Pays de la Loire Menu: ‘turf and surf’ inspired cuisine10-11-2017
View of Nantes
The local culinary fare found in the Pays de la Loire region of France is inspired by many historical influences from Brittany, Poitou, Normandy and of course the Loire, and even from further-flung destinations, bearing in mind the goods involved in triangular trade, of which Nantes was a major port. Specialities vary with the changing landscape and meat has a starring role, from the rich valleys where vegetables are seen to flourish, by the sea, or even along the river Loire, where fish has been a staple part of the local diet since time immemorial. Here geography most definitely dictates menu content. Salt water and fresh water fish feature in the region’s finest recipes, in the same way as charcuterie, certain cuts of meat and dairy products reign supreme further inland. One thing is certain, the products and specialities of the Pays de la Loire region are known and recognised across the length and breadth of France and often far beyond its borders.
Aperitif : house cocktail anyone ?
Hailing from Maine-et-Loire, the cocktail combines Cremant de Loire sparkling white wine, orange juice, lemon juice, Cointreau or Triple Sec and sugar, and often features at family gatherings. To complement this delicate, sweet cocktail, “rillettes de Mans”, a delicious potted meat, is spread on slices of fresh bread making a heavenly duo. For serious foodies, “prefou”; a speciality from the Vendée region made from bread and garnished with finely chopped fresh garlic and butter, is a welcome addition. Served warm, it is utterly delicious.
Starter : seasonal, regional soup
Soup is the perfect dish to follow this delicious aperitif and “potironnée” is typical of the region. Essentially slightly sweet pumpkin soup, it is enriched with milk, cream and butter. It is best enjoyed with a lamb’s lettuce salad (another regional speciality), served with pine nuts on the side. Nantes, the garden of the region, is well known for its vegetables, lamb’s lettuce in particular.
Main course : meat or fish in beurre blanc
Nantes and Anjou vie for the title when it comes to the origins of the famous “beurre blanc” sauce, which according to legend, was a Bearnaise sauce that did not go according to plan. Depending on the area, it is served with sea water and fresh water fish, and also scallops. Filet of pikeperch or northern pike are a particular favourite among freshwater fish “aficionados”, often served with rice or steamed potatoes. For meat lovers, quality also reigns. While the beef (Chateaubriant) and pork are sublime, the Loire is best known for its poultry. Here in Loue, in Sarthe, an abundance of capons, turkeys, chickens and guinea fowl of the finest quality are seen to flourish. ‘Mogettes’ (white beans) go particularly well with poultry and are the pride of the Vendée region.
Salmon au beurre blanc
Food and wine pairings : for fish in beurre blanc sauce, choose between a crisp Muscadet from Nantes or Savennières, served well chilled. A light, fresh Saumur-Champigny red wine will marry to perfection with white meats such as chicken.
Cheese : the Loire is not particularly known for famous cheeses, with the exception of Curé from Nantes, Port-Salut and goats’ cheese from Vendée.
Dessert : the finest cake from the Duke’s capital
“Gateau Nantais” is a moist pound cake from the town of Nantes, made from flour, sugar, eggs and ground almonds, doused in rum punch and lemon, sometimes with a layer of apricot gelée in the middle. In a nod to the ancient port’s colonial past, the cake is topped with a rum flavoured glaze. Back in the day, this luxurious cake would be served by the ladies of the house when entertaining guests in their drawing-rooms. The gateau fell out of favour from around 1910 until its relaunch by the LU confectionary company in 1972. It has been served ever since by local pastry chefs and cake-baking enthusiasts, either in its classic form, or with a fresh, creative twist by adding new ingredients.
Little black book
Two chefs are particularly turning heads in gourmet circles: Eric Guerin, with his gastro-restaurant in the marsh area of Brière, and Alexandre Couillon in Noirmoutier. Both chefs favour local ingredients through which their creativity can truly shine.