Is there anything seasonal to eat in France in the middle of winter?
And do the French want to eat anything after all those long, rich meals they had for Christmas and New Year’s Day?
Of course! This is France!
The French are known for their attention to seasonal ingredients when preparing meals.
Just as in other months, products are coming into season in January, others are at their best, and some are going out of season.
This was a surprise to me: I grew up largely on packaged food and was clueless about what was in or out of season from one month to the next.
But adopting this seasonal cooking tradition after moving to France was enriching: I learned to live a bit more with the rhythms of nature – even in a big city like Paris. And I expanded my food repertoire, too.
Not only does the offering change in the fruit and vegetable stalls of outdoor markets and grocery stores, but different cheeses are in season during certain months, as well as meats and seafood. However, in January, the changes are small.
Let’s go down the list – from surf to turf, the fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, and cheeses, to see which products are arriving at French markets in January, what’s in high season and what’s past its prime.
What’s arriving at French markets in January:
From the sea:
- Arctic Circle Cod or “Cabillauds Artiques” – They arrive from the Arctic Circle in January and have more flavor than the cabillauds that are fished year-round. Their season lasts for 4 months.
- Yellow Pollack or “Lieu Jaune” – Intensive fishing begins in January and so the price goes down.
- Anchovies – If you like raw anchovies, this is your month: January is the only winter month where the anchovy is abundant: After January, there’s a shortfall until the summer months.
Fruits & Vegetables:
- Fennel – This vegetable arrives from Italy or the South of France. It’s one of my go-to easy salads to start off a winter meal (with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper). It’s delicious with roast pork or fish when steamed or braised. As it has a delicate anise seed taste, I’ve even flambéed it with Pastis before serving with fish.
- Spinach – Large leaf spinach arrives from the regions of Picardie, Provence and the French Riviera (“Côte d’Azur”).
- Provence Salads – There are 6 varietals of greens in total that make up this appellation, of which: green leaf lettuce, escarole, frisée, and oakleaf. The only salad I knew growing up was iceberg lettuce. So the abundance of choice here is a treat!
- Oranges – this is the time for orange jam and marmalade (read more about the difference between jam and marmalade). Varietals such as Maltese, demi-sanguines are the best, and also the bigarades or bitter oranges.
- “Pommes Clochard” – They don’t look like much from the outside, but they’re delicious to eat. Wonderful too in pies and Apple Charlotte.
- Pears – the variety of pears in season diminishes in January, so the “Passe-Crassane” and the “Countess of Paris” are the last of the pears worth eating this month.
- Litchis – An imported product from tropical regions, fresh litchis are everywhere at French markets in January. Their delicate rose-scented flavor is more intense than the ones sold in cans.
What’s on its way out at markets in January?
From the sea:
· Herring – You can still find herring at French markets but savvy consumers don’t buy it. Its spawning period has started so it’s very thin.
From the butcher:
- Pheasant – January is the last month to enjoy this fowl. The French serve the older birds with braised cabbage or a “choucroute” (sauerkraut with a variety of meats).
- Boar – January is also the last month for wild boar: The hunting season closes in February.
Fruits & Vegetables
- Chestnuts – Their color becomes dull and they start to dry out. The season will start up again in October.
- Grapes– Certain varietals of stocked grapes were sold up until Christmas at exorbitant prices, like the “Chasselas de Moissac” (AOP/PDO). Production is definitely over in January. There won’t be any good quality fresh grapes again until September.
What’s in High Season at the French Market in January?
From the Sea:
- Oysters: they’re perfect during January
- Sea Urchin or “Oursins”
- Shrimp or “Bouquet”– the best price/quality ratio of the year
- Calamar – same as for shrimp. The catch amount will diminish in February
- Sea Scallops- quality and price are still at their highest in January, but the quantity available is starting to diminish.
- Sea Bass – Winter months are the best season for this fish
- Sole – It’s at its lowest price of the year but as January is the spawning season, it’s not as good as the Sole found in the summer or autumn.
- Whiting or “Merlan” – available all year long, now is the time the French enjoy its lowest price.
- Mullet or “Rouget-Barbet“- January is its last high season month
- Bream or “Dorade” – the “Griset” varietal is still in season and widely available.
- Skate or “Raie” – this is the best month and when the prices are lowest.
- Plaice or “Plie” – January and February are its 2 most prolific months of the year.
From the butcher:
- Poularde and Capon or “Chapon” are still available for one more month and then the season will be over until next December.
- Beef – cuts of beef used for slow cooking in French stews like the “Pot au Feu,” “Os à la Moelle” or “Daube” are in high demand.
- Free-range Pork – The “Monsieur” as he is sometimes called by local farmers, is slaughtered in December or January on small farms. The meat tastes better than pork from confined feeding operations because the animal has been raised in a healthier environment and with higher quality food.
- Cabbages – All varietals are good in winter – even better after a frost: green and red cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, broccoli. The French use them in soups and mashes or “purées.”
- Cauliflower – “Chou fleur” is grown mainly in the Brittany and the South Western regions of France.
- Lamb’s Lettuce or “Mâche“- this is one of the typical winter salads eaten in France.
- Beets, Jerusalem Artichokes, Salsify, and Chinese Artichokes or “Crosne”
- Pumpkins – These have been stockpiled since November. The French use pumpkins to make winter soups.
- Black Truffles – they’re even better now than during the Christmas holiday season!
- Citrus Fruits – lemons, grapefruit, oranges, and clementines
- Pineapple – another imported product. The French like the Victoria pineapple which is smaller than a regular pineapple but sweeter and more intense in flavor. The best come from Reunion Island.
- Bananas – they’re available all year round, but January is the season for the “frécinettes” bananas which are smaller and more flavorful.
- Kumquats – Fresh kumquats are found only from December to February. The French serve them with roast pork in a sweet and sour sauce or with wild game. It’s also used in jams.
- Cape Gooseberries or “Physalis” – another exotic imported fruit found only in Winter at French markets.
- Vacherin – the “Mont d’Or” vacherin is at its best
- Munster – it’s creamiest during the Winter months
- Abondance – by January its has been aged 4-5 months using Summer milk, so it’s at its best.
- Comté, Emmenthal, and Beaufort – These hard cheeses are also at their best in January and perfect for a cheese fondue or “Fondue Savoyarde.”
- Ossau-Iraty – a hard cheese from the Basque region made from ewe’s milk, January is its finest month. The French serve it with black cherry jam.
- “Salers” and “Laguiole” – these cheeses are made from milk harvested in the Spring and so have been somewhat aged already.
- Blue-veined cheeses – “Bleu du Gex” and “Fourme de Montbrison” are at their best now. This will no longer be the case in the Spring.
So there you have a long list of products found at French markets in January. It looks like there’s enough to get through the last winter months with a variety of recipes.
Winter salads, thick vegetable soups, and hearty stews are characteristic of French family meals this time of year. A good fondue with the hard cheeses in season is also a great dish for January – especially if you’re in the mountains. The recipes the French use now go well with the cold, snowy or wet Winter weather.
I’ve found this way of eating has pushed me to broaden my tastes and to be more aware of what nature has to offer at different times of the year.
For example, I love the clementines sold at markets in the Winter. And I realize I have to enjoy them now because they won’t be very good – or available at all – in the Spring.
And now you: How does this compare to what’s on offer at your market or grocery store? Do you change your ingredients and recipes according to the seasons?
Leave a comment below and let me know!
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.com