Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Oscar Wilde; author, poet and playwright was born in Dublin and died in Paris.
Vinaigre – Vinegar; the word comes from the French for sour wine, vin aigre.Despite vinegar’s origins in today’s French kitchens, plain wine vinegars have a great deal of competition. Flavored wine vinegar's and fruit vinegars are in every restaurant and home kitchen.Among the many fruit vinegars, Normandy and Brittany promote cider vinegars alongside their famous ciders and apple brandies.All over France every distillery producing alcoholic fruit eau-de vies will be out there selling their fruit vinegar as they are important by-products. The traditional sauce vinaigrette may originally only have been made with wine vinegar, but today fruit vinegars and of course that much enjoyed Italian import Balsamic grape vinegar are often in contention.When wine vinegar is used then name of the wine that was used to create the vinegar is often on the menu.
Chevreuil Rôti, Béarnaise au Vinaigre de Banyuls, Purée de Panais et Échalotes. Roast roe deer, served with a Béarnaise sauce flavored with a vinegar from the famous sweet wines from the town of Banyuls sur Mer on the Mediterranean coast,
Cœur de Bœuf, Rôtie au Vinaigre Chardonnay, Salade et Truffe d'Été. The heart of a beef filet roasted and served with a salad with winter truffles flavored with chardonnay wine vinegar.
Fines Tranches d’Agneau, Vinaigre de Merlot, Huile de Noisettes Courgettes et Tomates Confites, Racines d’Hiver. Thin slices of lamb served with merlot wine vinegar and hazelnut oil, accompanied by a thick and sweet courgette, the USA zucchini, and tomato jam and winter root vegetables.
Tranches de Foie Gras aux Figues et Gelée auVinaigre de Muscat de Rivesaltes – Slices of fattened duck liver served with its own jelly and a fig jam flavoredwith vinegar from the sweet Muscat de Riversaltes wine.
Vinaigre Balsamique -Balsamic vinegar; only legally produced in and around the city of Modena, Italy. Despite Balsamicvinegar’sItalian provenance, the French recognize and happily receive the best products from around the world and they incorporate them in their kitchen.Balsamic vinegar is very popular and its use will be noted on the menu.
Aging barrels of Balsamic Vinegar.
Photograph courtesy of Città Di Modena.
Balsamic vinegar comes from the Trebbiano grape and owes its unique taste not only to that grape but also to the manner in which it is aged. The aging process takesthe vinegar through to five different wooden barrels, each adding to the flavor. This grape vinegaris unlike most grape based vinegars as it was never a wine. However; despite never having been a winethe vinegar itself does ferment and as part of its aging, the cellar master, as with fine wines, must evaluate theexact amount of fermentation as the vinegar passes through the five barrels:oak, chestnut, cherry, ash and finally mulberry, before being bottled. A young balsamic vinegar will rarely be less than five years old.
The finest balsamic vinegars are aged for 15 to 30 years and are more expensive than many fine wines. Foods and salads prepared with balsamic vinegar offer a different and unique taste.
Salade de Chèvre Chaud, Échalotes Rôties au Vinaigre Balsamique- A hot goats’ cheese salad served with roasted shallots and Balsamic vinegar.
Cailles Rôties et Pimientos au Chèvre Frais, Vinaigre Balsamique Réduit - Roasted quaile and sweet peppers and fresh goat’s cheeseserved with a thickened balsamic vinegar sauce.
Risotto aux Légumes, Vieux Vinaigre Balsamique, Roquette et Parmesan - A vegetable risotto flavored with an aged Balsamic vinegar, rocket and Parmesan cheese.
Soupe de Fraise au Vinaigre Balsamique- A cold strawberry soup flavored with Balsamic Vinegar.
Vinaigre d'Orléans – The vinegar of Orleans. A wine vinegar from the hometown of Joan of Arc on the Loire river in the valley of the Loire.This vinegar is aged in oak for a minimum of six months before being sold.
Salade de Mâche et Betteraves et Vinaigre d'Orléans "Vieille Réserve”. - A salad of France’s famous lambs’ lettuce salad greens, beetroots, and an especially old Orleans vinegar.
Ravioles d'Épinards, Sauce au Vinaigre d'Orléans. Spinach ravioli served with an Orleans vinegar sauce.
Vinaigre de Cidre – Cider vinegar.Most cider vinegars are made from apple juice before it has become cider; however, let us not be confused by the facts; within France there is a great deal of competition for the sale of cider vinegars including some that have been aged in oak barrels.Chefs use cider vinegar in recipes where its unique taste makes a difference; however, cider vinegar is a strong tasting vinegar and so it is used carefully.
At one time cider vinegar was sold like a patent medicine or a cure all; however, none of those stories which gave it its reputation appear to have any truth. Still, maybe there was something in that“apple a day.”
Colvert Rôti, Navets Confits au Vinaigre de Cidre – Mallard duck servedwith a sweet turnip jam flavored with cider vinegar
Pavé de Cabillaud Rôti au Vinaigre de Cidre, Pot au Feu de Légumes- A thick slice of roasted cod flavored with cider vinegar and served with a vegetable pot au feu, a heavy stew.
