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!
For a light-hearted story about a breakfast that I ordered in France click here.
B = Beurre = Butter.
A quote from Joan Dye Gussow:
I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.
This Organic Life, 2001.
Joan Dye Gussow.
Organic food guru and author.
Butter in France
French dairies produce some of the best butter in Western Europe, and for that matter, the world. Additionally, their prices are among the most competitive. That they are among the world’s best butters is not surprising coming from a land with over four-hundred cheeses. From that number of cheeses you know that the French have a great deal of experience with milk, cream and butter. Among the many producers, there are three that stand out and have the right to add an AOC/AOP to their labels. These are France’s top of the line butters and are included in the list of butters on French menus below.
Photograph by posterize from freedigitalphotos.net
Breakfast in a French home always includes a tartine beurré, bread and butter, and there are few French chefs who would dare to fry an egg in anything but butter. With so many recipes and pastries that include butter you may wonder why the French have less heart disease and cholesterol than most other nations. The two glasses of red wine that the average Frenchman and French woman drink every day has been proven to aid in the prevention of heart disease. So, apparently, the French can survive a surfeit of butter.
Over 80% of French butter comes from commercial and co-operative dairies that have large-scale production methods. In the remaining 20% there are the many farms that produce butter on their own or work with small-scale cooperatives; that is the true French farmhouse butter. The medium sizes dairies include the producers of France’s three AOC/AOP butters. The wide choice caters for every taste. There are other farms and co-operatives that specialize in sheep’s and goat’s butter; however, this post is only about cow's milk butter.
Farm made butter.
Photograph courtesy of leafar
The color of French butter.
The color of all French butter is entirely natural and all of France’s cows will be grazing freely, some for up to for up to nine or ten months of the year. During that time they will produce butter with a yellow tinge from the carotene in the grass and herbs. In the winter snows the cows stay in warm barns and eat hay and fodder from the same areas where they graze in the summer. Winter fodder produces a lighter colored butter. Outside France and Europe a great deal of butter is colored with synthetic carotene and or other additives. France’s three AOC/AOP butters must be 100% natural and that excludes antioxidants or any de-acidification processes. Organoleptic tests that check taste and smell are regularly carried out on these top of the line butters. To retain their rights to the valuable AOC/AOP labels these butters cannot show any changes in production methods or their taste.
All French butters.
To include all French butters and butter sauces would require a separate book. I have included those that are often seen on French menus or in supermarkets.
A barrate, a traditional small farm butter churn.
Photograph courtesy of images1.
Butter on French Menus and in the supermarket:
Beurre à la Ciboulette – Chive butter; butter mixed with chives.
Beurre au Citron Verte – Lime juice and butter sauce. This sauce which apart from a small amount of garlic and black pepper is just butter and lime juice lightly heated and poured over the fish as required.
Beurre Allégé - Low-fat butter. This will not usually be on your table in a restaurant, but it is available in the supermarket. French low-fat butters can have anywhere from 15% to 41% fat.
Low fat butter 40%.
Beurre Bercy – Beurre Bercyis a flavored compound butter a “Beurre Compose. ” A compound butter after being prepared will be served cold as a condiment. Other butters made in a similar manner include BeurreMaitre d'Hôtel and or Beurre d'Escargot.Beurre Bercy is used to flavor steaks and roasts and added only when serving the dish, it will then melt and flavor the meat. BeurreBercyis made with butter, veal or beef marrow, white wine, shallots, parsley and a touch of lemon juice. The butter will be decoratively placed on a steak or slices from a roast and allowed to melt over the meat. (For more about the place called Bercy and other Bercy Sauces, not made with butter, click here.)
A beurre compose, placed cold on steak.
It will melt slowly on the steak and add its flavor.
Beurre Bio – Organic butter. All French organic products and produce are clearly labeled with the French AB Green label which stands for Agriculture Biologique The regulations for organic produce in Europe are stricter than those in North America. The initials AB on a food product or a wine label identify the French foods and wines that meet the highest standards of France’s organic farming regulations.
