The Truth about Frogs and Snails {day nineteen}

{day nineteen} The Truth about Frogs and Snails

 

When I was preparing for this series earlier this year, I asked people on my Facebook page if they had any questions about the French that they would like answered, and one of the things that came up was: why do the French eat frogs and snails?

 

That’s a good question, which is just as puzzling to foreigners as the following two are to me: why do the British eat Marmite and why do Americans eat syrup with bacon? Mystère… If you live in the culture, it’s a no brainer; ‘because it tastes good‘ comes to mind, but like many cultural things, it can be an acquired taste, a ‘you have to be there to get it’ sort of thing.

 

When you think about what the Romans used to eat, you should maybe not be so surprised, France was properly invaded by them, and then of course, in medieval times, nobles owned the land and were pretty much the only ones allowed to hunt on it. The peasants had to make do with, well, peasant food. So in the case of frogs and snails, it probably went like this:

 

It was a dark and stormy night in medieval times and the peasants were hungry. They woke up to find an invasion of frogs crawling everywhere. ‘What to do with the vermin’, they wondered. Eat it of course! And so they did. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Don’t judge them.

 

I joke, but that’s as likely as any other myth story you will hear on the subject.

 

You are lucky in that I have tasted both frogs’ legs and snails so I can give you my personal opinion, and then you can decide whether it’s a food idea worth pursuing for yourself.
Photo: Todd Coleman

I liked frogs and I hated snails: both are pretty tasteless. I always describe the taste of frogs’ legs as ‘chicken that lives in water’. Bland but tasty enough when fried in butter, herbs and garlic. You do need quite a few of them to make a decent meal, as they are only skin and bones, the poor things.

 

Snails dish

 

Snails are prepared all manner of ways, including the traditional pan-fried in butter, garlic, and herbs (a French classic trio of flavours) and they’re OK I guess, if you like things that are bland and chewy. They taste fine but I didn’t like the texture at all, which goes to show it is a matter of personal taste.

 

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How to cook like the French {day five}

French food doesn’t have to be complicated, and that’s a promise. If I managed to learn how to cook from scratch having never boiled an egg before my 21st birthday, anyone can do it.

 

My aim today is two-fold: one, to reassure you that you can learn how to cook French food and two, to send you into bookshops and across the internet feeling informed and armed with personal recommendations.

 

{day five} How to cook like the French

 

Cooking French food might feel like a daunting task. You may have dined in a French restaurant and eaten very ‘cheffy’ dishes you couldn’t imagine making at home. Let me just reassure you that French people don’t cook or eat like this every day. Sure, we have all grown up eating many traditional recipes, but it is not the sort of food you would usually be served in a restaurant outside of France. Below are a few links to help you get started.

French Recipes on this Blog

I am by no means a fantastic cook, for one thing, I just don’t have time to spend my life in the kitchen. I do get a bit obsessed about food though, and I occasionally share recipes I have tried at home. I get homesick for French food on a regular basis and so I like to collect French recipe books of all sorts to try to get back to the scents and tastes that remind me of my childhood. Have a look around in the Recipes category, or just go straight to the following:

French Recipes on the Internet

There are many French food websites and blogs you can follow, but it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees in this abundance of plenty. I am not going to overwhelm you with many links, because you don’t need hundreds, you need a couple at best.
  • My go-to food blog has been Franglaise Cooking, they have a lot of brilliant family recipes that are delicious and easy to make. The hazelnut macarons alone make it worth a visit. But I can also recommend le Coin de Mel (I am planning on making her classic Petit Salé aux lentilles very soon) and Croque-Maman.

French Cookery Books

1. I shared my top 5 favourite cook books a couple of years’ back, and it included a couple you will see listed below for the very good reason that they are fabulous. This chicken stew recipe that is on the blog comes directly from the enormous ‘2000 recettes de la cuisine française‘ recipe book, but it’s not much use if you can’t speak the language.

 

2. Rachel Khoo‘s The Little Paris Kitchen has been translated into French, which is as positive an endorsement as you can wish for! I don’t own this book but I watched the accompanying BBC TV series religiously and I recommend it on the basis that it was inspiring and made me very hungry. Rachel had a TINY kitchen in Paris, and yet she managed to produce some outstanding recipes.

 

3. If you’re looking for a solid modern book on French cooking, then Michel Roux (both Senior and Junior) are French chefs based in the UK. Their books are in English and are accessible to the common cook but they are classically trained chefs with all the solid knowledge that entails so you are in good hands.

4. There is also a French chef called Stéphane Reynaud who has created the most beautiful cookery books I have ever seen. They are all translated into American English, so you get references to capsicum instead of peppers, which took a bit of getting used to but otherwise, the books are GORGEOUS. Not only do you get delicious recipes, but also beautiful and funny illustrations, songs, history lessons, lists (lists!) of different wines, cheeses, what goes with what etc. I have the following two:

  • Ripailles, which offers 299 French traditional recipes
  • Rôtis, which is all about roast meat

Bonus: watch a film about cooking!

To get yourself in the mood, everyone should watch Julie and Julia [DVD] [2010]
featuring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, a fab film about food and Julia Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you’re not hungry by the end of it, you’re not human.

 

In other news, I’ve decided that as part of the 31 days challenge, I will post one classic French recipe every Friday that I have personally made at home. It will be easy and affordable and hopefully inspire you to check out French cooking without fearing having to go full Julia Child and start boiling pigs trotters to make your own gelatine.
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Inside a Franglish Pantry

Over the last few months, it has become apparent that a lot of people who visit my blog are most interested by my food posts. I don’t blame you, it’s one of my favourite subjects too!  Mostly I have just been posting random thoughts and recipes but since coming back from my summer holidays to France, I’ve been toying with the idea of focusing these posts a little bit more. With this in mind, I am introducing a new topic: Inside a Franglish Pantry.

A Franglish pantry, part-French, part-English, is a weird and wonderful thing. If you are French and have ever wondered what British stuff I could possibly have in there of culinary value, this is for you. If you are not French and you are curious to know more about the mysterious items French people keep in their fridge, it is for you too.

I’ll talk about my favourite staple store cupboard ingredients from both sides of the pond, recipe in tow. I will also tackle a big problem I have had trying to find equivalent products in supermarkets. I cannot count the number of times I have walked around a supermarket with a perplexed frown trying to find something and having no idea where I might find it, or indeed if it exists in the country I’m in. For example, you would think that finding cornflour in France would be easy, and you would be very wrong. It took me years to figure it out, and I feel it is only fair that I should share the ‘wisdom’ (I use the word Very loosely) I have gained over the years.

If you have any questions on this subject and you would like me to tell you what I know about it (which might be nothing, but don’t let that stop you, it certainly won’t stop me trying to respond), do not hesitate to email me!

Holiday Ongoing…

I’ve been meaning to post something whilst on holiday and have completely failed in the attempt. I’ve been too busy doing nothing. So let’s do it short and sweet with a list, whilst I am still motivated:

A Big Frog Holiday

The Heat! Apparently, the last two weeks of intense weeks are the first France has had since early Spring. I am delighted that we have good weather, although it occasionally a little bit balmy even for me, with highs of 35 degrees (that’s 95 Farenheit, y’all). I left wet washing to hang outside overnight and it was nice and toasty this morning, that’s how hot it is. Here in France, such high temperatures are called ‘la canicule’ (heat wave) and it is cause for some concern in a number of departments following the canicule of 2003, when an estimated (and greatly contested) 20,000 French people died of heat-related conditions, in particular among the elderly, and caused outrage because of the lack of preparation in hospitals and hospices. Now there is a government-led Plan Canicule in place to ensure that priority is given to providing  fresh air and fresh water to the sick, the very young and the elderly in these places.

The Food! People reacted with amusement and concern at my Twitter comment that I’d gone to a French supermarket and wept. Those were happy tears and I kept them inside, but it’s been two years since my last visit and it did necessitate an internal adjustment. We went to a massive supermarket where you could buy all your material for making preserves, a couscoussière (a special dish to make proper couscous, yes sir) and probably your entire wedding list. All those lush lettuces free from packaging, the red tomatoes you can smell from the next aisle, the brioche, the cured meat hanging,the fruit compotes (French people go crazy for fruit compotes and you can go from the basic apple compote to the odd apple and chestnut, with every type of fruit in between), enough choice of dairy to have a different dessert every day for a year, and in the Ethnic Food section, the ultimate in foreign fare: PG Tips.

The Olympics! I will give praise where praise is due, and rant everywhere else, and sadly I feel the Olympics coverage deserves little praise. The French commentators across the two channels who shared the coverage required inside knowledge of every sport to be able to do it justice the way it was organised. In one afternoon, the same people would have to talk over three or four sports, often switching from one to the other  between performances. We were watching a rather tense pole vault competition and would suddenly switch to a sprint race for five minutes before going back, it was terribly distracting (although apparently not as poor as the NBC coverage, or so I hear). On the other hand, the closing ceremony was happily covered from start to finish with minimum comments from the French news team, who were rather complimentary and amusing when they did speak.

French Music! French TV itself is as bad as it ever was, apart from or because of, depending on your mood, the horrifying Generation Top 50 on the W9 channel, which shows you short clips of popular music by year. Yesterday there was 1992 and 2000, today I caught a bit of 1996. That’s when you realize how far removed from the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ world France actually is and the music that marked your growing years is just not the same that marked us Frenchies. I was caught between reminiscing about Jordy, in the charts at four years old singing about how hard it is to be a baby, Ophélie Winter finding her faith and Michael Jackson’s Earth Song (the video of which was apparently not released in the US) which marked my teenage years (and these are the better songs on display), thanking the stars that I missed the craptastic Musicals’ years which gave us Roméo et Juliette (my personal choice for worse song of the year goes to Les Rois du Monde, in the Top 50 Every Single Week of 2001).

 

A Little Girl Holiday

Little Girl Does Stairs! Little Girl decided to take this holiday opportunity to grow up at a scary pace. She discovered within a day of arriving at my parents that she could do stairs. Ours at home being Victorian and therefore very very steep, she’s not had much luck with them, but here is another story. Basically we can’t leave her anywhere downstairs as all she wants to do is go up, and there is no stair gate.

Little Girl Walks! She’s been gearing up for this but in the last couple of days, she has decided that walking might after all be better than crawling and she is gradually leaving one for the other.

Little Girl Communicates! I wasn’t there to see it, but she dirtied her nappy and went straight to her fresh nappies to pick one up and brought it to my mum to get changed. It’s just like me to miss the fun bits.