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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Huile d'Argan – Argan oil on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Argan nuts on the tree.
Photograph courtesy of HerrWick.
French chefs are always on the lookout for new tastes and  the use of the tasty, though expensive, argan oil can renew interest in a chef’s favorite recipe. For new dishes, the addition of argan oil will draw attention as it is an oil rarely found in private homes.  France has had a long association with Morocco, the source of 99% of the world's argan oil, and Argan oil is not a new discovery. However, despite that interlocked history mainline French chefs only began to showcase the oil less than eight or ten years ago..

Organic argan oil.
Photograph courtesy of Henna Sooq.
From the menu listings below you, may see that argan oil is used as a flavoring; like a fine virgin olive oil it is added to an already cooked or cold dish. When cooking with argan oil, the flavor is king.

Beef Carpaccio accented with argan oil.
Photograph courtesy of tomcensani.

Your menu with argan oil may offer:

Carpaccio [i]de Dorade,[ii] Vinaigrette Tranchée à l'Huile d'Argan -  A Carpaccio of gilt-head sea bream, the fish,  served with a vinaigrette sauce, distinctly flavored by argan oil.

Poêlée de Champignons des Bois Assaisonnés à l'Huile d'Argan    Forest mushrooms, wild mushrooms,  lightly fried and seasoned, and  just before serving,  flavored with argan oil. Wild mushrooms are limited by the climate to specific areas; ask for information on the mushrooms served.  Every restaurant has  agreements with its own ramasseurs; gatherers of wild mushrooms and herbs.  If you are lucky, you may be in France during the chanterelle[iii] mushroom season.

Chanterelle wild mushrooms hidden in the grass.
Photograph courtesy of Charles de Mille-Isles
Suprême de Volaille au Citron Confit,[iv] Couscous d'Aubergines et Fruits Secs Parfumé à l’Huile d’Argan. Chicken  breast served with a lemon confit, along with a couscous made from aubergines (the US eggplant),  and dried-fruit lightly-flavored  with argan oil. Here the breast of chicken is served with a lemon confit on the side. A fruit confit, as it is offered here will probably have have been the cooked until  it reaches the consistency of a thick jam; it may have been sweetened or cooked without any additions. The lemon confit  will provide a distinct contrast to the chicken breast as you can add the confit to suit your taste.  The aubergine couscous and dried fruits, flavored with argan oil make this dish a contrast in many flavors and textures.  A dish like this is a real test of a chef’s ability to manipulate each component and allow the diner to enjoy the contrasts.

A salad of duck gizards flavored with an argan vinaigrette.
Photograph courtesy of fotoosVanRobin.
Tartine de Truffes d'Automne à l'Huile d'Argan – Autumn truffles prepared with Argan oil and served, probably, on toasted bread; possibly a sliced baguette.  The Truffe d’Automne, the Autumn truffle, is more commonly called The truffle of Burgundy; however, this truffle has many names as it found in many parts of Northern France and each will adopt this valuable truffle as their own. The local gourmets, where this truffle is found, will insist it is superior to its more famous and more expensive Périgord [v]truffle cousin.

The tartine on which this truffle is served will be much like an open sandwich.  A tartine like this menu listing may be a French take on the Italian bruschetta.  However,  if you are invited to a private French home for breakfast then a tartine or tartine beurré means bread and butter.
Homard Breton Grillé de Nos Côtes[vi], Sucrine à l'Huile d'Argan – Grilled local Brittany lobster served with a baby Romaine lettuce flavored with the argan oil. The sucrine is the lettuce sold under the name Little Gem in North America.  The oil used to baste the lobster while grilling will not have been argan oil, there its taste would have been wasted; the oil will be added to the lettuce only, and then just before serving. When ordering lobster in France be aware of their sizes and costs.  The European lobster is a very close cousin of the American lobster, but very much more expensive in France than in North America; check the price carefully.  In France the rock lobster[vii], the owner of the lobster tail is a more economic, if slightly less tasty, alternative. The North American lobster is imported into France as the Canadian lobster, the homard Canadien, and when on the menu it will cost far less that its local relatives. Discussions over which of  these two-clawed lobster cousins are  the tastiest are without end.  
The origin of argan oil.
Argan  oil  with its darkish color comes from the lightly roasted nuts of the argan tree in the south-west of Morocco. The argan tree once covered large parts of North Africa, but is now  a protected tree.  This is an oil with a unique taste, and in Morocco  the Berbers have used it for centuries to flavor local dishes. The nuts of the argan tree that supply the oil are very hard and  they have defeated automated nut-cracking machines, and so today this work is carried out by co-operatives of Berber women.

A Berber women co-operative cracking argan nuts.
Photograph courtesy of Jeremy Couture
Argan oil and cosmetics.
Argan oil is rich in vitamin C, and its use in cosmetics where natural oils are required competes with its use in the kitchen.  Since the oil’s supply is limited its price is high and nearly all the world’s supply of  argan oil comes from those trees in the South West of Morocco. 

Argan oil hand cream.
Photograph courtesy of omialaboratoires.
Connected posts.

[vii] Lobster tails. Thank the Rock lobster, Spiny Lobster or Crawfish. Amongthe Crustaceans on your French Menu.

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.

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

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