Salers. These must always be washed down with one of the five vintages from the Côtes d’Auvergne, available in reds, whites, greys or rosé.
LYON AND THEREABOUTS : GASTRONOMY WITH A BIG “G”.
Lyon is strategically located at the crossroads of major European countries and at the confluence of two large rivers. It is also in the very heart of the famous Beaujolais vineyards
It enjoys an age old tradition of superlative cuisine thanks to its “mères” who have revealed and worked on the quality of local produce. This was followed on and illustrated by Paul Bocuse, probably the best chef of all times. A famous cuisine, today known the word over, but which was brought to the limelight through a handful of small eating places: the “bouchons”.
On the menu, you’ll find grattons (mince meat), saucisson, cervelas sausage, andouillette de Fleurie, rosette (salami), tablier de sapeur, gras-double (tripe), gratin of cardoon served with a Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône wine.
Some cheeses will also wake up your senses with an irresistible pungency: Saint-Marcellin preferably quite soft, Saint-Félicien, Cervelle de Canut, Mont d’Or. For dessert, you could sample delightful bugnes (doughnuts) sprinkled with icing sugar, a “belle hélène” pear, or still profiterolles like no others since the chocolate used in their making is also a local specialty. But by the way, what exactly is a "tablier de sapeur”?
For 4 persons, you need:
a good piece of beef caul per serving,
a bottle of Mâconnais white wine,
a table spoon of strong mustard,
salt and pepper,
Roll up your sleeves. Cut the cooked caul into rectangular pieces. Let them marinate all night long in the Mâconnais wine in which you will have previously incorporated the lemon juice, some oil, the mustard, salt and pepper.
The next day, drain the pieces well and dip them into a beaten egg, drain again and roll on to bread dough. Then sprinkle it with bread crumbs and put in a hot frying pan containing the oil/butter mixture.
Cook for 3 minutes on each side while stirring continuously and later put in the oven so that the “tablier de sapeur” remains quite tender with as little fat as possible.Serve with a good mayonnaise or tartar sauce with steamed potatoes for garnish.
It is said this recipe was given the name tablier de sapeur by Maréchal de Castellane, military governor in the city of Lyon under the reign of Napoleon III and himself a fine gourmet. His men had to wear a regular leather apron (tablier) to protect their uniform underneath while working. And this outfit did remind through its shape our maréchal about the tripe dish he loved so much.
Not far away, in Saint-Etienne, grated potato cakes are the talk of the town. To serve four:
take 600 g of rather floury potatoes,
The recipe is as simple as it is delicious. Start by grating the raw potatoes into slices not too thin nor too thick. Mix with eggs, two spoonful of flour, salt and pepper. Poor the mixture in a well oiled frying pan. Once the inside is cooked and the top a nice golden brown, nearly crunchy, remove from the pan and cut into portions, as you would with a cake.
Something half way between tortilla and potato cake, this dish is best eaten “nature”, with salad, local charcuterie and a good bottle of red Loire wine: Côtes Roannaises, Côtes du Forez or Saint-Joseph.
And in the foothills of the Alps, in Grenoble, discover the tarte vergeoise – a specialty made with Mandrin beer. The recipe created by Agnès Chotin from Auberge Napoleon and published in Michèle Duby’s book Femmes Chefs is by far our favourite.
For 8 people, prepare a dough mixing in order
- butter in pieces,
Let rest in a cool place for 1 hour. Spread the dough and cool again for another hour. Spread on top 200 g of sugar and chopped nuts. Make a topping with 2 eggs, 1 dl of thick cream, 1 dl of beer. Spread over the tart. Cook in the oven at 180°. Meanwhile, whip together the cream, icing sugar and some beer. Do not forget to store vessel and whip in a cool place before attempting to rise the cream. This is a necessary step to make sure your cream stays firm. Serve with the cream and possibly an orange coulis.
SAVOY: WHERE POTATOES AND CHEESES HAVE PRIDE OF PLACE
Savoy is a fascinating land of high mountains, countless lakes and torrents teeming with trout and crayfish. On the highlands, game is plentiful and cows graze happily to give excellent cheeses such as reblochon, beaufort, tomme, vacherin and emmental. Complete with boiled potatoes and you have fondue. Use reblochon and you’ll get tartiflette.
Here is a robust cuisine, using charcuterie made from pigs roaming free in the hills. Some red berries or varieties grown in orchards such as black currents, red currents, raspberries, apple and pears bring a twinkle to the cook’s eyes with the promise of tasteful jams as well as knock out white and transparent “eaux de vie” such as framboise, kirsch and mirabelle. Further south, you may try the “glaçon” de Mégève, featuring meringue and chocolate.
