Foie gras, capon, seafood and the Yule log: the French traditional holiday meal24-12-2017
Though French people’s habits are changing, every year during the Christmas and New Year’s period the French traditional holiday meal remains the same. Here is what it is made up of.
Foie gras : the favourite dish of the French
This year, during holiday season meals, you are highly likely to find foie gras on your table or in your plate, as it is the favourite dish of six in ten French people according to a BVA-Presse Régionale-Foncia survey. Foie gras is enjoyed in a very simple way, on a piece of fresh or toasted bread. Unlike a pâté, you definitely do not want to spread it on the bread, but rather keep it in large chunks so that its full flavour can shine through. Some people like to add fig jam or onion confit. The foie gras of south-western France is typically served with a glass of sparkling wine, most often Champagne or Crémant. Foie gras can also be served on a starter sampler plate alongside other favourites such as a slice of smoked salmon, some salad or even taramasalata.
The most bountiful seafood platter of the year
The end-of-year holiday season is the period when the French consume the most seafood. While some prefer to buy a dozen oysters and others a serving of langoustine, most often the host serves their guests a large platter of seafood. This platter is heaping with langoustines, shrimp, whelks, oysters, crab and lobster and, more rarely, clams or cockles. The seafood platter pairs with a dry white wine. Something from Alsace or a Muscadet from the vineyards near Nantes will be lovely.
Le Capon : the king of poultry
The capon is no more or no less than a chicken, but not just any old bird. It is the Rolls Royce of chicken, figuring amongst poultry’s elite. To deserve these superlatives, the capon has to undergo special treatment that requires patience and finesse. Until it is just over two months old, nothing distinguishes this future feathered star from another chicken, an up-and-coming cockerel or hen. Just 63 days after hatching, it is castrated in order to become bigger, fatter and tenderer. This highly specific operation, called caponisation, is where the delicious bird gets its name. The Bresse capon weighs at least 3 kg and must be at least eight months of age, having spent a minimum of seven in the outdoors. It is traditionally served with chestnuts, potatoes dauphine and green bean bundles. Capon pairs with a robust, full-bodied red wine like a Gigondas, a Chinon or a Châteauneuf du Pape. It should be said that many French people take advantage of the end-of-year holidays to experiment with new meats, serving their guests venison, boar and ostrich, among others.
A cheese platter with variety
It is a fact: France is THE country of cheese. In 2015, the French National Dairy Industry Association (CNIEL) counted 1,200 different cheeses and the 2015 Guide to Raw Milk Cheeses, published by the Profession Fromager (Cheese-making Professional) trade magazine, lists no fewer than 1,800 products. This goes to show just how important cheese is in France. While we are not going to suggest any specific cheeses here, just know that wherever you are in France, there is a cheese for you to taste. Made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk or goat’s milk, you will be spoilt for choice. The cheese platter is sometimes served with grapes and, most importantly, with a good wine. Sancerre, Bourgogne Aligoté or Chablis are good choices for a varied platter featuring both soft-rind and hard-rind cheeses.
The Yule log, a must at Christmas time
Why a log? Custom has it that, on Christmas Eve, people went out to get a huge log, called the ‘Yule log’, which was brought back home with great pomp. It was lit according to a special ritual to wish everyone a merry Christmas. With the advent of electricity, the French began to favour electric heating over the wood-burning stove, but the tradition of the Yule log lives on. This dessert can be made of ice cream or eaten as a cake, with natural decorations in a variety of shapes. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring out an old bottle from the cellar, either a sweet wine or a sparkling wine. Everyone can choose based on their tastes and enjoy sharing this traditional holiday dessert.