“Sud de France – The Food and Cooking of The Languedoc” by Caroline Conran

Although “Sud de France – The food and cooking of the Languedoc” is about the food and culture of the Languedoc, it also describes the food of Provence where I partly live (the border between Provence and Langudoc is only 5 minutes from our town over the river Rhône.).  Languedoc is considered the less ‘showy’ neighbour of Provence and covers a large area of the South of France from the Spanish border all the way to the Gard.

In the first chapter Ms Conran covers a good sixty pages on “The Taste of the Languedoc”, exploring the history and traditions associated with the food of this region, with sub-headings on truffles, garlic, Foie Gras, chestnuts, poultry, beef, snails, game, oysters, seafood, Charcuterie, Camargue rice, wine, cheese and more.

She explores the Catalan influences on the region: Paella is considered a national dish in Languedoc-Provence and is served throughout the summer, particularly in the Camargue with its gardians, or cowboys, and is often cooked over an open wood fire for special occasions. Salt cod also features in many of the traditional recipes in le sud.

To the South Languedoc borders the ocean and there are many dishes prepared with seafood and fish, in particular fish soup, which varies from region to region but traditionally would have included what the fishermen had caught that day and is usually served with aïoli.  Ms Conran gives us three recipes with its local variations, a Catalan Fish Stew (Buillinade), a Bourride from Sète (La bourride à la sètoise) and a Fish Soup with Aïoli and Sauce Ardente (Bisquebouille) from the Ermitage Restaurant in Les Angles (across the Rhône from Avignon).

The recipes comprise rmainly rustic peasant dishes, or to use the french word  paysanne’s literal meaning, “of the earth”.  Ms Conran dedicates eight pages to the history of foraging, or la cuilette, as it is called in French, exploring the important role it played in the region’s culinary and medicinal past. I’ve often come across people gathering snails, wild leaves, herbs, asparagus and mushrooms on my walks and didn’t know that a law had been passed during the French Revolution giving the people the right to forage.

There are recipes in the book that I have only ever seen in traditional French cookbooks, or that the fishmonger or vegetable sellers in my local market have told me.  Some of the recipes may be hard to follow if you’re not completely familiar with the end result of the dish.  Also some of the “flavours of the land” can be quite harsh and bitter, which take some getting used to.

The recipes are, however, authentic and unlike many of the English cookbooks that have been written about this region in the past, they have not been adapted for the American or English palate. Some of the ingredients in the book might be hard to source or pricey outside of their locality, but you should be able to find them in larger cities and specialty delicatessens.

I decided to try two of the recipes, Rancher’s Beef, (gardiane de taureau) which is often served on long tables, under the stars, at the summer fêtes held in every town and village in Provence, and Salt Cod Marseillan Style (Brandade de morue comme à Marseillan) which is often eaten on Christmas Eve.

The Rancher’s Beef uses 800gms shin of beef and is marinated overnight in a litre of wine, onions, vinegar, cloves, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, orange peel and olive oil.  It is then slowly cooked in the marinade with olives for 2 to 3 hours. I used a 70cl bottle of wine, (rather than a litre) and despite cooking it for four hours in a casserole with a tight fitting lid, there was still plenty of liquid for the sauce. It was a very successful and enjoyable dish and none was left over.

The Salt Cod dish was less successful.  Besides the salt cod having a particular taste (people seem to love it or hate it), amongst the ingredients listed {besides the salt cod, potatoes, garlic, parsley, butter and milk} are 8 tbsp of Olive oil of which only 3 are used in the recipe.  I wasn’t sure what I was meant to do with the remaining 5, was it a typo or should I have slowly added them to the fish, potato mix?    I decided to leave them out but found the end result rather dry and so added some more milk.  Perhaps this is an example of the problem of trying a dish that one is not altogether familiar with.

This is not, refreshingly, a glossy book: it reminded me of Elisabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, with its simple black and white illustrations by Ms Conran and a brief history and description before each recipe.  “Sud de France” will be a revelation to anyone not yet familiar with this part of the world, as well as providing fascinating information for those that already are.  I would recommend it as much to those who have no intention of ever lifting a saucepan, but are interested in the origins of food, as those that want to try some authentic Languedoc-Provencal dishes.

Further Information

Prospect Books: www.prospectbooks.co.uk

Follow on Twitter: @ProspectBooks

Similar Posts