Saturday, June 25, 2016

Roquefort AOP. The King of French Cheeses.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Roquefort cheese.
Roquefort AOP comes from the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the department of Aveyron in the Midi-Pyrénées.  The cheese is  blue-veined, semi-soft, 52% fat, sheep’s milk cheese, made with unpasteurized milk; it has a medium to strong flavor and has no rind.  It is slightly pungent, crumbly and somewhat moist. The cheese is aged for five months before it may be sold in the natural damp, aired caves that are close to the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. 
Roquefort is one of France’s oldest known cheeses.  While it was the first cheese in France to receive an AOC grading in 1925, it was probably already appreciated by the Romans when they occupied France 121 BCE.  Roquefort is not special because it is a sheep’s cheese; however, it is unique as it is the first blue-veined cheese recorded inside or outside France.

Roquefort cheese aging.
When discussing blue cheeses Roquefort's name will always come up and I read an article recently where Roquefort was compared to English Stilton. However, Roquefort and Stilton are not the same at all!  Their tastes and texture are very different. Even more to the point, Stilton is a cow’s milk cheese and Roquefort is a sheep's milk cheese.   Both are excellent blue veined cheeses and much appreciated on their own or with a glass of Port and a few grapes but there the similarity ends. 

The village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon
The village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may have given its name to the cheese but today since there are less than 700 inhabitants in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon you may be sure that most of the farmers come from outside the town.   The cheese is ripened in the local limestone caverns called Causses; these caverns are part of the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses.  You may visit the park, with its mineral and hot springs and see the limestone caverns. For a few Euros you may try the cheese and or buy one. If you speak French you may still have some difficulty listening in on the local’s private conversations that is because many of them, amongst themselves, speak the local Occitan dialect, the traditional language of the area.

Entrecote with Roquefort Sauce and French Fries.

The Grands Causses Regional Natural Park has an English language website.
When in the area you will also find other local blue-veined sheep’s cheeses on sale. They are not made in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and have no AOP on their label; however. some are very good, and they are also much less expensive! Do not forget that within the Midi-Pyrénées there are many excellent cheeses and three more that hold the AOP grade. These are the cow’s milk Bleu des Causses. the cow’s milk Laquiole,  and the goat’s milk Rocamadour.

Salad with Roquefort and walnuts

If you are looking for a local wine to accompany your Roquefort cheese, consider the Entraygues-Le-Fel AOP and Estaing AOP  these are whites, roses, and reds that were probably originally planted in Roman times.

Entraygues Le Fel AOP

Also, try the red and rose Marcillac AOP wines.  This is a wine brought to the Mediaeval village of Conque 125 km (78 miles) away from Roquefort by the monks who also saw their abbey become a major stop on the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage on the way to Spain.

Connected Posts:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Tabasco Sauce

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Where Tabasco Sauce comes from and who created the sauce.
My misconceptions on the origins of Tabasco sauce were corrected by a chance meeting in Switzerland some 15 years ago.  There I met a well-informed and interesting gentleman who had spent many years working for the European distributor of Tabasco and the truth was out. Tabasco is neither Mexican, Spanish, French nor Swiss. Tabasco is 100% American.
Tabasco is used to spice up many dishes in cuisines around the world, and that includes French Cuisine; in France, the perfect Steak Tartar includes Tabasco.  Tabasco is also the heart of the perfect Bloody Mary cocktail in France or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Since 1868 when the sauce was patented, it has been made on Avery Island, in the State of Louisiana, USA.    Behind every great sauce is a lover of good food. The creator of Tabasco was no less; he was Edmund McIlhenny, a banker in New Orleans. Upon marrying Mary Eliza Avery, the happy couple moved to his wife’s family owned “Avery Island” more than 100 miles away on the Louisiana coast;

Tabasco Spicy Chocolate.

