I don’t want to jinx anything, but Spring does seem to be in the air here in Paris. For those of you lucky enough to be planning a celebration in France this year, you’ll find that most venues will start releasing their Spring and Summer reception menus within the next few weeks. If you’ve booked the venue for a wedding, one thing that you’ll notice that’s up front and center on any French wedding menu is the foie gras. Here’s a post from the parisian party wayback machine which demystifies this most Frenchiest of all Frenchy wedding menu staples:
February 19, 2008
Yesterday, I was speaking with a client in the States who is getting married in a château near Paris in a few months time. She was kind of frustrated because she wasn’t really sure exactly what was being presented to her for her wedding menu, and was concerned that her guests from the U.S. wouldn’t like what she served. Now, this a very smart, sophisticated bride from a major metropolitan city- she has traveled quite a bit, likes eating at nice restaurants, etc., so it’s not like she’s some Okie from Kanokie. I think part of her frustration may have been that she felt that she should know what the dishes were on the menu, but didn’t. After translating her menu for her, I realized that she probably wasn’t the only one to come up against this problem, and so I thought it may be helpful to demystify the French Wedding Menu for other Anglo brides who are getting married in France.
First Stop: Foie Gras. Armed with a basic French/English dictionary, it’s fairly simple to guess what many main courses are in a typical French menu: Poitrine de canard rotie aux epices (roasted duck with spices), Carre et selle d’agneau rotis (roasted lamb), Escalope de saumon a l’oseille (some sort of salmon dish, right?). But when you’re looking at the starters on French wedding menus, there are certain terms that tend to keep popping up- things like confit (duck confit, goose confit, etc), terrines (everything from vegetables to game), gelée and the ever-present Foie Gras.
Ask any French person and they’ll tell you: nothing says “wedding” like a big ole slab of foie gras. On any and every French wedding menu you’ll see it: Declinaison de foie gras de canard au pain d’epices, Foie gras de canard cuit au torchon, chutney poires raisins, Foie gras de canard maison à la fleur de sel de Camargue, Foie gras de canard traditionnel aux abricots confits, and on and on. A simple search on wikipedia will tell you what foie gras is: “the liver of a duck or a goose that has been specially fattened by gavage” (as defined by French law)”. It’s a savagely cruel process that will traumatize children and the faint at heart alike. It’s also delicious on brioche.
Duck (canard) foie gras is the most common and least expensive type of foie gras. When you’re selecting a duck foie gras, the important thing is to ask where the duck was raised (I know, but trust me- totally normal to do that here!) because the soil affects the overall taste of the foie gras. Most French people will tell you that the best ducks are from the southwest region, in Gers, but I honestly don’t think that the average Anglo could pick up on this nuance at this early stage of the game.
Goose (oie) foie gras is more expensive, and has a lighter, more creamier taste. A good quality goose foie gras shouldn’t have any specks or blemishes, so keep that in mind when tasting.
There are lots of different variations under the “foie gras” umbrella: There are the cooked foie gras like Mousse de foie gras and Paté de foie gras, which are made up of 50 – 75% foie gras. Then there is foie gras entiér, which is 98- 100% liver.
All of the above will be taken into consideration in the pricing of your menu. When you’re meeting your catering manager for your tasting, make sure to confirm that the foie gras that you are tasting will be the same as that which will be served at your wedding.
For some reason, I’ve found that a lot of my American clients tend to assume that their guests won’t like foie gras, so I almost always ask either for a complete substitution or alternate starter selection early on in my discussions with a venue’s catering manager. Foie Gras is such a staple at French weddings, though, it usually takes 3 or 4 “reminders” on my part for it to be completely dropped from the menu (I’ve even received faxed final confirmations with “foie gras” penciled back in- an eager secretary’s attempt to correct a potentially disastrous oversight). As the French take their foie gras very seriously, rather than risk sounding disrespectful or persnickity, I merely tell the caterer that all of the American guests are vegetarians. Even though this makes no sense what-so-ever, Americans have a reputation over here for being quirky, and “vegetarianism” seems to be a quirk that is easily accommodated- so I use that one a lot!
Whatever your feelings about foie gras- either the method in which it’s made, or simply the way it tastes, know that if you’re planning a wedding in France with either French caterers or guests, the subject is bound to come up- so you should have your spiel ready.
Next stop: The magical world of Gelée…