Archives for June 2018

Oyster 101

Oyster 101

With 150,000 tonnes of oysters produced annually, and with nearly 90% of such production being consumed within France alone, oysters remain a strong staple of French cuisine. Dating back centuries, oysters have been one of the most commonly consumed delicacies in France. Today, oysters in France are sourced from a variety of regions, producing a diverse array of of flavors and textures. While they are enjoyed all year long, they are especially common around the holiday season, with around half of the annual production being consumed during this time of the year.

In French, oysters are called huitres. Along with this, just as “terroir” is used to refer to the specific characteristics a wine has in relation to the region it is produced, the distinct flavor and texture of an oyster is sometimes referred to as “merroir,” and is decided by the special traits of the water and environment in which it is raised, such as water temperature, salinity, algae, mineral composition.

Since oysters are such an essential aspect of French cuisine,   let’s explore some tips surrounding oysters, as well as share aspects about their unique existence in France.

 

Oyster Etiquette

First, we should quickly review the “proper” way to consume oysters, since it has been a point of confusion for many people unfamiliar with the dining experience. Even though there is not truly a “right” way to eat anything, here are a few tips that oyster connoisseurs consider to be the best way to consume oysters.

  • Always begin any food experience with senses such as sight and smell. The size and shape of oysters can quickly hint at the meatiness and texture of the oyster, while an oysters smell is essential to experiencing the complete flavor profile. Along with this, the smell can quickly tell you if an oyster is bad or not.
  • Using a small fork, loosen the oyster from its shell, and slurp it down from the wider end of the shell. In this way, the liquid the oyster sits in will also be consumed, which adds a lot to the flavor.
  • Chew it a few times before swallowing in order to release all the flavors and enjoy the unique texture.
  • While oysters can definitely be enjoyed as they are, lemon juice, cocktail sauce, and mignonette sauce are all very common garnishes.

 

Shucking

Since oysters can oftentimes be an expensive meal to enjoy at a restaurant, a cheaper way to still be able to enjoy these delicacies is buying them directly from a reputable seafood vendor   and shucking them yourself. However, shucking oysters can be a difficult skill to  master without any prior knowledge, so here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Make sure to get the proper equipment, specifically an oyster knife. Along with this, you will want to make sure to use a towel or shucking glove to protect your hand, as well as a flat surface.
  • Placing the knife at the hinge of the shell, use a twisting motion to pry the shell open.
  • Slide the knife across the top shell to release the oyster, and then remove the top of the shell.
  • You will want to make sure to remove any grit or shell residue that lands on the oyster, and then you’ll be ready to enjoy it!

 

Other Important Tips:

  • Since many of the names can be unfamiliar, you can always describe the types of flavors and textures that you like, and your server will usually be able to help find a kind you will enjoy.
  • It’s always a good idea to try a few different types of oysters at a time, in order to better experience the subtle differences in flavors and textures. Along with this, having two of each variety is also important in noticing these nuances.
  • Common beverage pairings include white wines, hoppy beers, and sake.
  • While many people tend to enjoy oysters without any garnish, small additions of acidity from lemons and vinegar-based sauces can add new dimensions of flavor to an oyster, just be careful not to use a sauce or seasoning that will overpower the oyster’s natural flavor.

 

Oysters in France

The two main species of oysters enjoyed in France are the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), or “Creuse,” and the European oyster (Ostrea edulis), also known as “Plate” and flat oysters. While the majority of oysters produced in France today are Creuse oysters, Plate oysters are still highly sought after for their unique flavor, but are much more expensive.

While oysters are consumed all across France, there are seven distinct regions that produce them, including Normandy, North-Brittany, South-Brittany, West-Central, Marennes-Oléron, Arcachon, and the Mediterranean.

Among the many things that French cuisine is known for, their production and consumption of oysters is a popular tradition dating back centuries. Thus, while all these tips can be applied to eating oysters anywhere, if you are a true seafood lover, France’s oyster market is the perfect place to begin your exploration and experience of these delicious delicacies.

French Regional Wine

French Regional Wine

Among the many traditions and unique characteristics of French cuisine, one aspect that is world-renowned is their viticulture, or wine making. Wine in France has a long history stemming back over two thousand years ago. It is believed that the Romans introduced viticulture and wine to the regions that now make up modern-day France, with evidence dating back to the 6th century BC.

Today, French viticulture is especially unique to the region in which it is situated, a concept known as “terroir.” An important factor that distinguishes regional wine specialties are the types of grapes used, as France is known to grow a wide variety of grapes. Producing wines that are sold all over the world, French wine is guided by official standards set by the Appellation d’Origine Protégée certification system. Historically, France has always been known for the high quality of their wines and their innovative cultivation techniques, both of which have spread across the whole world.

In this post, we will discuss some of the more well-known regions of France, and the type of wines that are unique to each area.

 

Alsace

Located in eastern France, along the border of Germany, this region of France is known for white-wines made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. This region is also known for growing Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir and producing Cremant de Alsace, a local sparkling wine.

 

Beaujolais

Located in the east of France, along the Saone river, the region of Beaujolais has multiple “appellations,” which are geographical regions that are legally defined and protected for the type of grapes they grow. Included in the appellations of Beaujolais are: Beaujolais AOC and Beaujolais-Villages AOC,  and the Crus of Beaujolias Brouilly, Regnié, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent. Overall, Beaujolais is known for its production of red wine, and its predominant use of of the Gamay grape.

 

Bordeaux

 On the Western side of France, the region of Bordeaux is situated along the coastline of the Atlantic ocean, which has historically allowed their wines easier access to the international markets. While Bordeaux is popular for its variety of blended red wines, they also produce a famous sweet white wine known as Sauternes, such as the famed wines of Château d’Yquem. A few other well-known wines from this region include Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Cheval Blanc, and Château Pétrus.

 

Burgundy

The Burgundy region, situated on a narrow strip of land in the east of France, is divided into the most appellations out of any French region. With both red and white wines produced in Burgundy, the main grapes used are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The whole region is divided into four main sub-regions: The Cote de Nuits (from Marsannay-La-Cote down to Nuits-Saint-Georges), The Cote de Beaune (from north of Beaune to Santenay), The Cote Chalonnaise, and The Maconnais. Along with this, in the city of Beaune, a yearly wine sale is held every autumn in France’s historic “Hospices” building. Even though the vineyards in Burgundy produce both red and white wines, they are primarily known for their red wines, especially due to their longevity.

 

Champagne

Just as the name suggests, this region of France is known for its production of sparkling wine. However, unlike many places around the world, the term “Champagne” is not used in France as a general term for sparkling wines, but rather the specific sparkling wine from the Champagne region. Champagne gains its unique, delicious flavor from the natural growing conditions that exist in the region, such as the chalky soil. Amongst the Champagne vineyards, the best rated names include Krug, Mumm, and Bollinger.

 

Loire

Located in western France, the Loire region, commonly called the garden of France, is home to many styles of wine, including white, red, rosé and sparkling, as well as a unique “grey wine,” which is actually just a white wine made from black grapes. Along with this, Loire is often seen as four sub-regions, specifically Upper Loire, Touraine, Anjou-Saumur, and Pays Nantais. A few varieties these regions are known produce are: Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre), Chenin blanc (Savennières and Vouvray), Melon Blanc (Muscadet), Cabernet Franc (Chinon). Loire also produces many sparkling wines, more than any other region except Champagne.

 

Ultimately, while these regions do not make up all of French wine culture, they are several of the most well-known regions, as they all produce a high-quality wines unique to their given area. If you wish to learn more about France’s regional specialties, there are many more regions not included in this post for you to explore. Enjoy!

Bastille Day

Bastille Day – Origins

In 1789, as unrest grew in France, and the Estates-General was called to assemble, the people of France stormed the Bastille in Paris, revolting against the absolute power of the monarchy, and sparking the beginning of the French Revolution. While the Bastille was a valuable position to control, as well as being supplied with weapons and ammunition, it also was used as a prison by the monarchy for many politically motivated imprisonments, and thus symbolized the despotic power of the royal monarchy. In this way, the Storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789 stands as a symbol of France’s fight for freedom, and is celebrated every year as a way to recognize this very fact.

 

The Origins of the Bastille

During the Hundred Years War between the French and English, the Bastille was built to serve as a fortress on the eastern side of Paris. With eight towers and 100-foot high walls, the design of the Bastille proved extremely effective as a strategic position for the defense of Paris. In the centuries that followed, the Bastille also served as a prison, mostly known to be used by the monarchy to imprison political opponents and enemies.

 

Events Leading Up to the Storming of the Bastille

Even though there are many events and causes that led to July 14th and the French Revolution, the main forces driving these events include rising social and economic instability, political corruption and abuse of power by the monarchy, and the emergence of Enlightenment ideas.

While most of the French population suffered from food shortages due to economic mismanagement, King Louis XVI continually raised taxes and spent extravagantly. As the crisis grew worse, a meeting of the national assembly was called, known as the Estates-General. This meeting, made up by the First Estate (clergy), the Second Estate (nobility), and the Third Estate (commoners), was an attempt to relieve the tensions and instability.

Due to the extreme power inequality between the Estates, specifically the lack of power for the Third Estate, the Third Estate broke off, made the Tennis Court Oath, and formed the National Assembly with the intent of writing a new constitution. As the support for the National Assembly grew throughout France, protests against the monarchy continued to rise as well.

At this point in France, the degree of suffering the commoners were victim to, at the hands of the upper classes and royalty, had grown to such an extreme degree, revolt was bound to happen. However, it was the unity amongst the commoners, and the sympathetic nobility driven by the desire for “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” that turned the revolt into a true revolution. The day this revolutionary potential was realized was July 14th, 1789.

 

July 14th, 1789 – The Storming of the Bastille

On the day of July 14th, 1789, an angry mob was gathering outside the Bastille, while revolutionaries were invited in to negotiate an end to the unrest. However, as the mob grew angrier, soldiers began firing on the crowd. Control of the Bastille was quickly taken by the revolutionaries, supplies seized, and dismantling had begun. This victory for the revolutionaries proved that had a real chance at liberating France from the monarchy’s control.

One year later, July 14th would be the day of the Fête de la Fédération, (Festival of the Federation) when French citizens celebrated the French Revolution and promoted national unity.

 

Remembering Bastille Day Today

In 1880, July 14th became officially recognized as a national holiday, known as both Bastille Day and la Fête nationale (The National Celebration). Today, France continues to hold one of the oldest and largest military pardes along the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Along with this, all across France, celebrations are held with fireworks and parties, recognizing the importance of the events of 1789 and 1790 with chants of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

 

The French Labour Day

The French Labour Day

Whether you give a bouquet of lily of the valley or dog rose flowers to a loved one, or participate in one of many demonstrations advocating for workers rights, May 1, also known as La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and May Day, remains a widely celebrated and cherished holiday. As a public holiday in France, Labour Day is recognized for its rich history and traditions of appreciating others and campaigning for workers rights. While the tradition of the flowers is specific to France, celebrating and advocating for workers rights on May 1st is recognized all over the world.

 

History

In 1886, there was a demonstration by workers at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. As a general strike for the eight-hour work day, this event would become known as the Haymarket Affair. In the years that followed, efforts continued in attempts to organize an international demonstration of workers demanding the eight-hour work day. In order to organize an international demonstration, May 1 was chosen in coordination between workers across various countries as a day to collectively demonstrate and recognize the efforts of the past labour movements.

The recognition of May 1 as the day for international Worker’s rights, and as a day for demonstrations and protests meant to continue the work required to secure rights for workers all over the world, is especially significant in France’s history since it was specifically the Second International in Paris where these various countries met, and with help from the American Federation of Labor, decided upon May 1 in 1890.

To symbolize this international movement, workers and supporters of the demonstrations and protests began to wear a red triangle meant to symbolize the the three parts of the desired work day—8 hours for work, 8 hours for leisure, and 8 hours for sleep.

 

Names In France

Originally known as Fête internationale des Travailleurs (International Worker’s Day), May 1 became an internationally recognized day in 1890, dedicated to labourers and working classes, emphasizing the achievements of past labour movements. Since then, the name has changed to Fête du Travail et de la Concorde sociale (Work and Social Unity Day) by France’s Vichy regime during World War 2, and finally settled upon as La Fête du Travail (Labour Day) and made a public holiday in 1941.

 

May Day

However, before May 1 was known as a day for workers and labor rights, it had been celebrated for centuries as a day of seasonal change from winter to spring, as well as a day to show appreciation for loved ones. Dating back to 1561, the lily of the valley flowers became a symbol for May Day because King Charles IX had received a gift of the flowers on May 1, and was so pleased with the flowers that he decided to present a lily of the valley to the ladies of his court each year. Over time, this tradition slowly evolved into giving bouquets of lily of the valley flowers to loved ones. However, today the gift of these flowers can be seen simply as a sign of appreciation to whoever they are given.

Today, May 1 exists as a public holiday in France with most businesses being closed in recognition of the workers. However, there is still a lot of activity throughout France as families spend days picking lily of the valley flowers, celebrations are held, people plan special outings, and demonstrations take place. It is because of these deep connections to France’s history, along with the social and cultural developments also associated with Labour Day, that Left Bank recognizes May 1 as an important day for French culture.

Celebrate the French Labour Day by sharing your evening with us at one of our Bay Area locations in San Jose, Menlo Park or Larkspur.

Regional French Cuisine

Regional French Cuisine

Within authentic French cuisine, there exists vast difference and diversity in the ingredients used and the cooking styles found throughout the many regions of France. In each region, one will find a unique and authentic cuisine, based on the various traditions and cooking styles that have developed in France.

Today, we will discuss the various regional cuisines found in France, emphasizing the diversity of ingredients and flavors found in the different regions.

 

Paris and Île-de-France

As the central regions and cultural hub of France, nearly any food and cuisine type can be found in Paris and its surrounding regions. With over 9000 restaurants, many of which are Michelin rated, Paris offers a complete experience of all the different influences and styles that make up French cuisine.

 

Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace

Known mainly for its extremely popular sparkling wine, Champagne cuisine commonly includes game and ham. In addition to this, fresh fruits and preserves made from these fruits are also popular to these regions. Due to this availability of various fruits, the alcoholic beverage known as schnaps is produced in this region too, made with fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and prunes. The region of Lorraine is specifically famous for its classic quiche and apple tart. On the other hand, Alsace is very influenced from German cuisine because of their proximity to the country, leading to popular foods such as sauerkraut, as well as the production of beers similar to German beer.

Nord Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Normandy, and Brittany

As the regions making up France’s coastline, their cuisine is largely based on the abundance of seafood available, including crustaceans, shellfish, scallops, sea bass, monkfish, and herring. Along with this, these regions are known for their use of apples, which are used as ingredients in many dishes, and also commonly used to make ciders. Thick stews are a popular staple for these regions as well.

Loire Valley and central France

Similar to the regions of Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace, the Loire Valley and central France are also known for the abundance of high-quality fruits. The most common fruits found in these regions include cherries, pears, strawberries, and melons. Specialty ingredients of this region include high-quality goat cheese and rare mushrooms. Dishes are commonly made using fish and other prized proteins, such as veal and Géline fowl, and are often served with a beurre blanc sauce.

Burgundy and Franche-Comté

These regions, much like France as a whole, are well-known for their wines. Predominant proteins in this region include snails, river crabs, and poultry. Commonly paired with these proteins are various cheeses that come from the regions rich dairy supply. Specialty ingredients and dishes of this region include dijon mustard and smoked meats.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

In these regions of France, fresh produce is abundant and an extremely common ingredient in most of its recipes. This fresh produce is oftentimes paired with fish, due to the various natural streams that run through these regions. Beyond this, France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions are specifically known for high-quality sausages, and specialty cheeses such as Beaufort, Abondance, Reblochon, Tomme and Vacherin.

Poitou-Charentes and Limousin

The cuisine found in the Poitou-Charentes and Limousin regions of France is popular for its supply of fresh shellfish, including oysters and mussels. With the southern area of this region being influenced by Perigord and Auvergne, their dishes are usually robust and earthy, using high-quality meats such as the Limousin cattle and Parthenaise cattle. However, this region is most famous for being known to produce the best butter and cream in all of France.

Bordeaux, Périgord, Gascony, and Basque country

Stemming from various sources such as the Bay of Biscay, the Garonne, and the Pyrenees,  including both saltwater and freshwater fish, the seafood offered in these regions is an extremely important foundation for their cuisine. In addition, specialty grapes are found in the region of Bordeaux, allowing for the production of unique and refined wines. As regions that are heavily farm based, they also offer high-quality lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, pigeon, capon, goose, and duck. Considered unique to these regions, is the production of foie gras.

Toulouse, Quercy, and Aveyron

Commonly grown in these regions is the Haricot bean, a primary ingredient in a popular dish known as cassoulet, which is a rich, slow-cooked casserole with meat and pork skins. Additionally, a common meat used in the cassoulet is also known as one of the finest sausages in France—saucisse de Toulouse. Unique ingredients found in these regions of France include specialty truffles and mushrooms.

Roussillon, Languedoc, and Cévennes

The influence from Spanish cuisine can be seen in these areas, especially with their recipes using snails and fish. Along with this, these regions are also well-known for raising sheep and producing specialty cheese, such as Roquefort. Distinct ingredients to these regions include mushrooms, chestnuts, berries, and honey.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Known as the largest producer and supplier of popular fruits and vegetables, this region is also central to French cuisine due to their supply of a wide array of herbs. Specifically prized in this region, is the production of amazing olive oil and honey. Similar to many other regions, seafood is also abundant in this region due to the coastlines. Their cuisine is known for its use of a lot of vegetables, as well as specialty sauces made with garlic and anchovies.

Corsica

Since this region is an island, fish is extremely common to the cuisine. However, this region is also well-known for using goat, sheep, and lamb to create incredible stews and roasts. Beyond this, pork is also a popular protein used in Corsica cuisine. Clementines, nectarines, and figs are unique ingredients commonly found in the recipes.

Altogether, these regions and their unique cuisines combine to create the world-renowned, authentic French cuisine, with a diversity of flavors and degree of refinement that is distinct and exceptional. Call us now to reserve a table and experience authentic French Cuisine in the Bay Area at Left Bank Brasserie in San Jose, Menlo Park or Larkspur.