Here Edmund began his experiments both as a gardener and a lover of good food. Then he became interested in making a sauce from his red peppers. Today when you look at your bottle of Tabasco sauce, whether in France, Japan, or the USA, every bottle will still show “McIlhenny Company, Pepper sauce. TABASCO®,  Made in U.S.A. Avery Island, LA”, it is made nowhere else. They did try that once, but that experiment was short-lived

Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce
In 2009 McIlhenny became one of the few U.S. companies to have received a royal warrant of appointment that certifies the company as a supplier to Queen Elizabeth II of the UK. The warrant held is: "Supplier of Tabasco Sauce HM The Queen" .
Originally all peppers used in Tabasco sauce were grown on Avery Island; however, the homegrown peppers are no longer enough to meet demand.  Today the peppers used to produce Tabasco are grown in Central and South America from seed stock that is grown on Avery Island.  The Peppers are ground into a mash and placed along with salt and the other ingredients including vinegar in white oak barrels. These barrels are mostly re-used barrels that previously held Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey. 
After aging for up to three years  and a final tasting Tabasco is bottled as a finished sauce.  Even the salt used in Tabasco production comes from an Avery Island salt mine.

Chipotle and Buffalo Tabasco.

From the original red sauce, the Tabasco brand has grown and now includes a wide range of sauces including some that are blended with other peppers.  Only the Jalapeño-based green sauce has no Tabasco peppers at all and from among all the sauces only the original red Tabasco has the full three-year aging process.

Bloody Mary

McIlhenny Company also permits other brands to use and advertise Tabasco sauce as an ingredient in their products.  The sauce is labeled in 22 languages and dialects, and prepared for shipment to over 180 countries and territories around the world.
Connected Posts:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.
For more information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rascasse - The Scorpion or Sea Robin family of fishes in French cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Red  Scorpion fish.
The secret behind many of the wonderful fish soups along France’s Mediterranean coast is down to the Racasse, the Scorpion fish. Members of the Scorpion fish family are found all over the world, and those in the Mediterranean and along France’s Atlantic coast are considered to be among the tastiest.  The smaller of these fish are essential for the flavor they give to Bouillabaisse and other French fish soups.  The larger fish may also be in the soup or they may make the menu on their own account. 

Scorpion fish are not going to be swimming close to France's sandy beaches. Nevertheless, when swimming off shore and out close to rocks do not touch fish, especially if you do not know what type they are.
The Scorpion fish’s name comes not from a stinging tail but from the poisonous barbs on the fish's dorsal fin, on the back; rest assured that French fishermen and women do not handle any of these fish with their bare hands.
Rascasse are not fish that are caught in large quantities. The chefs will be buying his or her fish fresh every day, and the Scorpion fish family members brought in daily will differ in size and name.  So, unless the chef wants to print a new menu every day when a member of Rascasse family is on the menu the exact name may be omitted.
Scorpion fish.
Five of the most important members of the Scorpion fish family:

 Rascasse Blanche or Uranoscope – The Stargazer or Atlantic stargazer.  This member of the Scorpion fish family is a must in a genuine Marseilles Bouillabaisse and is also a prime contender for many other fish soups. This Scorpion fish can not only sting but can generate an electric shock.
The Stargazer on the menu:
Filet de Rascasse Blanche Sauce Citronel et Lait de Coco au Citron Vert. Garni de Petits Légumes -  A filet from the Stargazer served with a lemon grass sauce accented with coconut milk and lime. The dish is accompanied by young vegetables.
Fish soup.
Filet de Rascasse Grillé aux Pâtes et Tomates Fraiches – Grilled filet of Scorpion fish prepared with pasta and fresh tomatoes.
Filet de Rascasse Grillé, Beurre aux Algues Fraîches – Grilled filet of Scorpion fish prepared with butter and fresh seaweed.
The Stargazer in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – rata), (German – himmelsgucker), (Italian -  bocca in cielo, boca in cao, buccuni), (Spanish – rata or sapo).  

