Letters from the Loire: Christmas food in France
Teresa Dolan prepares a French Christmas menu at Chez Teresa and looks into traditional French Christmas food, from Alsace to the Provence.
Here we are again with Christmas just around the corner making our Christmas Cakes and festive treats to sell and serve in our Salon de Thé in Fontevraud l'abbaye in the Loire Valley. One thing I was hoping to do this year was to serve our family a French-style Christmas menu. This is what I am planning.
Fruits de mer à la nage (Shellfish with a seasoned broth)*
Cheese straws, cruditée and dips
And to drink: Crèment de Loire
When we moved to France in 2005, we spent our first Christmas in Brittany so I thought that I would try to recreate the delicious crepes that we were served at a friends house on Christmas Eve some of which were filled with leeks others with seafood in a creamy sauce. Ours will be filled with; a selection of seasonal vegetables in a cheese sauce, served with roasted potatoes and mini chestnut stuffings.
We will be drinking Saumur Champigny from the vineyards of Clos Cristal. This is an organic wine and delicious with pancakes.
A selection of delectable local French cheeses (Bring out the port!)
Bûche de Noël served with a selection of ice creams and crème fraiche.
Served with a glass of Sancerre.
Café served with nougat and chocolates
What our French neighbours tend to serve:
Asking our French friends what they have at this time of the year, and having been invited over the years to a number of Christmas Eve celebrations, we note the popularity of the following dishes:
- Foie gras en cocotte
- Foie gras et French toasts
- Smoked Salmon & toasts
- Chapon (roasted chicken)
- Dinde aux marrons (chestnut-stuffed turkey)
- Goose (the latter in Alsace called ganzeltopf)
- A multitude of sumptuous cheeses
- Candied fruits and nuts
- Fougasse (Provençal bread)
- Quince cheese
- Savoury gateaux
- Les fruits de mer (coquilles Saint Jaques a la crème)
- Julienne de poireaux, carottes etc
A typical menu might be:
- Le reveillon: Boudin blanc au pommes et purée de celeri, fromage, Buche de Noel.
- Christmas day: foie gras avec sa gelée au vin, +
- Filet de dinde avec chataignes et fagots d'haricots verts,
- and lots and lots of ice cream desserts! Not necessarily in that order!
Back to Alsace, they serve the Berauwecka, not dissimilar from our rich English Christmas Cakes, though without the marzipan and the Royal Icing and abundance of decorations. In Provence traditionally the Christmas supper ends with 13 desserts which represent, according to legend, Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles and certainly some of our friends here in the village seem to emulate that. The desserts are set out on Christmas Eve and remain on the table for three days until December 27, though I suspect not the ice cream ones.
Apparently, on a typical Escoffier Christmas-style menu you might find some:
- Sterlet du Volga (poached sturgeon)
- Pan fried Pollock, Roasted cepes & garlic puree
- Perles du Perigord (truffles to you and I)
Escoffier was also apparently partial to serving confit of turkey leg and as I mention the word 'leg' I am mindful of my dear French friend Laurence (we tend to share recipes typical of our respective culinary traditions) who kindly said to me the other day that she would be making me a Christmas Leg for my present this year. Of course it didn't take me that long (she knows that we are in the main vegetarian here, though we do eat fish) to realise that in fact she will kindly be making us a Christmas Log known in France, of course, as the aforementioned Buche de Noel.
We will not be serving any of the Escoffier dishes mentioned above for our Christmas meal, though maybe some of the finest Russe Beluga would not go amiss. Donations welcome.
Contact Teresa on firstname.lastname@example.org
*Recipe for Fruits de mer à la nage (Shellfish with a seasoned broth):
675gm mussels scrubbed in cold water (debearded)
1 small fennel bulb thinly sliced
1 onion thinly sliced
1 leek thinly seeded
1 small carrot cut in julienne strips
1 garlic clove
Pinch of curry powder
pinch of saffron
1 bay leaf
450gm raw large prawn peeled
450gm small shelled scallop
175gm cooked lobster meat sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the mussels in a large heavy-based saucepan or flameproof casserole occasionally, for 4-6 minutes, until the shells open. When they are cool enough to handle, discard any mussels that have not enough to handle, discard any mussels that have not opened and remove the remainder from their shells. Reserve one or two in their shells to garnish, if liked. Strain the cooking liquid through a muslin lined strainer and set aside.
Put the fennel, onion, leek carrot and garlic in a large saucepan and add the water, reserved mussel cooking liquid, curry powder, saffron and bay leaf, bring to the boil and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard the garlic clove.
Add the prawns, scallops and lobster for 1 minute. Add the mussels and simmer over a low heat for about 3 minutes, until the scallops have turned opaque and all the shell-fish is heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, then ladle the shellfish and broth into a warm tureen or four shallow soup plates. Garnish with the reserved mussels and prawns and a generous sprinkle of herbs, and serve immediately.
Teresa Dolan was brought up in 1960's Britain. With her husband Tony and son Jay, she runs a Chambre d'Hôtes and Salon de Thé next door to the historic Abbaye Royale in Fontevraud where Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lionheart are reputedly buried. She has written for a number of publications over the years and she also writes short stories for children. In addition, Teresa runs creative writing and themed workshops for expats and tourists to the Loire.
Photo credit: ktylerconk (photo 1), greenlee (photo 2), Nikodem Nijaki via Wikimedia Commons (photo 3), marsupilami92 (photo 4)
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