Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Smooth, fragrant and opulent fortified wines with an alcohol content
of between 18-21 percent. These wines only come from the Portuguese Madeira
Islands in the North Atlantic.
A fortified wine is made by ending the fermentation that takes
place in the barrels by adding an eau-de-vie, a grape alcohol, to the
wine.Ending the fermentation before it
is naturally completed controls the amount of alcohol in the wine and the level
of sweetness.The sweetness of Madeira
wines are divided into four main groups: seco-dry, meio seco- medium dry, meio
doce-medium sweet and doce-sweet.
Madeira wine is a longtime favorite in French cuisine and your menu
Soupe à l'Oignon et au Madère Gratinée –French onion soup served with toasted bread and cheese on top, browned
under the grill before serving.This
menu listing has Madeira wine added to the soup and that identifies it as a
recipe from the city of Lyon, France.According to tradition the city of Lyon uses Madeira or Port for
flavoring and the city of Paris uses wine.To see the post on French onion soup click here.
Rognons de Veau Poêlés, Sauce Madère et Gratin de Pommes Charlotte –
Lightly fried veal kidneys prepared in a Madeira sauce and served with mashed
Charlotte potatoes browned under the grill before serving. Charlotte is a very
popular and tasty French potato; it is not a name for a potato dish. The
Charlotteis the potato most often used
in France for steamed or mashed potatoes; here it is obviously prepared as mashed potatoes. Sauce Madeira is made with
veal stock or veal bouillon, butter, shallots and, of course,Madeira wine.
de Veau Sauté au Madère - Veal liversautéed ina Madeira wine sauce.
de Boeuf aux Petits Légumes, Sauce Madère. – Beef tongue
served with baby vegetables and prepared with a Madeira sauce.Beef tongue with a Madeira wine sauce will be
on quite a number of French menus; it is a dish that has remained popular for
over one hundred years. Baby vegetables are miniature versions of regular
vegetables and were first developed in Italy; since then French creations have
Melon Cavaillon au Jambon de Bayonne ou Madère. - Cavaillon melon
served with Bayonne cured ham and flavored with Madeira wine.The Cavaillon melon comes from the beautiful
Provencal small town of the same name, 20 km (13 miles) from Avignon. The Cavaillon melon is, I believe, the tastiest melon in
France; anyone visiting
France during its mid-June through September season should not miss out on this melon.The melon is green on the outside with dark
green ribs; inside a ripe Cavaillon melon the flesh is sweet and orange colored
with a heady and memorable scent. Bayonne ham's name comes from the city of Bayonne; the capital
of the Pays Basques, the French Basque Country. Bayonne is in the department of the Pyrenees-Atlantiques and its ham is the most popular cured
ham in France.
Tournedos Rossini – The most famous of all steak dishes made with Madeira wine; it is named after the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Rossini composed the operas, the Barber of Seville and William Tell, along with many others and was loved in France where he lived for many years and also composed the music for operas in French. Rossini was also a gourmet and considered great chefs as maestros, like him they were masters of their art. The cut for a tournedos comes from the cœur de filet de bœuf, the heart, the center, of a
fillet of beef; this is the most expensive of all beefs cut. The same cut is used for aChateaubriand.The recipe named after Rossini includes goose foie gras, fattened goose liver, the black Perigord truffle and a Madeira wine sauce.To see the post on Tournedos Rossini click here.
A Tournedos Rossini
Photograph by Monkey Business through
The different types of Madeira wine:
Madeira wines made with a single type of grape are considered the
finest, but they are also the most expensive. Historically, there were over eleven types of Madeira wines, but only seven or eight were truly single grape
wines. Today only four white grapes and one red grape made be used for single
grape Madeira wines. These wines are aged and the their date of bottling is on the
label. A single grape Madeira wine means that at least 85% of the wine comes
from a single type of grape and that grape gives the wine its name. However, the most popular
Madeira wines are the less expensive, but often excellent blends. The blends also improve with age and may be purchased with different degrees of sweetness.
Did you forget your
Madeira wines in a cellar?
In 50 years you
may be pleasantly surprised.
courtesy of kiljander.
. The single grape Madeira wines:
Sercial is a white wine grape and the driest ofall single grape vintage Madeira wines.Sercial is usually aged for at least five
years before being sold, and as it ages it darkens and mellows. Sercial is the
Madeira wine most often served cold as an aperitif.
from1910 on sale.
courtesy of diego hernandez
Verdelho, a white wine grape is a golden, semi-dry wine and in
France this wine and the slightly sweeter Bual Madeira wine are the Madeira wines most chefs choose for Sauce Madeira.
courtesy of Ulf Bodin.
