Saturday, June 18, 2016

Macis and Fleur de Muscade, Mace and Nutmeg. Important Spices in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The fruit, the mace (the aril) and the nutmeg.
Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg, the lace-like tissue called the aril and inside is the nutmeg itself.   However, just to keep us confused the nutmeg is not a nut.  The nutmeg is, in fact, the kernel of an apricot-like fruit.
The fresh fruit. Inside is the mace covering the nutmeg.
What is the difference in taste between mace and the nutmeg? My own experience says not too much and I hear the same when I listen to what the chefs say. Furthermore, when you look at similar recipes in different cookbooks you will see books that favor mace while others favor nutmeg.  After a blind tasting of two cakes each flavored equally, but separately it confirmed my belief that mace and nutmeg have practically the same flavor, with mace, the aril,  possibly being very very slightly lighter. The chef who offered me the blind tasting himself chooses one of the two by smell.
The mace and the nutmeg.
Mace and nutmeg on the French menu;
Aile de Raie et Moules de Bouchots au Lait de Coco et au Macis Skate, the fish, served with small mussels, all cooked in coconut milk and flavored with mace.

Nutmegs drying in Grenada.
Nutmegs is a big business.
Confit de Figues Rôties à la Muscade -  A compote of  roasted figs flavored with nutmeg,
  Crème de Butternut au Macis – A cream soup of butternut squash flavored with mace.
   Feuilleté de Ris de Veau et Homard sur lit d'Épinards à la Muscade. Thin leaves of veal sweetbreads and lobster served on a bed of spinach flavored with nutmeg.

Creamed spinach flavored with nutmeg,
   Filet d'Omble Chevalier Poché à l'Anis Étoilé, Pelmeni aux Carottes de Sable et Macis.  Fresh Water Char poached with star anis. All served with pelmeni, Russian Siberian dumplings, here filled with France’s highest rated carrots  flavored with mace.
   Filet de Dorade Royale, Sauce Fleur de Muscade- A filet of  Gilthead Sea Bream served with nutmeg based sauce.

Pecan, chocolate chunk cookies flavored with mace.
Suprême de Pintade Rôti aux Quatre Épices, Pommes de Terre & Carottes, Sauce Figue. Breast of roasted guinea fowl flavored with the quatre épices, the four spices. and served with potatoes and carrots and a fig sauce. 

    Mace and nutmeg came early to France; one or other are part  of the oldest French spice group that is called the Épice Parisienne or the Quatre Épices, the four spices.  Today, when a chef is using this spice group he or she may be using five spices rather than four, but they will still be on the menu as the quatre épices.  The group always includes poivre, pepper corns; noix de muscade, nutmeg, (or macis, mace); and clous de girofle, cloves. The fourth was originally gingembre, ginger or cannelle, Chinese cinnamon. Chinese cinnamon is usually replaced by cannelle de Ceylan, Ceylonese cinnamon and ginger may still be included.
Pecan strudel
Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest.
Mace and nutmeg are used in sauces, chutneys as well as spiced vinegars and sausages.  Both mace and nutmeg are used in pickling and I am now convinced that the use of one over another is due to tradition and not the taste.  When a popular recipe has used nutmeg for years it will be difficult to change to mace, or even to use mace if nutmeg is not available. I have seen recipes where nutmeg and mace are listed in different cookbooks for use in the same desserts and pastries.  How do you choose? Maybe by color? Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Mace is bright red to purple when harvested but after drying the color changes to amber. In France, nutmeg and mace are also used for infusions, tisanes, herb teas. 
In the beginning, the only place in the world where you could find nutmeg and mace were the Banda Islands, the Spice islands, a tiny archi­pelago in Eastern Indonesia, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, most of the world’s nutmeg comes from Indonesia and the Island State of Grenada in the Caribbean.  There is no difference in taste, but Indonesian mace and nutmegs are mainly exported to Europe and Asia while Grenada's mace and nutmeg are sold to North America.
As was usual four hundred years ago the French and the British were fighting, then it was over the island of Grenada.  Then came the 1783 treaty of Versailles and the British gained control of Grenada until its independence in 1964.  Today, with a population of less than 100,000 Granada is one of the smallest independent countries in the world. Granada’s nutmeg exports are the work of the most famous British botanist of the 18th century, Sir Joseph Banks.  The flag of Grenada shows a nutmeg, the islands main export item.  If you visit Grenada you will see that the trees where the nutmeg and the mace grow is an evergreen tree that can reach 8 meters high.
A nutmeg forest.
While discussing nutmegs there was one thing I was warned of at least ten times.  Use ground nutmeg in recipes but never, ever, buy pre-ground nutmeg.  Apparently apart from losing flavor when you buy pre-ground nutmeg there may be bugs that can cause serious dietary problems and you cannot see them if the nutmeg is already ground.
For choosing the best nutmegs a French chef and a store owner in a spice market both agreed that the best nutmegs are the larger nutmegs, they also cost more by weight. Mace should be chosen by color and, if possible, by smell.
Rum Punch from Grenada with nutmeg.
Dishes based on recipes from the French Carribean departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean will certainly include nutmeg and or mace.  Many of these Caribbean recipes  may be slightly changed versions from menus in mainland France,  These are dishes that often have  … à l'Antillaise in their names and to those are added Caribbean French-Creole recipes.  

Nutmeg fruit; in two weeks they will be ready for picking.
Nutmeg in the languages of France’s neighbors:
 (Catalan -  nou moscada), (Dutch - nootmuskaat), (German - muskatnuss), (Italian - noce moscata ), (Spanish - moscada, nuez moscada).
Mace in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - maça), (Dutch - muskaatnoot), (German – muskatblüte), (Italian – mace), (Spanish - macia).
Connected Posts:
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

No comments:

Post a Comment