I adore French food and particularly enjoy being treated to a meal in a French restaurant. However, I also love to cook at home and very often prepare some kind of French dish for my family and friends. In the winter I prepare great traditional dishes like cassoulet and pot au feu but I always like to have a starter with my meals and more often than not have cured meats which are typically French and which are called charcuterie.
There are many types of cured and smoked hams in France as well as different types of pâté that the French produce and I for one think they are the best in the world. For special occasions or when I have invited a few friends over to dinner, then I treat us all to pâté de foie gras which I serve either in an omelette or on very thin slices of toast with cornichons which are a type of small gherkin and lots of really good quality butter.
On other occasions I really like the coarser pâtés called rillettes and again I love to dish this up with lots of hot crusty French bread either a baguette or pain de campagne. These coarser pâtés can sometimes be a little salty so I make sure there is unsalted butter to go with it. Pates and rillettes make an ideal starter for any meal, they are really delicious with crudités too.
Whenever I travel over to France, I always stock up with jars of rillettes and I am particularly fond of the goose and duck ones. They are very rich but extremely moreish and they make great lunchtime snacks with just a chunk of bread and butter with a few small gherkins and lots of Dijon mustard.
One of my all time favourite cured dry hams is Jambon de Bayonne because it really does have such a unique sweetish taste. I like to buy a whole leg and hang it in the larder so that I can just cut off slices as I need them. If you don’t have an old style larder, these legs can be kept in the fridge in their sleeves with a clean tea towel over them but I never think the ham tastes the same as it does when it is hung in a cool larder.
Another favourite of mine is a Corsican dry cured ham, known as La Coppa Corse. I first tasted this on a trip to Corsica and fell in love with the flavour. It is really superb served with salads made with olives and goats cheese, but I also like to add chunks of it to my cassoulet recipe. Over the years I have tasted many types of dry cured hams and charcuterie in France and loved them all but I also love boudin, which is the French version of black pudding. At weekends I like to have either boudin blanc or boudin blanc for breakfast and serve it with fried eggs and lots of Dijon mustard and sometimes with French toast.
When it comes to charcuterie the French have made an art form out of the produce they have traditionally made for decades. I have yet to find one that I do not like which is marvellous because there are a lot yet to choose from, so I will go on trying new types for a very long time to come.