Bual comes from the Boal Cachud white grape. This Madeira varies in
color from golden to a deep brown as it ages. It is a medium-sweet wine and
either this wine or Verdelho will be chosen for Madeira Sauce. Bual may also be
served as a digestif, a dessert wine; often as an alternative to port.
A 5-year-old Bual Madeira.
courtesy of Joanna Goldby
Malmsey comes from a white grape called the Malvasia Candida and
makes one of the sweetest Madeira wines. Malmsey is a full-bodied wine and is used
both as a dessert wine and in sweet desserts, pastries and sweet sauces.
Tinto Negra also called Tinta Negra Mole
Tinto Negra is the most abundant of all Madeira’s wine grapes. This
is a red wine grape and the most popular wine used for adding the 15% permitted
to the single grape Madeira wines.Tinta Negra Madeira wine comes in dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet
wines and accounts for 80%of all
Madeira wine sales. When you see a bottle of Madeira wine without any other
name, the chances are that it is Tinto Negra or a blended wine consisting
mainly of Tinta Negra.
Learning about Madeira wines in France:
My introduction to the story of Madeira in France was in the home
of a French family.My hosts, in honor of
three overseas visitors, invited a friend who was the cellar
master in a Medoc Château to join us all for dinner. The cellar master had surprised us all with two
great bottles of Medoc from different years; seriously special vintage wines that I could not have
justified buying myself.However, the
real surprise that evening was the wine
the cellar master brought as the digestif; he had brought a wine from outside
France!That wine was a Bual Vintage
Madeira that had spent 20 years in an oak barrel before bottling.With all these wines, our dinner discussions
were about nothing else, and I was introduced to the history of Madeira wine in
courtesy of fxp
The French view of the English control of Madeira wine.
English controlled most of the Madeira wine trade and for hundreds of years
England and France were at war. During their incessant wars, the British were
always attempting to blockade France. Because of these blockades, Madeira only
seriously entered the French market with the exile of Napoleon I from France in
1915;then the wars with England ended.
From 1815, Madeira became the new success story in French cuisine.The most famous dish from that period using
Madeira wine, and still on many menus, is Tournedos Rossini.The dish was created forthe famous composer Gioachino Rossini by the
legendary French Chef Casimir Moissonsin 1822 or 1823.
Like Sherry and Port the British were the driving force behind the development of Madeira.
the 16th century, Madeira wine was developed and imported by the English. The
English had already made Port and Sherry a staple in the homes of the
aristocracy and merchant classes and then after Madeira came Marsala from
Sicily.At that time, all wine was sold
in barrels and most wines did not travel well on long sea voyages. Fortified
wine, wines whose fermentation in the barrel had been stopped traveled better.
Madeira’s ability to travel well had also made it a favorite in the American
colonies. However, in the North American colonies the laws on shipping the wine only on British-owned
ships pushed the price of Madeira, their favorite wine, up. That shipping law was considered another unjustified
tax on the colonists.Madeira wine and tea helped push the movement
for independence to the tipping point.
The treatment of Madeira wines:
Madeira, sherry and port wines were transported to the British and others in India; however, the effect of long sea voyages through the tropics was uniquely beneficial to Madeira. Those long sea voyages naturally slowly
cooked and oxidized Madeira.That tropical
exposure, in barrels, improved the wines taste and in the kitchen the cooks found they
had a wine that could be used without the taste changing. Back on the Islands
of Madeira two systems were created to emulate the process without sailing through the tropics, and the rest is history.
quickly became the most popular fortified wine in French and other kitchens and has remained there. Despite its popularity in the kitchen most Madeira are consumed as wine.Madeira wines' use in
cooking remain a small part of the market.
- Single grape Madeira wines aged and marked with a vintage date;
these are often young wines
- Reserve- AMadeira single
grape wine that has spent at least 5 years in an oak barrel before bottling
Velha - Special reserve – AMadeira single grape wine that has spent at least 10 years in an oak
barrel before bottling
Extra - Extra Reserve – AMadeira
single grape wine that has spent at least 15 years in an oak barrel before
– AMadeira single grape
wine that has spent at least 20 years in an oak barrel before bottling.
The words used to describe Madeira wines:
The wines’ color:
Muito Pálido – very pale; Pálido – Pale; Dourado – Golden; Meio
Escuro – Medium Dark; Escuro – Dark.
The wine’s texture:
Leve – Light or pale, Mencão – full Bodied or full,Fino – Fine or rich; Macio – Soft;Aveludado – Velvety; Amadurecido – Mellow.
