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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac, Label Rouge – The Red Label Beef from Aubrac in the Center of Southern France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Aubrac cow and calf.

When you want great beef, and Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac is on the menu expect something special.  From farms over 800 m. (2600’) high, for five to six months a year the Aubrac cattle are free-range on the Aubrac Plateau where they graze on grass and wild herbs and flowers.  In the winter they are fed hay from the same grass and herbs that they eat in the summer; after two to three seasons on the plateau, their beef is flavored and well marbled.

The Aubrac Plateau is close to the center of southern France.
The plateau is to the South of the Massif Central where the departments of Lozère, Aveyron, and Cantal meet.
The Aubrac Beef’s Label Rouge

The Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac must meet yearly standard checks, unlike many wines that bear famous labels but were last checked one hundred or more years ago.  For their Label Rouge IGP, (the UK PGI) the calves must be raised by their mothers until weaned and no antibiotics or growth hormones may be used.  Every year there are organoleptic tests where highly trained professional tasters use their very special noses and taste buds to ensure the quality never drops.

Statue to the Aubrac Bulls in Laguiole.
To meet the requirement for the Label Rouge cattle, there must be at least 10,000 sq. m. (2.50 acres) for each cow and calf.  This beef comes from small farms with the average herd less than 100 head including calves and bulls.  Many of the farms are also AB (Agriculture Biologique) certified organic farms.

Aubrac Plateau in winter,
Bœuf d’Aubrac on French Menus:

Côte de Bœuf d’Aubrac pour 2 (800 g), Frites Maison –  A  bone-in rib-eye steak from the Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac for two,  with 800 grams (28 ounces) including the bone, served with the restaurant’s special French Fries.  The bone will take 50% of the weight served, and so each diner may expect 200 grams (7 ounces).  When a menu listing reads Frites Maison that indicates the restaurant has its own particular take on French fries. Ask.

Daube de Boeuf Aubrac Label RougeDaube is a famous beef stew that originated in Provence.  It is made with a red wine and tomato base; the vegetables and herbs depending on the time of year and the chef.  When good chefs begin with good beef, they make seriously good steaks.  However, with good ingredients, it is the rare gourmand who can tell one good steak from another.  That is not so true for stews where it takes more than a very high temperature and a little salt and pepper to cook.  A good stew takes hours of preparation at a low temperature, the herbs have to be just right, and when the meat used is not just good but seriously good then you will taste the difference. 

Preparing the Daube
Photograph courtesy of Timur Saglambilek

Faux-Filet de Bœuf d'Aubrac au Poivre Noir de Kâmpôt, Lit de Fèves - A UK sirloin steak, a US strip steak. (The UK and USA sirloin are not the same cuts).  This is a pepper steak made with the Kampot black pepper from Cambodia and served on a bed of fava beans, also called the Windsor or broad bean.  Poivre de Kâmpôt from Cambodia is real pepper, from peppercorns, not a chili pepper, and holds a European Union IGP.  Pepper enthusiasts claim its taste speaks to gourmands and of course the pepper’s origin makes the menu listing more interesting.
Pièce de Bœuf d’Aubrac Cuite au Barbecue, Panisses aux Herbes et Sauce Foyot – The butcher’s choice of unique rump steaks cooked on a barbeque and accompanied by  Panisses and served with Sauce Foyot. The cut called the Piece de Bœuf, or Piece Boucher indicates the butcher’s choice and that is the name given to a few uniquely tasty cuts from the rump with only enough steaks for six to eight servings from a whole steer.  A skilled French butcher knows the real value of these cuts that are overlooked and wasted outside of France,

The Panisses began as a street food in the City of Nice on the Cote d’Azur on the Mediterranean and have made it to the best restaurants.  They mostly look like wide oblong fries (chips) and are made with chickpea flour, and like the best fries (chips) are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  The shape of  Panisses differs from street vendor to chef as each has his or her favorite.  Traditionally they are offered with just a sprinkling of with salt, but now grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese may be added.  The Sauce Foyot was created by adding to a Sauce Béarnaise the glazed cooking juices of roasted meats making it the perfect sauce for grilled meats.  (Sauce Foyot is also called Sauce Valois). 
Vegan Panisses

