Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Food and drink in the Languedoc

Languedoc snails

Cooking traditions in Languedoc Roussillon have roots in the same primary products as those in Provence. The main ingredients in Languedoc Roussillon cuisine are olive oil and tomatoes, garlic, onions and aromatic herbs are also used. The only difference may be that cooks use a little bit less garlic than in Provence. Sea food products are an essential part of the Languedoc Roussillon cuisine.
Gastronomically, the Languedoc isn't the most renowned of France's regions - a turbulent history and a degree of confusion due to culinary diversity being the main reasons for this. Its location at a geographic crossroads means that a wide variety of ingredients are available and the diverse cuisine this leads to make it a great all-rounder. On the coast is the seafood of the Mediterranean, go north and there is the full range of mountain produce - many overlook that Lozere is part of the region. Catalonia to the southwest brings a refreshing non-French influence. The Pyrenees and Gascony, land of the duck and goose, are to the west. Last but not least, to the east is the vibrant market garden that is Provençe.

The area is particularly rich in in traditional foods of the region, and has borrowed freely from the cuisines of Aragon and northern Italy, and to a lesser extent Spain and Morocco. There is also of course a strong Mediterranean influence, even an hour or two's drive inland - merchants bring fresh fish to inland markets and fishmongers every day

Apart from the obvious International drinks, the following are made in the Languedoc:
Noilly Prat

Muscat de St Jean and Muscat de Rivesaltes

Maury ( natural sweet wine)
Banyuls ( sweet red wine served chilled)
Byrrh - Byrrh is another of those peculiarly French concoctions of red wine, quinine water and spices from the Languedoc-Roussillon made at Thuir ((66 Pyrénées Orientales, Languedoc-Roussillon). Reportedly it has a touch of bitterness and orange overtones and is best as an aperitif (similar to Dubonnet) or as part of a cocktail.
Pastis is very popular, though does not come from this area

A small note on serving aperitifs. ALWAYS serve some nibbles to go with it. Nuts, crisps,salami,dried ham, olives and even Fougasse which is a crusty flat bread cut to bake into a grid shape. Its traditional ingredients include olive oil. Can be stuffed or coated with onions, olives, pork scratching or cheese

Starters and Seafood
Cargolada.  A Catalan grilled snail dish.
Escargots Catalans.
  Snails in tomato sauce.
  Several varieties of olives are grown in the Languedoc, the most important of which are Picholine and the Lucque (cultivated in the West of Languedoc-Roussillon).
Saucisse de Toulouse à la languedocienne.
  Sauteed in goose fat and served with tomato, parsley and capers).
  Like fine sliced smoked ham, only a hundred times times better.
Oysters ( mainly from Bouzigues)
Bourride ( fish with aïoli )
Morue Catalane ( cod with tomatoes and peppers)
Grilled Mushrooms stuffed with Pélardon Goat's Cheese

Truffle omelette/pasta - yes these Black pearls also come from here

Wild asparagus - their locations a closely guarded secret by those in the know
Tapenade - a rich paste made from olives and olive oil

Foie Gras - usually served with a Fig confit

Grilled local
Goats cheese

Fish from the Mediterranean
- thon (tuna), sardines, anchovies, baudroie (local name for lotte i.e. monkfish), rouget (red mullet), seiche (cuttlefish), calamar (squid), supions (baby squid or cuttlefish), encornets (local name for squid), pisseur (local type of squid with pale skin and longer tentacles), poulpe (octopus), dourade (bream), loup (sea bass) and many others.
- is reared in the large Basin de Thau behind Sete with its miles of oyster and mussel beds. Young shells are actually imported from the Atlantic coast to mature in the basin. Connoisseurs will say they are inferior to produce from cooler Atlantic waters, but locally they will be fresher. Also look out for small triangular clams called tellines, they're sweet and make a superb jus.
- most famously landed at Collioure on the Cote Vermille near Spain, are available fresh, salted, in oil or marinated in various ways.
Salt Cod
- would have originally arrived via traders from the north and could penetrate much further inland than fresh fish in the days before roads and refrigeration. Best known for carefully mixing with olive oil, milk, garlic and perhaps a little potato to make Brandade de Morue, a speciality of Nîmes.
- dried sausages are made all over region but for something special and reliable seek out the mountain produce from Lacaune.

