I honestly know just about as much about French food prior to doing this post than Del Boy knows about the Lingo. Very, little.
I did in fact spend a brief stint in Paris in my youth. Aged 19, some hapless idiot employed me as a Security Guard. Clearly whatever I was guarding at the time had very little value as my intelligence level was not at the height it is now. I didn't realise that I would have to bring cash with me and spent the entire time eating John West tuna meals as that's all I could afford. Not very French at all.
In fact unlike most of the rest of our ever increasingly fast paced world where we're grabbing a very suspicious sandwich in the petrol station on our way into work which we plan to eat whilst simultaneously typing an email to Jim in accounts, the French live to eat, they DO NOT eat to live. Food is very serious business.
MEAL TIME ETIQUETTE EN FRANCE
Breakfast is a relatively small affair in France, but forget your protein oats, mostly they are all out buttery goodness. Commonly the French will go light opting for a croissant, some brioche or a pain au chocolate which they may or may not dip into a bowl of coffee to start off their day.
The real meal time madness comes at lunch where the French commonly take between one and two hours to sit together and actually enjoy their food, often up to four courses, including wine. A typical French lunch will consist of a starter (une entrée), a main (le plat principal), a cheese course and if there's room, dessert. Now I'm not sure about you, but I am pretty sure that if I made this suggestion to my management team I would be walking out with my P45. But in France, they balk at our miserable approach to the lunch break.
French children are educated at a young age that dining is an art not to be messed with. There's no such thing as children's food, you won't catch a French child eating turkey dinosaurs and smiley faces - they eat the same as the adults in smaller portions and even encouraged at a young age to have small sips of wine. This approach to educating children in the language of food is one of the biggest cultural differences which puts France at the top of the charts for culinary appreciation.
Unsurprisingly, dinner time is usually taken later than average at around 7.30 up to 10pm and are far lighter than the lunchtime feeding. Dinner time is a family affair sat at the dining table discussing the daily events in preparation to do it all again tomorrow. You will very rarely find the French queuing at a drive through window waiting for Le Big Mac and chips.
RULES, RULES, RULES
The French are very specific about their food, quite unlike the Shack where our approach is, throw it all in with a hope and a prayer that even if it doesn't look pretty, it will surely taste amazing. A French Bread Law (yes, really) passed in 1993 or “the Bread Decree” as it is known, dictates how bread should be produced and sold in France.
To be called a “boulangerie”, a bakery must make its own bread fresh on-site. A baguette must weigh between 250-300 g and be 55-65 cm long, and any bread labelled “tradition française”must be produced following a very specific recipe containing flour, salt, yeast, and water—no preservatives or additives allowed. Luckily for you we have a fabulous no preservative recipe for you which we posted last week for FRENCH BREAD, but you may have to get your rulers out if you want to pass the French test.
PASS THE CHEESE PLEASE
It's no secret that I am a big fan of cheese. Given the choice I will generally choose a nice cheese board over a sweet dessert any day, although you will quite commonly hear me say "Is there an option to have both"? In France? hell yes you can, this is standard practise. The French usually have some cheese in between the main course and the dessert. Along with salad or grape, it should be served at room temperature with a glass of wine or brandy. The “plateau de fromage“, the cheese board, should propose at least three varieties of cheese consisting of a cooked cheese, a veined cheese and a soft cheese with a rind.
But what I feel I am really missing out on? THERE ARE OVER 400 DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHEESE IN FRANCE. And if you even tried to palm a French person off with the crappy cranberry wensleydale which is ALWAYS passed over on the English Christmas cheese board they would bitch slap you across the face with a perfectly sized baguette.
MAINTAINING THE FRENCH WAIST LINE
So it's a wonder surely, with enough carbs in all that French Bread to sink a battle ship and the DAILY fatty goodness of buttery pastry, creamy desserts and cheeses... how on earth do the French stay so bloody thin? If you are to compare obesity rates; we sit at 22%, America at an unsurprisingly whopping 33%, the French? Just a minuscule 10%... so what is their secret?
Well to start with, they don't diet. You won't find a mademoiselle joining a health shake pyramid scheme any time soon. They treat their food as sacred, eating real food in small quantities and savouring the experience. Although they have more courses, French meals are typically smaller in size and the French do not feel the need to snack on a packet of digestive biscuits between meals as they are satiated from a variety of good quality food.
I don't mean to sound like a smart arse here, but if I've said it once, I've said it a million times... everything in moderation, including moderation... which brings me on to this week's recipes.