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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Lieu Noir - Pollock, Saithe, Coley. The Tasty, Inexpensive, Cod Family Member From the North Atlantic

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Lieu Noir
Pollock, Saithe, Coley
Lieu Noir (Goberge in Canada) – Pollock, Saithe, and Coley are a large, tasty member of the cod family, and will be on many French menus.

Whole fish are anywhere from 30 cm (12”) to 60 cm (24”) long though they can reach twice that length. They are caught in the North Atlantic with some larger fish flown home as chilled whole fish and the rest being delivered as frozen fish fillets. In any case with even the smallest fish being large enough for two or more, you will only be served a filet.
A Lieu Noir- Pollock fish filet.
While Pollock is considered a white fish it has a darker section that can be seen here.
Lieu Noir, are more strongly flavored than the similarly named and equally popular Lieu Jaune.
Lieu Noir has other regional names French names that include Colin and Merluche. But it shares those names with Lieu Jaune – Pollack (with the a), and Callagh. The reasons behind these mostly harmless cross-channel confusions are related to earlier times, but there is no longer anyone around to blame.

Catch your own. 17lb 4oz – 8 kilos.

Lieu Noir, in the UK Pollock, Saithe, and Coley is a favorite for fish and chips. While the French have never bought into the UK art of deep batter fried fish and greasy chips the fish is very popular in France and will be on French menus with other flavors:

Lieu Noir on French Menus:
Dos de Lieu Noir en Croute de Sésame, Sauce Whisky et Purée de Patates Douces A thick cut of Pollock/Saithe cooked covered with sesame seeds and served in a Scotch Whisky sauce;  all accompanied by  a puree of sweet potatoes

Dos was the term used for a thick cut from the back of a large game fish or wild game; it is considered the tastiest portion.  Despite the origin’s of “dos” on the menu today it will mostly indicate a thick filet.
Dos de Lieu Noir à l'Estragon
A thick cut of pollock flavored with tarragon.

Lieu Noir en Cocotte de Palourdes et Coques  Pollock prepared in a  casserole with clams and cockles. When the menu notes en cocotte, it will usually be informing you that the bowl used for cooking is also the dish that will be used to serve you.

Filet de Lieu Noir, Perles de Couscous, Poireaux et Oignons Rouge – A filet of pollock accompanied by grains of coucous, leeks and red onions.
Clams and cockles.
Dos De Lieu Noir, Sauce Ciboulette et  Chou-Fleur – A thick cut of pollock prepared with chives and cauliflower.’’
Ceviche de Lieu Noir Aux Légumes Printaniers – Cold, marinated pollock accompanied by crunchy spring vegetables.

Dos de Lieu Noir, sur Mousseline de Panais et sa Crème au Coquillages – A thick cut of pollock served on a parsnip moose, accompanied by a creamy crustacean sauce.

Dos de Lieu Noir, Salicornes, Cresson et Emulsion Sariette – A thick cut of Pollock/Saithe served with Samphire/ Salicornia, watercress and a thick summer savory sauce.
Samphire is often, mistakenly, called an edible seaweed; it is not.  It is a coastal plant, with many family members, and grows in salt marshes and even in the sand along the coast.  The mildly salty and slightly bitter taste of Samphire along with its crunchy texture (when properly cooked) allows it to partner well in many salads when served cold or when served warm with fish or shellfish.

Fish, leeks, and tomatoes,

Filet de Lieu Noir, Aubergines et Poivrons à la Sarriette et son Écrasé de Pomme de Terre – Filet of Pollock/Saithe prepared with aubergines and bell peppers and flavored with summer savory.  Accompanied by hand mashed potatoes.

 (Catalan – pollachius), (Dutch - koolvis ),  (German – blaufisch), (Italian - merluzzo nero), (Spanish – bacalao, saithe, palero carbonero, faneca plataeada, fogonero), (Latin - pollachius virens).


Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2019.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman


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" (best when including the inverted commas), and search with Google or Bing,  Behind the French Menu’s links, include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 450 articles that include over 4,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Herbes et Épices – Herbes and Spices. The Most Popular Herbs and Spices in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Herbes et Épices – Herbs and Spices.