Tartare de Bœuf d'Aubrac (Cru ou Aller-retour), Frites Maison Steak Tartar cru, uncooked, or aller-retour, ever so lightly seared on both sides, accompanied by the restaurant’s particular take on French fries.  Steak Tatar is a steak in the manner of the Tartars, the frightening fighters, the hordes, who rode to war under the direction of Genghis Khan in the 13th century.  Twentieth-century folklore has the Tartar tribesmen riding to battle with raw meat under their horses' saddles.  As they rode they were said to cut off pieces of the raw meat with a knife, and eat as they rode; they only stopped riding to sleep.

Today’s Steak Tartar begins with hand-cut or ground steak.  The texture is very important, and with this dish, you can really taste the meat so you do need seriously good beef and Aubrac beef fits that requirement.  Despite the lack of a frying pan or grill, this may be one of the greatest steak dishes that you have ever tasted.  Steak Tartar is made with tender, flavorsome steak, onion, parsley, cornichons, capers, and Cognac with Tabasco or Worcester sauce adding spice.  In many recipes, a raw egg yolk will be mixed in just before serving.  For those who enjoy good restaurant theater, you may an enjoy a true professional mixing the ingredients in front of you; there is no cooking involved.  For the French, a Steak Tartare is a spicy dish, but for most of us, spicy French dishes are not really very spicy.

This menu listing offers a choice of the traditional uncooked (cru) Steak Tatar or  very very slightly seared on the top and bottom "aller-retour".  Aller-Retour means go and come back, and when I use to travel from Paris to Lyon by train to see customers, I would order a cheap day-return train ticket known as an “aller-retour” a same day return ticket.  But how did this name jump to Steak Tatar and other dishes very lightly seared on both sides?  A French friend explained that for a new dish a chef must choose a name and "aller-retour" caught on.  So a Steak Tatar with a go and return ticket indicates the beef pate is taken from its starting point on a plate for a very very short searing of the beef on one side and that is the “go- aller,”  then the pate is flipped to the other side for the  “return – retour."  This creates a Steak Tatar sandwich of different flavors and textures.

The cities of Paris and Lyon compete for the name of the center of all that is good in French Cuisine and “aller-retour” Paris-Lyon- Paris tickets are still on sale.  When you visit Paris consider a side trip to Lyon for lunch, a visit to one of its three major art museums, the Bartholdi Fountain, and and then back to Paris for dinner.  Travel time each way is a pleasant two to two and a half hours.  Whether you try a Steak Tatar “aller-retour” in Paris or Lyon is up to you.


Tartare de Bœuf Aller-retour,
The Aubrac cattle
The Aubrac cattle were, until the French revolution, bred by monks on the Aubrac Plateau.  There they were raised to pull plows and provide milk as well as meat.  The cows provided the milk for the fabulous Laguiole cheese though now other breeds have taken their place and tractors replaced the Aubrac cattle pulling plows.  Nevertheless, despite the changes, a few farmers still make cheese with Aubrac milk.
Aubrac beef farmers continue a tradition of “transhumance.” the seasonal movement from the winter farms and barns to the summer pastures.  Every year a few thousand visitors come to watch as the herds meet near the village of Aubrac on the 25th of May when the herds with the cows and their calves begin their trek to their summer pastures.  To learn more about this tradition see the website below.  The Google or Bing translate programs allows the French language website to be clearly understood in English.

The village of Aubrac where the transhumance begins is just 20 km (12 miles) from the small but famous town of Laguiole.

Laguiole is home to three famous products.
N.B. Forget about the spelling, Laguiole is pronounced lie-yole, the G is silent. 
Laguiole AOP cheese.

The excellent Laguiole AOP, 45% fat, cow’s milk cheese is aged from 4 to 24 months before sale and to reach its own post click here.

Laguiole Cheese.

Maison du Laguiole
Maison du Laguiole, the House of Laguiole.  The creator of the original Limonadier, the traditional French corkscrew, and the Laguiole knife along with some of France’s best cutlery.

Laguiole en Aubrac - Brown Horn

Restaurant Bras
Restaurant Bras, one of France’s most celebrated restaurants.  I do not usually name restaurants as chefs change fairly frequently and an up-to-date newspaper or magazine review is better than a post in a blog that can be around for a number of years.  However, the Bras restaurant under the imaginative command of Michel Bras and his son Sébastien has held three Michelin stars for fifty years.  That is just about long enough to tell me that they are doing something right and unlikely to change very soon.  Michel studied under the master chef Ferdinand Point who in the 1950's taught French chefs to throw out the heavy sauces and heating pans of Haute Cuisine.  Point’s students created today’s modern French cuisine then called Nouvelle Cuisine.  Those students are today, like Michel Bras, the grey-headed patriarchs of French cuisine.  The Bras restaurant and its associated hotel and restaurant have an English language website:

Traveling to Laguiole
If you are traveling to the Mediterranean and the town of Sete or Montpellier from Paris you will probably take the A71 and A75 highways.  The A75 passes close to the Aubrac Plateau and Laguiole.  The web page below shows Laguiole in the center and clicking on the letter “i “  will pop up websites of all the French Government Tourist Information Offices in the area. 

On the menu in the region as well as many restaurants around France will be Aligot, a wonderful dish of cheese and mashed potato and garlic that is important enough to have its own post.  There are purists who believe that the real aligot can only be made with a young Laguiole cheese, a local tome fraiche, or a young Cantal cheese.  However, I can attest to having enjoyed, outside the region, excellent aligots made with other cheeses.

The Laguiole French Government Tourist Information Office has an English language website:

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Poireaux – Leeks. The Leek in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Poireau and Asperge du Pauvre – The leek.
Poireau is pronounced pwa-roe and Poireaux the plural sounds the same.
Poireau Sauvage, Poireau d'Été and Aillet - The wild leek.

After potatoes and rice, the tasty leek is one of the top five vegetables in French cuisine; it is a member of the garlic and onion family with a taste that is much milder than both of them.  That mild but clear flavor will not compete with the central part of a dish, and so leeks are often chosen as the perfect accompaniment.  And, while leeks are usually cooked they may be thinly sliced when raw and added to salads or an omelet; they may also be served as a leek vinaigrette or as a Carpaccio de Poireaux, a leek Carpaccio. 
The Ancient Egyptians were the first to enjoy leeks as cultivated vegetables and left carvings, pictures and dried leeks that were found in archeological excavations.  The Greeks who occupied France circa 600 B. C.E. and founded the port of Marseilles (as the Greek colony of Massalia) would have been the first to bring leeks to France, as they were a favored vegetable in the Ancient Greek kitchen.

The leek’s flower.

From the Greeks onwards leeks were in French cuisine and are hold an important place in recipes in France’s earliest printed French cookbook, entitled Le Cuisinier François, the French Cook.  That cookbook was written around 1650 by La Varenne (François Pierre de) (1618 – 1678).   
Leeks on French Menus:

Croustade de Coquilles St Jacques à la Crème de Poireaux et au Safran – A hollowed out loaf of bread filled with a cream of leek soup with king scallops flavored with saffron.  (A croustade is also the name for the French take on the Italian Bruschetta where grilled vegetables or grilled chicken liver may be served on toast).

A leek and potato soup with bacon bits.
Dos d’Églefin Sur sa Fondue de Poireaux, Sauce Crème Ciboulette - A thick cut from a haddock, the fish, served on a bed of wild leeks with a cream of chives sauce.  For fish “dos" is a cut from the back and considered the tastiest part.  The bed of leeks in this menu listing is called a fondue with the word coming from "fondre" meaning warming and melting and for vegetables that means very well cooked, a pulp.  Cheese and meat fondues while utilizing very different cooking techniques also emphasize melting.

