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June 6th, 1944, eternally known as D-Day. The largest single-day amphibious invasion in history. Over 130,000 allied troops landed at five beachheads, nicknamed Omaha, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Gold along a strip of the coast of Normandy. Ten thousand men were killed, wounded or captured in their gallant effort to liberate France, initiate a new world order, and depose the most evil maniac of all time. The most intense fighting was at Omaha Beach, monikered “Bloody Omaha,” with approximately 5,000 American casualties alone. One cannot think of Normandy without respectfully remembering the lives that were lost that day, and the freedom they eventually won for this world.
Normandy is a coastal region of north-west France, just south of the English channel and comprising over 30,000 square kilometers. Normandy used to be heavily forested. Much of the woodland was cleared to pave the way for agriculture. Now just under 13% of current day Normandy is forest. It is punctuated by granite and limestone cliffs and the Seine River which meanders its way to the English Channel. Its population numbers about 3.5 million. The tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel with its toweringly beautiful and world famous Benedictine Abbey is located just within the boundaries of Normandy and is one of its most famous landmarks.
Normandy is a gastronomic paradise. A marriage made in heaven of the rich bounties of the land and the sea. Normandy’s cuisine is probably the most archetypal of the stereotypical conception of French food as being rich and fattening. First and foremost is dairy. Normandy’s cows produce unctuous cream and butter, the former of which is one of the characteristic features of its cuisine. And of course, where there’s cows and milk, there’s cheese. The world renowned Camembert originated in Normandy. Supposedly christened by Napoleon, Camembert is a rich, soft, cow’s milk cheese. Other noteworthy cheeses include Livarot, a soft and highly pungent cheese, and Pont l'Évêque, a creamy ripened cheese with a sweet/tart flavor.
Apples are another major component in the gastronomy of Normandy. It is said that Normandy contains 9 million apple trees. Apples give rise to Calvados, considered to be the best apple brandy on the planet. Calvados is drunk as an aperitif, an intermezzo, or after a meal. It is also incorporated into all kinds of Norman recipes and sauces. Apples and cream are the two most defining elements of Norman cuisine and one or both can always be expected in any dish entitled “à la Normande.”
Continuing with Normandy’s terrestrial splendors, pork, chicken, duck, lamb and especially tripe are regular players. The towns of Rouen and Caen are considered the culinary capitals of Normandy and bare the name of some of its classic dishes. Canard à la Rouennaise (eponymously named after the town of Rouen where Joan of Arc met her demise), is a roasted duck whose carcass is crushed in a special press to extract the juices. It is then decadently blended with cream and cognac to render a sauce. Tripes à la mode de Caen is an intricate and protracted dish whereby the tripe is cooked with oxen feet, fat, root vegetables, herbs, spices, apple cider and Calvados. Carbonade is a rich beef stew cooked with beer. Finally, andouille is a celebrated sausage of Normandy. Spicy and smoked, it is made from pork tripe and intestines.
Turning to the ocean, seafood is an inextricable and significant feature of Norman cuisine. Its extensive coastline supports a bustling fishery trade. Oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, lobster, whelks and winkles, (sea snails), langoustines, sole, turbot, John Dory (also known as St. Peter’s fish), monkfish, and many other aquatic edibles adorn the seafood loving palates of Normandy. Sole à la Normande is yet another classic dish of the region. Sole is cooked with shrimp and mussels and then cream, and cider, (sometimes white wine), are incorporated into the sauce.
As for pastry and baking, Normandy is known for its brioche, (a rich yeast bread with butter and eggs), puffed pastry, galettes, (cakes made of flaky-pastry dough), madeleines, (buttery sponge cake), sables (cookies), mirlitons, (a puff pastry tart filled with almond cream), and terrine (sweetened rice cooked in milk).
• 4 pork chops
• salt and pepper to taste
• vegetable oil, as needed
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
• 2 oz. Calvados
• 1 cup heavy cream
Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and sauté in the oil until completely browned on each side. Remove the chops from the pan and set aside.
Add the butter to the pan and sauté the apples until browned. Remove the apples and set aside.
Deglaze the pan with the Calvados and reduce by at least two thirds.
Pour in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Return the chops to the pan and coat with the cream.
Place the apple slices on top of the chops and simmer for a few minutes or until the chops are fully cooked.
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