This past Friday, we cooked a menu exclusively based on the cuisine of Normandie (if you missed my recount of our last regional menu, Provence, you can read it here).
For those who are a little unfamiliar with French geography, Normandie is located on the northwestern coast of France.
Most people are probably familiar with the region exclusively due to the famous military operations that took place there, which proved a major defeat to the Nazis and marked the beginning of France’s restoration to an independent state at the end of WW2. Of course, Normandy’s coastline continues to be of importance to France even after it’s use as a landing pad for allied forces, and contributes a variety of seafood to the country’s cuisine. According to wikipedia (I only take information from superior sources) Normandy is “the chief oyster-cultivating, scallop-exporting, and mussel-raising region in France.” Heavily agricultural, Normandy also produces some great cheeses from cows raised in it’s pasturelands (camembert being the prime example), and apple orchards dot the countryside and contribute cider to the region’s palate.
I don’t have many pictures of us during prep, but I can’t help but share this picture of one of my classmates standing over a flame, burning the remaining feathers off a duck.
It’s just one of those things that I just wasn’t even aware needed to be done prior to coming here. Never even thought about it. It’s amazing to reflect that these basic procedures, which not long ago must have been routine to anyone who prepared meat, are now lost knowledge to most of the American population. In France, feathers are a typical mark of freshness, and you often see birds being sold with heads, feet, and feathers still attached (not usually in supermarkets, but butcheries are common). Sometimes it’s easy to ignore where your food comes from, but here, reminders are everywhere that the meat you’re eating came from something that was once a living creature.
On to the menu.
Normandie, as I mentioned, has a wealth of seafood thanks to its proximity to the channel, and the first three courses of our meal reflect it. We started out with Verrine de tourteaux, tourteaux being a type of crab.
Crab layered with a sweet salsa made of citrus, mango, and cilantro, topped with a delicate avocato espuma. I appreciated the sweetness of the fruit and the lightness of the avocado, both which provided a refreshing start to the meal.
I worked on the second course, Sole on a bed of mushrooms, served with a puree of artichoke and topped with a foam made of mussels. I think someone out there is trying to punish me by assigning me to the fish course every. single. time.
This was actually an interesting plate to work on. Several classmates remarked that it was their favorite yet, especially for the presentation. I admit that the mollusk foam was especially striking. It looked and tasted like the sea. It was also surprisingly easy to make, just a little time consuming to pick them all out of their shells. Oh, and those little round things hanging out in the artichoke puree? those are snails. Full of firsts, both in cooking and eating.
The third course was also fish, bass specifically. I still can’t ever get excited about seafood, which is a shame because I’ve been eating it a lot here. Crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, fish…I don’t know why, they just aren’t my preference. I’ll eat them but I can’t make myself enjoy them. Maybe one day.
This is what became of the duck. the breast meat was gently roasted, while other scraps were ground and made into sausage. Served alongside was a puree of horseradish (surprisingly delicious) and and a grilled cepe mushroom. I believe the sauce was made with the offal. It was good, and I know the guys worked hard on this, but to be honest it wasn’t a particularly memorable dish for me, but I can’t put my finger on why. I think by this point I was really just looking for a vegetable that wasn’t white.
Finally, what is undoubtedly my favorite part of the meal, dessert. Here we featured Normandy’s favorite fruit crop, the apple.
Normandy Apple Tart. This was an almond creme filling topped with apples that had been flambeed in Calvados (an apple cider originating in the region). Alongside was homemade calvados icecream…delicious!
Overall, this wasn’t my favorite lunch ever, but I don’t really believe that it’s necessary to love all your food in order to enjoy your meal. These were mostly unique dishes that featured ingredients unfamiliar to my palate, and there was a lot of methods of preparation that were new to me. Whether it becomes a new favorite or not, it’s still fun to experience things you’ve not tried before and open yourself up to something new. It’s all part of the learning experience. It’s what I’ here for, afterall 🙂