Friday, August 10, 2012

Châtaignes and Marrons on French Menus. You Will Have Chestnuts From Your Hors d’œuvre to Your Digestif.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

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 most of the recipes created both French chestnut are used interchangeably.

The Châtaigne with its multiple chestnuts.
Photograph by courtesy of Otto Phokus.
France is covered with forests; forests cover 25% of the country with chestnut forests in 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 AOP,  are unique and they have an AOP, signifying  a consistently unique products.  These two chestnuts may be the very best but, in season, when all  the chestnuts from France 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 your travel around France.   Restaurant menus will offer endless opportunities for chefs to show off their skills with chestnuts.
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
Photograph by courtesy of w EnDaLicious
Sauce Grand Veneur transalates as the sauce of a great hunter. This is a traditional sauce tcreated to serve with game.  The recipe has changed over time and now is usually made with red wine vinegar, butter, fresh berries and crème fraîche.
 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.
Ravioles de Cèpes et Châtaignes au Parfum de Truffes – Porcini mushroom and chestnut ravioli  scented with truffles. 

A chestnut dessert.
Photograph by 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. However, while chestnuts are now not a basic food they are served with special recipes 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 salade, 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.
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. 
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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