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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Brandade and Brandade Nîmoise - A Much Loved Cod Dish from Provence and the Languedoc region of Occitanie.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

La Brandade Nîmoise
Brandade is a traditional and much-loved dish of finely pureed, hydrated salt cod with olive oil, herbs and a touch of crème fraiche.  Expect brandade as either a cold dip or hot entrée, the French first course, as well as a hot plat principal, the main course.  In 1830 the chef Charles Durand (1766-1854) published his cookbook “Le Cuisinier," and the dish became famous all over France with his version of brandade now called Brandade Nîmoise, the Brandade of the city of Nîmes.  Durand is famous for much more than a single dish and is called the Carême of Provencal cuisine.  Despite the dish being on the best-selling lists two-hundred years ago versions of brandade are still very popular in bistros and all across southeastern France.  Mashed potatoes are the most popular addition to the original brandade’s ingredients.
A brandade dip.
Until the 19th-century salt cod was the only salt-water fish
 that most of France saw.
Dishes made with dried cod were part of France’s culinary history for at least one thousand years before the arrival of refrigeration.  Then with the advent of canals and steam engines, towns away from the coast and rivers like the Seine finally had fresh saltwater fish available. Nevertheless, dishes made with salt cod remain best-sellers.  
The trade of dried cod was a vast industry where Scandinavia, especially Norway led the way; they stretched the then plentiful cod on wooden racks for drying in the cold winds on their cliffs.  When the better tasting dried salt cod arrived about 400 years ago it created the foundation stone for hundreds of new recipes.  Salt cod dishes have played an equally important part in the history of Italian and Spanish cuisine. 
Le Cuisinier Durand,1830.
Brandade on French Menus:

Brandade Nîmoise – The traditional brandade made without potatoes.  It is a fine puree of desalted dried cod, olive oil, and herbs and may be served hot or cold; often as a dip or a spread.  The popular inclusion of mashed potatoes will usually be on today’s menu listings just as Brandade or Brandade de Morue.

The French never leave a good recipe alone, and they revisit brandade with any number of changes and so you may see  Brandade de Morue à l'Huile de Noix, a brandade with walnut oil replacing olive oil and other fish replacing cod.
Brandade de Flétan Fumé - smoked halibut brandade.
On top are fried capers.
Photograph courtesy of Aaron Nakama

Brandade De Morue Mesclun de Salade et Piquillos -  Brandade accompanied by a mixed green salad and piquillos.  Piquillos are marinated sweet red peppers that are part of Spanish and Basque cuisine.  The sweet peppers will have been cooked over charcoal with their skin removed by hand, then preserved in their own juices and bottled.  A Salade Mesclun or Salade de Mesclun should include at least five different salad greens and will be served with a vinaigrette sauce.

Archeologists have shown, according to the formation of their camps, the tools left behind, and the style of the fish drying racks, that the Basque people had discovered North America before Cristopher Columbus discovered South America.  They caught and dried cod in Newfoundland.  When you think of the Basque sailing to Newfoundland to bring back, cod do not think of ships like Columbus's with a crew of 30. Forget about it; the Basques traveled to North America in three and four men boats with oars. To read about the importance of cod in the world, there is a well-researched and well-written book by Mark Kurlansky  " Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World." 
Red peppers stuffed with brandade.
Brandade de Morue Parmentière -  In this brandade mashed potatoes will be placed on top of cod in a manner similar to Hachis  Parmentier which is made with ground beef and considered the antecedent of the British cottage pie.  It will be served Gratinée, browned in the oven or under the grill with grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese on top to help the process.  Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 – 1813) gave his name to this dish and many others potato dishes.  He is best remembered as the man who made the potato a  meaningful food source in France and throughout Europe.  The potato saved millions from starvation in the famines of the late 1700s.  (The potato famine in Ireland began in 1845).

Brandade de Thon A brandade with tuna replacing the cod.  In the Basque country smoked and salted tuna,( not hydrated like brandade), is aged like cured ham and called Battili de Thon; in Spain, it is called Mojama.

