Hello and welcome to PART 2 of “The French Holiday Challenge!”
Today is all about fresh, seasonal ingredients the French use to plan their holiday menus.
There are two elements in today’s discussion: a video from me and this blog post. In today’s video, I take you on a quick walk-through of a Parisian food market so you can see how the French shop for seasonal ingredients.
If you haven’t already, please watch the PART 2 Video found above before reading the blog post. I’ll take you on a brief tour of a Paris food market.
If you missed PART 1 of the Holiday Challenge, a link to it is provided at the bottom of this post for your convenience.
PART 2 of the French Holiday Challenge – Seasonal Ingredients
Today we’re going to look at seasonal ingredients for your French Holiday Menu.
As I mentioned in PART 1, the French create their holiday meal around fresh, seasonal ingredients.
They pay extra attention to the quality of the food when planning their grand holiday meal. They’ll be looking at what’s in season, and what is the best quality they can afford.
Seasonal Ingredients for a French Holiday Menu
Among the seasonal ingredients available at French markets, you would find the following on a French Christmas or New Year’s menu in these categories:
- Sea Scallops (called “Coquilles St. Jacques” )
- Salmon – fresh (to be marinated or cooked) or smoked
- Langouste (or Crayfish)
- Sea Bass – (Winter is its season, and sea bass is abundant in France in December before the holidays)
- Foie Gras
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Lamb’s Lettuce (“Mache” in French)
- Mushrooms (like “Cèpes” or Porcini mushrooms)
- Black Truffles
- Aged Goat’s cheeses
- Aged Gruyère or Comté
- Citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruits
- Exotic fruits like mangoes, litchis or pineapple, particularly the Victoria Pineapple
- Kiwis – (Surprisingly, France is the 2nd largest European producer of this fruit, after Italy).
Look over this list and think about what ingredients you would like to include on your menu. Is there a grocery store that would have them or an accessible farmer’s market that would sell them?
If you have favorite recipes that you’d like to keep on your menu, think about how some of these ingredients might go along with them.
The French principles of holiday menu planning
For example, the French avoid having a multitude of cream sauces served with a meal that has a creamy cake dessert. Or they avoid serving pasta and potatoes as it would make the meal too heavy.
Progression of flavors:
During French holiday meals, the progression of flavors from lighter to heavier or stronger is observed. For example, lighter, more delicate flavors like sea scallops are served before heavier, stronger flavors like a roasted capon or beef dish.
If the reverse were done, the flavors of the stronger dish would prevent you from tasing fully the flavors of the lighter, more delicate dish.
The same principle applies to wine: White wines are served before full-bodied red wines.
Two examples of French Holiday Menus
Here are two examples of a French Holiday Menu to give you some ideas.
The menus would most likely include at the end a Yule Log cake for Christmas, called the “Bûche de Noël”.
The traditional flavors of this genoise with buttercream or ganache cake are either coffee or chocolate.
- Oysters on the half shell (served with fresh lemon slices, whole wheat or rye bread and butter)
- Sea Scallops grilled à la plancha with potatos
- Capon with chestnut stuffing, served with the basting sauce as gravy, and a pumpkin purée,
- Cheese platter
- Pear and litchis fruit salad
- Yule Log cake
- Foie Gras served with toasts and a chutney or a small salad of Lamb’s Lettuce with a raspberry vinaigrette
- Langoustes or Crayfish à la bordelaise
- Capon à la truffe blanche, leeks au gratin with a bechamel sauce
- Cheese platter
- Orange fruit salad with saffron threads
- Yule Log cake
Meat dishes for the main course other than Capon or Turkey:
- Tornedoes Rossini
- Filet Mignon with mushroom sauce
- Duck in an orange sauce
Side dishes to accompany the fish or meat courses:
- Sliced carrots glazed with orange juice
- Purée of celeriac
- Chestnut purée
- Jerusalem Artichoke purée
Think about which of the seasonal ingredients you’d like to include on your holiday menu as you’re planning your meal.
- Would you like to start with a seafood dish or prefer something lighter like a seasonal vegetable soup?
- Would you like to have meat, fowl or fish as a main course?
- What side dishes would you like to accompany the main course?
- Would a selection of cheeses be too much? (I’ll go over the cheese course in PART 3)
- What type of dessert would you serve? A cake or a cake along with a fresh fruit salad option?
Jot down your ideas for the types of dishes and the number of courses you and your guests would like.
Once you’ve narrowed down the possible dishes for your holiday menu, then: