Thursday, October 5, 2017

Mâche – Lamb's Lettuce or Corn Salad. Lamb's Lettuce in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman.
A lamb’s lettuce salad.

Mâche - Lamb’s lettuce or corn salad. France’s tastiest contribution to a mixed salad. Mâche leaves are nutty, juicy, with just a tinge of spice, and a texture that expands when tasted with other salad greens.

The name lamb’s lettuce comes from the spoon-shape of the leaves said to resemble a lamb’s tongue. The name corn salad is associated with the plant growing like a weed in wheat fields.  Lamb’s lettuce grows wild all over Europe as well as in Egypt, North Africa, and North America.  While it has been cultivated in Europe since the 16th century, it was mostly looked down upon as food for the peasantry until the 19th century.

Nevertheless, mâche reached the tables of the French aristocracy through Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626 – 1688).  Jean-Baptiste earned famed as the kitchen gardener in Nicolas Fouquet’s beautiful Chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte in the department of Seine-et-Marne 52 km (33 miles) from Paris. The Sun King, King Louis XIV, used Fouquet's Chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte as his inspiration for the Château de Versailles.
Chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte
Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie would become world famous as the creator of King Louis’s Potager du Roi, the King’s kitchen garden. From here he would bring hundreds of new fruits and vegetables to the king’s and France's tables. By the time of Napoleon III, lamb’s lettuce was on France’s restaurant menus.
Today, the Potager du Roi is a vital reservoir of heirloom plants and is a working agricultural school.  When visiting the Château de Versailles and you have an hour to wait for a tour then visit these gardens which are just behind the Chateau.
The Potager du Roi has a French language website, but it is easily understood with the Bing and Google translate apps:

The Potager du Roi.
Mâche on French menus:
Mesclun des Maraîchers Nantais – A mesclun salad from the market gardeners of Nantes. From around city of Nantes comes 80% of France's lamb's lettuce. A salad mesclun should have at least five types of young salad greens.  A well-balanced salad mesclun will include lettuce (sweet and crunchy), Treviso radicchio (bitter), mache (sweet, nutty), escarole (crispy and bitter), rocket (spicy), etc.  The ingredients will change with the seasons. A salad mesclun will be served with a vinaigrette sauce.
Noix de Saint Jacques Rôties, Salade de Mâche aux Agrumes – The roasted meat of King scallops served with a lamb’s lettuce salad with citrus fruits.
The meat of seared king scallops with a mâche salad.
Salade d'Avocat, Mâche, Roquette, Feta, Menthe Fraîche – An avocado salad with lamb’s lettuce, rocket, feta cheese and fresh mint.
Salade De Mâche, Tomates Séchées et Copeaux De Parmesan Lamb’s lettuce salad, dried tomatoes and shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Velouté de Mâche – A veloute, a velvety lamb’s lettuce soup. Only the lamb’s lettuce leaves are used.
Velouté de Mâche

Local names for mâche include blanchette, boursette, clairette, doulcéta, doucette, gallinette, oreillette, oreille-de-lièvre, raiponce and valérianelle. Mache salad is also known as Salade de Prêtre, a priest’s salad and Salade de Chanoine, a canon’s salad. Both belong to the Christian tradition of Lent when traditionally meat was not eaten.  
Now mâche is available everywhere, but twenty years ago that was not true. Then, just before returning home from a trip to France on the morning I left, mâche would be added to my last minute purchases. It weighed nothing and took no room, being practically unsquashable. 

Mâche is just as essential to a French green or mixed salad as the French think it is, and 80% of Europe's supply comes from the area around the city of Nantes in the Pay de Loire. The same area produces nearly 50% of all of Western Europe’s supply. There are several varieties, with the critics making much of their differences, but I enjoy them all.
Early 20th-century drawing of
Valeriana locusta var. olitoria, lamb’s lettuce.
Mâche in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan - canonges), (Dutch -  veldsla), (German – feldsalat, Rapunzel), (Italian -  dolcetta), (Spanish -   canónigo),  (Switzerland -  nüsslisalat or nüssler)
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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