The countdown to Christmas has begun so after years of grumbling about the absence of a Christmas pudding at our French Christmas dinners (sorry, a Christmas log just isn’t the same) I thought this year I’d turn my attention to turkeys.
Having a turkey for Christmas dinner is less of a longstanding tradition in France than in the UK but it is still very popular, and I’m guessing a good number of expats will be enjoying one come the festive season.
Voila, some fascinating facts about French turkeys and ideas for making sure your French turkey is as traditional as possible…
1) Traditionally capon and geese were more popular than turkeys in France at Christmas (perhaps not surprising given that both capons and geeses are tastier and more widely available than a typical supermarket turkey) but these days, as in the UK, turkey is the most popular Christmas choice.
Brits have less choice about what to eat because they are a bit squeamish about castrating chickens to produce capons, so while they are happy to sell and eat capons in Britain it is illegal to actually produce them, so they need to be imported.)
2) It is said to be the Americans during the occupation of France at the end of the second world war years that were largely responsible for making turkey popular in France (although turkeys were found in Europe before then they were not commonly eaten, at least in France).
This was at a time when Jean Guehenno was writing ‘Everyone grows thinner. A kilo of butter costs one thousand francs. A kilo of peas forty-five francs. A kilo of potatoes forty francs. Still we must find them‘.
So it seems that while the rest of France was struggling with post-war food shortages the Americans thought it would be fun to sit around eating an enormous roast turkey with all the trimmings…
3) France is now apparently the biggest producer of turkey in Europe, although the vast majority are sold as ‘turkey pieces’ all year round rather than whole birds at Christmas. They aren’t the biggest turkey eaters however – that award goes to Germany.
3) If you don’t know a local farmer who produces turkeys, the best way to buy one in France is to check whether the turkey has a ‘quality’.
One of the most popular is the ‘label rouge’ that certifies the turkeys have been raised to a certain standard using quality feed and with space to roam outside.
Another label of quality is the ‘Dinde de Bresse AOC’. The AOC label (AOC means Appellation d’origine contrôlée, meaning a product is certified as coming from where it is claimed to be from, and produced using traditional techniques) is best known outside France because of its use on French wines but lots of specialist food products also have the classification.
Turkeys raised in the Bresse region of eastern France to traditional standards are the only ones in France that have been classified as AOC and have a suitably prominent label (and price tag).
4) I have been told that a popular way of cooking turkeys in France is to poach them for an hour first in stock, and then roast them for half the usual time.
Not sure my grandmother would have approved but sounds like a good idea and as far as I can tell everyone who has tried it thinks it’s very successful.
Has anyone tried this at home?
5) Some form of chestnut stuffing is indispensable if you want a French style turkey, typically using chopped chestnuts mixed with sauasage meat and onions and and a variety of other ingredients according to region and budget.
If at all possible your authentic French turkey stuffing will also contain foie gras or veal.
This is partly to make sure it is authentic but more importantly it is to make sure half your family find the dinner politically unacceptable and refuse to eat it. All the more for boxing day.
Any other foodie hints of how to make our Christmas extra French or extra delicious are of course very welcome!