Rustic French food: Satisfying winter fare
Fine French cuisine is famous for highly refined techniques, complex sauces and artful presentation. But a much bigger part of the French food world is the simple every day cooking that happens in homes, on farms, in country inns and bistros across the large nation. This is the roadhouse French food that we are excited to share with readers and our loyal customers at the Old 5Mile House in January.
France has many regions with unique bounties influencing their tables. From coastal regions rich with fresh seafood to fields and forests with excellent produce, wild mushrooms, dairy, meats, fowl and game.
Before the age of refrigeration, the French farmers and peasants had to be thrifty and clever to make the most of their modest supplies. They developed techniques for preserving foods, like confit — a method of preserving cooked fowl by encasing it in fat and allowing it to gel in the wine cellar. This method not only held the food safe for many months, it also made the meat silky and succulent. And it’s actually low in fat as most of the fat gets rendered away. Our duck confit served on a salad with a glass of excellent French white wine from the Loire Valley is magnifique but a bit involved to share here.
It was under Napoleon — in order to feed his armies — that “canning” was first developed by a Frenchman to preserve vegetables. This was accomplished in champagne bottles — the thick glass was capable of enduring the high heat and pressure. The cork seals worked just as well for green beans as they had for champagne.
Then there is the art of charcuterie — sausage making — usually dried or smoked to keep for months.
All the old-time methods for preserving foods have not faded away with the advent of refrigeration because they each add to the variety at the table in their own unique delicious ways.
This month from the coast of Normandy we bring you sautéed fresh mussels. Sweet and succulent, redolent of the crashing ocean waves, blessed by a splash of white wine, enhanced by aromatic shallots and finished with fresh herbs, they are immensely satisfying with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.
From the French farming culture, we’ll offer another French classic: Coq au Vin. It’s a chicken stew made with lots of red wine, bacon and pearl onions — perfect for warming your body and soul after a day of skiing the French Alps or the slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
If you can’t make it to France just now, you can join us up the hill at our five-minute getaway to enjoy an array of excellent French country classics. See our French menu at http://www.theold5milehouse.com. Or if you like, you can try these recipes at home. Also I will be teaching a class on how to make these very dishes at In The Kitchen Jan. 5. For information on cooking classes, contact The Briar Patch at (530) 272-5333.
Thoroughly scrub and check about two pounds of mussels in large bowl of cold water. Discard any that don’t close when tapped.
Put the mussels into a large pot with about third of a bottle of dry white wine, a sprig of thyme and three cloves of garlic, chopped finely and a small palmful of chopped parsley. Put the lid on tight and bring the mussels up to boiling point, then simmer. When the mussels are open (three-five minutes), they are ready. Discard any that don’t open.
Serve them with the liquor from the pot in a bowl. Garnish each bowl with more chopped parsley. They go well with french fries and a simple salad and some good dry white wine and crusty bread for soaking up the juices.
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world.
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