Scorpion fish on sale at Marseilles old port.
Rascasse du Rond, Sébaste Chèvre or Rascasse du Nord - The Blackbelly Rosefish in North America and the Bluemouth Rockfish or Rockfish in the UK.  This family member is not easily caught but very welcome when it is found. They are a solitary fish and found both in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. 
The Blackbelly Rosefish on French menus:
Filet de Rascasse Poche au Basilic – Filet of Scorpion fish, poached with basil.
Filet de Rascasse Poêlé, Haricots Verts, Sauce Vierge – Filet of Scorpion fish served with France’s favorite green beans and Sauce Vierge.   The name of the sauce Sauce Vierge translates as a virgin sauce, and that comes from the use of virgin olive oil.  For this sauce along with virgin olive oil will be fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. The sauce will be served slightly warm but not cooked as olive oil loses flavor when cooked. N.B. There is no point in cooking in any virgin olive oil; heat destroys their unique flavor; just use  any good olive oil for cooking and virgin olive oil for cold dishes.

Ready for the soup.
The Blackberry Rosefish or Bluemouth Rockfish in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – penegal), (Dutch - blauwkeeltje ),(German - blaumaul, blaumäulchen), (Italian -  scarpena, scorpena bastarda), (Spanish – cabra, cabra de altura, gallineta). 
Rascasse Rouge, Truie, Chapon, Chapon de Mer - The Large Scaled Scorpion Fish, the Red Scorpion Fish or Orange Scorpion Fish.  In Marseilles, the local fishmongers in the old port offered me their local name for this fish: Chapon and Chapon de Mer. This fish is another essential ingredient in a genuine Marseilles Bouillabaisse.  The smaller members of this family member will definitely be in the soup, but the larger ones that may grow up to 3 kilos may be offered in filets, fried, grilled or baked.
Filet de Rascasse Rouge, Gratin de Fenouil et Cebette –  Filet of red Rascasse, served with baked and browned fennel and spring onions.  
Piperade de Rascasse - Scorpion Fish cooked in a Piperade. Piperade is a traditional Basque dish made with their Piment d'Espelette AOP , the Basque red peppers, fried along with onions, green peppers, garlic and tomatoes all fried in olive oil. Here the fish is prepared and served with the piperade.
Tronçon De Rascasse Chapon Poêlée, Jus Corsé Au Nouilly Prat, Jeunes Pousses De Légumes – A wide cut of the Red Scorpion Fish lightly fried and served with a sauce made from the natural cooking juices and Nouilly Prat, France’s famous vermouth. The fish is accompanied by the young shoots of fresh vegetables.

Grilled Scorpion fish
The Red Scorpion Fish in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - cap-roig), (German – meersau, roter drachenkopf ), (Italian - scarpena rossa, scorfano mediterraneo, scorfano maggiore),  (Spanish –cabracho, escarapote, gallineta), 
Grondin Perlon, Gallinette, Grondin Gallinette -  Tub Gunard in UK and Sea Robin in the USA. This member of the Scorpion fish family is also caught in the Atlantic and is will often on the menu on its own. It is a bony fish but very highly valued for its flavor. While Rascasse is not part of its French name this fish is definitely part of the Scorpion fish family.

Scorpion fish.
Grondin Perlon, Ragoût De Fèves Et Petits Pois, Bisque Émulsionnée  - Tub Gunard prepared with a stew of fava bean, also called the butter or broad bean, and young peas. The whole stew is prepared like a thick bisque.
Ravioli Au Grondin Perlon Et Tomate Cerises   - Ravioli made with the meat from the Tub Gunard and cherry tomatoes.
Grondin Perlon Rôti, Bouillon De Légumes Aux Lingots Du Nord – Roasted Grondin Perlon served in a vegetable soup made with vegetables and the Lingots du Nord, a close family member of France’s favorite white beans grown in the North of France.
The Tub Gunard or Sea Robin in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - lluerna rossa),  (Dutch - rode poon), (German - roter knurrhahn, seeschwalbe), (Italian - capone gallinella ), (Spanish - alfondiga ).

 Petite Rascasse Rouge, Rascasse Pustuleuse, Scorpène -  The small red Scorpion fish, this a very tasty small fish.  It is rarely over 10cm and will be headed for the soup; very rarely will these small fish be on the menu.
The small red Scorpion Fish in the Languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – captinyós), (German -  kleiner roter drachenkopf), (Italian -  scarpegna rossa), (Spanish -  gallineta). 
Connected Posts:
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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