HAUTES-ALPES: FOR MOUNTAIN COOKING
Gastronomy in Haute -Provence is quite traditional of a mountain region, based on natural produce. Amongst traditional offerings from the city of Gap, lets mention potato or spinach fritters, with herbs or meat, and also the sweet variety, with prune for example. Other specialties include: tomme, pâtés, ravioles and gratin of fresh pasta with spinach and local cheeses… Indeed, the cheese production is extremely diversified with bleu from the highlands and the Queyras variety.
On the fruit side, sample as you go gorgeous pears like Passe Crassane or apples such as Golden Delicious, apricots famous well beyond regional borders. Further south, honey comes to the fore ground, scented with the flowers of Provence. On the eaux de vie side, Hautes Alpes produces quite a few with genepi being the most notorious. And for just a pick up, try Alphand, a light and refreshing beer brewed locally.
MARSEILLE AND BOUILLABAISSE: A WORLD WINNING PAIR
Bouillabaisse is quite inseparable from the image of Marseille or even from that of Provence, and the pleasure it gives at the table strengthens the desire to live in this magnificent region.
Originally, it was prepared as a simple dish by fishermen upon returning to shore at the end of the day. Sea water was heated up in a cooking pot on the beach. Once the nets were untangled, all they had to do was to plunge in the boiling water those fish unsuitable for sale, with no head or ripped belly. After cooking for about 20 minutes, the stock obtained was poured boiling hot on croûtons of stale broad rubbed with garlic. Then, the pieces of fish were shared and eaten with rouille or aioli. This was the fishermen’s bouillabaisse… Later on this simple dish was taken over by established cooks wishing to improve what they considered to be too rustic a dish. This is when they had the idea to replace the sea water by a fish stock.
They easily got hold of small rock fish already used to make the “ soupe de roches”. And after boiling this rock fish stock, they added the usual fish found in the bouillabaisse. They had just created the “bouillabaisse riche or bouillabaisse marseillaise”, just as we savour it to day.
In order to stem poor imitations of this dish, a charter of quality was introduced in 1980. It determines exactly the recipe, the fish to be used, and the special room service to be put in place.
First rule, the fish must be presented whole on a dish and must be cut out in front of the client. In the Miramar restaurant, fish varieties used in their bouillabaisse number 6: scorpion fish, red mullet or galinette, weever fish or araignée, monk fish, conger eel or fiela and John Dory. Small crabs, mussels and potatoes are also served after cooking together with the fish.
The question is, can there be bouillabaisse without “rouille”? The real thing very much depends on the cook or the fisherman manning the stove. Everyone favours his or her own secret recipe. Basically, it is an aioli with added, saffron, garlic, hot pepper, crushed bread dough and crushed potatoes mixed with some hot stock. This is the classical recipe. But nothing will prevent you from making your own arrangement though it is imperative you avoid making it too hot. It must never spoil or overcome the subtle taste of the fish. White wine from Cassis will provide the ideal complement to your bouillabaisse.
CUISINE NICOISE, SOUTHERN CUISINE: THE WONDERFUL ORCHARD
Bread is the base of Niçoise cuisine. A bread local people have learnt to prepare in a very inventive way over the centuries and which integrate most of the local specialties to day.
First the pissaladière…but is it anything more than a sauce made of fermented anchovies ? And what about a round loaf of stale bread, topped with onion , a clove of garlic and a sliced tomato? They call it pan bagnat, of course. Bakeries throughout the old city sell all sorts of loaves, some with anchovies, others with olives or tapenade, also with thyme, rosemary, nuts or roses…
One of the most popular preparation is the famous salade niçoise which is made of fresh greens, not forgetting ratatouille which combines lots of local vegetable: courgettes, egg plants, tomatoes and onions. A special place also rests with onions and chickpeas which come into their own in the socca ( a flat hot and spicy chickpea pancake). Then, one begins to understand that the local cuisine finds its inspiration in a well stocked kitchen garden.
The extraordinary local orchards provide wonderful oranges, mandarins, clementines and lemons which find their way into succulent candied fruit when out of season. It is also the country of basil (one of the ingredient in soupe au pistou), fennel, a variety of garlic with small pink cloves, rosemary, wild thyme and farigoulette. All will pleasantly spice up local specialties.