Rouille à la setoise
- cuttlefish cooked in a tomato and saffron sauce thickened with a garlic and olive oil aioli. Also cooked in a similar way is encornets farci - stuffed young squid. Bourride de Sète is similar but features monkfish (locally called boudroie). Bourride can also mean a soupy fish stew - a more rustic Languedoc version of Provençe's bouillabaisse.
Tielle or Tièle
- these orange glazed seafood pies are commonly seen in markets (and supermarkets). Quality varies and they have a high percentage of pastry so big is better plus they're splendid takeaway food. Based on poulpes (octopus) and tomato they came to Sete with Italian migrants. The best are made by Cianni - available in the Cenral Halles or from their ovens at 24 rue Honoré Euzet.
- is a spread similar to tapenade (olives) but made with more anchovies.
Brandade de morue
- amalgamated salt cod, olive oil, milk, garlic and perhaps a little potato. Can be served warm or cold. Best to make it at home.
Brandade de Nîmes.
   A Gard speciality made with cod and olive oil.  The ingredients are thoroughly mixed to form a white, creamy paste which is usually combined with a touch of garlic and olive oil and boiled, mashed potatoes.  Served with a green salad or as a gratin.  It can also be served as petits-fours or spread on toast.
Bourride de Séte
  Monkfish is seared in olive oil, then simmered in white wine and thickened with a good strong aioli (garlic mayonnaise). It is served on a bed of toasted bread, with small, finely chopped vegetables.   Ingredients vary from place to place - it can also be made using cuttlefish or squid.
Gigot de mer à la palavasienne.
  Another monkfish dish.  Flavoured with garlic and served on a bed of tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and peppers.
Encornets farcis.
  Stuffed squid, a Sète speciality that originated in Italy. Generally served with rice. The squid are filled with a stuffing made from meat, soaked bread, egg, garlic and parsley.  They are seared in olive oil and sometimes flambéed in cognac, before being simmered in a tomato sauce.   In some recipes, the sauce is thickened with aioli, a garlic mayonnaise.
Local Seafood Platters.
  Featuring snails, sea urchins, mussels, clams, Thau basin oysters.
Morue Catalane.
Cod with tomatoes and pepper.
  Little clams.  
  Fish Stew
Garbure is a thick meat, bean and vegetable soup. It is a Famous Traditional French Recipe from the South-West of France.

Main Courses
Languedoc Cassoulet

Ollada or Ouillade - a Beef stew


- a slow cooked Beef stew - usally served with Camargue red rice
Lamb " sous la mer "
suckling pig
Boles de Picolat
- Catalan meat balls with garlic and tomatoes
- in various guises. Magret de Canard can be simply grilled, brochettes of Duck, a stew with olives, Confit de Canard ,
Pistache de Mouton ou d'Agneau
- basically Drunken Lamb or Mutton
Tagine - influence from Morocco - slow cooked stew with vegetables and served with couscous
Wild Boar in various ways
Notes on Vegetables.

Apart from all the obvious, a few very local specialities:
Green Asparagus - the first of the new seasons produce appears from the end of March (best, with most flavour) to the beginning of June
- new seasons green garlic from May. The purple tinged skined Ail rose de Lautrec is the finest.
Wild mushrooms
- are most common in the autumn when the large cèps arrive from the mountains of Lozere. Buying cèps can be very hit and miss as some lack flavour.
Winter root vegetables
- the village of Pardailhan in the cooler Haut-Languedoc is renowned for its Navet Noir (black turnip), carrots and other root vegetables grown on a schist soil plateau.
- Cebes, sweet white onions famous in the area around Lézignan-la-Cèbe in the Herault valley.
- what is basically a mixture of mash potato and mountain cheese with garlic is, when well made, a uniquely stringy textured and delicious creation that demands second helpings.

With the Languedoc planes dominated by vines one has to head for the limestone hills to find sheep and goat country. The most famous cheese is the blue Roquefort. Matured in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon (politically in the Midi-Pyreneees) much of it originates from the ewes living on the high Grande Causses (limestone plateaus) of which Larzac is by far the largest.

All over the hills goat's milk makes small Pélardons and Crotins. Perail is a runny sheep's cheese made throughout the region. Beyond the Causses are the mountains of the Auvergne and their famous cows cheeses - St. Nectaire, the Cantal family (Salers, Laguiole), Tommes, Brébis ( a female sheep )

Languedoc Clafouti

We have a prolific amount of locally grown fruits ( nectarines, peaches - flat ones, red and white - figs, apricots, cherries, strawberries, melons, pomegranates, quinces,grapes, chestnuts,walnuts, almonds,as well as chestnuts ) so many sweets are based on these.

, a cherry cake
Crème catalane - is crème brûleé flavoured with lemon peel, fennel seed and perhaps cinnamon bark
A few notable general food items:

- there are apiculteurs all over the region. Depending on the blossom and flowers in season different honeys are produced so have a tasting at a market stall or visit a producer. The range is as diverse as wine with the heady flavours from the indigenous plants and trees resulting in some powerful tastes such as chestnut and lavender. If you like something more delicate seek out bruyère (heather).
- The town of Aigues-Mortes at the edge of the Camargue remains a major producer of salt. Fleur de Sel is collected by hand when the conditions are right for surface crystals to form on the evaporating salines. Buy it in small cork lidded tubs that state the name of the family producer and use it as a garnish. La Baleine (whale) make a more everyday salt that's available world wide. Also, very good salt comes from Gruissan.
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