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How far outre is French cuisine?


John Talbott
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Question: what are civelles?

Tiny baby eels.

I'm almost afraid to ask...how would they be prepared/served, live or cooked? It's all about what you're used to, no? If it sits there quietly on the half-shell I'm the first in line. If it wiggles, I'll meet you in the parking lot. If it looks like a loaf I'll slice it, but if it looks like a nose on spode, give me the car keys.

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There is a French phrase that escapes me now but that I hope Pti will supply. Essentially, it means to eat with one's eyes closed. I would add that sometimes it's a good idea to eat with one's ears covered, also.

So many truly delicious dishes have evolved from the economic necessitity of "nose to tail" consumption of food sources. And while Grand Masters, the French don't have a monopoly on it.

(A woman from whom I took Greek lessons told of how snails were a main source of protein for her family during the Nazi occupation of Crete.)

Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

eGullet member #80.

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Salade de Museau is readily available and, I think, accessible to the meekest palate.  It is, very simply, what we know as 'head cheese'.  If that is off-putting, think of it as a cousin of ham in aspic.  It is usually sliced thin and tossed with vinaigrette.  It is really very user-friendly.  Just call it something else, if you must.

Edited to add that you will find it at just about any traiteur and as a cheap starter in the simplest bistrots.  In Paris, the Machon d'Henri on rue Guisarde serves up a lovely plate.

One precision: I do not know what "head cheese" precisely means in English, I mean if it refers to beef or pork. In French things are clear: "fromage de tête" (literal translation of head cheese) is pig's head terrine (or pig brawn), "museau vinaigrette" aka "salade de museau" is beef snout.

Both are delicious and taste rather similar, the pig version being a bit softer and the beef version slightly crunchier. Pig is diced, or served as a slab, and beef is thinly sliced. Both are dressed in the same vinaigrette, or rémoulade: lots of mustard, lots of shallots, lots of black pepper and vinegar.

What about "tete de veau"? That's head cheese made of calf, no?

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Question: what are civelles?

Tiny baby eels.

I'm almost afraid to ask...how would they be prepared/served, live or cooked?

I've always had them cooked/sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served almost like spaghetti, eaten with a wooden fork; they're so precious one doesn't want to mess up the taste.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Salade de museau as I have seen it, which was really in Geneva and not in France so far, was actually a salad of diced cow muzzle bits. I wouldn't think of it as user friendly, unless the user were...peculiar. But I've had a head cheese here, cervelat, which was made from pig's head and quite delicious, but nothing like the cow nose salad.

I've also had tête de veau, sort of on a dare, and all I can say about that is thank the kitchen goddess for sauce verte!

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Tête de veau is one of the most delicious dishes. The consistency is so delicate... Mm. I had an excellent, unusual rendition of it recently at Le Comptoir, where it was served as a (warm) "carpaccio"; very thinly sliced, with the sauce gribiche over it and the crumbled egg yolks almost crunchy.

I think too many people let their head get in the way of their palate. There is nothing more shocking about a cow's nose than about a cow's ribs.

When I was in Charente (the town of Fouras) recently, they were selling pâté de ragondin...

Also, we bought eel at the market. They were live, so the fishmonger killed them for us. Cooked on the barbecue and ate them with nothing but sel de Guérande. Delicious! And sated my craving for eel.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just as scientists report negative results so should we. Therefor, I'm pleased to report that Tom Parker Bowles The Year of Eating Dangerously, St Martin's, does not have a chapter on food in France. I don't know if that's an insult or kudo for us.

PS. For lovers/buyers of food books in English or French, I should report that Brentano's is currently a mess of construction, with very few French books out and the food/tourism stuff in the basement.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Speaking of eel-I once had a delicious dish served to me by a bordelais which was wild caught eel and ramps braised in bordeaux. It had an intense iodine/iron flavor, something like liver or bear meat. It was also explained to me that it was critical to have wine with every bite. It was an excellent meal and may explain why I bummed a cigarette, after abstaining for three months, from a beautiful stranger on my way to the metro.

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  • 2 weeks later...

By way of thanks and a follow up....we just returned from a great trip to Provence and thanks to this thread I was thrilled to see Salade de Museau in a small and very sweet little charcuterie in the town of Goult. We bought it along with a slab of pate de campagne and both were excellent. The salad was as described, thinly sliced with a delicious bold dressing. Great picnic material. Saw it again, looking beautiful, in an amazing charcuterie in Aix-en-Provence. That place was hopping, and we waited (w/no other English speaking tourists) on line for almost a half hour to buy our picnic supplies.

I looked for eels but never saw any cevettes on the menus. I saw some eels at the Aix market and more in Venice (live ones there) but not little ones.

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Speaking of eel-I once had a delicious dish served to me by a bordelais which was wild caught eel and ramps braised in bordeaux.  It had an intense iodine/iron flavor, something like liver or bear meat.  It was also explained to me that it was critical to have wine with every bite.  It was an excellent meal and may explain why I bummed a cigarette, after abstaining for three months, from a beautiful stranger on my way to the metro.

Was it lamprey, actually? I love lamproie à la bordelaise. Great description!

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  • 1 month later...

I overheard a conversation among six people in a club at Roissy-CdG discussing food that brought home to me how what I think are great experiences are seen by other eaters to be absolutely insupportable French dishes, for example: raw scallops, scallops served in a shell, undercooked beef, carrots with their tops on and a sauce so exotic that it needed to be scraped off the fish.

At first I thought "Oh well, they've never been outside their home states before," but no, one also complained about crunchy bird's-nest soup in Asia.

And then I got on the plane and saw Christian Bale eating maggots and snake in "Rescue Dawn" and recalled what the markets in Viet Nam had and concluded that while I consider travel broadening, not everyone agrees.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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There are some French dishes I don't like, but only one I think of as insupportable: When the first white asparagus come in and they are cooked to the point of looking and feeling like they came from a can. To me this is crime against nature and taste.

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On a visit to Brittany I had sea snails for the first time that we picked with our host. I think these may have been bigorneau (sp?). I am not sure if these are the same as periwinkles.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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There are some French dishes I don't like, but only one I think of as insupportable: When the first white asparagus come in and they are cooked to the point of looking and feeling like they came from a can. To me this is crime against nature and taste.

Well know that you mention such, are cooked peeled beets really necessary?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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