As well as being a land steeped in legend and tradition, Brittany is also a gastronomic region boasting
wide variety of produce and an equally impressive number of recipes. Breton dishes are simple, filling and tasty and include anything from seafood to sweet cider and cakes.
Sweet crepe and savoury galette pancakes have been popular outside of France for many years. Whether made from wheat or buckwheat, they have become the stars of Breton Cuisine. Filled with glistening butter and dusted with sugar, these soft and crispy specialities are served as a dessert, sometimes topped with jam. The savoury and more filling galette is served with a wide range of fresh fillings (ham, mushrooms, artichokes, shellfish) according to the season.
In the Montagnes Noires in mid-July, the town of Gourin honours these eternal celebrities of Breton cuisine with a festival. Fans of galettes also gather at markets and festivals to enjoy galettes saucisse (sausages wrapped in savoury pancakes) and in doing so show their allegiance to pork, another regional favourite.
A real treat for the poor in times of shortage, pork is still a key ingredient in Breton cuisine. Breton pork meat is prepared in many different ways (pate, tripe, black pudding) according to old country recipes. However many British people get very confused by the cuts of meat here in France as they are somewhat different to those in U.K. So we have tried to outline the differences with some explanations, as well as some useful direct translations.
Pork - Porc
• Bacon is EASY to buy in France - no need to import water-pumped rubbish! As in the UK, it is simply thinly sliced poitrine, or belly. We tend to slice our poitrine fairly thickly, in order to make lardons, so you need to ask for the slices to be ‘fine’ (pronounced ‘feen’). Bacon is rarely injected with water in France, so you get more for your money, it tastes better and crisps-up easily. Do not be fooled by the packets called ‘bacon’ - these are just brined, trimmed pork, and not the same at all.
• Echine - meaning shoulder, encompasses the blade bone and spare ribs.
• Plat de côtes - is from where the hand and belly meet, whereas...
• Côtes - are where the carré comes from, and is made up of loin chops. Basically, rack of pork.
• Filet - in France, is from the hind loin area of the pig. The English fillet is from the part which the French call jambon, or ‘ham’.
• If you want your joint with crackling, this should be no problem for your local butcher, but you will need to order it in advance. Ask for the joint ‘avec la couenne’ (pronounced la ‘quwen’).
• Joues - cheeks.
Chicken, duck and goose etc - Poulet, Canard et Oie etc
It’s pretty easy to see which bit is which on a small bird, but here is some useful vocabulary.
• Poulet - chicken (probably ex-layer, and the ‘normal’ age to buy one).
• Poulette - young chicken.
• Coq - cockerel.
• Pintade- guinea fowl.
• Dinde - turkey.
• Volaille- fowl/ poultry.
• Cuisses - thighs.
• Magret- breast.
• Carcasse - carcass, the same in English, these are the empty remains of a butchered bird, which are sold (cheaply) in France for making stocks and soups.
Lamb - Agneau
• Gigot d’agneau - leg of lamb.
• Echine - shoulder.
• Côtes - chump.
• Collet - scrag (end).
•Poitrine/ poitrail - breast
• Côtelette - chop. Usually from the rack of lamb, where the British cutlet comes from.
• Jarret - can mean shank or shin.
• Selle d’agneau - saddle.
• Bifteck/ steak - steak.
• Bavette - undercut - it is cheap and comes from the skirt, which is why it is textured with long muscle fibres. Can be very good, and less tough than one imagines!
• Filet - fillet.
• Faux filet - the same in English.
• Steak à hacher - steak that is lean but not that tender. It is used for steak tartare and steak haché. Steak haché looks like a burger, but is simply this high quality steak minced up and pressed together. It is usually freshly done, which is why people are happy to eat them rare. You cannot compare a steak haché to a beef/hamburger.
• Romsteak/ rumsteak - rump steak.
• Aloyau - sirloin.
• Entrecôte - ribeye.
• Tournedos/ filet mignon - tenderloin steak usually cut almost as high as it is wide. Basically a chunk of tender steak, usually served quite rare unless otherwise requested. You can also buy "tournedos' of lamb, too.
• Tête de veau - rolled veal head, including the tongue.
• Langue de bœuf - beef tongue.
• Gîte (à la noix) - topside.
• Tranche grasse – silverside, pope’s eye
Other body parts (!):
• Cul - tail.
• Cou - neck.
• Tranche - meaning ‘slice’, implies a steak of any meat other than beef.
• Filet/ longue/ aloyau - all words for loin. Loin chop is ‘côte première’.
Any meat that says ‘à poêler’ means ‘for stewing/ braising’.
DID YOU KNOW? The reason that our meat is often a brighter colour than well-butchered British meat is because we are not allowed to hang it. Some say that this affects the tenderness, but it does depend on which cut, which meat and how fresh it is. Perhaps this is why we traditionally eat our meat more rare than the Brits!
Try the Gueméné-sur-Scorff andouille sausage, famous for its brown skin, concentric circles and strong flavour. It can be eaten hot with mashed potato or cold with a slice of bread and butter. Butter has accompanied all Breton dishes since the Middle Ages. Almost always salted, it is churned from fresh, unpasteurised milk and then washed and moulded into shape. In times past, butter was put on the table as a sign of respect to welcome visitors. Nowadays, thanks to acres of pasture and a strong dairy industry, Brittany produces 30% of all butter consumed in France. The region is also a major vegetable producer, supplying the rest of France with cauliflower and artichokes grown around Saint-Pol-de-Léon and St. Malo.
However, inland Argoat is not the only gastronomic region in Brittany. Produce from the maritime region of Armor also features on the menu. As king of the shellfish, the lobster has always been a favourite with food lovers, though it faces tough competition from the scallop, or coquille Saint-Jacques. A symbol of the pilgrimage to Compostela, scallops only really became popular in the last century. Scallop fishing is today strictly controlled, particularly in the Bay of Saint Brieuc and the small fishing harbour of Erquy. Scallops are both tender and tasty and they make an ideal starter when fried in a little garlic and parsley and served in their shells.
Or perhaps you prefer other treasures uncovered at low tide such as winkles, clams, mussels or oysters. Oyster-farmers in Cancale, Belon or the Gulf of Morbihan advise crunching the "raw" delicacy an hour after opening the shell and emptying the water, as the flavour will be subtler. Seafood platters, made up of langoustines and tasty spider crab served with clams, whelks and oysters on a bed of seaweed, are another Breton speciality. Although the platters vary according to the season and region, some ingredients are essential and must be perfectly fresh. The Fresh Breton seafood platter charter guarantees traditional, quality produce.
There is nothing better than a Breton cake or biscuit after seafood or galettes. Food lovers in Brittany have an enviable choice between Pont-Aven galette biscuits, Plumaudan craquelins crackers, crispy Quimper crêpes dentelles or the famous Douarnenez Kouing Amann butter cake - a real treat when served warm! There is also the traditional Far Breton dessert, which can be eaten hot or cold, filled with raisins or prunes - family recipes are closely guarded secrets.
In Brittany, cider, beer and chouchen are favoured over wine. Breton farm ciders are made from many different varieties of apple and have a slightly acidic taste, a pale colour and are high in alcohol. Each area has its own particular flavour. Cornouaille was the first region to have been awarded the appellation contrôlée quality system label, and its cider now sets the standard. Chouchen, the Breton word for mead, is made from honey and is said to be the drink of gods, druids and young married couples. It is enjoyed as a before- or after-dinner drink. You may also come across traditional beer from Morlaix which is not filtered or pasteurised and has a strong hop flavour. Both authentic and convivial, it is typical of Breton gastronomy. Yec'hed mat or cheers!