Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Celery in France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

 Celery in France.

              Branch Celery.

Céleri – Celery; the vegetable. Celery in France is often used to add a light change in the aroma and taste of many soups and stews without being overpowering.  Certain members of the celery family may also be served raw as part of salads.  Celery seeds on their own have a strong taste and they may be used as a spice; celery salt is made from celery seeds and salt, and then celery salt may be used as a condiment.   For these reasons I have included celery with herbs and spices. In the UK and the USA, while tastes are changing most of us only see the traditional branch celery in their local supermarket, but in France you will be made aware of other members of the celery family. 


Céleri or Céleri Branche – Celery, Branch celery or Blanching celery; this is the celery that most of us recognize on sight by its long green stems. Branch celery’s true origins are much disputed, but we know that it has been grown in the Mediterranean region for at least 3,000 years.


Branch celery will be served raw in salads, and when cooked the stalks may be used in soups or served like other vegetables. The leaves may be used for their flavor or like parsley as a garnish, or for decoration. The roots  of branch celery are normally cut off before they arrive at a UK or USA supermarket; however, branch celery in celery in France will be supplied to the restaurants with their roots intact;  the roots of branch celery will be used to flavor soups and other dishes.     (German – sellerie),  (Italian – sedano), (Spanish – apio, celerí, apio tradicional).


 Céleri Bâtard, Livèche, Ache des Montagnes and  Céleri de Montagne - Lovage or False Celery; a strongly flavored plant that smells strongly of celery though it comes from a completely different plant family.  Lovage will not be on the menu; but in the kitchen  lovage is much appreciated, though it will be used sparingly, as it can give a strong celery flavor and scent.  Young lovage leaves may also be added, sparingly, to a salad.  (German – liebstöckel),  (Italian – levistico),  (Spanish – levístico).


Céleri-rave – Celeriac.   If, like me, you are not really a great fan of branch celery then despite that caveat I really do advise you to try celeriac; it is completely different to branch celery!   Celeriac has a very light celery taste and its texture is completely different. The French usually prepare celeriac as a slightly rough puree that you may mistake for hand mashed potatoes,  until you taste it or smell it; that was my first unintended introduction, and since then I have been hooked. Celeriac makes a wonderful garnish. For the French, celery in France is celeriac.


On the outside, without its leaves, celeriac looks somewhat like a large bumpy brown beet-root. Celeriac is grown only for its root, and its mild celery taste; the leaves may be used for decoration, but they add very little taste.

   Céleri-Rave Rémoulade – Celeriac mashed, and served with sauce rémoulade, a  mayonnaise and mustard sauce. A very popular French celeriac dish.  


Macaroni Farcis au Céleri Rave – Macaroni stuffed with grated celeriac.


     Celeriac is also a vegetable that is good for you; celeriac has only 6% starch, compare that with a with a potato that has 15% starch!  To the benefits of its low starch content add celeriac’s wonderful flavor and texture, and it is not surprising that in French cuisine celeriac is very popular. Celery in France is celeriac. (German – knollenselleri, , knollen-sellerie ), (Italian - sedano rapa), ( Spanish -  apio nabo, celeriac).


    Céleri Sauvage, Livèche, Céleri à Couper, Persil des Marais or Ache des Marais  – Wild celery, Marsh Parsley or Smallage. This is the celery family member that originally grew only in the wild; it is the great-grand-father or great-grand-mother of both branch celery and celeriac. Despite its history, and as may be expected, wild celery is now also domesticated; the taste of domesticated wild celery is now going into soups and salads all over Europe.


   The original wild celery plant is very leafy. The raw leaves of the plant may be used in salads, and the stalks when used, must be well cooked, and cut, as they can be stringy.  The true wild plant has a stronger taste and smell than the cultivated “wild” variety.  For that reason  wild celery provides an important side income, in season, for gatherers of wild mushrooms who make a living selling to restaurants.  Both the wild and the cultivated wild celery are biennials; that means there is only one crop every two years, and that makes wild celery more expensive. The plant called wild celery in North America is another plant, and completely unrelated to the one that will be seen in Europe. (


    The seeds, the fruits from wild celery, are considered tastier than the seeds from branch celery or celeriac and so wild  celery seeds are preferred for making celery salt. French chefs are well aware of what the different tastes of wild and cultivated wild celery can add to a soup or  a sauce, and so the demand is growing.  French market gardeners are the source of the cultivated wild plant. ( German – vild sellerie, krydderpersille ),( Italian - sedano, sedano commune), ( Spanish - apio, apio borde, apio de agua).

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