Friday, July 31, 2015

Freshwater Eels in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

A fresh water eel.
The European Eel.
Anguille, Anguille d'Europe, Angèle or Pibales  –  The European eel; The Common eel or River eel.  Eels are a traditional and popular dish all over Europe and no less so in France. Eels will be on the menus of the best French restaurants served on or off the bone, sautéed, baked, grilled and smoked. Eels are also part of many French freshwater fish stews or prepared as an eel stew where they star on their own. Only Japan has more eel recipes. In the UK and in parts of North America eels are prepared with traditional recipes, but rarely seen there in the top-of-the-line-restaurants. Eels are fatty and so they will be cooked or smoked to remove most of the fat. The eel has a pleasant but different flavor to fish with a slightly flaky meat.
The European eel in French cuisine

     Matelote d'Anguille –  A fresh-water eel stew.  This is a very popular traditional dish. Most eel stews are made with red wine.

A cut of lobster tail, with eel pate in pastry.
Lobster tail comes from the rock lobster.

     Anguilles du Marais sur le Grill – Grilled eels from the marshes. This offering was on a menu in a restaurant close to the city of Angoulême. Angoulême is in the department of Charente, just twenty minutes away from the town of Cognac. The locals consider the Angouleme marsh eels to be the best. Restaurants in the area are sure to put their provenance on the menu.  The French word marais means marshes, and the large and historic area of Paris called Le Marais was once marshland.
      Angouleme should not be strange to UK visitors. Countess Isabella of Angoulême (1188 -1246) was the Queen Consort of King John, his second wife.
     Friture d'Anguilles du Lac de Grand-Lieu en Persillade  - A fry up of eels, these from the Grand Lieu Lake to the South- West of the city of Nantes. Fried eel is very popular and will usually be cut into small pieces and served with French fries on the side.

Smoked eel.
       Duo de Saumons Marinés et Fumés, Anguille Fumée – A paired serving of marinated salmon and smoked eel. When salmon is marinated, it is the only dish that can compete with the best smoked salmon for taste and texture. Here the marinated salmon served with smoked eel will be an excellently paired contrast of tastes and textures.

Anguille croustillante, sabayon de vinaigre de cidre et carottes au gingembre.
Crisply prepared eel served with a French take on the Italian dish of zabaglione. The connection the Italian dish zabaglione seems dubious, but the sauce will still be tasty.
Anguille aux Cèpes – Eel served with France’s Porcini mushrooms. This will be fried eel and cepes.

Caramelized eel layered with smoked foie gras and garnished with whipped cream and more.
 Anguille Fumée, Escortée d'Asperges Vertes - Smoked eel served with green asparagus.
 Anguille à la Broche - Eels, grilled on skewers; traditionally that would be over charcoal.

Elvers, baby eels.

Alevins, Alevins d'Anguille, Gulas, Civelle or Pibale - Baby eels; elvers in English and pibale in Basque, a large elver is  5- 6cm long.  In France, and elsewhere in Europe, in season, elvers are a very popular deep-fried fast-food. Join the locals, in the elver season, and walk down the street holding paper cones filled with deep-fried baby eels and enjoy a tasty snack.
The French elver season is from when the baby eels begin to enter the rivers from the sea from the end of January through March. Elvers may be on the menu at other times, but that means they will have been caught and frozen at an earlier date.
Elvers are caught at the mouth of rivers when trying to reach the river their parents came from. They are spawned in the Sargasso Sea and why and what happens when they get there and meet the American eels with whom they do not breed remains a mystery. The actual reason for a possible international eel conspiracy taking place in the Sargasso Sea may be discussed at length over a hearty eel stew; at its best when accompanied by a bottle of a good red wine.

     Pibales en Friture – A simple and very popular Basque recipe for fried elvers.  To the fried elvers are added the Basque Espelette peppers.

Jellied eels.
      Cold jellied eels are a traditional English dish that began in London’s East end about two-hundred years ago. There are still specialist restaurants, in London, still serving eel pie and jellied eels with the original recipes.

Eels in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan -anguila), (Dutch - aal ), (German – all, Europäischer aal), (Italian- anguilla,anghilla,),  (Spanish- änguila).

Connected posts:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aioli and Le Grand Aioli in French cuisine.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman

Aïoli, also written Aioli.
Aioli is the garlicky mayonnaise, often associated with Provence, made with egg yolks, crushed garlic,  oil and lemon juice.  Mustard or other flavors may be added by the chef.   Le Grand Aioli developed from family get-togethers held on Fridays when good Catholics traditionally did not eat meat and desalted cod and aioli was the Friday meal. More about the Grand Aioli in the latter part of this post.
The British and the North Americans discover aioli.
Aioli was discovered by the first English tourists who arrived on France’s Mediterranean coast in the latter part of the 19th century.  In the early 20th century, North Americans would reach France on ocean liners like the Mauretania with a capacity of 2,300 passengers in 1907.  Awaiting them was Provencal cuisine, including aioli, and the city of Nice. As a reminder of the first welcomed English invasion the promenade built along the city of Nice’s sand covered beaches is still called the La Promenade des Anglais, the English promenade.