Beurre Bio, organic butter on French menus:
SoleMeunière en Beurre bio, Salade, Mayonnaise Maison, Bio-frites. Sole, the fish, prepared with a meunière organic butter sauce and accompanied by a salad, homemade mayonnaise and French fries cooked in an approved organic oil. Sauce Meunier is probably the most popular sauce for sole, it is simply, but tastily made with clarified butter, lemon juice and parsley. (See Beurre Clarifie in this post).
Médaillon de Langouste au BBQ Beurre Bio aux Algues, Salsa de Pamplemousse et Avocat– A cut from across a lobster tail cooked on a barbecue with seaweeds. The lobster tail médaillon, a round or somewhat round cut, is accompanied by a salsa made with grapefruit and avocado.
The organic produce labelsseen in France.
On the left-hand side of the label above are the letters AB, which is the French government inspected, trusted, and approved label for organic foods. On the right-hand side is the star-studded leaf that is the Pan-European marking.
The Pan-European organic requirements are very similar to the French AB.
Beurre Blanc – This is a butter sauce also called Beurre Nantaise or Beurre Blanc Nantaise. The sauce’s creation is claimed by the city of Nantes. (See BeurreNantaise in this post).
Beurre Blanc Nantaise – The same as the beurre blanc sauce above. (See Beurre Nantaise).
Beurre Café de Paris - A compound butter and parsley sauce originally created for entrecôte steaks: now seen with many other meat and fish dishes.
Beurre Citronné - A lemon flavored warm liquid butter sauce.
Beurre Chivry – A compound butter blended with very finely cut chives, shallots, parsley, salad burnet, chervil, tarragon and white wine. This butter is usually served with cold hors d'oeuvres.
Beurre Clarifie– Clarified butter. Clarified butter is made by melting the butter and removing those components that rise to the surface as well as the solids that fall to the bottom.Clarified butter will be used for its unique taste qualities in sauces and it also allows the chef to cook at a higher temperature than regular butter.
Clarified butter on French Menus:
Cabillaud en Papillote, Beurre Clarifié, Petits Légumes de Saison – Cod, the fish, cooked in aluminum foil or baking paper/baking parchment with clarified butter and the season’s young vegetables.
Cooking “en papillote” hold all the flavors in. The dish above may be cooked with all the necessary herbs and the clarified butter in aluminum foil or baking paper. Cooking inside a sealed bag like this with the herbs, spices and often vegetables included will ensure that the dish does not dry out and all the flavors are sealed in. Nearly all dishes cooked en papillote will be baked; a few may be steamed
Cuisses de Grenouilles au Beurre Clarifié, Espuma au Porto – Frogs’ legs, fried in clarified butter and served with a Port Wine foam sauce.
Raie Pochée à la Grenobloise, Beurre Clarifié Citronné et Câpres – Skate, the fish, cooked a la Grenobloise; in the manner of the city of Grenoble. Grenobloise Sauce is used for fish dishes. The sauce is made with clarified butter, lemon and capers. Only the wings of skate are used in this dish as that is where all the meat is. In the UK skate is seen mostly when deep-fried in batter and sold in fish and chip shops. However, in France, skate will be served in the finest restaurants where it is may be baked, poached or sautéed. Dishes with skate, in France, will always be served hot, usually in a manner similar to this menu listing, with a butter sauce; skate meat tends to jell when cold. Grenoble is in Southeastern France and the Capital of the department of Isere in the Rhone Alps and itself is set at the foothills of the Alps. Grenoble is also famous for its walnuts the Noixde Grenoble AOP.
Beurre Cru – Butter made from un-pasteurized milk. The herds of cows, sheep and goats that produce the milk for France’s un-pasteurized cheeses and butters undergo strict and uniquely successful controls of the milk they produce. No other country is willing to spend the time and manpower to control so many un-pasteurized milk products. Unpasteurized butter is sold fresh and should be used within one to two days.
Beurre d'Ail - Garlic butter sauce. (See Beurre d’Escargot in this post). Beurre d'Anchois –
Beurre d'Estragon – A butter flavored with the herb tarragon. Tarragon, in France, is popular, and is an essential part of the herb group les fines herbes.
