The fat which goes into a dish makes an
important contribution to its final flavor. In France, each region tends
to cook with the local produce, which helps give identifying flavors to
French regional cooking. So in Perigord, for example, many dishes are
cooked with goose fat; this can be bought in specialist food shops
outside France. In the south, near the Mediterranean, olive oil is the
identifying flavor; in the east, it is lard.
Butter is used frequently in both meat and
vegetable dishes. The French consider the special flavor that butter
gives to a dish is well worth the extra cost, and indeed many recipes
are pale shadows of themselves if margarine is substituted for butter.
Olive oil, which gives a characteristic
aroma to southern cooking, comes in varying qualities and at varying
prices. The extra vierge or first pressing should be used for salad
dressings, while the cheaper varieties can be used for cooking.
Pork fat and bacon
Pork fat is used in many different ways in
French cooking. The hard back fat which comes from just under the skin
can be beaten out and used as a lining for a pate tin, or cut into
strips and sued for larding. The skin itself can be diced or used as a
piece and added to various stews and meat dishes to give extra richness.
The fat from inside the pig can be rendered down with a little water in
a low oven and used for frying. Many French cooks add a small quantity
of belly of pork, either fresh or salted, to their stews and braises.
Since it can be difficult to buy salt pork, fat streaky bacon, either
smoked or plain, can be substituted; but it must be simmered in water
for fifteen minutes to remove the bacon taste before being used or the
whole dish will taste of nothing but bacon. Buy the bacon in a thick
slice, rather than in rashers.
The French have many varieties of locally
cured hams, some of which, like Bayonne ham, are eaten raw in thin
slices as part of an hors-d' oeuvre, while others, more like English
ham, require cooking and are used in a variety of dishes.