Suprême de Pintadeau Braisé aux Pommes et Vinaigre de Cidre – Guinea hen breast braised with potatoes and flavored with cider vinegar.
Vinaigre de Fraises - Strawberry vinegar.Strawberry vinegar may be either a flavored wine vinegar or a vinegar made from a strawberry eau-de-vie. Strawberry vinegar along with other sweet berry and fruit vinegars are mostly used to flavor sauces. The examples below show just three fruits, but practically every fruit that is made into an alcoholic eau de vie also has its own vinegar.
Salade de Gésiers d'Oie déglacée au Vinaigre de Framboise - A salad of goose gizards cooked in a thickened raspberry vinegar.
Viinaigre de Jerez - See Vinaigre de Xérès .
Vinaigre de Pêches - Peach vinegar.
Aiguillettes de Canard au Vinaigre de Pêches. – Slices of duck flavored with peach vinegar.
Vinaigre de Pommes - Apple vinegar. See Vinaigre de Cidre.
Vinaigre de Reims (Le)– Reims Vinegar;a vinegar made from Champagne; this is considered to have a lighter touch than other wine vinegars. Reims is the largest city in the Champagne-Ardenne region and that region that is home to most of the Champagne vineyards.
Daurade Marinée, Pommes de Terre, Oignons Rouges au Vinaigre de Reims - Marinated gilthead sea bream, potatoes, red onions prepared with the Reims vinegar.
Vinaigre Vieux-Aged vinegar. While the words aged vinegar could refer to any vinegar when no further description is offeredit is an aged wine vinegar that will be used.
Farci de Tomate aux Fregola Sarde, Girolles et Vinaigre Vieux- Stuffed tomatoes with the unique Sardinian toasted wheat pasta prepared with chanterelle mushrooms and flavored with aged vinegar.
Old red wine vinegar.
Photograph courtesy ofSharon Mollerus.
Vinaigre de Xérès- Sherry Vinegar. Despite its Spanish provenance, this is a very popular vinegar in French kitchens.Sherry vinegars are produced in the same area where sherry wines are produced in Spain. Sherry vinegar is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six months and while in the barrel, like other wine vinegars, the presence of oxygen allows bacteria to convert the alcohol to vinegar. True vinegars have at least 6% acetic acid and sherry vinegars additionally have about 3% residual alcohol. The original taste of the sherry remains with the vinegar and allows it to produce some very special tastes. A sherry vinaigrette sauce with a salad can be wonderful.
Photograph courtesy ofMiss Anna Lynn Martino.
Like the producers of Balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar producers have realized that there is great deal of added value when they sell well aged and flavorsome vinegars.All sherry vinegars are aged in a barrel for at least 6 months and then may be sold as a Vinaigre de Jerez. Older sherry vinegars spend two years in a barrel, usually oak; these vinegars are called Gran Reserva and their price is much higher than the six month old vinegars. After ten years in the barrel a very expensive vinegar will be produced; this is a unique vinegar called Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva.
Ris de Veau, Risotto Arborio au Parmesan, Jus Aigre Doux au Vinaigre de Xéres. – Veal sweetbreads served with a risotto made with Arborio rice and Parmesan cheese and flavored with a sweet and sour sauce made with Sherry vinegar.
La Salade Tiède de Scampis Grillés au Vinaigre de Xérès et Pointes d'Asperges – A warm salad of grilled scampi, Dublin bay prawns, served with Sherry vinegar and asparagus tips.
Salade de Rillauds d'Anjou au Vinaigre de Xérès.A salad of spiced pork belly pieces, prepared in the manner of Anjou, cooked untilcrisp and crunchy.
Vinaigrette - The most well known of all French sauces or salad dressings.Theoriginal and traditional French dressing is olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic and herbs.This is the dressing often just called a French dressing and that it is; it is also always better when tasted in Franc e!
Photograph courtesy ofEtienne.
Verjus - Juice from unripe grapes.Unripe grapes are not sweet and while verjus does not taste like vinegar it was used in the Middles Ages in much the same way as vinegar is used today. Then a few hundred years ago vinegar took over from verjus in the popularity polls and now, knowledgeable chefs are looking at the different tastes that certain verjus’s create. They are using those tastes and putting them back on the menu and recreating flavors that were lost along with new creations.The name verjus is old French and simply means green juice.
Photograph courtesy of cat.
Huîtres en Papillote au Verjus – Oysters baked with verjus inside a sealed baking parchment paper or aluminum foil. When ready the sealed parchment or foil will be placed on the table and opened in front of the diners so the concentrated aroma may be appreciated before the dish is served.
La Salade de CanardFumé au Verjus – A salad made with smoked duck and served with verjus instead of a vinaigrette sauce.
Poitrine de Colvert au Verjus – Breast of mallard duck prepared with verjus.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.
For more information on the book behind the blog write to Bryan Newman