This post brings together the herbs and spices that are the cornerstones of flavors in French cuisine. Fresh herbs and spices are every French chef's second right hand, or if the chef is a leftie, their second left hand.  Menu listings bringing the diner into the French kitchen by revealing the herbs and spices used in the preparation of a dish.  
French chefs also know that too many herbs and spices confuse a diner and leave him or her without a distinctive flavor to remember, while too much of a single herb or spice disguises or obliterates the natural character of the dish it was supposed to improve.
You won’t find these in a French chef’s spice cupboard.
Menu listings in North America and the UK may give the nod to their French influences but dried herbs and spices are often used and they have very different tastes to the fresh kind. Without any clear information on the flavors that are being added to a dish, how can you think about ordering? 
I am neither a chef nor even a particularly good home cook, but as a veteran diner, I have a great deal of experience. That experience has led me into many discussions about herbs and spices with chefs, maître d’s and the owners of herb and spice shops or stalls, and others. They are all amazed by recipes in the UK and North American newspapers that include ten or even fifteen different flavor enhancements while using dried herbs.
The ingredients in this post are taken from the appendix on herbs and spices in my nearly completed book Behind the French Menu, the diners’ guide to French cuisine. Apart from herbs and spices, my appendix includes those mushrooms, truffles, and vegetables that flavor, but they are too many to include in this post.  
The herbs and spices most often used in French cuisine.

Wild garlic flowers

Star Anise




The tarragon flower


Lavandre – Lavender.  

The citizens of Provence correctly claim that lavender comes from Provence; it originated in the area of modern Provence tens of thousands of years ago; lavender is the product of Provence par excellence! The local Provencal bees also appreciate lavender flowers, and they make the famous lavender honey that will be seen on menus all over in Provence.

Lavender has been famous, as a perfume, for thousands of years, and it is the perfect scent as even dried lavender flowers hold their scent for a very long time.
Then, in Provence lavender is also occasionally used a herb; fresh lavender does have a very light flavor but will, more importantly, add its aroma to local recipes including vinegars and jellies. For the tourists dried lavender will often be seen in pre-packed bags of the Herbes de Provence, the Provencal herb group; here, the use of lavender is used more for the name and the aroma than any serious addition to the taste. However,  the Herbes de Provence on a menu listing will be made with fresh herbs and are very different from the dried.

In the world of AOC and AOP labels for unique and outstanding products, there is also a lavender product with an AOP. The Huile Essentielle de Lavande Fine AOP, a lavender essential oil used for aromatherapy, not for eating or drinking.

Strolling through the lavender, Provence, France

Marjolaine – Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram

Sweet marjoram is the most popular of the many varieties of marjoram seen in Western herb markets. Fresh marjoram is, as may be expected, preferred in France. However, dried sweet marjoram is one of the few herbs that a French chef will use dried when fresh is not available. Sweet marjoram will be in soups, meat, and game, poultry, and fish or with egg dishes, and it is considered an essential part of many sauces, marinades, and vinegars.

Sweet marjoram is sometimes confused with oregano which is less strongly flavored but does belong to the same family.  Oregano comes from Asia while the wild marjoram developed in Europe.
Origan, Marjolaine Bâtarde, Marjolaine Sauvage – Oregano.
Oregano is sometimes called wild marjoram is used in French cuisine though the similar but far stronger marjoram is more popular.  Oregano leaves may flavor your soup and may be in your salad, and both oregano and marjoram may be in the pâté.

 While oregano is not as sweet as marjoram, both are part of the mint family, and the similarity of the fresh leaves can cause confusion between the two.  Just remember marjoram has a much stronger smell than oregano.
Oseille – Sorrel, Garden Sorrel, Common Sorrel and Dock

Sorrel leaves may be picked in the wild, and the smaller, young leaves make excellent salad greens, and they are rich in vitamin C. Nevertheless, the sorrel on your menu will probably have come from a farm, it costs less.
Sorrel may be cooked like spinach or made into a soup, and many fish dishes will be flavored with sorrel.  Among the soups made with sorrel, the most famous is Potage Germiny named after Count Charles le Bègue of Germiny (1799 – 1871), from when served as the Governor of the Bank of France. Naming new recipes after important and famous people who frequented expensive restaurants was the fashion of the time, and so the Count got his soup.  The soup is a beef consommé flavored with sorrel in crème fraîche. The recipe was created by the famous chef Adolphe Dugléré (1805 -1884) when he was chef de cuisine at the legendary Café Anglais and it is still on some menus.  

As a child growing up in England Lake District, we would go looking for wild berries and mushrooms in the forests round about, and there were both stinging nettles and the "dock" member of the sorrel family close by.  From there, I have my earliest memory of homeopathic medicine as the sorrel dock leaves when squashed and rubbed on the nettle sting cools and soothes the pain. Then, if I had been living in France, we would have taken revenge on the stinging nettle plants by making a Soupe d'Orties et Ail Sauvage  - A nettle soup flavored with wild garlic.

Black and white peppercorns.

Poivre de la Jamaïque, Toute-épice, Piment Jamaïque – Allspice or Jamaica pepper.

In both French and English kitchens, the taste of this spice provides one of its names; that taste is its combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; the result is toute-épice in French and allspice in English.  When discovered it was considered a guaranteed moneymaker, three spices for the prices of one. However, when allspice arrived the chefs and cooks already had recipes with the other spices that produced the same taste; changing quantities and recipes for a new spice with the same flavors was probably too much like hard work.  Still, allspice is a spice that can be used in many dishes from savory to sweet desserts and so it will occasionally be on some menu listings and used in several French herbal liquors.
Allspice may look like a large brown peppercorn; however, it is not a pepper; it is the dried unripe fruit of a Jamaican plant. Ground allspice, when sold pre-ground in packets, has far less taste than the freshly ground corns. As one of this spice’s names indicate its origin is Jamaican and it is an essential ingredient in the spicy Jamaican jerk pastes and marinades.  Most of the allspice sold in France still comes from Jamaica though some is imported from Mexico. In Mexico, the mole sauces of Central Mexican have in many cases added allspice to the local chilies and other spices used. Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica in 1504, but with so many new herbs and spices already filling Spanish ships and kitchens, allspice was not at the head of the list.   

Quatre Épices or Épice Parisienne – The four spices.
This is the oldest recorded group of spices used in French cuisine and the original spices used in this group today have not changed.  From the beginning, one of these spices was nearly always disputed, allowing for two official groups with the same name.  Today a chef may be using five or six spices rather than four, and they will still be on the menu as the quatre épices.   The group always includes Poivre, pepper: Noix de muscade, nutmeg: and Clous de girofle, cloves.  The disputed fourth is Gingembre, ginger or Cannelle, Chinese cinnamon with the Chinese cinnamon usually being replaced by Cannelle de Ceylan, Ceylonese cinnamon. 

 Despite this spice group being slightly out of fashion, it remains on some menus. Chefs who went to cooking schools enjoy sharing their knowledge and will use this traditional spice group with a fresh recipe.
Roquette, Arugula – Rocket, Garden rocket.

Not to be confused with the garden flower called Dame's Rocket or Sweet Rocket.  Rocket, with its spicy taste, is mainly used to spice up salads; however, it may also be found in cooked dishes.  When Roquette, rather than arugula is on the menu in France, then you are being served wild rocket with its narrower leaves and cleaner taste. There are a number of varieties of rocket, and they have varying degrees of pungency along with with other flavors and the pungency increases with the age of the fresh leaf; the best and milder leaves are young and small.

Sauge -  Sage.    

Sage is popular all Mediterranean cuisines.  In French recipes, sage is often added to special vinegars and herbal butters, and occasionally sage may be added to the herb group Les Fine Herbes. 

In France, as well as elsewhere in Europe, sage is also used to flavor preserved meats like sausages. The name sage comes from the Latin salvere or salvation, and that relates to its historical use in homeopathic medicines.

Sarriette - Summer savory.

The leaves flavor vegetable dishes, vinegars, and herbal butters and are an essential ingredient in the Herbes de Provence.  Summer savory is also used as a tisane, a herbal tea where it is believed to aid the digestion and soothe upset stomachs.

Vanilla pods.

Travel outside the major towns and cities of France, and you will see herb gardens that even the smallest restaurants build and use. In towns and cities lack of space usually makes private herb gardens a rarity, and so they have agreements with market gardeners who bring fresh herbs and spices daily.  Large restaurants often use their market gardener's herb garden as if it were their own private fife with a private section closed off.  Then again, chefs build links to ramasseurs, gatherers, who bring wild mushrooms, berries, herbs, and spices in from the country.

In a visit to any French private home, fresh herbs and spices will scent the kitchen even before they decorate and flavor that home's food.  Ask for permission to look in any French restaurant's herb store; there, you will realize the importance of fresh herbs and spices over the dried or otherwise preserved options.

The difference between herbs and spices.

In modern kitchens, the differences between herbs and spices are often blurred. While avoiding great botanical detail as I am not a botanist, it is enough to say that most herbs are the leafy parts of plants and spices come from the rest.  In any case, smell easily differentiates most herbs from spices. Spices smell and taste like they should…..strongly. 

Herb and spice groups.

Also included in this post are the two most important French herb and spice groups: "Les Fine Herbes,"  the Fine Herbs, and "Les Herbes de Provence," the Herbs of Provence.   Additionally, I have spared a few lines in this post for the "Quatre Épices or Épice Parisienne," the four spices; they are the oldest recorded French spice group still in use.

My sources.

To help me with conflicts on usage and names, I relied on two very knowledgeable sources. They are Gernot Katzer from Austria and his Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages and Eric Schoenzetter from France, and his Toil d'Épices.  These two experts assembled, checked, and published a fantastic amount of information on herbs and spices.  I used their knowledge to double-check the information I had prepared as well as to add new details. I have also used their expertise to lay-to-rest a number of old wives tales that I had been sold along the way.   Still, the history of French cuisine is not written in stone, and I have also collected and included many other opinions, stories, bits of history and added my own value judgments. Any mistakes that have resulted are mine alone.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2019.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman


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" (best when including the inverted commas), and search with Google or Bing,  Behind the French Menu’s links, include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 450 articles that include over 4,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.