I’ve eaten an eye-watering amount of processed meat recently. They say a diet of processed meat is bad for you, but when push comes to shove, I bet whoever ‘they’ are would submit to that meat coma with the rest of us! I emerged from this pork-induced fog after eating four-days’ worth of rillettes, saucisson, pate, foie gras and some very good herbed ham, although fully-consciously continued into the fifth day to eat a picnic of the exact same, complete with baguette and creamy butter from our local dairy, while sheltering in the car at a bleak service station on the motorway. The French find a gourmet banquet in any given situation.
The build up to Christmas in France wouldn’t be right without the obligatory selection of potted and cured meats materialising from the fridge every couple of hours, crowding the table, a pat of butter and baguette never out of arm’s reach. While the amount of meat I’ve consumed has been, in my opinion, alarming and I don’t think my body would let me add a sixth day to this meaty week, this culinary adventure has not exactly been a hardship. Every lunch, or drinks with friends, has been a blissful raid of the fridge for another moreish meat snack, along with briny olives and maybe some cornichons.
This year Christmas has been a jolly muddle of British meets French as I find my footing in French culture, and introduce Gaylord to my own Christmas traditions, armed with pigs in blankets and stuffing balls. As I don’t think I could have eaten another piece of ham, I flew back to the UK for Christmas, however it’s been a gourmet whirlwind learning French traditions in which food plays a pivotal (and agreeable) role, and meat and the supremely oozy tartiflette are two of those Christmassy discoveries.
The best winter food in France
Tartiflette is a chalet staple; the perfect rich and warming meal to eat after a day on the slopes. As I have never skiied, snowboarded or willingly slid down a mountain in my life, I can’t speak from experience about that post-ski dinner, but I hear it’s quite excellent. I am fully prepared to agree because even without any exercise beforehand, tartiflette is my new favourite winter dish.
It contains all the essential ingredients for wintery gut-busting indulgence: layers of potato, onions cooked in white wine and butter until sticky and sweet, salty smokey lardons, and a topping of an entire round gooey cheese.
Tartiflette has nothing to hide; it’s proud of its simple sweet and smokey flavours and its rugged appearance, its thick oozy surface of cheese, and it smugly acknowledges that you will be scraping that crispy cheese off the side of the baking dish before long, all manners forgotten. Plus, tartiflette is fully aware that you’re basically eating layers of bacon and molten reblochon cheese, with the potato acting as a mere sponge.
During the winter, we need food which feels like a warm hug. Most mornings it’s gloomy, even in the south of France, and the dark and cold of the season can feel incredibly bitter. So, to counteract that darkness, we string twinkly Christmas lights up. To fight the cold we eat tartiflette, a food which acts like the most affordable counsellor and a generous one, full of cheese and a sprinkling of bacon, in case you hadn’t already eaten enough processed meat.
Christmas is that perfect time to let our hair down and eat those naughty nibbles we try to restrain ourselves from throughout the year. It’s the reason I added a dollop of mincemeat to my porridge yesterday, and will definitely do it again today. So, embrace the meat and cheese of the Christmas season, and follow the French’s example by baking a bubbling, cheesy tartiflette.
Merry Christmas! xxx
- 3-4 large potatoes
- 1 large onion
- 1 tbsp butter
- 250 ml Apremont white wine see introduction
- 200 g smoked bacon lardons
- 1 round of reblochon cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Peel the potatoes and slice them into ½cm rounds. Put them into a saucepan of cold salted water, place over the heat and bring to the boil. Cook until partially done but tender. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, finely slice the onion. Cook the slices in butter over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper, then once soft add the wine to deglaze the pan. Continue to cook the onions until the wine has evaporated.
- At the same time, in another frying pan, cook the lardons until golden.
- Take a deep-sided baking dish and tip in half the onions then cover with half of the lardons. Layer the potato on top then repeat with the remaining onions and lardons.
- Cut the wheel of cheese in half through the middle so that you have two thinner rounds. Slice the rounds into quarters, and place them, cut-side down, rind up, on the onions and lardons. Cut the cheese into smaller pieces to fill spaces where you can.
- Slide the dish into the oven and bake for 30 minutes until the cheese is gold and bubbling. Serve with green vegetables if you want to feel healthy.