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Saturday, July 27, 2013

La Dinde, the Tasty Turkey on a French Menu -

The first turkey to arrive in France was the
domesticated Mexican turkey, and that was in the 16th century.
 The turkeys on most French menus are descended from a different bird to those on most North American and UK menus.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
The Mexican wild turkey -  meleagris gallopavo mexicana
Photograph courtesy of Al_HikesAZ
A turkey, even a wild turkey, is too large for a single family meal and so like geese, the first whole turkeys began to be associated with celebrations. Then the butchers began to sell turkey parts and  already two hundred years ago many recipes created especially for turkey began to be seen on French menus.
Dinde – A turkey; a hen turkey.
Dindo Turkey in Provencal.
Dindon - A male turkey, a turkey-cock, a tom turkey.

Dindonneau - A young turkey..
On your French menu today you may be offered:
 Blanquette de Dinde – A blanquette is stew that was originally made with white meats meaning veal, pork or rabbit.  The word blanc means white in French and is the origin for the name blanquette and today blanquettes include fish and poultry.  Most recipes for blanquettes include mushrooms and a cream sauce with some including white wine. When the menu listing is like this one and gives no information, ask!
Crepes Farcies au Jambon de Dinde FumeCrepes, pancakes, stuffed with smoked turkey.  Jambon de dinde fume translates as smoked turkey ham; however do not confuse French smoked turkey with the UK or USA turkey ham. The US and UK turkey ham may be cured but is not usually smoked;  it is also often shaped to look like a ham. Smoked turkey ham in France has a taste somewhat similar to ham; the taste of smoked turkey, as well as smoked duck  and smoked goose allows them to be used by observant Jews and Moslems as a replacement in recipes that use real ham and or bacon.
Escalope de Dinde à la Crème A slice of turkey breast served with a cream sauce. An escalope is a cut that is boneless and usually more or less round or oval shaped. The English names used in translating escalope  include a cutlet, a scallop and an escalope. On French menus, an escalope may be a cut from fish and some meats, except veal..

  Escalopes of turkey breast
Photograph courtesy of slackmistress      
Similar cuts come from veal will rarely be seen with the name escalope, the terms paillard or paillard de veau will be used. N.B. The meaning of the English word scallop for an escalope refers to the shape of a scallop’s shell, not the meat inside.
Cuisses de Dinde Fermière de Loué Cuisinées Comme un Coq au Vin- Turkey legs from the farm-raised turkeys of Loué cooked in the manner of coq au vin. Coq au vin is a unique dish with a long history. .The turkey and other poultry raised by the farmers in Loué are known all over France.  Loué is in the département of  Sarthe in the Pays de la Loire. Nearly every chicken, turkey, duck and guinea hen from Loué will either have a label rouge, the red label for their consistent quality  or they will have the French AB organic label. For poultry, the red label ensures that the birds are all free range until two weeks before being marketed.

For more about organic food in France see the post: Organic Food in France. Organic Produce, Meats, Milk, Cheeses, Wines and More
Dinde Farcie aux Marrons – Turkey with a chestnut stuffing. French chestnut stuffing will normally have a sausage meat base and include the addition of wine or Cognac; the stuffing will be cooked as it should be, inside the roasting turkey. Around Christmas time and on other festive occasions some unique French turkey breeds appear on restaurant menus. 


Roast turkey
Photograph courtesy of
The first turkeys to be raised in France were the domesticated Mexican turkeys which arrived in the 16th century; the UK and USA domesticated their cousins, the wild North American turkeys. .
For four-hundred years many of these unique French breeds of turkeys have been raised as free range birds for most of their life; they have a far better taste than most turkeys offered at home. Look out for menus offering Dinde Blanche d’Auvergne, the white feathered turkeys of the Auvergne or the Dinde Noir de Gers, the black feathered turkeys of Gers. There are at least twelve unique French turkey breeds all with accepted claims to exceptional tastes. The French turkey considered the best, even head and shoulders above all others, and it is  certainly the most expensive, is the Dinde de Bresse AOC, it is the only turkey with an AOC. If you are in the area of Bresse in mid- December, check ahead with the French Government Tourist Office and see which towns are having special events at the dinner table.  This is when the farmers have competitions for the best poultry in the towns of Bourg-en-Bresse, Pont-de-Vaux and Montrevel-en-Bresse in the département of Ain and in the town of Louhans-Chateaurenard, Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy. 
For more about the AOC and AOP markings see the post: Why is the AOC becoming an AOP on French Food, Wines and More?
Poitrine de Dinde Rôtie Farcie aux Herbes – A whole turkey breast stuffed with herbs and roasted.  With a dish like this on the menu, you will be served slices cut across the breast.

Stuffed turkey breast
Photograph courtesy of 3liz4
The French accepted the Spaniards assumption that they had discovered the western part of India; even today the Caribbean islands are called the West Indies.  When in the late 15th century the first domesticated Mexican turkeys arrive in France they called the turkey the poulet d’Inde, the hen or chicken of India.  That; however created a problem as Guinea fowl had been brought to France from Africa a short while before by the Portuguese. The Portuguese did introduce these birds as the poules de Guinée, the Guinea hens, but with some confusion as to the bird’s origin the French called  this bird the poulet d’Inde, the Indian chicken; I imagine they assumed that the birds  were actually brought to Portugal  from its South American colonies.

The North American Wild Turkey - meleagris gallopavo
Photograph  courtesy of rachidH
While the error in the origin was quickly discovered; the name had already been accepted, and so with the arrival of the domesticated turkey the Guinea fowl, the first poulet d’Inde, was renamed the Pintade, which refers to its coloring.   The French may have got the turkey’s name wrong but so did everyone else. At least the French admitted the error, and in the 18th century they changed the name of the turkey, then called the  poule d’Inde to dinde, and that is name used now; it is a neutral name that acknowledges the original mistake.

For more about Guinea hens  on French menus see the post: Pintade, a Guinea Hen, may be on Your Menu.

Turkey in  other languages

(Arabic -  دجاج رومي  ), (Chinese (Mandarin )-  火雞   ), (Dutch – kalkoenen),   (Italian – tacchino), (German – truthahn), (Hebrew – tarnegol hodu   - תרנגול הודו ), (Korean -  칠면조),  (Japanese - シチメンチョウ属(シチメンチョウぞく、学名 ),  (Portuguese -  peru),   (Russian –Индейки),   (Spanish – pavo), (Tagalog – pabo) Language corrections and additional languages, without payment, is appreciated.
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013

For more information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman