What’s that like? Well, it’s pretty much about eating as many delicacies as you can, which on second thought is probably Christmas purpose in any country. We started our Christmas lunch at around 3 pm (my father’s Spanish influence) and ended at 6 pm. Three hours – eight dishes.
It could have been worse. We skipped the apéritif, this social moment that takes place before the meal and is real cult in France. We usually have one or two drinks and lots of snacks. Needless to say, kids are already stuffed by then and adults are… well, slightly intoxicated already. But that’s just the beginning of the gourmet marathon.
Traditional French Christmas starters include sea food platters –oysters, shrimps, crabs and all kinds of seashells, smoked salmon on buttered toasts, and of course foie gras! We couldn’t set our mind on one starter only so we decided not to choose and in the end we had four: shrimps with some garlic mayonnaise from the South called aïoli, smoked salmon with toasts spread with butter, foie gras with toasted brioche bread, and… snails, cooked in the oven in their shells filled with butter, garlic and parsley.
Le plat principal
Then comes the main dish.
Turkey is not very traditional in France for Christmas. We usually prefer more rustic birds such as goose, guinea fowl or capon, a castrated rooster that gets very fat.
Gourmet as we are, we opted for a capon guinea fowl served with chestnuts, cooked in the beast’s juice with wild mushrooms known as chanterelle.
Fromage et salade
A real French meal never comes without a tray of various stinky cheeses. We had Sainte-Maure, very savoury goat cheese from Touraine, my mother’s region –actually my grandmother used to do it herself back in the day- creamy Reblochon from Savoie, and Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne. Originally there should have been my all times favourite the Morbier but the fromager forgot to put it in my bag (I didn’t pay for it though).
These wonderful cheeses were of course served with a simple green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. That’s supposed to help you digest all you’ve ingested so far, and allow you to make room for the dessert.
Traditionally a French Christmas meal ends with a log-shaped cake called bûche, which is French for “log”. It’s a spongy cake with butter cream. It’s heavy and no one likes it but we still keep on having it at Christmas.
But it’s true it looks pretty and very Christmassy.
In my family we prefer to have a log-shaped ice cream, much lighter at the end of such a heavy meal. Of course the dessert is served with Champagne.
Café et digestifs
Coffee is served.
That’s also a last opportunity to eat more for the bravest.
There are usually chocolates, marrons glacés – chestnuts cooked in sugar – and fruits confits – fruits cooked in sugar – circulating around. Cognac and Armagnac are offered “to help you digest”.
Of course each meal has already been served with a different wine.
This is what our Christmas tree looked like this year. In case you wonder, the paintings are my grandfather’s. And the golden star at the top of the tree? Yes I made it myself when I was a kid…