The Madeira Islands:
Madeira is an archipelago, a group of islands. There are two
inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo where the Madeira wine grapes grow withanother six small islands that are
uninhabited nature reserves. The Madeira Islands are in the North Atlantic with
the nearest land being the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife490 km(300 mi) away.The nearest
landmass is Africa with Morocco788 km,
(490 miles) distant. Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is 967 km, (604 miles)
Paris and Lyon claim the original recipes
for French onion soup and the arguments among the residents of the two towns can turn heated.That, notwithstanding thousands of years
before the first printed recipe the first hunter-gatherer in France to throw a
wild onion in the cooking pot owns the original French recipe.
The traditional differences between the
two onion soups was over the Parisian use of vegetable, chicken or beef stock,
or bouillon, and wine or Cognac, The Lyonnais
version used no stock and the alcohol was Madeira wine or Port. These traditional differences are now often ignored, and so ask your server or maitre’d about the soup on your menu.
You should expect French servers to be knowledgeable.
Serving, in France, is a profession with all the attributes of a profession. Tips
are not expected nor are they an important part of their income. Restaurant staffs have salaries, paid vacation
time, and 35-hour workweeks, sick leave and pensions. During your stay in France,
you may have time to enjoy a real Parisian onion soup and a Lyonnais one as
Your onion soup may be on the menu under
one of many names:
Soupe à l”Oignon à la
Parisienne, Gratinée Parisienneor Gratinée
des Hallesamong the manynames used
for onion soup in the tradition of Paris.
Soupe à l'Oignon Lyonnaise or Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinéeamong the many names
used for onion soup in the tradition of the city of Lyon..
onion soup in the manner of Lyon.
courtesy of roboppy.
Today, whether you choose the soup served
in a Parisian Bistro or a Lyonnais Buchon
or in a restaurant with Michelin stars, if there is a trained French chef in the
kitchen the onion soup should be excellent. I am a French onion soup junkie, and from
experience, both the Parisian and Lyonnais versions make excellent, and
sometimes memorable, onion soups; there are no winners or losers. The only
differences are the flavors.
you order your French onion soup expect:
That your soup will come with bubbling or
almost bubbling cheese on top of toasted or grilled bread or croutons. The soup will have been made with white onions,
fried until they are a dark golden brown. To the onions, depending on the
recipe used may have been added vegetable, chicken or beef stock along with a
few herbs at the chef’s discretion. Added to the stock, in the Parisian manner,
will be white or red wine or Cognac and in the Lyonnais manner will be Madeira
wine or port. The soup is transferred to individual bowls, and on top will be added slices of grilled or toasted bread or croutons
covered in grated cheese.Just before serving,
the individual bowls are placed under the grill until the cheese melts. Then
by both sight and smell a mouthwatering soup will be put before you. Bon Appétit!
N.B. The term gratinée,
when used in connection with French onion soup, indicates that the soup has
grilled cheese on top. Most of the other French names without the word gratinée
will also have grilled cheese on top, but very occasionally, that is not the
case. Check what you are ordering.
the recipes for French onion soup.
The original and oldest printed French
recipe, along with a few purist chefs today, make onion soup without any stock;
that is in the original manner of the city of Lyon. Today’ chefs who do not use
stock include Raymond Blanc and Paul Bocuse. However, the majority of recipes that I have
seen from today’s French trained, celebrity chefs working outside of France do use
stock in the manner of Paris.Those chefs
include Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Michel Roux Jr, Wolfgang Puck and Gordon
The grated cheese used in French onion
soup is also another ingredient that may be a source of arguments, though
French Gruyere is the cheese used most often. The other cheeses used include Comte AOP, French Emmenthal and Cantal AOP. In the UK and North America I have
enjoyed French onion soups where Cheddar was the cheese of choice.
NB French Gruyere cheese has holes, while
Swiss does not, or at least not large holes. French Gruyere is also slightly sweeter than
onion soup in not difficult to make, it just takes time.
I am not a chef, nor am I a particularly
good cook and this is not a cookbook; however, I can cook a reasonably
satisfying French onion soup. I use at
least one and a half large onions per person, cooked slowly and carefully until
they are golden brown; making sure those onions do not burn is the most time-consuming
procedure. Expect a good two hours of watching and turning the onions if you
are making French onion soup for ten. One and a half large onions per person may seem to be overdoing
it; however, when the onions are cooked slowly, to that golden brown color, you
may be surprised by how little onion is left by the time they are caramelized.
heart of the matter.
courtesy of hepp.
use vegetable stock to be inclusive for the vegetarians in my family, and I use
red wine for flavor and color. I allow the soup to boil on a low flame until
the volume is reduced enough to achieve the desired taste and consistency; then,
I toast or grill the bread.If I have
forgotten to buy French Gruyere cheese, I use the best yellow cheese at hand with
a sprinkling of Parmesan if needed, to give the cheese more flavor.
courtesy of The Bazile.
purist’s recipe for French onion soup.
Paul Bocuse’s French onion soup is the
soup of a purist; he uses no stock at all. Onions rule.
Paul Bocuse, without any argument, is
certainly the greatest living chef from Lyon, France, and possibly in the whole
of France.I read Paul Bocuse’s English
language book: The Cuisine of Paul Bocuse, Grafton Books. Bocuse’s
recipe is onions, butter, a bouquet-garni and a little pepper. To thicken the
soup he uses egg yolks along with a small drop of Madeira wine for additional
flavor; he uses no stock.
Photograph courtesy of WonderfulTime.
Paul Bocuse, fifty-years ago was among the great chefs who threw out the heavy sauces and warming pans of haute cuisine; he and his friends brought in the freshest produce and no dish was ever warmed up. Those chefs were the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine; now they are the gray-haired establishment. Besides Bocuse's own three-star
restaurant in Lyon he was the force behind the cooking competition that has become
the most famous cooking competition in the world, the Bocuse Dor. The international
finals of the Bocuse Dor are held bi-annually in Lyon, France.
history of the Gratinée des Halles.
Les Halles French onion soup.
Les Halles was Paris’s wholesale fresh
produce market, and in the 50’s and 60’s Les Halles was famous for its midnight
traffic jams. Parisians and visitors alike travelling to the market caused the
jams as they visited its restaurants for their legendary French onion soup; served
from midnight until 5.00am. From 5:00 am the restaurants returned to feeding
the workers in the market. There is no single Les Halles recipe, but that name
on a menu rings the bell of tradition.
Les Halles produce market is no more.
Les Halles had been Paris’s wholesale produce
market for 800 years. However, in the second
half of the 20th century, the traffic congestion, not to mention the sanitation
problems in the center of the Paris, was unacceptable. In 1971, Paris’s
wholesale fresh produce market was moved to the Parisian suburb of Rungis near
the Paris-Orly airport. Where Les Halles once stood, there is today an enormous,
but in my view not particularly attractive, below ground shopping center,
called the Forum des Halles. There is also the Les Halles Metro station and the
Châtelet-Les Halles RER train station. That RER station is also the
largest underground train station in the world. I wonder why I always stay away
Rungis, the world’s largest fresh produce market.
For those who wish to visit the Rungis produce
market, you may take the Metro line 7 to
the end of the line; then take the bus 185 to Rungis Market. By car from central Paris, it is about
half-an-hour outside of rush hour. There are 22 restaurants in the new market, some
of which serve onion soup. Rungis is the
largest fresh produce market in the world and offers organized tours for
professionals and tourists from 05:00. If you have heard of the Tokyo fish market, Rungis is that plus fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, poultry, game and more.
While onion soup recipes have been
published since the times of the Roman empire, French Onion soup is a different
matter. The oldest recipe I have seen is in a book written by Alexander Dumas
Père, the author of The Count of Monte
Christo and The Three Musketeers, among many many other books.
Alexander Dumas Pere was also a passionate
Gourmet and he wrote two books on French cuisine.The larger of the two is Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.That
book has been translated into English in an excellent, concise version called
Dumas on Food by Alan and Jane Davidson, printed by Oxford University Press. Dumas
on Food gives, in English, Alexandre Dumas’s recipe for Soupe à l’Oignon à la
Stanislas and the story behind its fame. The Stanislas noted in that recipe is
the same Stanislas Leszczynski, Duke of Lorraine and Bar, France,ex-King of Poland, father-in-law of King Louis XV of France who gave Rum Baba and a number of other dishes their name.
The National Library of France, Biblotech
National de France allows you to read, without charge, the unabridged, original,
French version of Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisineonline; it
comes in two parts. You may also download the 1,000 plus pages that are the
whole book, in PDF format, for a minuscule payment.
cover of the original Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.
courtesy of the Biblotech National de France.
The Biblotech National de France website,
with English instructions, can be reached at http://gallica.bnf.fr.
For for the paragraphson Soupe à l’Oignon à
la Stanislas click on or copy and paste the link below in your browser:
Then enter page 764
and you may read about Soupe à l’Oignon a la Stanislas as well as other onion
soups that pleased Alexander Dumas Père.
The search for the absolute onion soup.
A great Soupe a l‘Oignon can be an existential
experience.Following on that, on more
than one occasion, I have covered Paris from arrondissement to arrondissement
looking for the absolute onion soup; while dragging my family around Paris with
me. I believe that once I nearly found that soup, but it still escaped me. One
day I will find that absolute onion soup
and then my soul will be content; in the meantime, I continue looking for it in
Paris and Lyon with tastings in many other parts of the world.