Friday, July 11, 2014

Cresson, Cresson de Fontaine - Watercress in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Updated January 2018

Cresson de Fontaine or Cresson – Watercress.
For the French cress is cresson de fontaine, watercress; when the diner sees cresson on a menu listing, he or she always expects watercress. Other cress varieties are rarely on French menus and when they do occasionally appear they will have their full name.
The watercress on your menu will have been farmed, and so it will not be as sharp as wild watercress.  As a child, my brother and I collected wild watercress in the slow running corners of streams in the English Lake District, and that watercress was really spicy.  When dining in France’s countryside the local mushroom and herb gatherers, the ramasseurs de champignons et herbes may be supplying the restaurant with wild watercress; then you are in for a treat.  Watercress was one of the herbs which Charlemagne ordered to be grown in Im­perial gardens.

Watercress soup with fresh goat’s cheese.
On your menu you may be offered:

Dés de Saumon en Gravelax, Crémeux de Cresson et Œufs de Saumon – A thick cut of gravelax made with Atlantic salmon served with a creamy watercress sauce and salmon eggs. Gravlax is a wonderful dish of Scandinavian origin made with whole filets of salmon, cured in a nearly, but not quite, freezing, mixture of salt, sugar, pepper and dill; it is served thinly sliced.
Les Langoustines Côtières au Vert de Cresson, Céleri et Radis - Dublin Bay prawns, scampi, caught in our coastal waters, flavored with the juice of watercress, and served with celery and radishes.

Noix de Saint Jacques Grillées, Blancs de Poireaux à la Crème, Coulis de Cresson Grilled King scallop meat served with creamed leeks and a puree of watercress.

Watercress, almond, and asparagus salad.

Salade de Pommes de Terre au Haddock et Cresson – A potato salad served with smoked haddock and watercress.

Watercress flowers.
Velouté de Cresson de Méréville - A velvety watercress soup, made with the watercress grown in Méréville.
A French chef told me, and I have checked, watercress is good for you. It has plenty of vitamin A and C and even a small amount of calcium. And, believe it or not, but all cresses are members of the cabbage family.
Garden cress, rather than watercress, is the most popular cress in Britain and called cressonnette or alénois cressonnette in French. Garden cress is appreciated in France, but not enough to be on many menus.
Garden cress.
The famed watercress of Méréville
Cresson de Méréville is the most highly rated cultivated watercress in France. It is grown around the town of Méréville in the department of Essonne in the region of Ile-de-France.  By car, Méréville is an hour and a quarter from Paris, 74 km (45 miles). They have been cultivating watercress in Méréville for over one-hundred years.

Visit a French watercress fair.

If you are really into watercress, then visit the Foire Annuelle au Cresson de Méréville, the annual watercress fair in Méréville. The fair is held from Saturday through Monday on the Easter weekend. Easter is a national and not a religious holiday in France though some 10% of the population does go to church. At the watercress fair some sixty exhibitors will have set up shop outside city hall, and they will be selling everything from wine, cheeses, herbs, lessons in cooking with watercress and, of course, bundles of watercress. Nevertheless, check the dates on the French language website of the Méréville town hall under March, Mars, and or April, Avril, as Easter dates move around every year:
Cultivating watercress in Méréville.

The famous, Jardin de Méréville, the garden of Méréville, was a splendid and unique Anglo-Chinese garden when it was built in 1787.  The garden was designed by the architect Bellanger and the painter Hubert Robert. Now it is being restored to its former glory. Tickets to tour the garden may be reserved before arrival.  If the garden is closed on the day you intend to be in the area, worry not; travel in any direction from Méréville, and you will find chateaux, castles, and gardens by the score.  The town of Méréville, if you remember, plays an important part in Les Misérables.

The Garden of Mereville.
Travelling to Méréville

The Tourist Information Office of Beauce-Méréville has a French only website; however, with the Google and Bing translate apps you will have all of the information you need.

To arrange for a visit to the gardens and other places in the area send an email to: 

If you have a French speaker around you may call the Tourist Information Office at +33-1-64 95-18-00

Watercress in the languages of France's neighbors:
(Catalan - créixecs, morritort d’aigua ), (Dutch - waterkers), (German – brunnenkresse),  (Italian – crescione d’acqua), (Spanish - berro di agua, crenchas),

Watercress in other languages:

 (Arabic - نبات البقلة)–  (Chinese -豆瓣, Dòubàn), (Danish – brøndkarse) (Dutch- waterkers),  (Filipino -  kangkong) , (Greek – κάρδαμο, kárdamo), , (Korean –물냉이, mulnaeng-i), (Hebrew – rashad, shakhalayim tarbutiyim    ראשד, רשד, שחלים תרבותיים ראשד, רשד),(Indonesian - seladri air),(Japanese -クレソン, Kureson), (Malay - selada air),(Russian-  кресс водяной, kress vodyanoy),(Serbian – поточарка, potočarka), (Swedish – vattenkrasse), Turkish - su teresi),  (Ukrainian - крес водяний, kres vodyanyy). (Latin -  nasturtium officinale).  Thanks to Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages for most of these translations.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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