Battili de thon

Croquettes de Brandade de Morue  - Deep-fried breaded balls of Brandade de Morue.  This dish is clearly inspired by the popular Accras de Morue which are deep-fried cod fritters also made with rehydrated salt cod.  Accras are part of French Caribbean Créole cuisine that began with the salt cod imported by the French Caribbean settlers as a cheap source of protein for their slaves.
Accras de Morue.

N.B.  Charles Durand, in his first cookbook, Le Cuisinier Durand, 1830, uses the term Morue à la Branlade, a strange spelling that disappears in his second cookbook Le Cuisinier Durand: Cuisine du Midi et du Nort.  In neither book does Durand use the words Brandade Nîmoise, a name added as Nîmes became famous alongside Durand.  Merluche is seen nearly as often as the name Morue for salt cod, and the word Stockfish, the  Norwegian name, pops up on some menus.  Fresh cod is called Cabillaud though to complicate matters the words Morue Fraîche are also used.  All over France, there are dishes made with brandade, and when dining in the Alsace under the name Skrei, which is a Norwegian name for cod, you may enjoy brandade served inside a pastry casing. Someone with better French than mine will hopefully explain all the different usages.  

In Provence, another traditional dish with rehydrated salt cod as its primary ingredient is claimed by the City of Nice.  It is a hearty stew of boiled hydrated salt cod with tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and garlic called Stockfish à la Niçoise or in Provencal Estoco-fi à la Niçardo; elsewhere it is called Estoficado or Stocaficado

The interest in the Cuisine of Provence
(BTW: Nîmes is over the border from Provence in historical Languedoc).

Charles Durand, who made the original brandade famous was born in the town of Ales, 25 km (16 miles) from the city of Nimes where he opened his famous restaurant in about 1795.  Interest in the cuisine of Provence had begun with one of the earliest Parisian restaurants Le Trois Freres Provencaux, the Three Brothers from Provence, which had opened in 1786 just a few years after the first French coffee shop; one of those first coffee shops Le Procope remains open today.  To put Durand in perspective, he opened his restaurant in Nîmes in about 1795, just after the French revolution had started in 1789.  At that time Paris had about 100 restaurants compared with about 40,000 today.

The City of Nîmes

Nîmes is the capital of the department of Gard in the new super-region of Occitanie, and just 16km (10 miles) from the Alpilles of Provence, was already important when the Romans settled in France two-thousand years ago. The city is a beautiful place to visit, with an excellent daily market, Les Halles, in the center of town.  A must to visit is Maison Carrée, a nearly wholly preserved facade of a Roman temple and the Arena of Nîmes is one of the three best preserved Roman arenas in the world.  How the arena remained complete without most of its stones being used for other buildings is an amazing story.  The arena is incredible with the best audio guide, in English, that I have heard for any building bar none.  The arena is used throughout the summer for concerts and more; however, you may wish to visit other places on the French holiday of Pentecost. Then the arena is used for a bloody Corrida; a complete Spanish bullfight with Matadors and Toreadors where they kill the bulls in front of thousands of cheering fans.  

The Nîmes’ once a year bullfights are a popular event enjoyed by those who consider bullfighting a healthy continuation of the Roman gladiatorial contests.  However, they conveniently forget that in Roman times during Pentecost they may have been the ones who were fed to the lions.  Despite being secularized Pentecost’s dates still move around between mid-May and Mid-June;  check the dates online.  (Pentecost is mostly called Whit Sunday and Whit Monday in the USA and UK).
The Roman Arena of Nîmes.

Today Nîmes is famous for its olives, the Olive de Nîmes AOP and the Nimes olive oil the Huile d'Olive de Nîmes AOP.  The Nîmes olive is the Picholine Olive, easily recognized as it is a green, long and narrow, pointed olive.  The Nimes AOP olive oil is made with blended oils of the Picholine, Négrette and Noirette olives.  Local wine-lists will offer AOC wines with the Costières de Nîmes appellation.

Chateau Laval Costieres de Nimes.

The Nîmes’ Tourist Information Office has an English language  website:

Arles, on the border of the Camargue, is just 34 km (21 miles) from Nîmes and has an English language website:

Avignon is 44km (27 miles) from Nîmes and has an English language website:

The region of Languedoc – Roussillon where Nîmes is situated, and the region of the Midi-Pyrenees were joined together and became the super region of Occitanie on 1-1-2016.  Occitanie borders the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

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Searching for the meaning of words, names or phrases
French menus?

Just add the word, words, or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google. Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 3,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.
Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ail Noir - Black garlic. Black Garlic in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Peeled black garlic.
Garlic is an integral part of French cuisine, and apart from white garlic you will find pink and rose garlic as well as rocambole, giant garlic, and wild garlic on the menu.  

I first noticed black garlic on a French menu in a small but excellent restaurant in Avignon some twelve years ago.  The server told me it came from Japan and for a few moments, I was sure that I was hearing about a new member of the garlic family that I had not seen or heard of in Japan.  But, no, black garlic is not a cultivated member of the garlic family and the idea of new garlic plant vanished faster than it had arrived.  The chef’s wife who was the Maitre D’ brought her husband out of the kitchen.  Then with a combination of my disastrous French and the chef’s limited English, I was looking at a bottle of black garlic which I misunderstood to contain pickled white garlic plants.  The word that was repeated over and over was the word umami, a word much used in Japanese cuisine for a unique taste but then rarely heard in France.

Black garlic is not fermented, pickled or caramelized.
A few more inquiries and I learned that white garlic when very very slowly cooked in a very a humid and closed environment at 60 ᵒC (140ᵒF) for a period of 30 – 45 days turns black. The garlic that comes out of the cooker is black, soft and chewy without any white garlic smell or taste but its effect on other dishes is impressive, it adds a unique flavor to the dishes with which it is combined. 

How white garlic becomes black over 30 days
Black garlic in French cuisine:

Carré d’Agneau En Croûte d’Olives Et Ail Noir, Jus Aux Bourgeons De Sapin –A rack of lamb cooked en croute, in a covering of olives and black garlic, and served with its natural cooking juices flavored with pine buds. For a few weeks in late spring, lime-green buds appear on pine trees; the buds that left alone would become new needles. However, before then these buds will be picked and become part of many recipes from salads to flavors in sauces, like this listing, and in alcoholic drinks with excess buds being pickled. 
Cochon Noir de Bigorre, Sauce à l’Ail Noir et Oignons de Trébons –  The black Bigorre AOP heritage pig roasted with black garlic and the sweet green onions of Trébons. The pig and the onions from Trébons both come from the old French Province of Bigorre up against the Pyrenees.  That area is part of ancient Gascony but now part of the new super-region of Nouvelle Aquitaine.

Black garlic chocolate cupcakes.

Lapin Farci au Chèvre Frais, Ail Noir et Criste Marine, Courgette Grillée et Radis - Rabbit stuffed with fresh goat’s cheese, black garlic, and the vegetable salicornia served with grilled courgettes, (zucchini in the USA) and radishes.  Salicornia or samphire in English and Christ Marine, Perce-pierre or Haricot de Mer in French is often mistakenly called an edible seaweed.  Salicornia, of which there are many family members, grows in salt marshes along the coast but not in the sea; its shape, not its taste, also gives it another name, sea asparagus.
Suprême de Pintade à l’Ail Noir, Choux Verts Grillés et Oignons Paille – Breast of guinea fowl cooked with black garlic and served with grilled green cabbage and a pale brown onion called the straw onion in French.

Slowly roasted and pickled okra, with smoked black garlic,
creme fraiche and 'thai holy' basil.

