Cooking in France

Hello friends and campers! Gourmet Girl Denise here from Le Petit Saint-Barnabé, Loire Valley, France.

I was recently invited to a dear friends home for dinner after a lovely bike ride through the countryside. I asked him what was on the menu and he said Brochet, which I interpreted as brochette, some kind of meat on a stick. He asked if I could bring a Beurre Blanc sauce, which I thought was odd since this sauce is usually served with vegetables and/or fish. Could we be having fish on a stick? I was soon to find out.

When I arrived at his house bearing my Beurre Blanc sauce I was a bit worried since I didn’t see any activity on the stove. I asked him where the brochettes were and he told me to go into the living room. Hmmm. So I went into the living room and there, in the open, wood burning stove over hot embers was a huge fish! He explained to me that Brochet is a Pike, a long fish with a long face.

The meal was delicious and my lemony Beurre Blanc went perfectly with the fish. So did the white wine, a Sancerre! A marriage made in heaven, otherwise known as the Loire.

The French have been cooking over their open fireplaces for centuries. My dining room fireplace built in the 18th century still sports a pot hook to hold a cast iron pot. It is still a country that economizes every chance they get, especially here in the countryside during the cold winter months. If they have a fire going to heat up a room, they will use that fire to cook dinner and then use it to dry their laundry, which is hung on a clothing rack in front of the fire. Hardly anyone has a clothes dryer here as electricity is very expensive in France. By the next morning, your clothes are dry. It may seem inconvenient to we westerners, but time passes slowly here. And after running the rat race in the states, it is just what the doctor ordered!

What struck me most of all about the meal was how much it reminded me of my numerous camping trips with the Gourmet Girls testing recipes for our cookbook, The Gourmet Girls Go Camping. We would set up my collapsible grill, otherwise known as a Tuscan grill, and cook on this simple contraction, right over the oak fire. Between this method and our Dutch ovens, we made some incredibly delicious meals. (We give you very good instructions on the use of these in the To Gear or Not to Gear chapter on page 17.) Here we are using the Tuscan grill to cook Branzino (you could do this with trout too!) and to grill peaches for our Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad on page 162.

Branzino and Peaches

Most of the sauces in the Getting Sauced and Buttered Up chapter on page 187 of our book can be made at home ahead of your camping trip and slowly heated up on your camp stove. But I don’t recommend that for Beurre Blanc. This is one to make at home. It uses an incredibly huge amount of butter so don’t be on a diet the night you decide to make this sauce. Here is the recipe courtesy of The Joy of Cooking:


Beurre Blanc

6 tablespoons dry white wine

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons minced shallots

Salt and white pepper to taste

Bring to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by three-quarters. stir in:

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Remove from heat and add one piece at a time, whisking constantly, until the sauce is creamy and pale:

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, preferably unsalted, cut into at least 8 pieces

Add each piece before the previous one has completely melted, or the sauce will separate. Add the grated zest of 1 small lemon. Serve immediately.

This sauce is great over veggies too! Enjoy!


Denise, Gail, and Lindsey


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