Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dinde - Turkey. The Turkey in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2019.
Male Rio Grande Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo ssp. Intermedia
The first turkey to arrive in France was the domesticated Mexican turkey, and that was in the 16th century. Since then, the turkeys on most French menus are descended from a different bird to their cousins the North American wild turkey whose descendants are on most North American and UK menus. 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 butchers started to sell turkey parts and already two hundred years ago many recipes created especially for turkey began to be seen on French menus.

 Dindon Rouge de Ardennes.
The red turkey from the French region of the Ardennes.
Dinde – A turkey; a hen turkey.

Dindo – Turkey in Provencal.

Dindon - A male turkey, a turkey-cock, a tom turkey.

Dindonneau - A young turkey.

The turkeys of France.

For four hundred years, the best French breeds of turkeys have been raised as free-range birds for most of their life; they have a far better taste than most of the turkeys offered in the USA and UK. 

Look out for menus offering the 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 undoubtedly the most expensive, is the Dinde de Bresse AOC, it is the only turkey with an AOC/AOP. 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. December is the month when the farmers have competitions for the best poultry in the municipalities of Bourg-en-Bresse, Pont-de-Vaux, and Montrevel-en-Bresse in the département of Ain and the town of Louhans-Chateaurenard, Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy.

Dinde Noir de Sologne
The Sologne covers a large forested area in North Central France in the Loire Valley between the River Loire and one of its tributaries, the River Cher.
The Château de Chambord is in the Sologne
Photograph courtesy of SuperToinette.

Turkey on French menus:
 Blanquette de Dinde – A blanquette is stew that was originally made with white meats meaning veal, pork, or rabbit.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 of the name blanquette, and today, blanquettes include fish and poultry. Most recipes for blanquettes include button mushrooms and a cream sauce with many, including white wine. When the menu listing is like this one and gives no information, ask! 

Crepes Farcies au Jambon de Dinde Fume – Crepes, pancakes, stuffed with smoked turkey ham; however, do not confuse French smoked turkey with the taste of U.K. or USA turkey ham. Smoked turkey ham in France has a flavor somewhat similar to cured ham and European 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. English names used in translating escalope include a cutlet, a scallop, and an escalope. A similar cut from veal is an escalope de veau, though the term paillard will also 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.
  Roast turkey
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. Turkey, chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl raised by the farmers in Loué are known all over France. Nearly all the poultry from around the town of Loué have a Label Rouge, red label, for their consistent quality, and many have the French AB organic label. For poultry,the red label also ensures that the birds are all free-range until two weeks before being marketed. The town of Loué is in the department of Sarthe in the Pays de la Loire.

Dinde Farcie aux Marrons – Turkey with a chestnut stuffing. French chestnut stuffing will typically 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, the unique French turkey breasts appear on French menus.
Stuffed turkey breast

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.

Why did the French call the turkey dinde.
The French, like everyone else, accepted Christopher Columbus’s assumption that he had discovered the western part of India; still today the Caribbean islands are called the West Indies. Following on Columbus’s assumption in the late 15th century the first domesticated Mexican turkeys arrive in France and so they called the turkey the poulet d’Inde, the hen or chicken of India. However, that created a problem as Guinea fowl had been brought to France from Africa a short while before by the Portuguese. 

Now, the Portuguese did introduce these birds as the poules de Guinée, the Guinea hens, but with the confusion of the time as to the bird’s origin, the French called this bird the poulet d’Inde, the Indian chicken. I imagine the assumption was that the birds originated in the Portuguese South American colonies. The Guinea fowl, the first poulet d’Inde, was eventually renamed the Pintade, which refers to its coloring.  On the other side of the Channel, the English knew the birds came from North America but the first merchants who traded turkeys in wholesale quantities were Turkish and so turkey became the bird's popular English name. 
The North American Wild Turkey
meleagris gallopavo

While the error in the origin of the turkeys that arrived in France was quickly discovered; the name had already been accepted. The French may have got the turkey’s name wrong but then so did everyone else. In the 18th century to end the confusion in France 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.

Dinde - Turkey in  the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - gall dindi), Dutch – kalkoenen),   (German – truthahn), ), (Italian – tacchino), (Spanish – pavo).

Dinde – Turkey in other languages:

(Arabic -  دجاج رومي  ), (Chinese (Mandarin) -  火雞 ).  (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),  (Portuguese -  peru),   (Russian –Индейки), (Tagalog – pabo).  Language corrections and additional languages are appreciated.


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2019

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks Bryan for an enlightening presentation of La Dinde; learned much about turkey, the Wild Bird in particular. Also learned much about the culinary art of savoring turkey a la Française. I am familiar with white turkey, checked it out, turned to be a domesticated variety. Wild turkey visit my yard frequently in Sparta, NJ. See some more photos here: