Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Perrier Water

Given the history of hot springs and spas in the Languedoc Roussillon you probably won't be surprised that Perrier Water comes from this region. Perrier Water comes from a spring called Les Bouillens in Vergèze in the Gard département of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Perrier is naturally carbonated and Perrier claims that the level of carbonation in every bottle of Perrier is the same as the water of the Vergèze spring.

Legend has it that the original carbonated water source of Perrier was discovered in 218 B.C. by Hannibal’s army in when it was on its march to conquer Rome. The Romans were the first to build a stone basin at the site of the spring, along with a few buildings. These installations were a precursor to the spa that would be built much later on.

Les Bouillens was bought in 1898 by a local doctor named Louis Perrier who operated a spa. He later sold it to Sir St. John Harmsworth, brother of Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Daily Mail in the UK, who had been sent to France to learn French. St John cashed in his shares in the Daily Mail to buy the spring. Abandoning the spa treatment he renamed it Source Perrier and started bottling it in green bottles shaped like the Indian clubs he used for exercise.

As for his sales strategy, Harmsworth reasoned that if he could convince the British army in India of the unique qualities of his little bottle, he could go on to conquer the remaining British colonies. It was a simple idea - and it worked. Following its success in the colonies, Perrier water was served at Buckingham Palace, and Harmsworth was awarded the title "Purveyor by appointment to his Majesty". Perrier Water is now owned by Nestlé.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Bagnols les Bains

Bagnols les Bains lies at the foot of Mont Lozère at an altitude of 900 m. Its therapeutic waters gush from the mountainside at a temperature of 41.5°C. Sulphurous, rich in fluorine, mineral salts and rare gasses, the waters are used to treat respiratory and rheumatic symptoms.

The spa also has an outdoor cold spring which has diuretic properties and aids the digestive system.

The spa tradition of Bagnols-les-Bains has its roots in Roman times and Sidonius, Bishop of Clermont, the 5th century, extolled the virtues of its curative waters. Traces of this past have been unearthed in the form of stones decorated with acanthus leaves, sepulchral urns, vases, old coins and relics of old pools. In 1857 Bagnols became the first spa in France to be recognized as a public utility by Imperial decree.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - La Preste les Bains

La Preste les Bains de la Prats-de-Mollo area a thermal spa in a fortified village on the banks on the River Tech. It lies on the southern slopes of the Canigou at 1130m. Prats-de-Mollo is encircled with walls and is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and ancient mediaeval architecture.

The Fort Lagarde, an impressive fort built by Marshall Vauban in 1683 to strengthen the town's defences, stands above it. The Fort originated as a watchtower set up by the King of Majorca to watch the Col d'Arès, the pass over the mountains from Spain.

The waters of La Preste, are famous for the treatment of urinary infections and related diseases. In 1302 people with leprosy used to bathe in the ’Leper’s pool’ to help to relieve their symptoms.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Rennes-les-Bains

One of the most famous spas in the Languedoc Roussillon is Rennes-les-Bains, partly due to its association with Rennes-le-Château which was featured in the book The Da Vinci Code. Rennes-le-Chateau's story about the 19th century priest Bérenger Saunière and the Priory of Sion still attract hundreds of visitors to the town.

Rennes-les-Bains lies in the upper valley of the Aude near the Sals River ( which takes its name from the fact that it is naturally salty, an unusual feature for an inland river), at a height of 310m at the heart of Cathar Country, wedged between Mount Cardou and Mount Bugarach, the first foothills of the Pyrenees. There are 5 hot springs: The Bains Doux 37°C, the Bains Forts 44°C, the Bains de la Reine 40°C, the Gieulles 38°C, the Marie 39.5°C and the Yvroux at 33.1°C, and 4 cold springs: The Source des Amour, the Madeleine, the Source du Cercle and the Source du Pontet.

The origins of Rennes-les-Bains go back to antiquity and archaeological artefacts indicate that the spa was at one time popular with the Roman colony in Colonia Narbo Martius (Narbonne).The water is lightly mineralised with calcium sulphate, chlorides, thermal and hyper thermal radioactivity, magnesium and iron. The is approved by the French social security system for the treatment of Rheumatism and the effects of Osteoarticular injuries.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thermal Spas in the Languedoc Roussillon

Water is the life force of the Languedoc Roussillon with a large range of rivers emptying into the Gulf du Lyon and the Mediterranean. Waterfalls, lakes, river gorges and rapids have encouraged tourism in water sports and the coast and the Canal du Midi lend themselves to boating holidays.

Hydrotherapy centres have grown up around ancient spa towns and hot springs. Many of the spa waters are rich in rock salt, magnesium, sulphurous sodic water and are rich in thermal plankton and are used to remedy a multitude of disorders and I was surprised at the number of thermal springs there are in the mountains – there is an impressive list of them here. Tectonic activity under the Pyrenees causes subterranean water to be heated and many of these ancient thermal springs have been used for millennia.

Bathing in and drinking spa water has been practised since Roman times and was rediscovered in the 19th century under the Second Empire, being popularized by the last Empress of the French – the Empress Eugenie. Eugénie gave her patronage to the thermal waters of Las Aygos de Saint Loubouer and the settlement that grew around the springs was named after her.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Turnip Recipes

There are two hearty peasant stews that use the Pardailhan turnip. Le Mourtayrol is an ancient dish that was originally a very thick soup made with bread and milk. Recipes for it date back to the middle ages.

Le Mourtayrol (Chicken, Beef And Bacon Soup with Saffron)

3 lb beef
1 ½ lb gammon
1 pinch salt and black pepper, freshly ground
4 carrots, chopped
4 leeks, chopped
2 small turnips, chopped
3 onions, chopped

½ tsp saffron
1 loaf french bread
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the beef, chicken and gammon into a large pot. Cover with water. Add the salt and pepper and bring slowly to the boil. Skim off the scum and add the whole vegetables. Reduce the heat, partly cover the pot and gently simmer for 4 hours. After 2 ½ hours remove 1 pint of stock from the pot, add the saffron to it and leave it to infuse for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into slices, toast them lightly and arrange them in a stoneware pot or in a heavy casserole. Pour on the stock and saffron, cover the pot and cook gently for 1 hour in a low oven. Stir occasionally so that the bread dissolves into a creamy yellow paste. If it becomes too dry, add a little more stock from the pot. Finally stir in the oil. Remove the meats and the vegetables from the soup to serve later as the main course. Strain the soup and ladle it into individual soup bowls. Add a large spoonful of the mourtayrol to each bowl and serve.

Ollada (Catalan) or Ouillade, is a beef stew cooked in a heavy pot (similar to those used in pot au feu) and uses haricot beans as well as turnips.


250g dried haricot beans
1kg hock of gammon (ham)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
150g turnip, chopped
350g potatoes, chopped
½ savoy cabbage
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Soak the haricot beans in cold water overnight. The next day, put the gammon hock into a deep pan with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then cover and leave to simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender and falling away from the bone. Leave the hock in the cooking liquor until cool enough to handle.

Drain the beans and put into a second pan with 1 litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum as it rises to the surface, then lower the heat, cover and leave to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for 5 minutes until it’s soft. Strain 1.75 litres of the gammon's cooking liquor into the pan, add the turnip and potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, discard the skin from the hock and tear the meat into small, bite-sized pieces.

Chop the cabbage, add the gammon pieces, cabbage and beans to the soup and simmer for 5-7 minutes until tender. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the garlic, parsley and plenty of black pepper. Ladle into large warmed soup plates and serve with lots of fresh crusty bread.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Pardailhan turnips

If you are not a fan of turnips then Pardailhan turnips may make you change your mind. They are black in colour, white inside and are beautifully tender with a subtle, sweet flavour. The Pardailhan Black Turnip is a variety called Caluire Long Black, named for its region of origin to the north of Pardailhan. These turnips have been grown for centuries on the Pardailhan Plain in the province of Hérault in the Languedoc-Roussillon Region. The plateau where Pardailhan is situated stands at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level, though it is just 24 miles from the Mediterranean.

They can be prepared in many ways: grated raw and tossed in a vinaigrette, fried in goose fat and a little sugar, or in soups and gratins. They are much sought after on the markets of Narbonne and Béziers, the closest towns, though the scarce quantities on sale these days make them somewhat pricey.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Aubrac Beef

On the western edge of Lozère, the Aubrac is a wide expanse of unspoilt beauty rising to a height of nearly 1300 metres. The Aubracs are an ancient race of cattle which have pastured in the cradle of the volcanic mountains here for centuries. They are a beautiful breed and vary from wheat brown to burnt orange and their eyes are ringed with black and white. They were raised initially for milk production and their ability to work and their stud book was created in 1893. They are hardy, nimble and able to walk long distances.

Boles de picolat is a meatball dish typical of Roussillon, and one of the most famous dishes of Northern Catalonia. The meatballs are made with finely minced beef and pork mixed with garlic and parsley. They are browned in oil, then onions, cinnamon, salt, pepper and chilli peppers are added. The meatballs are then simmered in a tomato sauce with olives.

750g of pork mince
750g of beef mince
2 eggs
100g flour
3 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch of fresh coriander
500g green olives
1 red chilli pepper, chopped
pinch of cinnamon
300g cepes (mushrooms)
1 kg of carrots
tomato purée, olive oil, salt, pepper

Peel the carrots, the onions and the garlic. Chop one onion finely together with one clove of garlic and the coriander. Add salt, pepper and cinnamon and mix with the minced meat and the eggs. Form into small meatballs, flour generously and brown in olive oil. Keep warm. Brown the sliced carrots in olive oil, add the 2 remaining onions, the thinly sliced garlic and chilli pepper as well as the tomato purée and a glass of water. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the meat balls, the cepes and the green olives. Cover with water, add salt and pepper and cook under cover for 45 minutes. Serve with haricot beans.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Suckling Lamb

Lamb “sous la mère” or suckling lamb is a speciality of the Languedoc Roussillion region. The lambs are raised in the mountains of Lozère and the Pyrenees. Before they are fully weaned, they are fed on grass from the meadowland, as well as their mother's milk . They are sold throughout the region under several local brand names.

The Lozère Lamb (l'agneau de Lozère) has its own AOC and the Lozère is the northern most part of Languedoc-Roussillon. The area is divided into four natural regions distinguished by their different rock: the Aubrac (basalt), the Margaride (granite), the Cevennes (shale), and the Causses (limestone) including the Tarn and Jonte Gorges and the Lot Valley.

The breeds of sheep in the Lozère are the Blanc du Massif Central (from the Massif Central to the North of Lozère). This breed is sometimes known as the Blanc de Lozère and the flocks predominate the Margaride area.

The Caussenarde des Garrigues, a type of the semi-coarse wooled Blanc du Massif Central, evolved from breeds native to the scrub land of the Garrigues region and the lime-stone Causses south east of the Massif Central. The breed is found south of the Cévennes in the departments of Hérault and Gard.

The Rouge du Roussillon (locally known as the Rouge du Littoral) is a medium-fine wool breed in the lowlands of south eastern Pyrénées Orientales department. The origin of the breed is unknown but it's thought that they could have North African origin (it is sometimes called the Tunisian Barbary) and was introduced to France via Spain.

The Raiola has been threatened with extinction since the early 1960s and only a few farmers, mainly on the summer pastures of Mount Aigoual have kept the race. It is now recognised and protected and can be seen in the Cevennes National Park.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Haricot Beans

In the past, the white beans used in cassoulet were grown in the Lauragais section of Languedoc, and the Lauragais also furnished the goose and duck. Haricot beans arrived in France from the New World in the 16th century. When Catherine de’ Medici, the future wife of Henry II of France, disembarked at Marseilles in 1553, she took out from her trousseau a bag of “fagioli” (the beans later known as “haricots”). The name Haricot comes from the Mexican name for the beans “ayacot”.

All "true" cassoulets are made in the Languedoc region with white beans
and the Tarbais Haricot bean is a popular choice. It was planted on the plain of Tarbes in the Hautes-Pyerenees at the beginning of the 18th century, at the same time as maize by Monsignor de Poudenx, Bishop of the Tarbes diocese. The Tarbais bean was the first French bean to be granted of Label Rouge, in 1997 and are famed for their extremely thin skin, which makes them easier to cook and gives them an unbeatable, delicate flavour. They don’t burst during cooking or turn to mush on your plate, but when the time comes, they melt in your mouth to deliver their creamy texture.

Leg of Lamb with Haricot Beans

1 kg fresh Haricot Beans

1 leg of lamb

300g fatty bacon

200g fresh pork rind

1 carrot

1 onion studded with cloves
tomato purée

bouquet garni

3 garlic cloves

1 onion

1 bunch of parsley, thyme

2 tbsp goose fat

breadcrumbs, salt, pepper.

Put the Haricot beans, bacon, pork rind tied in parcels, carrot, the
clove-studded onion, the bouquet garni and the garlic into a stew pot. Add enough water to cover the beans. Simmer, allowing to bubble gently, for an hour. Chop the other onion and the parsley. Remove the pork rinds and bacon. Fry them in the goose fat with the chopped onion and parsley. Add tomato purée and the haricots. Check the seasoning. Dust with crumbled thyme.

Rub a shallow oven dish with the garlic, then pour in the bean mixture. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Pour the goose fat over. Bake for 1 hour until golden. Meanwhile, rub the leg of lamb with the garlic and some thyme. Roast to suit your taste. Serve accompanied by the gratin of Haricot Beans.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a famous dish in the Languedoc and contains meat (pork sausages, pork, goose, duck, lamb or and sometimes mutton), white haricot beans and often topped with a gratin of crunchy breadcrumbs. There are a thousand versions of Cassoulet and it can be as simple or as complicated as the cook prefers but either way it is a melt in the mouth experience and once tasted, never forgotten.

There are said to be a trinity of true Cassoulets: the Father, from Castelnaudary, where it is made with fresh and smoked pork products; the Son, from Carcassone, where partridge and mutton are preferred; and the Holy Ghost, from Toulouse where pork, sausage, lamb, and duck and goose confit is used.

One legend places the birth of Cassoulet during the siege of Castelnaudary by the Black Prince, Edward the Prince of Wales, in 1355. The Provost sought to prepare a dish with all the victuals from the town would give his besieged troops courage for a coming offensive. Finding plenty of beans, fresh and salted pork, geese, and sausages, the chef prepared a huge stewed dish and served it at a banquet along with barrels of the local wine. After the banquet the soldiers set off all their artillery and then rushed straight at their British enemies. The explosions were so loud and the soldiers so rowdy that the British fled in panic and didn't stop running until they reached the shores of the English Channel.

Another story goes that long before the discovery of the Americas, in the 7th century, the Arabs introduced white beans to the French and taught the local people how to cook them in a sheep-based stew. Whichever story is correct, it is clear that cassoulet is an important part of regional French cooking, and a treat worth seeking out.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Petits Pâtés from Pézénas

Petits Pâtés from Pézénas are small meat pies in the shape of a cotton reel. There are several stories behind the Petits Pâtés but all of them hold that in the mid-18th century Clive of India stayed in the area and is responsible for their creation. One version of the story says that Clive stayed at the Chateau de Larzac in 1768 and that his Indian cook invented the pies (a more refined version of Keema Naan) from the local ingredients and gave the recipe to a pastry cook called Roucairol.

Another tells that Clive convalesced in the Château Saint Martin de Grave and formed the Picnic Club, to which members contributed favourite dishes. The Clives had an English cook, Carrington, who made curries for the club – possibly France's first Indian takeaways – and Carrington commissioned the Petits Pâtés from a baker who was given the recipe.

The pies are a mixture of sweet and savoury and are made from a mixture of brown sugar, roast mutton and lemon zest, enveloped in a thin layer of rich pastry. They should be eaten hot and served as a starter with a glass of wine.

150g flour
50g softened butter
200g of leg of mutton
25g mutton fat
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 spoonfuls of raisins, chopped
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper

Mix all the pastry ingredients together and knead. Rest the dough for 2 hours. Chop the leg of mutton and the fat, season with salt and pepper. Add the grated lemon zest and chopped raisins. Put aside. Roll out the pastry. Butter some ramekins and line with the pastry. Fill with the stuffing and cover with the remaining pastry. Pinch the edges together to seal them. Brush with an egg yolk. Cook in a preheated oven for 30 mins at 200ºC.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Encornets Farcis from Sète

Encornets Farcis are stuffed squid, a Sète that are normally served with rice. The squid are filled with a stuffing made from meat, soaked bread, egg, garlic and parsley. They are seared in olive oil and sometimes flambéed in cognac, before being simmered in a tomato sauce. In some recipes, the sauce is thickened with aioli, a garlic mayonnaise.

Squid Stuffed with Onions and Capers

12 small squid
100 gm breadcrumbs
1 sweet onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
a bunch of parsley, chopped
1 egg
zest of a lemon
salt, pepper

For the tomato sauce
300 gm tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 glass white wine
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper, olive oil

Clean the squid and then chop and fry the tentacles. Mix the other ingredients and use to stuff the squid. Close with a cocktail stick. Make the tomato sauce. Put the squid in a casserole and add the tomato sauce. Simmer for about 40 minutes. Serve with rice and garnished with parsley.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Tielles from Sète

Tielle is a round pastry, a little like a Cornish Pasty, filled with a mixture of octopus and tomato. The crust is pinched together in a distinctive style and the tomato sauce seeps through giving the pastry an orange colouring. More often than not Tielles have an orange glaze (made from egg yolk and tomato purée) and you can find them in the shops and markets around the fishing town. It's thought that Tielles were introduced by Italian immigrants who settled in Sète and similar pies can be found in parts of the Italian coast.

The town of Sète was created by Louis XIV who instructed his minister Colbert to find a new sea route for the royal galleys and to create a port for shipping Languedoc's products. Sète is built on the flanks of Mont St.Clair, wedged between the Thau Lagoon, the Sea and the canals and is one of the largest ports on the Mediterranean. Its nick name is the "Venice of the Languedoc".

Octopus has been caught on this coast for centuries and a recipe for stuffed octopus is recorded in the Libre de Sent Sovi (1324), one of the oldest cookbooks in Europe. Down the road from Sète, in Bouzigues, a similar dish is made with mussels and is called Chaussons aux Moules. This area has been a centre for oyster and mussel production as far back as the Greeks - the earliest fishers here lived in troglodyte caves along the shore of the flamingo frequented lagoon Etang de Thau.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Languedoc-Roussillon – Brandade from Nimes

Brandade de Morue (salt cod) is a speciality of Nimes and takes its name from the Provençal word "brandado", meaning "things stirred". Brandade is a purée of salt cod and the original recipe is very time consuming but it has been refined over the years.

Salt cod dates back to Medieval times and one of the earlies methods of preserving food under salt. Today most French people buy brandade ready-made and "semi-conserved" in glass jars. Brandade is often used as a filling for vol-au-vents or is spread on toast but it is usually served with a green salad or as a gratin in France.

Nîmes was a major port in the 18th century and it's thought that Brandade was invented there as cod was being caught off Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland by northern fishermen who needed to have salt aboard their ships in order to preserve the freshly caught fish.

Brandade de Morue de Nîmes

2 lbs of salt cod
2 cups of olive oil
1 cup of milk
juice of one lemon
1 clove garlic, grated
pinch white pepper

The day before cut the cod evenly into a number of squares, put in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Change the water several times during the next 24 hours.

Poach the cod. When it is cool, carefully remove all the bones and reduce the flesh to small shreds. Heat the milk in a pan. Heat the oil in a separate pan. Using a food processor, blend the cod and half the warm oil. Mix carefully until the oil is absorbed and there are no lumps of fish. Without stopping the mixing process, began to alternatively add the oil and then the milk, using no more than a half teaspoonful at a time. Mix well after each addition. When the mixture is very creamy it can be seasoned with the lemon juice, garlic, nutmeg and white pepper.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Snails with Anchovy and Walnut Sauce - Les Escargots à la Languedocienne

4 dozen snails, canned
6 anchovy fillets soaked in milk
200g bacon, diced
200g shelled walnuts
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp oil for frying
salt and pepper

Roughly chop the garlic, anchovies and walnuts in a mixer. Fry the bacon and tomatoes in the oil, add the chopped nuts, garlic and anchovies and 1 tbsp of the parsley. Stir until well blended and simmer for 15 mins. Add the snails and stir well. Remove to dish, sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve.