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Friday, August 10, 2012

Châtaignes and Marrons - Chestnuts. Chestnuts in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
  Updated June 2017
Gâteau aux marrons,  chestnut cake.
Photograph by courtesy of Кулинарно,
Châtaignes and Marrons, the sweet chestnuts of France.
These two sweet chestnuts taste, to me, very similar; in a blind tasting, I failed to tell the difference. Since they are so similar in taste and both are excellent it is not surprising that the recipes created for French chestnuts are used interchangeably.
The Châtaigne with its multiple chestnuts.
Photograph by courtesy of Otto Phokus.
France is covered with forests; altogether some 25% of the country is covered with chestnut forests from the north to the south.  Chestnuts were, for hundreds of years, the primary food of the French peasantry; it kept them alive through the winters as chestnut flour stored well. Chestnuts were also used to make beer and the stored chestnut peelings were the food of  the farm animals in winter.
The highest rated chestnuts in France.
Two French chestnuts are recognized as truly superior;  the others are just excellent!   The Châtaigne  Périgord -Limousin Midi-Pyrénées hold the Label Rouge, the Red Label for quality, while the Châtaigne d'Ardèche AOC/AOP,  are unique and they have an AOP, signifying that they are a truly unique product.  These two chestnuts may be the very best but, in season, when chestnuts are on the menu I am not sure that any will disappoint you.
The Maron with its single chestnut.
Photograph courtesy of Jaydot.
Chestnuts on the menu:
Begin your acquaintance with French chestnuts at the beginning of the season, then freshly roasted chestnuts will be sold on street corners;  elegantly served in brown paper bags so you may eat them as you stroll along.
Soupe à la Châtaigne, chestnut soup.
Photograph by courtesy of Lynn.gardener.
If you prefer your chestnuts prepared by a chef there will be many opportunities for enjoying them as you travel around France.   Restaurant menus offer endless opportunities for chefs to show off their skills with chestnuts.

Chestnuts on French menus:
Ballotine de Dinde Rôtie aux Marrons – Roasted, boned, turkey served with chestnuts.
Crème Brûlée aux Marrons, Caramélisée au Sucre Vergeoise - Crème Brûlée with chestnuts; caramelized with the brown sugar made from French sugar beets.
Venison, endives, chestnuts, and quinces  served with Sauce Grand Veneur
Sauce Grand Veneur translates as the sauce of a great hunter. This is a traditional sauce that was created to serve with wild game.  The recipe has changed over time and now is usually made with red wine vinegar, butter, fresh berries and crème fraîche.
Photograph courtesy of w EnDaLicious

 Filet de Grondin Rouge en Beignet à la Farine de Châtaigne – A filet of red gunard, the fish,  dipped in chestnut flour and then deep fried.
Gâteau à la Farine de Châtaigne Corse AOC – A cake made with the AOC chestnut flour from Corsica. Chestnut flour is used in many crepes, cakes, and other recipes. The most famous chestnut flour is the  Corsican Farine de Châtaigne Corse AOP, called Castagnina in Corsican.
Ravioles de Cèpes et Châtaignes au Parfum de TruffesFrench Porcini mushroom and chestnut ravioli  scented with truffles. 
A chestnut dessert.
Photograph courtesy of Meg Zimbeck.

In the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, in season, local restaurants will be offering their famous Figarette, a chestnut and porcini mushroom soup. In the région of Limousin,  all year round  includes their Liqueur de Châtaignes,   a 40% alcohol chestnut liquor. 
Liqueur de  Châtaigne

  When the conquistadors brought corn, maize, from the New World chestnut flower became less popular. The French peasants moved on and. Now, while chestnuts are no longer a special chestnut recipes are served in the finest restaurants.
           The different types of chestnuts.
The châtaigne is correctly called the Spanish Chestnut or  Sweet Chestnut and from each fruit, there will anywhere from one to five nuts, usually three.  The marron is the American chestnut;  it usually has a single larger nut in each fruit, sometimes two.  The people who brought most of the châtaignes, the Spanish chestnut trees, to France were the usual suspects, the Romans.

Chestnuts are, in and out of season on menus all over France.  They may be part of a salad, an hors d’œuvres, the entrée, the plate principal, the main course, and the desserts. At the end of the meal the eau-de-vie that will be offered as your digestif well be a chestnut brandy.
Châtaigne d'Eau, Macre or Macre Commune  - The water chestnut.
Châtaigne de Mer or Oursin - The sea urchin. This odd spiny little sea creature, so beloved of the French.  The sea urchin will need a separate post, save to say only its inside is eaten. The spines are left untouched.
Marron Glacé – Candied Chestnuts are one of France's most famous sweets, candies, and may also be part of a restaurant dessert. France has hundreds of years of experience in removing the water from fruits and replacing it with sugar, formerly honey.  I believe I should hold back on these delicious chestnuts and include them in a post on Fruits Confit or Fruits Glacés, Candied or crystallized fruits. 
Connected posts:

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2011,2012, 2015, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman

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