Gourmet Station back to home
the main top image deilcious deestinations

Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.

The Interminable French Feast

Posted: June 25, 2007
by: Chris Card Fuller

"You must have spent all day preparing dinner",said our neighbor Anne
Marie.  It's approximately nine pm (which by Parisian standards would be
early) but given the fact that we're dining outside (and in Normandy),
eight or nine pm is fine for outdoor dining to maximize the hours of
daylight  (Sun sets at 9:45 in this first week of June).


And the truth is, yes, I did spend all day preparing dinner.  So, in case
you're wondering, how does an American visitor in France prepare a meal
for French guests (one of them being a French chef)?

The answer is "With much reflection!"
One of the things I've learned over the years is the famous KISS formula
(i.e. Keep it Simple Stupid). And I might add to that KIF (i.e. Keep it


The first couple of years in France, I tried to be a good ambassador and
serve plates that might quell the myth of the hamburger as being the
be-all and end-all of American cooking.  But in my enthusiasm to disprove
the myth, I ended up making far too much food, and too many different
recipes.  Still, friends continue to tease me about my tendency to bring
on a deluge of appetizers & hoping this first barrage might distract
guests from the fact that I am back in the kitchen juggling plates,
totally clueless.

In recent years, some new additions have made life in the "galley"
much more organized.  Here are some of the lifesavers & if you can
afford them (and more importantly, in France, if you have the space for
them):  a dishwashing machine, a second refrigerator, a crock pot (called
a mitigeuse), and Saran wrap.  If you want to buy crystal stemware, you
can buy inexpensive crystal stemware at some of the larger supermarkets
like LeClerc or Monoprix.  This stemware can actually be washed in the
dishwasher -something I would never try with more expensive crystal.

Keep it fresh:  People might excuse a chewy cut of beef, but they will
never excuse day-old bread.  The bakery is open every day in France, so
you should make sure to have a loaf of fresh bread on hand.  The baguettes
tend to dry out so quickly.  You're better off picking up a loaf
which will stay fresh till dinnertime.  Keep it in a breadbox or
wrapped in a towel.  Don't slice the bread until the last possible

RE: Meat.  Steaks in France tend to be chewy but the flavor
compensates for chewiness.  You have to really spend some time getting to
know the right butcher.  Try different cuts.  Entrecote is normally
considered to be one of the better cuts of steak.  Steak is more often
panfried here than broiled, simply because many people eat their steaks
rare.  I've recently been introduced to "la plancha", an oven-top
griddle which some of our friends use with great success. If you have any
concerns about the tenderness of steaks, opt for a roast
of pork, veal or a leg of lamb.

RE: Sauce aka gravy.  Sauces tend to be much lighter in France.  You've
probably heard about the rich butter sauces, but day-to-day cooking is
based on using the natural juices from meat which are cooked down and
served with the meat. The exception to this rule would be some regions
like Normandy where fraiche is used in abundance for every kind of
meat dish.

Tomato sauces (which are used in many American dishes) are not as
predominant in French cuisine for the simple reason that it's hard to
find a wine that goes well with tomato sauce.  In Provence where the
tomato is a basic ingredient, the local Provence makes a good

RE: Fish. The simplicity rule is truer than ever with fish.  If you're
lucky enough to find fresh sole, don't wreck it (as I did once) by
trying to create a "dish".  Fresh sole needs very little help. The
best thing you can do with fresh sole is to lightly flour it and panfry it
in butter.  Throw in a few toasted almond slivers if you must, but not
even that is necessary. Finding fresh fish at the beginning of the week
is not always easy.  Some markets (like our local Champion branch) only
carry fresh fish on Thursday
through Sunday.

If you're vegetarian, you'll be happy to know that people are often
willing to try a new dish if it is presented in an appetizing manner.
"Crudit" or shredded raw vegetables are often seen as a starter on
restaurant menus.  At home, you can prepare a similar starter.  Or you can
slice strips of melon and serve it with a glass of Porto (especially in
the summer months).

Cous-cous or semolina (a North-African dish) is one example of a good base
for a vegetarian main course. You can include garbanzo beans and the spicy
sauce used to flavor a colorful vegetable medley.   Vegetables can also be
prepared in the earthenware tajine (which slow cooks them in the oven).

Cheeses:   Cheese shops in town tend to be overpriced (in my opinion).
The supermarket cheese departments cannot compare with the outdoor
markets.  Find a cheese stand at your closest outdoor market and develop a
good rapport with the vendor.  For your cheese platter, try to choose one
or two soft cheeses and a hard "mountain" cheese.  If you have
leftover cheese (you always do, either you can use it in the next few days
-  goat cheese can be slightly heated in the oven and served on toasts
along with salad.  Or you can put cheeses in a zip-lock bag and freeze
them for another day.

Camembert and other soft cheeses must be left out for a few hours before
serving to maximize their flavor (an authentic AOC Camembert must be lait
cru which means it's unpasteurized) And yes, there is always a
slight risk with unpasteurized cheese, in the same way that eating
chocolate mousse (made with raw egg) can be a risk.  But then, we've
been eating unpasteurized cheeses and mousse au chocolat for a number of
years with no problems.  You decide.  Always keep cheeses covered with a
net or a cheese plate cover (to keep out flies) and if the weather is
particularly hot, do not keep cheeses out to the point where they become
too runny or "trop fait".

When choosing desserts, opt for light and fluffy over two-crust pies or
buttery cakes.  Apple pie may be one of your favorites, but after
appetizers, a starter, a main course, salad and cheese, with plenty of
good wine to accompany each course, your guests will thank you for making
the dessert course light and easy-to-digest

Here are some ways to spend more time with your guests:  Try to have the
starter course prepared as much as possible before their arrival.  Arrange
the plates, saran wrap each individual plate and stack in your fridge.
You can partially cook veggies, esp potatoes and heat thoroughly just
before serving.

Have coffee measured and the coffee pot ready to turn on at the flip of a
switch.  Set coffee cups, saucers, sugar and spoons on a tray within easy
access for the end of the meal.  (This is a good time to serve any little
candies, after dinner mints  or liqueurs/brandy, etc).


Have a flower vase and a pair of scissors set beside the sink in case a
guest brings you a bouquet of flowers.  (This saves you scrambling around
cupboards looking for that flower vase that you remember seeing several
months earlier at the back of the cupboard under the kitchen sink).

Find a partner in crime "do not be afraid to delegate" but make sure
it's someone who really knows you well enough not to be horrified at the
cyclone in the kitchen.  Take advantage of your significant other's
desire to be helpful.  He or she can be your lifebuoy.  People you let
into your kitchen have already gained the key to your heart next time
you're invited to dinner at a French friend's house.  Pay attention to
who is allowed to help in the kitchen and you may have already guessed it's
more often than not, the most trusted friend of the host or hostess.


For a video on a lunch in Normandy from Fat Bell Travelers, click here.



Your Comments