Beurre d'Isigny – This is the AOC/AOP butter from Normandy. Their farmers’ claim that their wonderful grass, and their unique cows, are responsible for this special butter; they claim this butter’s peers cannot be found. Normandy is the home to many fine cheeses including their Camembert AOP. Their Beurre d'Isigny AOP butter comes in salted and plain versions.
The Beurre d'Isigny AOP butter.
Photograph courtesy of Rubber Slippers in Italy.
The butter shown above is salted with rock salt, but a
sweet butter from this manufacturer is also available.
Isigny also has a Beurre Cru, a “natural” butter made from unpasteurized milk. This butter holds the French label Rouge, the red label, for its method of production and consistent high quality. This butter is hand-made in the traditional manner, including whacking it into shape, by hand, with wooden paddles. In the UK those paddles are called Scotch hands; why are they called Scotch Hands, I do not know; that despite being born about fifty miles from Scotland. Isigny also has the only crème fraîche, in all of France, with an AOP rating; that is the Crème d’Isigny AOP.
Beurre d'Isigny on French menus:
Filets de Rouget, Ecrasée de Chou-Fleur au Beurre d’Isigny, Espuma de Potiron. Filets of red mullet, the fish, served with crushed cauliflower prepared with the Beurre D’Isigny and served with a foam sauce made from the winter squash (pumpkin).
Le Bar Français Filet à la Plancha, Sauce Vierge, Purée au Beurre d'Isigny –European Sea Bass, the fish, caught off France’s coasts cooked on the plancha. The plancha is a very thick iron plate which provides a taste somewhere between frying and grilling. Here the fish is accompanied by a Sauce Vierge and mashed potatoes made with Beurre d’Isigny. Sauce Vierge, means a virgin olive oil sauce and will often be on the menu with fish dishes. With the virgin olive oil will be fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. The sauce will be served slightly warm, but not cooked; remember the best olive oils lose their unique tastes when cooked. Some of the sauce will be poured on the fish just before it is served.
Ownership of the plancha, that thick iron plated used in this dish is much disputed. The Basques who call it a Planxaclaim it as theirs, but so do the Spanish. We can just enjoy the dishes made with the Plancha/Planxa.
Beurre d'Arachide or Beurre de Cacahuètes – Peanut butter. Many French kids like it on the morning tartinebeurrée, bread and butter, though their prefernce will probably be for Nutella or chocolate spread. Peanut butter is available in all supermarkets, imported or produced locally.
Jif Peanut Butter.
American Peanut butter on sale in France.
French brands are also available.
Beurre de Bresse AOC/AOP. The region of Bresse, an old French province cuts through the modern regions of Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne, and Franche-Comté. Bresse and France’s other historic provinces are often still called by their old names. It matters not that more than 200 years that have passed since the names and geographical boundaries were changed.
Beurre de Bresse AOC/AOP
Apart from the Bresse Butter AOC/AOP Bresseis also famous for its poultry. From here come the only ducks, chickens and turkeys in France with an AOC/AOP. Bresse is also famous for its Bleu de Bresse blue cheese; despite the cheese not carrying that coveted AOC or AOP. On my personal taste buds test Bleu de Bressethis is one of France’s best blue cheeses.
Saint Jacques Rôties au Beurre de Bresse AOC/AOP – The meat of the king scallop, the shellfish, roasted in Beurre de Bresse.
Beurre de Charentes-PoitouAOC/AOP. This butter is produced in all four departments of the region of Poitou-Charentes: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres and Vienne. Poitou-Charentes has mild winters and warm summers and that is a recipe for great grassland where the cows may graze. Poitou-Charentes is famous not only for its butter, but also for its goat’s cheeses, oysters, other seafood and fish and many fruits including their very special Charentais melon. With all Poitou-Charentes’ abundant produce and products standing head and shoulders above all of them is Cognac. Cognac is Poitou Charentes’s greatest claim to international fame.