Beyond pastis, thirst will be quenched best by wines from Châteuneuf-du-Pape and the famous rosés from Côteaux de Provence. This is healthy cuisine born out of this excellent oil which makes anchoïade and aioli, vegetables à la barigoule, salt cod purée and tapenade: namely olive oil.
In Avignon, renowned chef Christian Etienne recommends you sample “Daube Avignonaise”. He will even give you his own recipe.
Cut into pieces weighing about 90 g each a leg of lamb previously de-boned. Then put through each piece a lardon sprinkled with spiced salt. Let marinate the pieces for 2 hours using 10 cl of olive oil for each litre of wine, some sliced carrots and onions, 4 garlic cloves, thyme, laurel and parsley. Blanch 250 g of finely diced pork belly. Cut into squares measuring 2 cm 250 g of fresh pork rind and blanch also. Prepare a swig of parsley with a dried orange peel. Garnish the bottom and sides of a terrine with thin slices of lard, place the pieces of lamb within, alternating layers of meat with thyme and laurel and season lightly between layers. Place the bouquet garni towards the middle of the terrine. Poor over some of the marinade after straining and shut the terrine, making sure steam can circulate freely throughout the dish. Cook for 5 hours in the oven at low heat evenly maintained throughout the cooking time.
When serving, remove the top of the terrine, remove the bards, skim off the fat and discard the bouquet garni. The daube is served as is straight from the terrine.
BASQUE COUNTRY: WHERE PEPPERS ARE EVERYWHERE
A traditional cuisine, with a strong hint from the sea, based on fish and shell fish, gay and colourful, red as the famous peppers from Espelette. Indeed, peppers are everywhere. It is the basis for a caviar called pipérade, mixed with cooked tomatoes and onion. Ham is produced everywhere in the Basque country and it is part of any meal in any season. As for foie gras, whether from goose or duck, it is here as in all the other fine farming regions (Landes, Gers, Lot et Garonne) force fed and cooked the old fashion way, wrapped in its own fat. Sample magret of duck, just char grilled with a garnish of potatoes, wild mushroom or even fruit. Just as traditional and just as good is poulet basquaise.
Sauteed pieces of chicken will be served in a savoury sauce combining tomato, onion, pepper, the lot slowly cooked with a glass of white wine. It is also a region where hunting and fishing are very popular. On the hunting front, palombe or wild pigeon is the object of the exercise. A real delight when it is roasted whole wrapped in a bard of lard. Fishing, on the other hand, delivers catches of succulent fresh water fish and out to sea tasty tuna, sardines and chipirons.
Quite unavoidable, ewe cheeses are featured in every meal and can be served dry or fresh. Please note these can only be found in summer.
Last, chocolates are a famous specialty from the city of Bayonne. They can be flavoured with cinnamon or combined with genoese pastry to produce a very typical cake labelled “bérêt basque”.
Another specialty to be discovered on the spot: garbure. 48 hours in advance, put to salt a fresh knuckle of ham. Place it in a casserole filled with cold water and bring to the boil. Remove the scum which forms on top and add 7 carrots, 2kg of potatoes cut into pieces, 1 bouquet garni, 4 garlic cloves, a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for 1 hour. Use a fork to check the ham is fully cooked. Add 250 g of white beans cooked separately.
PERIGORD : THE RIGHT BALANCE
Cuisine from Périgord has received its richness directly from nature. Some wild mushrooms (yes but here we are talking about cèpes and truffles!), walnuts, chestnuts, and poultry (duck and geese) which will put on the table world famous magrets and foie gras.
In fact, and quite contrary to what most people think, Périgord is a poor farming region. And its cuisine is the right reflection of that. A cuisine rooted in terroir with lots of stuffed dishes, of cleverly arranged left overs, of preserves and confits.
But beware, it is also a cuisine of quality, generous and smooth, just like the meat of these corn fed ducks and geese, the liver, wings, thighs and necks of which are served and eaten with parsimony in major events. Even the grease from these birds is used to make confits and preserve flavours. A grease which often replace butter and gives such a defined flavour to sauteed potatoes, magrets and minced meats.
To this, you must simply add a glass of sweet white wine like Monbazillac and you’ll be heading straight for heavens. Specialties abound with simple but extraordinarily delicious dishes: truffle omelette, poêlée of foie gras, duck magrets, foie gras, goose rillettes. But also truffle salads, fish from rivers, farm house poultry in mushroom sauce…
In winter, it is worth your while to visit “marchés au gras” like the one held in Périgueux for example. In the Périgord Noir, it is the turn of pork and charcuterie to stand on the table all year round. In the Périgord Vert, goats have given birth to an excellent specialty, both strong and tasty: a little round and pungent cheese called cabécou.
