Want to do Christmas like the French? Here’s some inspiration.
The culinary highlight of the French year is not on Christmas Day for most families, but late on Christmas Eve, and traditionally begins once people have returned from midnight mass.
The feast is called “Le Reveillon”, meaning “awakening” or “wake up”, because it normally goes on until the early hours of the morning.
Whereas some cultures prefer to plump for a roast turkey and stuffing, with roast potatoes, gravy and a few extra trimmings, the French really push the boat out and flash the cash.
Here are ten dishes you can expect.
Le Reveillon starts as it means to go on and with caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, the traditional apéritif sets the tone for the rest of the mammoth evening/morning.
While some of you might grimace at the thought of seafood for Christmas dinner, there’s a big appetite for it here. They are nice and big and juicy around this time of year, and of course cheap as chips down here. Oysters will normally be served up as an appetizer at Le Reveillon to get diners in the mood for, well, more food.
You can find out how hard the local oyster producers work here.
LOBSTER, CRAB, SALMON
The French don’t hold back on the spending when it comes to culinary customs for Le Reveillon, so continuing in the theme of seafood, lobster, crab and salmon will often make an appearance on the menu.
Due to the traumatic and completely inhumane and cruel way the ducks are abused, we cannot advise foi gras EVER. These ducks are force-fed and cannot even walk they are so traumatized. Their pain and suffering do not justify human pleasure. We need to stand up for these creatures and protect them.
Snails might not be eaten as often in France as many people think, but they do make an appearance at Christmas, particularly in the region of Burgundy, home of the “escargot de Bourgogne”. They’ll be served up as a starter, with the usual garlic and parsley butter.
COQUILLES SAINT JACQUES
Scallops are a real mainstay of the Reveillon feast. And there’s more than one way to cook a scallop, although served as a starter with a cream sauce is the most popular. Make sure you pick the right ones when you go to the market, or risk getting another more rude “awakening” on Christmas morning. No suspect juices or odours and they should be alive at the time of purchase.
A scallop tartare is a light way to serve them if you want to save some space for the main course.
ROAST TURKEY WITH CHESTNUT STUFFING
When it comes to the main course for Le Reveillon, that dish changes year on year, and by region. One of the most popular remains the traditional turkey with a chestnut stuffing. Chestnuts are everywhere in France at Christmas, so it’s natural you would find them stuffed inside turkey. Support your local chestnut providers, and if you’re lucky enough to live near Olargues, l’Hérault, they are the best.
ALL KINDS OF BIRDS AND WILD FOWL
Including guinea fowl (pintade), quail (caille), pheasant (faisan), goose (oie), and of course chicken (poulet) are other favourite options.
Once you’ve eaten all the seafood and birds you can imagine, as well as a cheese course, then you have no less than 13 desserts waiting for you at the end. Or at least you do if you are in the South. The 13 desserts represent Jesus and the 12 apostles and are normally made up of dried fruit, such as dates and figs, as well as a traditional cake called “pompe a l’huile”.
Check out the details here.
BÛCHE DE NOËL
In the Languedoc, the likelihood is that traditional people will have the 13 desserts available for passing visitors, but for the dessert on the 24th, a traditional Christmas chocolate log or “Bûche de Noël,” as it’s known will be served. It’s basically a rich chocolate cake wrapped up into the shape of a Yule Log. And after that all that is left to do is…
WASH IT DOWN WITH CHAMPAGNE
No Christmas in France is the same without the bubbly. It normally comes out at the beginning off Le Reveillon, to kick off proceedings and then will be put away to be replaced by a selection of wines, then digestifs. By the time all this is done, it will be around 3am on Christmas morning. So all that’s left is to say “Joyeux Noël”.