A view in Nice from the Promenade Anglais.

Photograph by courtesy of Alessandro Baffa.
Garlic in the French kitchen
  With Provencal cuisine the tourists were exposed to seasonings, aromas and flavors mostly unknown at home. While Provencal cuisine uses garlic in less than half of its most famous dishes the use of garlic, sometime in robust quantities was a surprise. Garlic was rarely used, at that time, in British or North American kitchens.  When garlic is added to a dish with intensity and passion it can remain on the diner’s breath for a day or two. Aioli became famous as apart from accenting Provencal cuisine it promised to keep vampires away!
Aioli’s fame has spread.
Aïoli is now an internationally famous sauce and on menus with different accents from Japan to Thailand to Australia, North America and all of Europe. It is usually prepared so that it may be offered in a side dish like mayonnaise. The amount of garlic in the recipe depends on the chef. In Northern France, a single clove of garlic may be added for every diner; along the Mediterranean coast that number can rise to four cloves per diner.
Why desalted and rehydrated cod.
Traditionally aïoli was served, with cod or hake, the fishes, on Fridays when good Catholics did not eat meat. Cod is France’s most famous fish and it may be prepared fresh, frozen or desalted and rehydrated. In the days before refrigeration salted and dehydrated cod or hake was a critical part of the French diet.  Only salted dehydrated fish could be kept for use when needed. The recipes for desalted and rehydrated cod are still very, very popular and called morue or stockfish on the menu. Cabillaud, Morue de l'Atlantique and Morue Fraîche would indicate fresh cod.
Aioli on French Menus:
Steak d'Espadon Frais Grille Aïoli Maison – A fresh swordfish steak grilled and served with the restaurant’s own version of aioli. Maison means house in English and on a French menu it will indicate a restaurant’s version of a traditional dish. Here the chef may have added mustard or other herbs to the aioli.  Ask.
Mussels with chorizo, smoked fennel, orange segments

 and basil flavored aioli.
  Les Escargots de Mer et Sauce Aïoli – Escargot de Mer means sea snails and so this dish will star France’s much loved Bulots, also called Borgets or Buccins, whelks in English. Here the whelks are served with aioli.  When you order whelks in a small seaside restaurant, they will be served with mayonnaise or aioli with French fries, chips, on the side.  If the French fries are not included, then order them separately. I believe that whelks, aioli, and French fries this is one of the tastiest ways to eat whelks.  As the Belgians have mussels and French fries so the France has whelks and aioli. In France  another popular, but much smaller, sea snail is the bigorneau, the periwinkle or winkle in English. The periwinkle may be part of the dish.

            A vegetarian dish of grilled  svegetables with aioli.
Assiette de Crevettes, Aïoli Maison – A plate of shrimps accompanied by the restaurant’s take on aioli. 
Petite Friture Aioli
A tasty entrée of deep-fried little fish served here with aioli.

Tartare de Boeuf, Poivre Vert, Lardons, Aïoli au Parmesan et Citron A Beef Tartar prepared with green pepper, bacon pieces, aioli, Parmesan and lemon. The traditional beef tartar is flavored with Mayonnaise and Worcester sauce and topped with copeaux, shavings, of Parmesan cheese. For this beef Tatar, the mayonnaise is replaced with aioli. The other additions to the original version are green peppercorns bacon pieces and a piece of lemon on the side.

Beef carpaccio with aioli.
Blancs d'Encornet Grillés, Persillade et Aïoli -  Encornets are a favorite small squid in France, a calamari; here it will be opened and flattened on the grill. The persillade is a seasoning of parsley, garlic, vinegar and oil and it will have flavored the calamari while it was grilling;  the aioli will be served on the side to add as you choose.
Aioli and mayonnaise.
Aioli developed from mayonnaise. According to tradition mayonnaise, was a sauce created in 1756 by the chef of the Duc de Richelieu. The Duke had ordered a banquet to celebrate the French capture of the Mediterranean Balearic island of Menorca from the English. The chef’s unique creation for the evening was the Sauce Mayonnaise.  (For more about the history of mayonnaise click here)
I imagine that as soon as the French sailors came home, they brought the new creation called mayonnaise. Then the addition of garlic, crushed till it became oil, would have been a very short step.
The name aioli.
In Provence, many people still speak or understand the Provencal dialect of Occitan alongside modern French. Until one hundred and fifty years ago Occitan and Catalan were the main languages spoken in Mediterranean France.  In Occitan, garlic is “alh”  and “oli” is oil. Together those two words are “alholi”; and  that became aioli. Aioli is just as important in the cuisine of Languedoc-Roussillon where Catalan is still spoken alongside modern French. Just as the city of Nice is a center for Provencal cuisine so the large fishing port of Sète is a center for Languedoc-Roussillon cuisine. If you are traveling in the region will find many Sète seafood restaurants with aioli on the menu or in the recipe of the dishes you order.
In Sete your menu may offer:

Moules Farcies à la Sétoise – Mussels, from the Thau Basin, stuffed in the manner of Sète. The mussels are stuffed with sausage meat and cooked in white wine and tomato puree.  The mussels will be served with aioli on the side or on top.