>BORDEAUX, A CUISINE OF THE SOUTH WITH A TOUCH OF SPAIN.
Bordeaux enjoys a huge reputation world wide thanks to the prestige of its wines. But it also holds other gastronomic surprises, between a magnificent and robust terroir and an opening to the Atlantic rich with tastes and subtle flavours.
In a street corner of its golden capital city, you can sit down and sample a tray of day fresh oysters, or a grilled entrecôte steak, while drinking a good Entre-deux-Mers or a potent Saint-Emilion red from the Libournais area. A traditional and distinguished gastronomy, reminiscent at time of Spanish cooking, which features on the one hand fish like sole, baby eels cooked in butter and parsley, lamprey à la Bordelaise with its rich red wine sauce, fresh grilled sardines to be eaten right on the beach.
And on the other, the sheer delights of the land: foies gras, pork tripe, suckling lamb, asparagus. And what about the cannelé Bordelais ? Doesn’t it ring a bell ? With its taste of old rum and bourbon vanilla, it gives a fair account of Bordeaux, a city of the South and a port open to the wide world beyond, which used to be a major port of call when triangular trade was the way to get rich, very rich. And after unloading in the Caribbean their cargo of slaves, ships would bring back home coveted rum and spices.
Of course, Bordeaux is first and foremost its exceptional vineyards. Just to jog your memory and tickle your taste buds we could mention:
in Libournais:* The Premières Côtes de Blaye,
in Médoc:* Saint-Julien,
You are tempted by a velouté of lentils with duck foie gras ? Then here is the recipe given to you by Denis Franc, a well known Michelin star rated chef:
Brown one onion and a clove of garlic in a little duck fat, add the lentils (preferably the green variety from Le Puy) and moisten with half water and half chicken stock. Drop in a bouquet garni at first boil. Sprinkle to taste with coarse sea salt. Then let cook on slow heat for about 1 ¼ hours while skimming the surface regularly. Prepare some small dices of smoked pork belly and let them to brown in a frying pan until golden and quite crisp. You should also prepare some croûtons made of ginger bread and roasted in the oven. Mix in the lentils once fully cooked, add a spoonful of thick cream per person. Check for taste and smoothness. Keep warm. Prepare duck foie gras which will be cut into dice (6 per person). Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook in high heat. When livers are a nice brown, remove and drain in paper napkins. Poor the velouté into large soup bowls. Set in the hot livers and sprinkle all over with lardons and croutons.
Chef’s secret: in the centre of the plate, add a dab of whipped cream ( like Chantilly) together with roasted hazelnuts and pieces of chestnuts.
This dish goes well with a bottle of Côtes de France 2002 vintage.
CENTRE VAL DE LOIRE – THE GARDEN OF FRANCE
Located in the centre of the country, astride the valley of the river Loire, this region offers a countless variety of meats, fish and vegetables. From the city of Tours, one will pick potted meat, to sample in a sandwhich and a glass of local red wine.
From Blois to Tours, wines are on the fore front. Surprising wines: Cheverny, Touraine and further afield the prestigious reds from Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas. The “garden of France” and its numerous orchards produce wonderful apples and pears ripened under the sun and fresh small vegetables.
Val de Loire ranks first in Europe for the production of prime season leek. After mâche (corn salad), it is the most widely cultivated vegetable in open fields in the area around Nantes.
As a main course, there is nothing to surpass those fish from the Loire, so divinely prepared with a beurre blanc (white butter sauce) or poultry known as gélinote noire widely sought after for its gorgeous taste. For dessert, you should try poire tapée, the delicious nougat from Tours or candies made from prunes.
And you could do no better than wash all this down with Savennières wine, one of the 29 AOC registered in the Loire Valley. And if you would like to become a fully fledged chef in Val de Loire cuisine, it is quite possible. Where ? In the city of Angers, at the Atelier Culinaire cooking school. www.atelierculinaire.com
BRITTANY – A CUISINE FROM THE OPEN SEA
The cuisine of Brittany has accents which strongly refer to the wide open sea and to the open air.. It is a mixture of fresh mackerel and sardine, of pork-based charcuteries and short bread biscuits.
Not to forget cider and pancakes for those with a sweet tooth. If you are hooked on sea food (forget the pun !) Brittany offers throughout the seasons an array of deliciously fresh produce. From Rennes, capital city of the region comes the cuckoo sought after for its meat and eggs, Petit-Gris ( a variety of snail ) to be eaten with garlic and parsley butter and last but not least buckwheat cakes famed throughout the land.