Flamiche aux Poireaux et Maroilles Gratinée et Salade - Flamiche is a traditional leek and sweet cream pie with a recipe that originated in the region of Picardie; here it is served Gratinée, browned, with the help of the Maroilles cow’s milk cheese and accompanied by a salad.  Flamiches are now on menus all over Northern France where inventive chefs create their own versions with other ingredients.  The Maroilles is an AOP cheese and also from Picardie; it has a slightly sweet and lightly salty taste with a creamy texture and is famed for its strong smell.  (The region of Picardie was merged with the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais on 1-1-2016 and became the new super-region of Hauts de France).

Joue de Bœuf Braisée, Polenta au Café et Poireaux Grilles – Braised beef cheeks served with coffee flavored polenta and grilled leeks.  Beef cheeks will have been slowly cooked until tender; they are a French comfort food.
Leeks and thyme
Le Lapin du Bois de Boulle Rôti, Poireaux Nouveaux, Pommes Soufflées, Sauce d’une Blanquette - Rabbit from the Bois de Boulle farm served with young leeks and souffle potatoes with a sauce blanquette.  A blanquette is a creamy stew prepared with white meats including rabbit; here the sauce comes from a blanquette.  When a chef believes the restaurant’s patrons will recognize a source of excellent produce the name of the supplier is often added to the menu.  The Bois de Boulle farm in this menu listing is close to the fishing port and vacation town of La Turballe on France’s Atlantic coast in the department of Loire-Atlantique.  It is a family owned farm with an excellent reputation for farm-raised food including rabbits, free-range poultry and organic eggs.  The chef has apparently checked them out and expects his patrons to have heard about them. 
Loup et Poireaux Sauvages, Mousseline de Panais European sea bass prepared with wild leeks and served with a parsnip moose.  Wild leeks have a sweet but gentle garlic and onion taste.  (The word mousseline comes from the material muslin and muslin has very fine holes; it was used as a sieve before fine metal sieves became available and from that cooking technique came the word moose).

Seared Wolf fish, celery root and leek purée.
Omelette à l'Aillet – An omelet with wild leeks.  Aillet is the southern French name for wild leeks.
Velouté de Poireaux –A velvety leek soup.

Wild leeks.
In the supermarkets and on some menus you may see: Poireaux de Créances, IGP, Label Rouge - These are France’s most highly rated leeks and they grow alongside France's equally highly rated Carottes de Créances IGP red label carrots.  The town of Créances is close to the Atlantic coast in the department of Manche in Normandie; here, from the 11th-century until the French revolution vegetables were cultivated in this area by the monks of the nearby Essay Abbey.  Today independent farmers, produce a wide variety of high-quality vegetables on the Créances, which is also the name of the local dunes. The salt air, sandy soil, and the seaweed mulch the farmers use are responsible for the excellent taste of their vegetables.

A French chef told me that many European cooks just chop off the green part of a leek and throw it in the garbage, but French chefs do not do that.  The green part of the leek is bitter, but that’s if you take a large bite.  The green center when added to soups, stews and sauces will add beautiful flavors and so in French cuisine it is usually treated as a herb.  The white part of the leek is the part most usually seen when cooked, and it is white because it grows under the earth where no chlorophyll can change it to green.  White asparagus, for the same reason, differs from green asparagus because it is picked while still covered with earth and not exposed to the light.  Leeks and asparagus are often part of the same soup or tart and the green center of young leeks may also be cooked like asparagus.

Leek and asparagus vinaigrette.
Cooking the green part of leeks like asparagus raised a question neither the chef in this story nor anyone else, at the time, knew how to answer.  Why is one of a leek’s alternate French names the Asperge du Pauvre, the asparagus of the poor?  That name is not on any menu that I have seen; who would order a dish called the Poor Man's Asparagus?
Much later, I asked a French friend, who knows a great deal about French cuisine the source of the name “the asparagus of the poor.”  He pointed out that both leeks and asparagus will be on restaurant menus in one form or another but with very different prices and therein lies the origin of the name.  Since the leek is a great deal cheaper than asparagus it was probably awarded that nickname when it was chosen over the upscale and expensive asparagus.
Leeks in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – porro), (Dutch - prei), (German - lauch), (Italian - porro), (Spanish  - puerro, porro), (Latin - allium ampeloprasum var. porrum)
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