My take on the ideal French meal

With Unesco recognising French food in its world heritage list, Connexion asked top chef Marc Veyrat for his dream meal

31 January 2011

THREE-MICHELIN star chef Marc Veyrat said that in his opinion the classic French meal was not haute cuisine.

"For me, it has to be a simple working-class meal, a family meal. Also, Unesco forgot to say that it should use natural, organic foods.

"It’s all very well to be recognised by Unesco, we can feel proud and sing the Marseillaise and slap ourselves on the back, but now we need to get to work.

“To have better products tomorrow, we need to all struggle so that we can have real, natural products in the ‘French meal’ like we had in the 1960s. That’s to say, without pesticides and insecticides.

“We all know that even good-quality products these days can contain them and they are dangerous.”

Mr Veyrat said the sociable aspect of the French meal was essential.

“It’s about an exchange, sharing and serenity around the table; that’s what French savoir vivre is about”.

The “French meal” as listed by Unesco has to include a minimum of an aperitif, a starter, a main course, cheese, a desert and a digestif, and be accompanied by wine.

Marc Veyrat’s dream meal

Aperitif
Vin d’Ayze
A sparkling "ice wine" (made from grapes that have frozen on the vine with the first frosts), made in one of the highest vineyards in the world, in the Alps in Haute-Savoie.

Starter
Salade niçoise
"A good salad with absolutely all the ingredients is festive and life-enhancing."

Main course
A river fish, with white butter.
“A large fish of about 7-800g like a lake trout from Savoy cooked en papillotte [wrapped in greaseproof paper], with neglected vegetables such as Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip and swede, would be marvellous.” Accompanied with chignin-bergeron, a fruity white from Savoy.

Cheese
“We are proud of our exceptional cheeses, so I would have a cheese board from Savoie and Haute-Savoie.”

Dessert
“Oeufs à la neige (snow eggs) is pure French tradition, and where I’m from we eat it with a bilberry tart.”

Digestif
Génépi (a liqueur made with Alpine herbs) or gentiane (made from the roots of the wild flower gentian).

Also below is a selection of regional dishes compiled with the help of local tourist offices

Tripe à la mode de Caen

THIS famous Norman dish is said to have been invented by a monk from the Abbaye des Hommes in Caen in the 14th century, though William the Conqueror himself is said to have enjoyed a tripe and apple juice dish.

The brotherhood of the Golden Tripe Dish, which promotes it, uses his motto “Diex Aie” (God help us). This recipe uses cider and calvados.

Ingredients
2kg tripe (belly, bonnet and rennet stomach), 1 cow’s foot and 1 calf ’s foot (split in half), 6 carrots (cut into rounds), 3 onions (cut into rounds), lard (bacon) rind, 1l dry cider, 1 glass calvados, 1 clove garlic (crushed),
4 cloves, a bouquet garni, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

Method
Wash the tripe thoroughly, changing the water several times. Put it in a large pot with the cow’s and calf’s foot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Leave to boil for a few minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Cut the trip into 5cm chunks.

In a large terracotta casserole dish mix the bacon rind, carrots, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, bouquet garni, cloves, a pinch of Cayenne pepper, the tripe and the feet. Moisten with the calvados and then the cider. The mixture should be covered with liquid. Cover the casserole dish and seal hermetically using a cord of pastry made from flour and water.

Cook in the oven on a low setting for at least 12 hours or leave overnight. Leave to cool. Open the dish, remove the top layer of grease with a spoon, bone the feet and remove the bouquet garni.

Reheat just before serving and serve in hot plates with boiled potatoes.

Recipe: Recipes from Normandy, Anne Prével (translated by Alex Bramble), published by Editions Bonneton, €10.

Basque piperade

PIPERADE, a Basque Country pepper dish, is so called from the Occitan for red pepper, piperrada. It can be served as a meal accompaniment, eg. with meat or fish, or, as a starter or main dish by the addition of eggs and meat, as in this recipe.

Ingredients (serves 4)
4 eggs, 4 large tomatoes, 3 chilli peppers (long, mild green ones, ideally piments du Pays Basque), 1 large onion, thyme and laurel, 5cl olive oil, 4 slices of ventrèche (salted and dried pork belly from the South-West: if unavailable, replace with an alternative, eg. bacon), salt, red espelette pepper (a chilli from the South-West, often sold as a puree), 4 garlic cloves, 2cl red wine vinegar.

