French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Pork, Fats, Bacon)

French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Pork, Fats, Bacon)


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.

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