19 June 2011

{Reflections on the French Cuisine & Fougasse}

In November 2010, the French cuisine was added by UNESCO to its list of the world's intangible cultural heritage. No surprise there, seeing as French food is not only good, but also steeped in culture and regional history. And you'll have to peek through its history if you wish to comprehend the cuisine. Which resources were widely available at any given time, which cultures occupied the regions; trade partners and immigration all contributed to its gastronomic evolution. France, with its long history, deep traditions and rich magnitude of natural resources, has indeed a very varied cuisine. And when most people think of 'French food', their thoughts tend to jump certain clichés, like frogs legs – a speciality of Dombes in Rhône-Alpes. But most French people I know of and have met, have never even tastes frogs legs. Like most countries, the best French food is regional, not food commonly found in French restaurants, nor well-known abroad. Although eating boeuf borguignon in a restaurant is definitely worth the money, there's nothing like eating foie gras made in the traditional method of any given Alsatian town. 

Food is prepared differently as well, depending on where you live. In Brittany and Normandy, seafood is cooked in cider and Calvados; in Bordeaux, meat is simmered in red wine; Alsacians however, prefer their pork marinated in beer. The North and Central regions eat more pork and beef, the South and West prefer seafood and fish. The North accompany their dishes with lentils and cabbage, the South prefer chickpeas and olives. The North cooks with butter, the South with olive oil. The North drinks beer; the West, cider; the Central regions and the South, wine.

Naturally, the French have been influenced by their many neighbours and conquerors. The Flemish lived in the north, the Germans in the northeast. Scandinavians-turned-Normans occupied the northwest, whilst the Celts dominated Brittany. Sardinians occupied Savoy in the east; the Greeks and Romans the south. And finally, in Corsica, the Genoese settled. Each group brought something to the table, in a manner of speaking. Scandinavians brought salted cod; the Germans, sausages, pork and cabbage (choucroute); the Celts introduced buckwheat, which later turned into their famous galettes de blé noir. Later, foreign influences from European courts, mainly Vienna, sweetened the French cuisine by introducing croissants, pâte feuilletée, brioches, baguettes and so on. Finally, immigrants from former colonies, particularly North African countries, have spiced the southern French cuisine in later times, bringing with the chickpea delights like socca, as well as couscous.

Fougasse is one of the lovely delights that has been created by cultural fusion. In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the hearth (focus = hearth), which evolved into well-known and well-loved flat breads, like the focaccia in Italy, fogassa in Catalonia, pogača in the Balkans, fouaisse in Burgendy and the fougasse in Provençe. It's a delightful little blighter; soaking in olive oil and infused with the tastes of Herbes de Provençe, sea salt and chopped olives. I usually stick to a few herbs (dried or fresh), some salt and chopped olives, but you can top it with whatever you like.The kitchen is your oyster, or in this case, your fougasse.

To see how to shape the fougasse, see here.

Recipe adapted from Saveur 

15 g. fresh yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp. kosher salt
675 g. flour
333 ml. tepid water
Sea salt, for topping
Herbes de Provençe, for topping
Optional: Chopped olives, fresh parsley, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary and black pepper, to taste

1.In a large bowl, mix the yeast with sugar and water. Stir in the flour, oil and salt until a dough forms. Knead, then let sit until doubled in size, roughly 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

2.Heat oven to 260°C. Divide dough into five equal pieces. Working with one dough piece at a time, roll into a triangle. Transfer rectangle to cornmeal or flour-dusted, parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut three lengthwise parallel slashes in middle of dough and one small slash below and parallel to middle large splash. Spread splashes apart with your fingers. Cover with damp towel; let rest until puffed, about 30 minutes. Lightly brush each dough with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and Herbes de Provençe and any other topping of your choice. Bake, one at a time, until golden brown, about 15 minutes each.

4 comment (s):

Nick said...

Great post!!!
I like the part of the history of some dishes, it's really interesting and complete.
I unluckily never tasted homemade Foie-gras from Alsace but only one from a family who has a farm in Southern France, and it was amazingly good!!!

Madame Grenouille said...

Thank you :) Foie gras is good, although it tastes like the Norwegian leverpostei more than anything else.

M said...

does the bread taste like leverpostei? that is not a good sign, you ask me

but pictures and post are good :D

Madame Grenouille said...

Haha, the bread doesn't taste like leverpostei =)

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