Method
Peel tomatoes, cut in two, remove pips and juice, cut into thick slices. Peel the peppers with a vegetable peeler and cut into thin strips. Heat olive oil and cook the onions, cut into thin slices, for 5 mins. Add peppers and cook ently for 10 mins. Add tomatoes and the garlic, chopped. Salt and add a pinch of piment d'espelette. Cook on a low heat for 40 mins.

Salt and grill the ventrèche and then deglaze with red wine (pour it into the pan you have grilled the meat in and stir to absorb the juices). Beat the eggs and salt, then add to the piperade mixture, stir to make them scramble. Put the mixture in a bowl and add the ventrèche on top.

Recipe: www.tourisme64.com

Choucroute royale

THE most famous dish from the east of France was traditionally made by Alsacian families by making their own sauerkraut in wooden barrels. The crunchy, acidic dish is made by finely slicing white cabbage, adding salt and herbs, and then leaving it to ferment for several weeks in an airtight container.

You can eat it immediately, but it keeps several months. Today it is easiest to buy it ready-made. It is traditionally eaten with charcuterie, when it is called choucroute garnie (garnished sauerkraut) or choucroute royale.

Ingredients (serves 8)
1.5kg choucroute, six potatoes, a shoulder of smoked pork (palette de porc fumée), 700g salted pork loin (carré de porc salé), 6 Strasbourg sausages (knacks), 400g smoked bacon, a small knuckle of ham, 250g white sausage, 10 liver quenelles (a kind of dumpling), 100g goose fat, lard or oil, 2 onions, 1 garlic clove, 1 laurel leaf, 10cl riesling white wine, 25cl stock, 10 juniper berries, several cloves, salt and pepper.

Method
Blanch choucroute for a few seconds in boiling water.

Wash it several times, separating out the strands (the more it is washed, the less acidic it is). Press carefully to remove water. Cook onions in the goose fat in a casserole dish and add the choucroute plus a little muslin bag containing the garlic clove, laurel, cloves and juniper berries. Add the stock and riesling; season and leave to cook for an hour on a low heat; stir and add the bacon and salted pork. Cook for an hour and a half, adding liquid
if necessary.

In the meantime cook the pork shoulder for 90mins in boiling water. Peel potatoes and place on top of the mixture in the casserole; leave to cook for another 30 mins. Meanwhile, poach the Strasbourg sausage, ham and quenelles and grill the white sausage. Serve the choucroute and its accompaniments, with riesling or sylvaner wine.

Recipe: Comité régionale du tourisme d’Alsace (www. alsace-tourisme.com)

Salade niçoise

THIS tasty, simple dish, which chef Marc Veyrat would have as his starter for his Unesco French meal, can also be eaten as a main course. Unlike ones served in some restaurants, the original version should not include cooked vegetables such as boiled potatoes or green beans, and it should be served dressed with olive oil, not salad cream or mayonnaise.

Ingredients (serves 8)
150g mesclun (mixed leaves, eg. rocket, lettuce, chervil, escarole, frisée, cos, oak leaf, batavian), 500g tomato, 200g cucumber, 100g spring onions (ideally the cébette kind), 100g celery heart (the tender inner parts), 400g small
purple artichokes, 160g small green peppers, 250g long radishes (known as the “18 days” type), 50g black Nice olives, 200g tuna in olive oil, 16 salted anchovy filets, 20g garlic, 10cl olive oil, 4 eggs, 8-12 basil leaves, fine salt and
ground pepper

Method
Wash vegetables, clean radishes, keeping them whole with their tender leaves.

Spread out salad leaves around a salad bowl after rubbing the bowl with a peeled garlic clove. Quarter tomatoes and place on salad, salt.

Thinly slice cucumbers, celery and the tender hearts of the artichokes, the peppers and spring onions. Lay them out neatly on the salad, salt. Add tuna in large chunks, basil cut up with scissors and hard-boiled, quartered eggs, anchovy filets and olives.

Pour on olive oil at the last moment, plus pepper, and mix up the salad in front of your guests. When serving make sure to share out all the ingredients.

Recipe : Nice Côte d’Azur Tourisme et Congrès (www.nicetourisme.com).

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