In nearby Cancale, you’ll enjoy different varieties of oysters according to season and tide. There are also the legendary madeleines with the taste and lemony smell of childhood. Then there are raw shell fish, fish soup, dishes served with “sauce armoricaine”, charcuterie, raw smoked ham, wheat pancakes, the far Breton, the quatre-quarts cakes, and various butter shortbread biscuits.
THE NORMANDY WAY - APPLE AND MILK
Normandy offers an exciting gastronomic diversity with a focus on quality. First on the list, first class shell fish: deep sea oysters, scallops, lobsters. Nearly every town boasts its own specialty: sole from Dieppe, tripes à la mode de Caen (Caen style tripe), black pudding from Mortagne… But lets not forget the famed Normandy cows, source of top quality milk.
Indeed this is home to great cheeses like Camembert (has to be ripe and soft), Pont-l’Evêque or Livarot . On the fruit side, Normandy has a trump card to play: apples. Green, sweet, crunchy, sour, ripe. It also enters into the making of cider and beyond, after distillation, of a famous brandy called Calvados.
ILE DE FRANCE – AN ATTIC FULL OF SWEETNESS
In the region of Ile de France which surrounds the city of Paris, one grows many vegetables, fruits,condiments…together with the art of making sugar and, from there, lots of sweet things. Historically, Ile de France has always enjoyed the preference of French kings as a place of choice for leisure pursuits. Here, quite discreetly, little wonders are grown from as far as memory can tell.
First on the list are champignons de Paris, originally grown in former stone quarries; then delicious vegetables and fruit like the Faro apple, Montmorancy cherries,Groslay pears, sweet peas, asparagus from Argenteuil or white Chevrier beans. In fact, this royal region cultivates small pleasures, both essential and delicate.
On the meat side, one finds excellent poultry and pork worthy of the most refined tables. The latter gives us Jambon de Paris. But there is also wonderful beef and veal which features in recipes sush as Navarin d’agneau, Boeuf Mironton, Tête de veau sauce vinaigrette or still pot-au-feu Henry IV.
Moved by a wish to complement the table, the region has developed superb condiments such as Moutarde de Meaux to give added flavour to most meats, a well stocked cheese tray including Brie, famous desserts like the Paris – Brest cake and lemon tartelettes , exclusively made in Neauphle - le - Château and to be enjoyed with a glass (small) of Grand Marnier.
And then, at last, come the sweets. Did you know the Paris area was a hot spot for sweets ? Barley sugar sticks from Moret-sur-Loing, rose candies from Provins, Meaux chocolate bars stuffed with raisins and the coquelicot de Nemours ( a candied fruit paste with a hint of liqueur).
Royal favours in a way. And since the word “royal” has been let out, let us stop in Versailles to sample the Belle Marquise entremets, a creation by Gérard Vié, chef at the restaurant Trois Marchés, Trianon Palace, 78000 Versailles. This is a little recipe to be shared among friends.
Get hold of six small pears, half a litre of good red wine, 15 cl of black current cream, 100 g of black currents (the fruit variety), 1 soup spoon of sugar, 20 g of cinnamon, 1 pinch of ground Sichuan pepper and 50 g of butter. For the pears: put them to cook in red wine with cinnamon, sugar and pepper.
Once cooked, put aside in an oven proof dish the pears, the black currents (cream and fruits) together with the lemon juice and butter. Put it half way up in the oven and finish cooking on a low heat (180°) for 10 minutes, basting regularly in order to candy the pears. These must be firm enough to stand up around the cake. Now for the white chocolate entremets.
In order to serve 6 people, you need 200 g sugar, 100 g of egg yolks ( 4 small yolks), 5 whole eggs, 100 g of flour, 100 g of white chocolate and 150 g of butter. Start to work the sugar, whole eggs and the yolks with a spatula until the mixture starts to blanch.
On a low heat, melt the butter and the shredded white chocolate. Then mix with the pears and poor the lot into a well buttered cake tin. Put in the oven at 200° for about 12 min. Check the cooking well. The centre must be quite melting. Then remove from the baking tin and place the pears side up all around. Gérard Vié recommends a Bandol 1986 rosé served cool.
But of course, you will be aware by now that all our specialties could not possibly be mentioned as a whole book would probably not provide space enough. France and gastronomy go hand in hand, wherever you happen to be. North or south, east or west, rest assured you will have a great time meeting people who care about good food – not necessarily expensive food, and sampling produce of the highest quality. This is what France is all about.