Sunday, March 5, 2017

Marc Soucy on Wine Culture: How to Approach Small Food Part 2

HOW TO APPROACH SMALL FOOD   Part 2




In my last article (read here), we discussed a little of the reasoning behind small food in Mediterranean cuisine. Remember those picture of small portions of finely prepared dishes from the Veneto region of Italy? There were between five and seven courses like that in some of the meals I experienced. Well, take a look here at this multi course French meal:

See the Similarities to the Italian preparations?
I'll rush through this rather sloppily, but to understand the point, a typical French dish undergoes the following:  careful slicing and dicing of many items, pan searing the meat, sauteeing the vegetables, finishing the cooking in a stock with wine ("braising"), boiling more wine and stock in the pan with the solids where the meat was seared to gradually create a sauce, and then assembling the entire thing so it looks appealing and decorative on the plate. And there are a number of additional techniques and "secret ingredients" involved (see Demi Glace for example). Not every French meal is so involved, but the results of this kind of effort is that every bite has more flavor: both in intensity but even more so in subtlety, even though that sounds like a contradiction. The nuance of each bite is intended to draw attention and focus our mind on the experience. I noticed the exact same thing in my recent trip to Italy. 

A serving for four of a small dish can easily contain several cups of reduced vegetables that you barely see, an entire bottle of wine, the main ingredient of course, and a series of well practiced cooking techniques. So what winds up being just a few bites of food, actually contains a pretty big amount of nutrients and flavor compounds that come from all the stuff that went into those few bites. This is rather different than the traditional American approach of grilling the best piece of meat you can find, and leaving it to shine on its own. French cooking is almost like organic engineering by comparison. 

To the left is a modern French dinner plate, somewhat typical of what a meat eater might have for dinner. The portions are modest, but every bite is an experience. 




Below is a similar dish that is in the "Nouvelle Cuisine" style. Notice its decorative aspect, and relatively smaller size. When done right, a ton goes into it.

By tasting through a number of plates such as these, with each having very different ingredients and flavors, you can wind up with quite a large and satisfying meal. So much so, that the Italians have developed a reputation for over-feeding people. The French on the other hand, are doing the same thing, but have the reputation of under-feeding people. Why is that?  My theory is that because French food looks more like American food (meat, potatoes, vegetables), Americans compare a single French plate to a single American plate, and come to the conclusion that they are roughly the same but the French give you less. 

The truth though, is that for a formal dinner, the French will have a few dishes like this, not just one. This type of cooking can be expensive because of all the expertise, prep time, and ingredients that go into them. If you simply find it too expensive, do give it a try a couple of times when you can. Pay close attention to the flavors, and take plenty of time to savor them. You will not regret it. I've frequently given the same advice about wine. There is a reason these things go together so well.



Each of the Three Meals Above are from a Different Country.
Can You Tell Which Country Each Comes from?

Remember, Italian, French, Spanish, and other Mediterranean cultures value meal time as a social event. It's healthier and makes life more special. We celebrate life together and reflect upon the bounty created by our success as a society, even when things aren't always going great. 

We make things better by what we eat and what we drink. 

Not a bad motto.



'Till Next Time,
 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET
APICS  CPIM

Marc Wine Blog

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