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Monday, July 30, 2012

Clous de Girofle - Cloves. Cloves in French Cuisine

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
   Updated 2016
Cloves are one of the world’s oldest recorded spices; we know the Chinese were using cloves in their cuisine over 4,000 years ago. Cloves are strongly aromatic and can have an intense and fiery taste.  When cloves reached, the West is uncertain, but both Greek and Roman cuisine used cloves. Either one of those two usual suspects brought cloves to France, or possibly they arrived even earlier through those early Mediterranean wholesalers, the Phoenicians. Then cloves were immediately incorporated into French cuisine.
Baked pears with honeyed cinnamon and Cognac
Cloves will be in both French savory and sweet dishes; cloves will also be used in alcoholic and alcohol-free punches to add a little fire, and for the same reason cloves will be in many marinades and pickling solutions.
Cloves drying before being sent to the market.
In French cuisine cloves are part of the oldest French spice group still in use,that is called the Quatre Épices, the four spices, or the Épice Parisienne, the Parisian spice. This French spice group goes back at least four hundred years. Today a chef may use five spices rather than the original four, though they will still be on the menu as the quatre épices, the four spices. The Quatre Épices includes more or less,  the original four spices:  poivre, pepper, noix de muscade, nutmeg, and clous de girofle, cloves. The disputed fourth was initially gingembre, ginger or cassia, Chinese cinnamon. Today the Chinese cinnamon will be replaced by the Cannelle de Ceylan, Ceylonese cinnamon.  French cuisine uses many spice groups with the most famous being Les Fine Herbes.
Cloves are also used in cocktails.
These are clove-scented sidecars.
A sidecar is Cointreau, Cognac, Lemon Juice, and in this exampl, there are added cloves.
Photograph by courtesy of shutterbean.
The name clou in French originates from the old French word for a nail; if you look at the picture at the top of this post a single clove does somewhat resemble a nail. They look somewhat like the rather wonky nails of 2,000 years ago.  The name clou arrived in England with the French-Norman conquerors in 1066, and a clou later became a clove in English.

Cloves on French Menus:
Compote de Chocolat Blanc, Poires Infusées aux Clous de Girofle –  A compote of white chocolate and pears infused with cloves.
Gibier Confit  Pommes de Terre; Assaisonnez de Cannelle, de Clou de GirofleWild game cooked in its own fat and then served a few days later with potatoes and seasoned with vanilla and cloves.
Infusion de Clous de Girofle et Cannelle – An infusion, a tisane, a herbal tea, made with cloves and cinnamon.  Cloves, in small quantities, are considered an aid in speeding recovery from indigestion in French homeopathic medicine.
 La Soupe de Cerise est Composée d’un Bouillon Froid avec un Fort Goût de Cannelle et de Clous de Girofle et des Cerises Entières -  A cold cherry bouillon with a strong flavoring of cinnamon and cloves and served with whole cherries.
Magret de Canard Sauce Quatre Épices et Miel Duck breast prepared with a sauce made of the four spices spice group and honey.

Oil of Cloves
Oil of Cloves, in both Chinese and Western medicine, has long been used as an antiseptic and pain reliever. The picture above is an old bottle of an oil of clove pain killer; this one was probably sold for toothaches. The bottle pictured above probably came at the latest from the 1950s or 1960s, though oil of cloves is still used as a homeopathic painkiller.
Chefs must be careful with the quantities, as too many cloves will numb your mouth and then you will not be able to taste anything.  Cloves are also an essential ingredient in that partly Indian, partly British sauce; Worcestershire Sauce. Cloves are also critical to the Cinq Épices Chinois, the Chinese five-spice powder.

Serious cultivation of cloves, as usual, began with Dutch who had a practical monopoly until the 18th century.  Cloves grow on an evergreen tree that can reach over 3 meters in height; the tree flowers twice a year, and the cloves are the unopened buds.
Clove trees, up to three meters tall.
Photograph courtesy of Robert Tyabji.
The world’s largest producer of clove is a single island, the island of Pemba; part of Tanzania, on the East coast of Africa. Nearly the whole island of Pemba is covered with clove gardens.  According to travelers who have visited the cloves from the island can be smelled over the horizon before the passengers on the ship approaching the island can see it. Madagascar and Indonesia are also large producers.
Cloves in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan -   clavell, clau d'espècia), (Dutch - kruidnagel ), (German – nelke, gewürznelke). (Italian - chiodo di garofano), (Spanish – clavo),
Connected Posts:


Poivre - Peppercorns. White, Green, Black and Red Peppercorns and Grey Pepper in French cuisine and on French Menus. For hundred of years pepper was the most important spice in the world.  

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.
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