Paris:- Friday, 20. December 1996:- The following list of festive foods may seem like extravagant boasting, but food is one of the things for which France is famous - so like other vices, there is no sense in pretending it does not exist.
This week for the festive menus, I am providing examples of two: the actual menu of the Hôtel de Crillon, on the place de la Concorde; and a 'country menu,' put together with ingredients from the little supermarket across the street.
The hotel menu I have on hand. The 'country menu' is pretty much the same as the dishes from last week's wine list - also listed below - but I did not get around to finding out exactly how much might be spent on it. For the supermarket selection, I have two very colorful brochures, containing all the goodies. I could go across the street, but I will stay here and write this instead.
The Crillon's 'Menu de Noêl 1996'
The Hôtel de Crillon has two restaurants, L'Obélisque and Les Ambassadeurs. This is the menu for Les Ambassadeurs. The price per person is 1,100 francs, not including drinks, but including all taxes.
Cold mousse of Sole with Caviar and 'ratte' potato blinis
Foie Gras of Duck, smothered, on a bed of sauteed beans and endives
Fresh Scallops roasted simply with black truffle butter
Roasted 'John Dory' and Brittany Lobster, with cream of coral
Bresse Chicken, slowly steamed in Edouard Nignon style, with a fine ragout of chanterelles (mushrooms) and artichokes
'Rocket' salad 'Queen of Ice,' with walnut oil and garlic-flavored croutons
Traditional Christmas Log
Coffee and delicacies
Each of these courses should be accompanied by its appropriate wine - and the sommelier will provide assistance with the choices.
The 'Country' and Supermarket Menu
This is the menu for Christmas Eve. Inez Timoney told me that people living in the country were very particular about all these festive meals, often planning them months in advance as well as planning their financement.
Since I do not have a 'country marché or supplier' with me at the moment, I am going to mix what Inez told me with the items in two colorful major supermarket brochures. As with salmon below, those residing in the countryside will have their very own, often particular, suppliers.
Since people in France have pretty much the same things year in and year out, sometimes a new or 'modern' element is added. This could be a French version of 'Dips a l'Americaine.' Since the sauces for these are not available - except possibly in special shops in Paris - the sauces are hand-made, with French ingredients; which I suppose means, with garlic. Avocados are commonly available and Roquefort cheese is native - but the 'American' idea adds a little 'frisson' to go with the champagne.
Oysters come next, or smoked salmon, or both. Number three Belons are cheapest at about 40 francs a dozen, but oysters are often bought in three-kilo - or larger - baskets, so you then get into kilo-prices - pay for the shells! - and these run from 15 francs a kilo for ordinary Normandy oysters, up to 23 francs a kilo for 'Fines de Claire' from Oléron.
Oysters come from different regions, there are different types, there are different sizes within types - with the most expensive being the ones that are 'fat.' These can be a huge mouthful and very cold if served on ice, and absolutely delicious, even if you are not allowed to drink the fantastic wines that go with them. Oysters are not cooked as a rule, and their seawater taste gets washed away with dry white wine in total harmony.
Smoked salmon is commonly available from Norway, Ireland, Scotland and Canada or Alaska. For many of these ingredients, the buyer knows a 'special source' - it could be a direct importer - and instead of buying things in supermarket packets, they are acquired in bulk. Packaged salmon runs from 106 francs to just over 200 francs per kilo.
There are two types of large chickens called 'chapon.' Industrial types run from 30 francs a kilo to 46. Hand-fed luxo chapons can cost around 85 francs a kilo. Fed on corn and sometimes milk, chapon live outside and are specially fed for at least 100 days, and they are no less than 150 days old when slaughtered. The best chapon come from the central districts of the Landes, Loué, Gers, Challans and Janzé. Chapons sold in supermarkets carry labels like AOC and conformity certificates. Inez estimated that a good chapon would cost about 600 francs.
Turkeys are costing about 45 francs a kilo for name-branded ones; goose is about 58 francs and large ducks are 32 francs a kilo. Wild game meats are also available
Cheese in France is - too much. There is a tremendous variety and you can only get to know what you prefer by trying a lot of it. Like everything else, cheese is expensive, with kilo prices starting around the level of turkey and going up to that of high quality or rare meat - in the 150 franc per kilo range.
For the bûche - with which I am unfamiliar - you can pay 45 francs for one with a mousse of fruits, for four to six persons; or 40 francs for a chocolate one. 'Artisanale' ice cream ones are also about 40 francs - but more elaborately confectioned ones are about 75 francs. I was offered a 'secret' recipe for a bûche, but since it was several pages long I declined it.
This should have come further up the list, but it is so sickeningly extravagant, that I'll just pop it in here. Foie Gras is something special invented no doubt by the devil, because you can pay a modest amount for some or you can pay up to 1,247.50 francs a kilo - not that, at this price, it is sold by the kilo. It would be crass.
Of course truffles are more expensive at 2500 francs a kilo, but they are still outstripped by the kilo price of caviar at about 3,000 francs - but caviar is not French, is it?
The two brochures I am consulting are each about 40 pages long, including four pages for drink in one and three in the other. There are so many other special festive things to eat that if I try to fit them in here I'll be at this all night, and possibly fall ill by association.
Nuts, or 'fruits secs' are popular in France, especially around the Mediterranean, but I don't find the packaged versions are edible, and loose varieties sold on markets always seem like second-class at best. Around this time of year there is a new walnut crop and like a lot of things in France, there are walnuts and there are super-special fantastic walnuts!
I believe the ones I am thinking of come from somewhere near the Pyrenees. I think I was also told that farmers there who don't sell their entire crop, feed them to pigs - but I have never seen pork advertised as having been fed on walnuts - but, just think of it.
And that is what one does in France a lot - thinking of food and what it tastes like. Especially at the end of the year.
Last week's Not Fair Christmas '96 Wine List, concocted by Eric Vergara:
Réveillon - Christmas Eve - Tuesday, 24. December 1996:
Champagne Bollinger Grand Année '89, for 255 francs a bottle.
Foie Gras- Côteaux du Layon Domaine de Trottiéres '93, at 44 francs the bottle.
Oysters - Chablis '94 Domaine Defaix '94, for 72 francs a bottle.
Turkey - Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru aux Fourneaux '91, 115 francs for this wine from the Bourgogne.
Cheese - Saint Joseph '94 Boisseyt at 67 francs a bottle. This is a Côtes du Rhône, from the northern end of the district
Bûche - Château de Jau '93, which is a Banyuls for 70 francs per bottle.
Christmas Day - Wednesday, 25. December 1996:
Smoked Salmon - Le Poruzot-Dessus '94 Meursault 1er Cru, from de Charles Jobard, which costs 160 francs a bottle. A dry Meursault.
A Chapon - 1990 Volnay 1er Cru les Angles from Lucien Boillot in the Bourgogne. It runs 160 francs a bottle.
Cheese - Corbiéres Château Etang des Colombes, 'Bois des Dames' '91, which goes for 65 francs a bottle.
Bûche - Vin de Paille d'Arbois '93, by Rolet at 150 francs for a half-sized 37,5 cl. bottle.
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