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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Ragoût – A Traditional French Stew. Ragoûts in French Cuisine.

from
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan G. Newman
  
A mushroom ragoût.
Photograph courtesy of My Recipes.
  
Ragoûts hold a very important place in the history of French cuisine and the word has always meant a stew. Ragoûts began as stews of mushrooms or vegetables; then meat and poultry, and fish were added. France's first printed cookbook came from the mid-1600s and it included Ragoûts. Over the next four hundred years Ragoûts have remained as important, but not heavy, stews of meat, poultry, fish and or shellfish. A Ragoût is rarely a thick and heavy stew;  heavy stews have their own descriptive names in French cuisine.  Outside of France, a Ragoût may have little connection with stews, the word sounds nice and so you may find the word Ragoût on a variety of "would-be" French menu listings.
   
Ragout of beef, potatoes, and carrots.
  
Ragoût on today’s French menus:

Ragoût d'Agneau aux Lingots du Nord -  A lamb ragoût served with France's favorite haricot blanc, white beansVery few French lamb or mutton stews are made without France ubiquitous haricots blanc, white beans, and the Lingots du Nord, the "white beans of the north"  are considered the best of the best. This particular strain of white bean is grown under the name Lingot du Nord which holds the Label Rouge, the red label for quality.  These beans are mostly grown on family-owned farms in the departments of Nord and Pas de Calais that are part of the super-region of Hauts de France.  The farmers took the name Lingot from their local dialect, to differentiate the best from the runners up.
  
Ragoût de Coquillages -  A ragoût with shellfish. This will include mussels, cockles, clams, etc.,
  
Fish and seafood ragoût.
  
Le Ragoût de Queue de Bœuf à la Bourguignonne, Racines Frites - An oxtail stew prepared in the manner of Burgundy accompanied by deep-fried root vegetables. Root vegetables include Turnips, (Navets) Parsnips (Panais) and Swedes (Chou-Navets or Rutabaga).  In the manner of Burgundy on a menu listing indicates local produce and here that includes local beef and a red Burgundian wine.

Ragoût de Ris de Veau aux Girolles A stew of veal sweetbreads and wild Chantarelle mushrooms.

Ragoût de Tomates et Fèves - A vegetable stew of tomatoes and fava beans. The fava bean is also called the Windsor, butter or broad bean. The Fève may also be on French menus as Févettes and Haricots d'Espagne,
   
Ragoût de Sanglier aux Champignons – A stew of farmed wild boar and button mushrooms. France farms wild boar and so it is available all year round.  When the menu reads Sanglier Sauvage that indicates a genuine wild boar; it will be on menus during the two-month licensed hunting season. 
   
Crab ragoût
www.flickr.com/photos/kurmanphotos/11209782144/

Ragoûts were only for the wealthy.

The original recipes for Ragoûts were either lightly stewed mushrooms, vegetables or stews with beef or mutton.  In the beginning, only those who could afford kitchen staff ate a variety of dishes at every meal, and those meals always include meat, poultry or game at every meal except on Fridays when fish was served.  Ordinary people, if they were lucky enough to eat something other than bread they ate a single course of vegetable stew, with the well-to-do adding bits of meat, poultry or fish.
    
Until the 1800s the wealthy ate in the French manner, that meant that everything from the soup to the dessert was displayed on a  display table when all the diners walked in. Unfortunately, by the time the diners sat down to eat the soup would be lukewarm and the roast meat or roast pheasant cold. Vegetable Ragoûts did not include tomatoes until the late 1700s.  Until then tomatoes were considered a decorative plant that was often given as a gift, though the fruit was considered poisonous and never eaten.
 
Following on the French revolution came France’s most famous chef Antonin Carême.  Carême made dining in the “Russian manner” popular with the aristocracy; here separate courses would be served one after the other in the manner that we dine today. Ragoûts then included delicacies like sweetbreads and were often served as an appetizer, the French Entrée.

Following on Careme came other French chefs with their cookbooks offering recipes for a Ragoût Brun, a brown ragout. That would be beef or game that was braised for color before being stewed in a meat stock and often a red wine.

At the same time came recipes for a Ragoût Blanc, a white ragout, would be veal, lamb, rabbit, hare, poultry, fish, shellfish and have cream or crème fraîche, white wine and a light stock in the recipe. A fricassee and a blanquette are different names for a ragoût blanc.

Today, many meat and game ragoûts begin with only a few vegetables;  the vegetables listed will be cooked separately and added just before serving. Cooked for too long they melt away.

The earliest recipe for Ragoût is in the first printed cookbook  Le Cuisinier  François, the French Cook,  written close to 1650 by La Varenne (François Pierre de) (1618 – 1678).
   
The book may be searched, in the original French, online on the website of the French National Library. There is no charge for reading online, and most of the works may be downloaded for a minimal fee. English translations of some early cookbooks are available at online booksellers.
  

La Varenne’s book was followed by Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, written by François Massialot (1660 - 1733)
  
from the French National Library.
    

Page 351 from the Le Nouveau cuisinier royal et bourgeois
This page includes references to Ragoûts of celery, chicory, cucumber, and small onions.
 
The Ragoût effect on the Italian Ragù,

Then as now a Ragoût is pronounced rag-oo, do not pronounce the T. 
The Italian Ragù, an Italian meat sauce, (pronounced rar-goo) comes, like Ragoût from the French word ragôuter meaning to restore the appetite (Dictionary.com). The Italians give the credit for the original meat sauce called Ragù to the Italian chef Alberto Alvisi in the 18th century. That was almost two-hundred years after the first published recipe for a Ragoût.
  
French-Chinese and French-Vietnamese cuisine.

French-Chinese and French-Vietnamese restaurant menus will often translate light stews on their menus into French as Ragoût. The original Asian recipe will not have changed, but the easiest way to convey the idea of a light Asian stew into French is to use the French word Ragoût. 

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Bryan G. Newman
 
Behind the French Menu
Copyright © 2010, 2018.
 
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman
at

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