Tartare de Boeuf Coupé au Couteau, Aïoli à l'Ail Noir, Parmesan et Frites  Noir, Parmesan et Frites  - Hand-cut steak Tatar served with an aioli made with black garlic and served sprinkled with shavings, copeaux,  of Parmesan, all accompanied by French fries.  When you have the choice for a steak Tatar choose hand-cut beef for its far different, and superior, texture to the slurry or little lumps that is the texture of nearly all minced meat.

Tentacule de Poulpe Doré, Fondue d’Oignons, Citronnelle, Purée de Pois Cassés au Citron Kéfir, Pulpe d’Ail Noir – An octopuses’ tentacle fried until golden and served with an onion jam, flavored with lemongrass and a puree of split-peas flavored with kaffir lime and the pulp of black garlic.

Baby octopus, black garlic,
pork belly, celeriac.

Japanese Cuisine and France.

In 1928 George Auguste Escoffier, the chef who with his friends brought French cuisine intp the 20th century, became the first Honorary President of WACS, the World Chefs Society in Paris.  WACS was the first organization that linked chefs around the world and it is still very active today. It was set up in France by Escoffier’s pupil Akiyama Tokuzō, Chef to the emperor of Japan and from that day onwards French cuisine would be open to Japanese flavors.


Nevertheless, any serious Japanese influence would wait until the 1980s when many French chefs were tasting and experimenting with other cuisines and Japanese restaurants became part of the French landscape. The specific taste uniquely associated with Japanese cuisine, and the one that has really made the difference in French cuisine was umami.

Pureed black garlic
From childhood, we learn to identify tastes that can be clearly separated one from the other. The limits of our language easily recognize the four tastes that we call sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  However, there always was another taste that would sometimes roll around in our mouths, and as we had no word for it, we just called it tasty. 

However, long before we were children, in 1907, Professor Kikunae Ikeda at Tokyo University had already identified that other taste and he called it umami.  Professor Ikeda named the taste he had classified as “umami” from the Japanese words for delicious and taste.  The taste comes from monosodium L-glutamate and its effect on our taste buds.  It is a naturally occurring taste but can also be added as a taste enhancer.  Many chefs define umami as a hint of meat and savory with a note of Balsamic vinegar; you know the taste is there even if you do not use the word umami.   Black garlic is not included in French cuisine because it sounds good on the menu; it is there because it brings that unique umami taste to certain dishes.

Marinated summer cucumbers, sunflower, sesame, black garlic.
Why does white garlic turn black?

We know that the garlic turns black from its long slow cooking but why does it turn black and not green or red?  For that matter why does baked bread turn brown?  Boiled chicken does not become brown and mashed potatoes do not become brown while roast chicken and roast potatoes do; why?  The white to brown or black change is not a result of burning or caramelizing as baked bread and roast potatoes and roast chicken are not caramelized.  They, along with toast and malt beer, change color because of the “Maillard Reaction.”

An example of the Maillard reaction.
You can also burn the toast, but that’s another reaction.
It was a French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who first described the reaction in 1912 while at the University of Paris.  Maillard explained how certain foods are darkened by cooking, not just by caramelizing or pickling or fermenting, though they have their own coloring effects. White garlic becomes black garlic because it has been Maillardized.

Louis-Camille Maillard in 1910

Black garlic in France.

Black garlic is imported from Korea and Japan, who both claim black garlic’s creation. Alongside the imports is the black garlic that has been produced in France for over ten years. The first French artisanal producer of Ail Noir was probably Laurent Girard in Billom in a small town and commune, in the department of Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in central France.
Many things that make French Cuisine special come from the region of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.  To its black garlic add its famous and abundant AOP cheeses, Bresse butter and cream AOP and Bresse AOP poultry, and then to all that add Michelin.  Only 28 km (17 miles) from Billom is the city of Clermont-Ferrand the headquarters of the second biggest tire manufacturer in the world Michelin.  Michelin began and still owns the Red Guide Michelin  that has done much to promote modern French cuisine.

The Michelin Man.
His name is Bibendum.

Connected Posts:


Searching for the meaning of words, names or phrases
French menus?

Just add the word, words, or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google. Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 3,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.
Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman