the cuisine of Normandy with Sinéad Allart of Wilde Kitchen Cookery School
This month I’ve been chatting to Sinéad Allart of the Wilde Kitchen Cookery School, which is in the gorgeous countryside of the Cotentin Peninsula, just 18 km from Cherbourg.
Firstly I asked Sinéad if it was the food that drew her to Normandy.
No it wasn’t actually, Normandy was chosen as our compromise, because my husband Philippe is Belgian and I’m Irish so this is kind of between the two!
So what makes the cuisine of Normandy different to that of other regions of France?
The cuisine of Normandy uses, like all French cuisine, the best of fresh, locally available, quality ingredients which although they are often quite simple, are naturally tasty and contribute to the wonderful reputation of “produits de terroir”
Could you give us a few examples of the Normandy’s “produits de terroir”?
Well, there are the lush pastures which sweep into the sea and which provide great grazing for “pre salé” lambs and the crème fraîche which has a distinctive salty flavour.
Seafood platters are popular here too and usually consist of a wonderful array of oysters, periwinkles, prawns, crabs and sea snails. All this is generally served on a bed of seaweed along with homemade mayonnaise, lemon wedges, crusty bread, salted butter and a red wine vinaigrette – a real feast! You can order a platter at every fishmonger but it’s best to give a couple of days notice.
Calvados features regularly in recipes and gives Norman cooking its unique flavour. One example which springs to mind is “Tripes à la mode de Caen”, which is tripe braised in cider and calvados for hours on end, giving a melt-in-your-mouth result, you should try it, it’s wonderful!
Mont St. Michel is also renowned for its omelette “à la Mère Poulard”….the egg whites and yolks are simply beaten separately before cooking which gives the omelette a much lighter consistency.
Out here in the Normandy countryside, every part of the pig is enjoyed. Even the ears are eaten and a “paté de tête” is, as the name suggests head paté, made from the pig’s head!! And then there’s black pudding “boudin” which is made from the blood and intestines and often served with apple sauce. Then there’s “Andouille de Vire”, or chitterling, which is definitely something of a delicacy. It’s made from the pig’s stomach and intestines, the bundles of gut are tied, encased in more intestine and smoked over an open fire for up to six weeks, before being simmered with herbs for up to eight hours. It’s generally served as a starter.
Food here is still often cooked over the open fire “au feu de bois” and what a treat that is!
Then there are our cheeses such as Camembert, Livarot, Pont L’Eveque and Neufchatel.
When it comes to dessert, which follows the cheese course here in France, what else would you expect in a region famous for its apple orchards, but a simple tarte aux pommes, always a firm favourite, washed down with chilled Pommeau. Then there’s “teurgoule” which is a rice pudding made from full fat milk, flavoured with cinnamon and baked for hours in the bread oven as it cools down after a bread making session ….
Do you think the way people cook has changed? Do they still cook the traditional dishes?
I think that it depends of the way people are brought up, it’s very rural here with lots of emphasis on good food and quality ingredients, so where we are people do cook. In larger towns I imagine it’s different with fast food and takeaways…
Lastly, what to you represents Normandy on a plate and would you be willing to share a recipe with us?
Well, I think I’d have to go for “Poulet Vallée d’Auge”. Any dish which is “A la Normande” or “Vallée d’Auge” generally includes cream and butter, and sometimes mushrooms too. This is chicken with cream, Calvados and apples and it’s a rich, pre-nouvelle cuisine dish. You can also cook other poultry in the same way – guinea fowl, cockerel etc.
Poulet Vallée D’Auge
For 6 people
2 tablespoons olive oil
75g/3 ozs. butter
2 onions, finely chopped
6 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs or legs, or a mix of peices)
A small glass of Calvados
500ml/1 pint dry cider
500g/1 lb mushrooms, finely sliced
500ml/ 1 pint crème fraîche/double cream
salt and pepper
a few shelled walnuts (optional)
675g/1 ½ lbs apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2-3 tsp light muscovado sugar
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2
Heat about half the butter in a pan and add 1lb/450g apples. As they soften add the sugar.
In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the olive oil with a little butter. Add the chopped onions and the chicken pieces, browning them all over.
Heat the Calvados and pour over the chicken. Ignite the alcohol to flambé the dish. Add the cider and the fried apples.
In a separate pan, melt the remaining butter and fry the mushrooms until they render their juice.
Add the mushrooms, cider and the shelled walnuts to the chicken, season lightly, cover and place in the oven.
Cook gently for about 45 mins. Just before serving, add the crème fraîche, heat gently and garnish with parsley.
Serve with puréed potatoes (with a little hazelnut oil)
Well, that sounds absolutely delicious, thank-you so much Sinéad.
If you would like to join Sinéad at Wilde Kitchen, you can drop in for a half day course if you’re in the area or stay in Sinéad’s Chambres d’Hôtes for a scrumptious cookery holiday.
Sinéad’s website: http://www.wildekitchen.net/index.html
Tel: + 33 (0) 6 03 17 83 73