Tastes of the Holidays
No holiday in France would be complete without festive tastes and
treats. French cuisine is legendary at any time of year-and particularly
around Christmas and New Year's. This vitrine (shop window)
of Italian luxury clothes purveyor Dolce & Gabbana in the Rue
du Faubourg St. Honoré got a head start on holiday table
edibles with its fresh and candied fruits, nuts, sweets, and also
panettone for that true Italian flair. Although the displays were
meant as luscious eye candy, just walking by a couple of weeks ago
made my mouth water. And it also got me thinking about my holiday
table - French-inspired of course!
So what exactly do the French serve for their menus de fêtes
(holiday menus)? Below is a whirlwind tour of some of the sumptuous
tastes the French invest in around the holidays. Note that many
of these items are not inexpensive, making them a special treat
for the season.
Les Marrons: Whether glacés (candied) or grillés
(roasted) or used in savory and sweet recipes, chestnuts are a true
symbol of the holidays. You will know Christmas is approaching when
les pâtisseries (pastry shops) and chocolatiers
(chocolate shops) start selling candied chestnuts wrapped in gold
foil. At pastry chef and chocolate maker Gérard Mulot
in the sixth arrondissement, I spied a lovely bowl of marrons
glacés with vanilla beans resting on top. And at the
St. Sulpice church Christmas market, patrons were lining up to sample
some of the hot roasted chestnuts on a freezing December day. And
I was tempted to purchase some of these wild chestnuts known as
châtaignes at the open-air marché in
the seventh arrondissement.
Le Foie Gras: The French eat foie gras d'oie ou foie gras
de canard (fatted goose or duck liver) all year round but especially
for Christmas or New Year's. It can be served straight up with toasts
or slightly sautéed. Either way, if you bring some to your
holiday table, be sure to have a chilled dessert wine such as muscat
on hand or go all out with a lovely Sauternes. Foie gras
and French dessert wines were made for each other!
Les Coquillages et les Crusta cés: The French reach
into the sea for many a holiday treat including saumon fumé
(smoked salmon) and caviar. But it is shellfish of the mollusk
variety that grab the attention of a large number of holiday chefs.
Les huîtres (oysters) are served raw or cooked. I enjoyed
a particularly nice amuse-bouche (small appetizer) for my
birthday last December at the restaurant Hélène Darroze
in Paris. Also popular are sea scallops, or coquilles Saint-Jacques,
whose shells make them as good to look at as they are to eat. And
of course, shellfish such as le homard (lobster) and les
crevettes (shrimp) wouldn't be left out of the holiday cuisine
Les Truffes: Tis the season for truffles both literally and
figuratively. Black truffles are available from November to March
and are at their peak in January. You will see them used in all
sorts of festive recipes and dishes for a rich, earthy flavor. In
January, I enjoyed a fantastic meal of steak tartare aux truffles
(steak tartare with shaved black truffles) at Georges, the super-trendy
restaurant on the top of the Pompidou Center. And here is a nice
specimen for sale at the Boulevard Raspail outdoor market. Be aware
that buying truffles is not for the faint of heart-they are worth
their weight in gold. Well, almost.
Les Bûches de Noël: Yule logs are another taste
of the season. Pastry shops display all kinds of versions and flavors
but the traditional bûche favors a chocolate frosted
cake with meringue mushrooms. You can check out this year's collection
made by the pâtisserie Ladurée at www.laduree.fr.
The pastry and haute cuisine house Lenôtre has its
gourmet version of yule log designed by famed haute couture personality
Hubert de Givenchy. Click
here for the full description. If you want a bûche
de Noël with real panache and prestige, then this is the
haute pâtisserie for you.
Le Champagne: Of course, Champagne is de rigueur (a
must) at holiday time. The French wine chain Nicolas was encouraging
its clients to stock up early this December with a nice 20% discount
on all types of bubbly. And I loved this larger-than-life poster
of holiday Dom Perignon that hung over the entrance of La Grande
Epicerie in Paris last Christmas season. For more mouth-watering
Champagne experiences, click on this previous
French Affaires posting.
You can see almost all of these saveurs de fêtes (holiday
tastes) pulled together in this season's New Year's Eve menu, a.k.a.
le menu de la Saint Sylvestre, of Ladurée's Champs-Elysées
and Rue Bonaparte restaurants in Paris. Click
here to savor Ladurée's seasonal cuisine à
la française. And if you are in Paris next December,
le Cordon Bleu cooking school is likely to offer its gourmet
workshops, or ateliers gourmets, on foie gras and
les bûches de Noël once again.
One holiday treat we have not yet covered is the delicious and fun
galette des rois, or kings' cake, to celebrate the feast
of the Epiphany on January 6th. Stay tuned for more on this seasonal
goody. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays and bon appétit!
December 24, 2008
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