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Thursday, April 8, 2010

French Cuisine

When we think of France we think of Paris and the Eifel Tower. We think of French wine and champagne. and food made with wine based sauces.Ingredients and dishes vary by region. There are many significant regional dishes that have become both national and regional.

Paris and Ile-de-France are central regions where one can get practically anything from the country since all train lines meet in the city. In Paris alone there are over 5,000 restaurants and you can have any cuisine you desire.

In Champagne game and ham are popular and of course the special sparkling wine – champagne. Fine fruit preserves from Lorraine as well as the famous Quiche Lorraine. The classic quiche Lorraine contains heavy cream, eggs and bacon, no cheese. As such a quiche is a baked dish that is made primarily of eggs and milk or cream in a pastry crust. Other ingredients such as cooked chopped meat, vegetables, or cheese are often added to the egg mixture before the quiche is baked. The German food culture has a heavy influence on the Alsace region. There you can find dishes such as choucroute garnie made with sauerkraut, sausages or other smoked meat and potatoes, spatzle a typical type of egg noodle or dumpling and baeckeoffe a mix of slice potatoes, lamb, beef and pork marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and slow cooked in a sealed ceramic casserole dish.

Along the coastline you can find crustaceans, sea bass, monkfish and herring. In Normandy seafood like scallops and sole and in Brittany lobster, crayfish and mussels. Normandy also has many apple trees and here you can get cider (an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples). In the northern areas especially Nord there is an abundance of wheat, sugar beet and chicory. Thick stews are made here and they have some of the best cauliflower and asparagus in the country. Buckwheat is grown widely in Brittany and is used in the region’s galettes (a general term used in French to designate different types of round and flat crusty cakes). Galette is also the name given in most French crêperies to savoury buckwheat crêpes, while those made from wheat flour, mostly served with a sweet filling, are simply branded "crêpes". Some other dishes unique to this area are pot-au-feu (French for „pot on the fire") which contains beef, vegetables and spices, coq au vin (French for „rooster in wine") with chicken, wine, salt pork, mushrooms and garlic and moules a la creme Normandie mussels cooked with white wine, garlic and cream.

From the Loire Valley and central France come high quality fruit including cherries grown for the liqueur Guignolet (It has an alcohol content between 16 and 18º proof (ca. 12%) and has an aroma vaguely reminiscent of whiskey and a very sweet taste). There are also strawberries and melons. In the cuisine there is fish, wild game, lamb, calves, Charolais cattle (a beef breed of cattle (Bos taurus) which originated in Charolais, around Charolles, in France and are raised for their meat), fowl and high quality goat cheese. The reģions specialty mushrooms are champignons de Paris. A dish unique to this area is rillettes a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Originally made with pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served cold.

Burgundy is known for its wines. Fish like pike, perch, river crabs, snails, poultry from Bresse. Charolais beef or game, red currants, black currants, honey cake, Chaource and Epoisses cheese are all specialties of the local cuisine of Burgundy and Franche-Comte. Popular liquors made from black currants are Kir (a cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liquor) topped up with white wine) and Creme de Cassis (blackcurrant liquor). Another specialty of Burgundy is Dijon mustard. Some dishes unique to the region are Boeuf Bourguignon a well-known, traditional French recipe. It is essentially a pot roast prepared with beef braised in red wine (preferably an assertive, full-bodied wine such as Burgundy), generally flavoured with garlic, onions, carrots, and a bouquet garni, and garnished with pearl onions and mushrooms and escargots, a dish of cooked land snails cooked with garlic butter and usually served as an appetizer.

The Rhone Valley gives us fruit and young vegetables. Poultry from Bresse, guinea fowl from Drome and fish from the Dombes lakes and mountain streams in Rhone-Alpes. Lyon and Savoy supply hgh quality sausages while the Alpine reģions supply cheese Abondance (a semi-hard, fragrant, raw-milk cheese), Reblochon (a soft washed-rind cheese made from raw cow's milk), Tomme (normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses, or when there is too little milk to produce a full cheese. As a result, they are generally low in fat) and Vacherin (cow's-milk (French vache, "cow") cheese). The Chartreuse Mountains are in this region, and the famous liquor Chartreuse is produced in a monastery there. There are two types: Green Chartreuse (110 proof or 55%) is a naturally green liqueur flavored with extracts from 130 plants with its coloring coming from chlorophyll and from which the name of the color is derived. Yellow Chartreuse (40% or 43%), which has a milder and sweeter flavor and aroma.

Oysters come form the Oléron-Marennes basin while mussels come from the Bay of Aiguillon. Goat cheese comes from this region and the Vendee is grazing ground for Parthenaise cattle (one of the oldest cattle breeds in France used to produce lean meat), poultry is raised in Challans. Poitou and Charente produce the best butter and cream in France. Cognac is produced along the Charente River. Limousin cattle (recognisable by their distinctive golden-red colouring) and high quality sheep are found in Limousin. The woods offer mushrooms and game.

