Friday, November 26, 2010
The Culinary Delights of Normandy
Tripes a la Mode de Caen
Coquilles St. Jaques
The fantastic La Rapiere Restaurant, Bayeux, Normandy.
La Rapiere, Bayeux.
Normandy is a region full of fields and orchards, which in turn means that there are plenty of cows and fruit and so, food in Normandy tends to be based on these products. In fact, milk from cows in Normandy makes up about half of France's milk, butter, cheese and cream.
Normandy cheeses include the ubiquitous Camembert, which has been around since the days pf William the Conqueror! Camembert is a soft, creamy and lusciously buttery cheese made from cow's milk. When cut open, it should ooze slowly from the middle and the paste should have a clear yellow appearance. It's perfect with grapes, berries, toasted nuts and a glass of Champagne. Other popular Norman cheeses include Livarot and Pont l'Eveque. Most meals are not considered complete without a cheese course including wedges of all three.
As well as being renowned for its dairy products, Normandy cuisine has a reputation for favouring meat, especially tripe. I myself has no idea what tripe was until I went to Normandy, so for those of you who don't know, tripe is essentially made from the stomach layers of farm animals, mostly cow. They have a special dish in Normandy called Tripes a la Mode de Caen which combines pounds of tripe, trotters (calves' feet), onions, carrots, cider and lots of Calvados (I'll get to this in a minute). It all simmers away for about 10 hours until the swimcap like tripe breaks down into fibrous whatness, cracking open and soaking up the sauce and juices much like some mollusk-shaped pasta yet to be invented.
Another popular local dish is Canard Rouennaise which is made with Rouen duck cooked in its own blood with the juices of the crushed carcase and of course mixed with lots of Calvados. In case anyone is wondering I decided to astain from indulging in these local delights.
It isn't all blood and guts though, as seafood is also very popular. Scallops, or Coquilles St Jaques, are particularly delicious here. This I did enjoy! Coquilles St Jaques is essentially poached scallops combined with a rich cream sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and cheese and then baked. This little dish is very rich, so make sure you pair it with a glass of Champagne or an acidic white wine such as Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.
Fruit from the orchards, especially apples, are used quite a bit in Normandy cuisine. Local cider is often included in meat and poultry dishes, and it comes either doux (sweet) or brut (dry). The apple juice can be further distilled to make brandies like Calvados. With an alcohol content of at least 55%, this apple brandy certainly takes the sting out of a rainy Norman winter. It can be served in a variety of ways: as an aperitif, blended in drinks, as a digestif or with coffee. However, it generally tends to be served as a small drink between courses in a long meal. My father and I went for dinner at the fabulous La Rapiere restaurant in Bayeux, and here they served us a small dish of apple sorbet doused in Calvados between our courses. This is called the Norman Hole and is suppose to re-awaken your appetite and clense your palate - at 55% alcohol, I'll say it did.