Monday, November 23, 2009

Food Français…

…holds a great appeal to me for a variety of reasons. Say what you will of the French nation and its inhabitants, but one should first consider the debt which modern Western cooking most assuredly owes them - in matters of technique and codification, if nothing else.

Then again, it may be the composite flavors of the culinary tradition; the herbes fines, various ‘mother’ sauces or even the generous application of cheeses, shallots, charcuterie, wine and mushrooms that often characterizes the cuisine. Flavors subtle and bold (sometimes both), with almost any and all of them delightful in their own rights. But, to make no bones about it, any culinary tradition that flings offal, Cognac or duck fat around so willfully (and skillfully) certainly deserves a major vote of confidence!

And indeed, more often than not the very best examples of the French cuisine on which I wax so fondly are the oft-simple preparations; the “peasant fare” or regionally-diverse preparations which crop up all about the country. The oft-bewildering entirety of haute cuisine which one so rarely encounters these days (Escoffier anyone?) is, broadly-speaking, derived part & parcel from the “elevation” of such dishes.

While each section of France certainly has its own signature dishes, I think some of my favorite examples hail from disparate ends of the country. Normandy in the far north and Gascony to the south – both of these encompass culinary traditions which, particularly in the colder months, bring about immense gustatory pleasures.

Right about now you’re probably asking yourself where I’m going with this particular ramble – is it an altogether too-lengthy introduction to a discussion on some tidbit of cookery (admittedly something unseen here for quite a time). Sort of…

It just so happens that one of my favorite holidays has just gone by; an affair filled with delights both culinary and social in nature. Better than Thanksgiving, my longstanding tradition of hosting a dinner party for friends which eschews the classic ‘turkey with trimmings’ has finally come - and as of this posting, gone. Previous incarnations of this event (ironically-entitled “Turkey Day”) have seen every kind of fare from Turkish to English/Irish pub ‘grub.

But now - finally - we’ve made it round to French, which, from my musings above you may note I am rather fond of. To best honor the culinary traditions featured this year, the menu is composed of tasting portions, so that each might be conveyed in a few delightful bites to the guests. Hell, we even had a Green Hour...

So, without further ado, I should like to present the menu from this gloriously Armagnac-soaked event for your perusal good reader. If you should find yourself curious as to the exact composition of anything you see, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to pass along a recipe or three…once the gout dies down…

Canapés de Brie aux Damsons
Butter crackers mounted with Brie cheese & Damson Plum preserves
Fromages et Crutons
Gruyère & Brie cheeses; served with Garlic-toasted slices of homemade Baguette
Trois Oeufs a la Diable
Devilled Eggs served three ways - black Truffle-fried Leeks; Gruyère & Bacon; Paprika & Garlic-spiced
Rillettes de Canard
A coarse pâté of Duck confit, Armagnac and Prunes; served with toasted slices of homemade Baguette

Tranches de Pain avec Beurres Composé
Homemade Baguettes; served with Rosemary, confit Garlic-Marjoram & pink Sea Salt butters
Salade Verte de Mesclun
Romaine and Chicory Endive tossed with caramelized Pear, Bôucheron cheese & a Walnut-Cider vinaigrette

- I -
Saucisses de Lapin aux Pommes
Pan-seared sausages of Ginger-spiced Rabbit; flambéed at-table with caramelized Apples
Gold Potatoes poached in Duck stock; stuffed with melted Raclette cheese, black Truffle Butter, Garlic and Thyme

- II -
Brochettes de Pruneaux au Romarin
Bacon-wrapped Prunes; lightly-grilled on skewers of fresh Rosemary
Confit de Magret au Pommes de Terre à la Sarladaise
Confit of Duck breast with herbs; served over Yukon Gold Potatoes sautéed with Duck fat & fresh Sage

“Vichyssoise” de Canard
A petite serving of creamy soup; Gold Potatoes and Leeks simmered in Duck stock; served chilled

- III -
Echalotes Caramélisées
Coarsely-chopped Shallots; caramelized with herbs and Côtes du Rhône then baked until crisp
Coq au Vin
A classic fricassee of free-range Chicken; simmered in Côtes du Rhône with Mushrooms & herbs until tender
Salade Tiède de Lègumes et Lapin Confit
Julienned Mushrooms, Celery, Apples and Almonds sautéed in dry Sherry & Dijon Mustard; tossed with pulled confit of Rabbit

- IV -
Sauce des Pommes au Pruneaux
A coarse purée of spiced Apples and Plums, spiked with Armagnac brandy; served warm
Galettes de Potiron
Crisp pancakes of spiced Winter squash; served warm with a Chervil & Vanilla-spiced Crème Fraiche
Rouelle de Veau au Cidre
Veal shanks & Mushrooms slowly braised in dry Cider; served over Pasta finished with black Truffle Butter

Sables de Caen
Buttery Shortbread cookies
Glace Crème au Miel de Lavande
Homemade ice cream; made with Lavender Honey from Provence
Café du Monde (au Lait)
Orleans-style dark-roasted Chicory Coffee; served hot with raw Sugar & warm sweet Cream alongside

Served with Sugar cubes and ice Water for the traditional ‘drip’ preparation:
Kübler - a Swiss-style Absinthe blanche (white); extremely well-balanced
Vieux Carré - an American Absinthe verte (green); light with Spearmint notes
Served straight, iced, with Soda or ‘en Momisette’ (Soda with Almond syrup):
Herbsaint - a spicier, herbal-flavored American pastis
Pernod Liqueur d’Anis - a sweeter-flavored French pastis
Manguin Pastis au Víolette - a rare, drier-flavored French pastis; flavored with Violets

Ponche de Gascogne
XO Armagnac brandy, homemade Fig, Date & Honey liqueur, black Tea, fresh Lemon and Bitters
Hugel "Gentil", Gewürztraminer, 2007
Paul Jaboulet Aîné “Parallèle 45”, Côtes du Rhône, 2006
Cidre et Bier
Woodchuck #802 Cider
J.W. Dundee Honey Brown Ale

In closing I should like to extend a tremendous thanks to those who assisted with much of the prep for this event - it would not have been possible without you my vatos locos! Equal thanks to those who attended this year's event - I hope you had as much fun eating as I did cooking!

Cheers & Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

PS - Yes, I am well-aware that Vichysoisse is not, in fact, a French invention. It's no less delightful for the fact. Deal with it friends...