The Beurre Charentes-Poitou butter is made from pasteurized cream. The cream is allowed to mature and develop its unique flavor before being made into butter,
The are a number of villages with dairies where this butter is produced and you are just as likely to see one of the names below on the packets; however, to make sure the consumer knows that the butter is a real Charentes-Poitou butter every pack will carry the mark below:
The mark on all Beurre de Charentes-Poitou butters.
The names below will be seen on packets of Charentes-Poitou butters. Their names and the name of the village or dairy where they are produced may also be on the packet.
The names of Beurre de Charentes-Poitou :
Beurre de Celles-sur-Belle
Beurre de Deux-Sevres
Beurre de Grand Fermage
Beurre de La Viette
Beurre de Lescure
Beurre de Montaigu
Beurre de Pamplie
Beurre de Surgères.
The Charentes-Poitou AOC/AOP butter on French Menus:
Sole Meunière aux Citrons Confits, Purée au Beurre de Charentes – Sole, the fish, prepared with a meunière sauce, lightly preserved lemons and mashed potatoes made with the Beurre de Charentes.
The Sauce Meunière used for this sole dish is made with melted, clarified butter along with lemon juice and parsley. When the fish is ready, the server, hopefully, a true artist, will remove all the bones, along with and the head and tail using just a fish knife or a spoon and a few swift hand movements. The fileted fish will be reassembled and placed in front of the diner in less than two minutes. Here the fish is served with lemon confits, these are lemons packed with salt and sugar and allowed to cool and change flavors in the refrigerator for two weeks. All are accompanied by potatoes made with the Beurre de Charentes. For more about confits on French menus click here.
Tronçon de Turbot Rôti sur l’Arête Ecrasée de Pommes de Terre à la Fourchette au Beurre de Pamplie Artichaut Poivrade. A wide cut of turbot, the fish, roasted with the bones in. The fish is accompanied by hand mashed potatoes, made with the Beurre de Pamplie (one of the names of Beurre de Charentes) and an artichoke poivrade. A poivrade is a lightly peppery sauce; here it will be made very young artichokes or the hearts of artichokes served with a sauce with a very light peppery kick.
Beurre de Escargot , also calledBeurre d'Ail - Snail butter or garlic butter sauce.This is a garlic flavored, but certainly not overly garlicky, butter sauce. The sauce began as the flavor behind France’s most famous snail recipe, Escargots à la Bourguignonne, snails served in the manner of Burgundy. Despite the name, there are no snails in this sauce, not even a smidgen. If you are not a snail aficionado, worry not, outside of dishes with snails this butter is 100% snail free!
Beurre de Montpellier – This butter sauce was traditionally only served with cold fish dishes. The sauce is made with the yolks of hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, cornichons, shallots, capers and herbs that will include chives, tarragon and parsley among others.
Beurre Demi Sel – Lightly salted butter; these butters may have from 0.5% to 3% salt, the exact amount will be on the label.
Beurre Doux - Sweet unsalted butter.
Beurre Fondu - Melted butter; this is the same as beurre clarifié.
Beurre Fouetté – Whipped butter.
Beurre Maître d’hôtel – A compound butter served as a condiment and flavored with lemon juice and parsley. Beurre Maitre d’hotel will be placed on a steak, roast or fish; as it melts it adds flavor. These types of butters are served cold and are added like a condiment; they are not a sauce.
Beurre Manié –This butter will not be on your menu, but it will be in recipe books. Butter kneaded with flour that is kept in the refrigerator and used in emergencies to thicken sauces,
Beurre Meunière – A clarified butter, lemon and parsley sauce used with fish. (See Charentes-Poitou AOC/AOP: Sole Meunière aux Citrons Confitsin this post).
Beurre Montpellier – A compound butter served with fish dishes containing tarragon, chervil, chives, parsley, stew, watercress, shallots, egg yolks, salted anchovies and of course butter.
Beurre Mousseux - A butter sauce made by allowing the butter to bubble and foam on the stove. It will be lightly whippedd. Beurre Mousseux may also be on the menu as part of the description of how a dish is served.