The main canal in  Sète.
Photograph coutesy of spc49
Bourride de Lotte à la Sètois -  Bourride de Lotte is a traditional Provencal monkfish stew, and monkfish are one of the tastiest sea fish with a very firm texture. Sète’s version of Bourride is a creamy stew of monkfish and vegetables all flavored with white wine and aioli. The stew will be served with more aioli on the side.
Le Grand Aioli may have begun in Provence,
Now it is a family favorite all along France’s Mediterranean coast.
In both Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, aioli will be the dish prepared for family get-togethers. Le Grand Aïoli will be held for most large celebrations and is a delight for the eyes.

Le Grand Aioli.
Le Grand Aioli and its ingredients change with the season. However, the centerpiece will always be the traditional desalted cod. Then come the vegetables in season; crunchy fresh vegetable like carrots, radishes, and fresh cauliflower are important as they may be dipped in the aioli.  The layout of the vegetables with attractive colors is also important and so fresh tomatoes and cucumbers will be included. To this will be added hard-boiled eggs and cooked vegetables that may include France’s favorite fresh green beans, haricot vert, boiled potatoes, courgettes, zucchini, and asparagus in season. Depending on the home or restaurant seafood where Le Grand Aioli is served seafood and or snails may also be part of the mouthwatering display.
Connected posts:
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015.
For more information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fresh Water Char, Omble Chevalier on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


Artic Char.
Freshwater Char
Omble Chevalier, Omble Arctique - Fresh Water Char, Char, Artic Char, Charr.  Tasting somewhere between trout and salmon, to which they are related.  Char has a firm, but slightly flaky flesh with a white to pink color.  The color depends on the food that the fish has been eating.  When char is caught in one of France’s many clear water lakes, then restaurant menus will often identify the area or name the lake where this fish is caught. When Char is caught in rivers, an estuaries char the menu may note wild char.  The lakes are stocked so that professional fishermen and women and amateurs do not overfish. When a menu listing for char is without any special mention that usually indicates that the fish came from a freshwater fish farm. Large fish will be served as filets and small fish will be served whole.

Bringing in the catch.
Char, Freshwater Char on French Menus:
Omble Chevalier Sauvage Cuisiné au Beurre Mousseux aux Fines Herbes.  – A whole, wild, freshwater char caught in a river, cooked in foaming butter and flavored with the herbs from France’s favorite herb group called the Fine Herbs.

Fried Char stuffed with herbs. 
La Meunière d'Omble Chevalier et Ecrevisses de Camargue, Beurre au Thym. - A whole freshwater char fried in a butter sauce flavored with thyme; served together with freshwater crayfish from the Camargue National Park on France’s Mediterranean coast.
Filet d’Omble Chevalier des Cévennes Rôti au Beurre Noisette aux Girolles Poêlées – A  filet of freshwater char caught in one of the many beautiful lakes in the Cévennes National Park. The fish will have been roasted whole with a sauce beurre noisette and wild chanterelle girolle mushrooms. The fish will be fileted just before serving. (See the appendix Sauces: Sauce Beurre Noisette). The Cévennes National Park covers parts of two regions, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Rhône-Alpes.

A very large Freshwater Char.
   The Cevennes National Park has an English language website:

When the music stops.
I enjoyed a memorable meal with a magnificent Freshwater Char as the star in a restaurant on the banks of Lac Léman, (Lake Geneva), France. The setting, the restaurant, and the fish were magnificent. The fish was incredibly fresh as if it had been landed five minutes before.  It was served lightly fried in a Sauce Meunier …heaven.  I went back to the same restaurant a few years later; the taste was still so fresh in my mind that I could hardly wait for the fish to arrive.  Then disaster struck.  I was served a recently unfrozen trout filet! The disappointment was unimaginable, never will I return; bell, book and candle for that restaurant!  However, since then I have found other restaurants on the banks of Lac Leman, who sell the genuine article, perfectly cooked. Caveat Emptor: ask to see the fish before it is cooked.

 The Trout is above and the Freshwater Char is below

Freshwater char is not a local French fish.

 Most French citizens assume that char is a local freshwater fish; that is an error. Char, given the chance would spend much of their lives at sea, mostly many in Arctic waters. However, over the years, char has been released into European lakes and there they spend their whole lives. Others are raised in freshwater fish farms.
 Char in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - truita alpine), (Dutch -  riddervis )(German - saibling, Seesaibling),  (Italian – salmerino, salmerino alpino), (Spanish – troche alpina, salvelino), (Latin - Salvelinus alpinus alpinus)

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright: 2010, 2015
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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