Bordeaux is well known for its wine. Fishing is popular in this area especially the Basque deep-sea fishing of the North Sea, trapping in the Garonne and stream fishing in the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees also offer top quality lamb such as the Agneau de Pauillac (a lamb whose raising methods have been protected by law in Europe under its PGI status, which was received in 2003). and high quality sheep cheese. Beef cattle in this region include the Blonde d’Aquitaine (the second most populous breed in France). This region also has free-range chickens, turkey, pigeon, capon, goose and duck. Gascony and Perigord cuisine includes high quality pates (a French word which designates a mixture of minced meat and fat. It is generally made from a finely ground or chunky mixture of meats such as liver, and often additional fat, vegetables, herbs, spices, wine and other ingredients), terrines (it is actually a glazed, earthenware cooking dish but the term also refers to food prepared and served in a terrine, mainly game and venison, brawn (head cheese) and pâtés, confits (confit of goose (confit d'oie) and duck (confit de canard) are usually prepared from the legs of the bird. The meat is salted with herbs, and slowly cooked submerged in its own rendered fat, in which it is then preserved by allowing it to cool and storing it in the fat. Turkey and pork may be treated similarly) and magrets (duck breast). The region is also famous for its production of foie gras (fattened goose or duck liver). Armagnac (a distinctive kind of brandy or eau de vie, made of mainly the same grapes as cognac and undergoing the same aging in oak barrels) comes from the areas high quality prunes.

Gers offers great poultry. White corn is grown in the area to fatten ducks and geese for foie gras and for the production of millas (a cornmeal porridge). Haricort beans are grown here to be used in cassoulet (a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the southwest of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans). The finest sausage in France is acknowledged to be saucisse de Toulouse (A small coarse textured sausage, originating in France, made of pork, smoked bacon, wine, garlic, and other seasonings. It can be eaten on its own or added to other dishes. Toulouse sausage is generally prepared by braising, frying, or grilling. A small coarse textured sausage, originating in France, made of pork, smoked bacon, wine, garlic, and other seasonings. It can be eaten on its own or added to other dishes. Toulouse sausage is generally prepared by braising, frying, or grilling). The Cahors area producēs high quality „black wine" as well as truffles and mushrooms. Cheeses from this area include roquefort (a ewe's-milk blue cheese from the south of France) and cantal (a firm cheese from the Cantal region of France. It is named after the Cantal mountains in the Auvergne region). Mineral waters are also produced here.

In the area known as Le Midi restaurants are popular. Oysters come form the Etang De Thau to be served in the area restaurants. Mussels and fish specialties are also seen here. In the Languedoc jambon de montagne (a special type of ham) is produced. A high quality roquefort comes from the brebis sheep on the Larzac plateau. The Les Cevennes area offers mushrooms, chestnuts, berries, honey, lamb, game, sausages, pates and goat cheese. From the Catalan influence comes brandade made from, a puree of dried cod which is then wrapped in mangold leaves. Snails are plentiful and wild boar can also be found here.

The Provence and Cote d’Azur region is rich with quality citrus, vegetables, fruits and herbs. It also produces the largest amount of olives and thus olive oil. Important herbs in this region include thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, savory, fennel, marjoram, tarragon, oregano and bay leaf. Honey is a prized ingredient here. Seafood dominates the area and there is also goat cheese, air-dried sausages, lamb, and beef. Garlic and anchovies are used in many of the sauces in this region and pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif from France, typically containing 40–45% alcohol by volume, although there exist alcohol-free varieties) can be found in many of the bistros. Rice can be found growing in the Camargue, which is the most-northerly rice growing area in Europe, with Camargue red rice being a specialty.

Boeuf bourguignon

Active time: 1 1/4 hr Start to finish: 4 1/4 hr
Servings: Makes 8 servings.
1/4 lb thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 lb boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brandy
1 (4-inch) piece of celery
4 fresh parsley stems (no leaves)
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves (not California)
2 cloves
2 onions, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (preferably Burgundy or Côtes du Rhône)
1 lb small (1 1/2-inch) boiling onions or pearl onions
1 lb mushrooms, quartered if large
Accompaniment: peeled boiled potatoes tossed with butter and parsley
Special equipment: kitchen string
Cook bacon in boiling salted water 3 minutes, then drain.
Pat beef dry and season with salt and pepper. Divide flour and beef between 2 (1-quart) sealable plastic bags, seal, then shake to coat meat.
Heat 1‚ tablespoons oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a wide 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef well on all sides in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding, adding remaining ‚ tablespoon oil as needed. Transfer to a bowl.
Pour off any excess oil from pot, then add brandy to pot. Deglaze by boiling over high heat 1 minute, stirring and scraping up brown bits, then pour over beef.
Tie celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and cloves together with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni (tuck cloves into celery so they don’t fall out).
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in cleaned pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté bacon, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chopped onions, garlic, and carrots, then sauté, stirring, until onions are pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine, meat with juices, and bouquet garni and simmer gently, partially covered, until meat is tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
While meat simmers, blanch boiling onions in boiling salted water 1 minute and drain in a colander. Rinse under cold running water, then peel.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saut
 boiling onions, stirring occasionally, until browned in patches. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 cups water (1 1/2 cups if using pearl onions), then simmer, partially covered, until onions are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat remaining tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring, until golden brown and any liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir onions and mushrooms into stew and cook 10 minutes. Remove bouquet garni and skim any fat from surface of stew. Season with salt and pepper.
Cooks' note:
• Boeuf bourguignon may be made 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered (it tastes even better made ahead because it gives the flavors time to develop). If making ahead, it’s easier to remove fat from surface after chilling. By Rasma Raisters

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