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Keith Talent

Beets in France

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Any idea why the French prefer their beets pre-cooked? I can understand that its' messy to cook beets in the cramped French kitchen, by the beets are unpeeled and unsliced, which is when the job gets messy.

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Any idea why the French prefer their beets pre-cooked? I can understand that its' messy to cook beets in the cramped French kitchen, by the beets are unpeeled and unsliced, which is when the job gets messy.

1) Probably because we think beets take ages to cook (and they do too) and we like them very tender.

2) We like them very tender because we we hardly ever use beets any other way than as a salad, finely diced. So no peeling, grating, slicing, etc., before cooking, just wipe the skin off with absorbent paper and there you are.

3) You are right, beets are very messy to cook whole as we like them. We like someone else to do the messy part for us.

4) We just do. It's a tradition and traditions are sometimes difficult to explain. As far as one remembers, beets have always been sold that way in France. Greengrocers at markets tend to sell them ready-baked, and you find them vacuum-packed in supermarkets.

5) Note that beets sold in France for salads are rather large beets, even messier to cook than small ones. But in Summer you can find bunches of small raw beets with leaves on at markets. Some people (including I) buy them but I'd never choose to make a classical French beet salad out of them. I'd make panzaria the Greek way, with the leaves and roots in a vinegary broth, or borshtch, or cold beet broth. The fact that most beets here are ready-cooked narrows the recipe scape for the French, who very seldom experiment with raw beets at home. (I just adore beets.)


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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I love beets, too. I think they are the earthiest vegetable. I'm sure that the pre-cooked beets are good, but there is something about the cooking raw beets that I find more satisfying than cooking other vegetables. I get really fresh beets and cut off the root end and the tops, double wrap them in foil, and then into the oven. They are easy to peel after they cook, and I slice them and put a little good salt and olive oil on them. I often boil the tops and add them, too.

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I find beets delightfully simple to cook, and not messy. I cook them when at home in the States. In France, I buy them from my market cooked. In fact come to think of it, I don't think I've seen raw uncooked beets for sale at the market here in France, but maybe I just haven't had my eyes open. If I did, I'd certainly cook them. It's easy.

How to boil beets:

1) Cut off the leaves from the beet.

2) Wash and carefully scrub the beet thoroughly to remove all dirt, like a potato.

3) Boil a large volume of water (3 times the volume fo the beets), and add the beets.

4) Bring back to a boil, then simmer 20 minutes.

5) Remove from heat, drain, run under cold water until cool enough to handle, and slip the skins off (they come off easily).

6) Slice and serve warm, drizzled with vinaigrette, add to salads cold, serve with the classic mayonnaise cold like the French do, eat them plain, with a little bit of salt.

I admit that in France, I do as the French do. I have never encountered a beet with an off taste at the market here. This was my worry when I first saw them, what if they're old or otherwise unfit to eat? You certainly can't tell by the looks of a cooked beet if it's in good condition. In any case, I saw people lining up for beets at the market, obviously they thought they were good. The man had a pair of tongs and picked them up and put them in plastic bags. I just brought them home and sliced them up for salad. They tasted fine and were perfectly acceptable as is.

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It's a tradition and traditions are sometimes difficult to explain.

I agree; it's because it's always been that way.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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The traditional French way of cooking beets is by boiling. Now that is messy, it's also lengthy, and that probably accounts for the ready-cooked thing. Some people use the foil-and-baking method which gives tastier beets and many market grocers do use that method because their beets are drier and not too messy.

There are indeed raw beets, with leaves on, at markets from Springtime to Fall. Nearly every "maraîcher" (a greengrocer who grows his own stuff) has them, and some regular greengrocers too. And of course the organic food stores carry them frequently.

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I never thought I liked beets, until I lived in France. Then I bought them pre-cooked, in that mustardy-vinegary sauce they can come in, and I LOVED them. Now that I'm back in the States, I sometimes miss buying them like that. :smile:


"There is no worse taste in the mouth than chocolate and cigarettes. Second would be tuna and peppermint. I've combined everything, so I know."

--Augusten Burroughs

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Alain Passard gets uncooked beets somewhere. Perhaps the most remarkable single dish I had at l'Arpege was a portion of a beet brought to our table encased in the salt in which it had been baked. The waitress attacked it with a hammer and chisel and the aroma that wafted out when the shell cracked would in itself have been worth the price of the meal.

EDIT: The beet was cooked whole, of course. I had a portion of it.


Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Madhur Jaffrey has the most simple, delicious, beet and tomato soup that uses fresh beets, but you don't have to boil them!

Just push them through a sieve/china cap

(I put on thin latex gloves)

and add fresh tomatoes and spices and you're done!


Philly Francophiles

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Any idea why the French prefer their beets pre-cooked? I can understand that its' messy to cook beets in the cramped French kitchen, by the beets are unpeeled and unsliced, which is when the job gets messy.

I don't know why you assume that the French prefer red beets pre-cooked... I've always seen raw red beets for sale at the wonderful outdoor markets in the summertime, starting in June. Of course, like all vegetables, they are available processed in the supermarkets, but the raw variety is readily available as well, and I would bet that the French do prefer the raw ones, if they have the time to prepare them.

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For the record, I just saw raw beets at my local market this morning, on rue de Lévis (17th - metro: Villiers). They were offered right above a crate of cooked beets, at the first produce seller you see on the right, coming from the intersection between rue de Lévis and rue Legendre.

I am not a big beet fan, but maybe this news will send someone rejoicing!

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For the record, I just saw raw beets at my local market this morning, on rue de Lévis (17th - metro: Villiers).  They were offered right above a crate of cooked beets, at the first produce seller you see on the right, coming from the intersection between rue de Lévis and rue Legendre.

I am not a big beet fan, but maybe this news will send someone rejoicing!

That is odd in November, but it probably is from the tail end of the season. Beginning in late May, you should see fresh raw beets at most outdoor markets.

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I've only seen fresh beets at the markets but I don't shop in indoor places when there once a year. And here we only buy fresh that are in our markets.


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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I'm not particularly surprised one can get raw beets in France, but I will note that I've seen our friends buy cooked beets in the outdoor market in Pezenas. Among all the fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a vendor selling plastic wrapped cooked beets.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I'm not particularly surprised one can get raw beets in France, but I will note that I've seen our friends buy cooked beets in the outdoor market in Pezenas. Among all the fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a vendor selling plastic wrapped cooked beets.

Unlike in the US, in France the availablilty of fresh produce depends on the time of year. They don't store apples, for example, like we do so that you can buy apples in March; Beets are generally available fresh from June-November.

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I'm not particularly surprised one can get raw beets in France, but I will note that I've seen our friends buy cooked beets in the outdoor market in Pezenas. Among all the fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a vendor selling plastic wrapped cooked beets.

Unlike in the US, in France the availablilty of fresh produce depends on the time of year. They don't store apples, for example, like we do so that you can buy apples in March; Beets are generally available fresh from June-November.

France is different than the US, but over the past two generations it's changed tremendously and for one thing, it's now an industrial country and no longer an agrarian one. There are many small local markets in which one finds local products, there are many markets where one finds the produce from around the world if one looks. Even seasonal produce comes from Africa and the middle east and the bananas and pineapples that have become a staple in France as they are in the US need to be flown halfway around the world. The aisles of frozen and canned goods in the hypermarchés are as long as they are in the US supermarkets. Nevertheless, the cooked beats we bought in the market were fresh to the extent that they were in season. It just happened that they were brought to the market and offered for sale already baked as is a common custom in many parts of France. As I said, I'm not surprised to learn that one can also get raw beets in season as well as cooked beets. What is rare in the US, is to find freshly cooked beets for sale.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Once you leave the big cities in France, there is still a tremendous resistance to buying produce out of season. This is both an industrial society but quite a rural country as well. It will probably take at least a couple more decades for the French to accept storage apples for sale in April...

What is rare in the US, is to find freshly cooked beets for sale.

THIS is definitely a cultural difference!!

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In Morocco, I used to purchase beets that had been slowroasted in a wood burning oven at the local market. They were large storage beets and extremely dense in texture, but they had the deepest color and richest flavor. I don't know a better beet for salads.


“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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What is rare in the US, is to find freshly cooked beets for sale.

Now it's true that many would say that Manhattan is not truly the US, but Fairway carries cooked beets imported from France.


"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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