The French have always been great at turning what we consider the most repulsive parts of an animal into what the French consider delicacies. Foreigners usually find these dishes pretty difficult to swallow, but it compliments their healthy lifestyle. However, if you’re adventurous, you should try these once. And who knows? You might become a big fan.
Andouille is a sausage made from the intestines and stomach of the pig. Sometimes there are additions: neck, breast, head or heart, all packed into a black skin. Two regions claim to make the authentic andouille, smoked and eaten cold: Normandy (andouille de Vire) and Brittany (andouille de Guémené).
Don't confuse andouille with Toulouse sausage which is stronger than a normal sausage. It's sold by weight, so you just ask how much you need and the butcher peels it off the massive spiral you see on the counter.
Sausage made from pork intestines (chaudins) often with pork stomach (particularly in Troyes, Champagne, better known for its outlet shopping) and in Burgundy with calf’s mesentery, a piece of peritoneum that joins part of the small intestine to the back wall of the abdomen in a skin. Rouen comes up with a drier version made from pig’s bowels. Andouillette is traditionally served with mustard and potato purée. You’ll find them on most bistro menus.
Andouillette is taken so seriously that it has its own association A.A.A.A.A (Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Authentiques Andouillettes) is a gastronomic society founded by Francis Amunategui and 4 other lovers of the delicacy in the early 1970s to preserve the standards.
The best brains come from lambs and sheep. Ox brain is firmer and along with calf’s brains, is cheaper to buy, so these two are often used as a filling for pies. It looks pretty vile in a butcher’s window – a handful of what looks like large veins, gelatinous and grey with red veins that have to be removed before cooking.
Usually, they are lightly dusted with salt and pepper and flour and fried before adding sautéed garlic, parsley, and lemon. It’s called Sautéed Cervaux (fried brains) on French menus.
Cuisses de Grenouilles
The traditional dish of frog legs is dying out in France but you'll see it in old-fashioned bistros all over the country. Frogs are now a protected species in France, so they come from Asia where they are also considered proper food. What is rather ironic, given the typical British reaction to them, is that new archeological evidence discovered in Wiltshire shows a frog cooked in Britain more than 10,000 years ago. The first reference in France is in a cookbook of the 18th century.
They taste rather like chicken and are usually seasoned, sprinkled with flour and sautéed.
Gésiers, or giblets, come from different parts of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. The word gésiers is used loosely and can refer just to the gizzard, the thick-walled part of a bird’s stomach which grinds down grit and small stones. However, gésiers can also include heart, liver, and kidneys plus the external giblets, the head, neck, wingtips, and feet. You can buy the external giblets from larger birds separately at the butcher’s to make pot-au-feu and stews.
Gésiers are cooked in various ways. They often appear on menus as salads so watch out for the likes of salade de gésiers de volaille which will have green leaves, lardons, tomatoes, eggs and goat’s cheese added to the giblets.
They may be disappearing, but you can still come across Boucherie Chevalines, or horse butchers shops in France. Some horses are still bred for meat, like the Ardennes and Postier Breton horses. Horse meat was only sanctioned in France in 1811. In 1865 a banquet (Hippophagique, or horse-eating feast) was held in Paris to try to persuade the poor to buy a cheap alternative to beef and pork. The menu included horse-broth vermicelli, boiled horse meat and cabbage and rum gateau with horse bone marrow. The same year the first Boucherie Chevaline opened in Paris.
You might find horse on the menu, usually as a steak tartare or as a cooked steak.
Ris (or sweetbread) is the culinary names for the thymus gland in the throat and the pancreas near the stomach in lambs, pigs, and calves. They are soaked in salt water, blanched and cooled then fried, braised, roasted, poached, grilled or cooked on skewers. You mainly come across them as ris de veau (calf's sweetbreads) or ris d’agneau (lamb’s sweetbreads).
Sweetbreads can also refer to testicles (known as Rocky Mountain oysters or prairie oysters in America), but in France, they're usually the thymus gland. Try them; they are delicious though the texture is a little too soft for many people.
Well known and much loved, the best snails come from Burgundy and are handsome beasts with a streaked colored shell. They are cleaned for 24 hours in a container with no food or water to clear their systems, then removed from their shells and cooked in a good stock, flavored with the likes of thyme, bay leaves, and pepper. They’re then put back into their shells and stuffed à la Bourguignonne (Burgundy style) with butter flavored with garlic, shallots, and parsley. Around Dijon, mustard can be added. Now, most people buy them already cooked and tinned with the shells separate and just assemble them for the table.
They’re served very hot in a dish and eaten with fresh French bread to soak up the sauce which, frankly, is the main reason most people order them. They can be a bit rubbery in texture and taste of nothing except the sauce.
Tete de Veau
The deboned calf's head is first boiled with spices and then cut and served with a sauce, either gribiche which has cornichons, vegetables, garlic, oil and vinegar, mustard and eggs, or ravigote, which is more like a vinaigrette with additions from some chefs such as eggs.
It was originally made with pig’s head, which explains why Revolutionary-minded French fans of the dish eat it on January 21st, the day in 1793 when Louis XVI was guillotined.
It’s definitely an acquired-taste dish but if you’re with a bunch of die-hard Republicans on that date you might just have to join in.
This is the stomach of ox (beef), calf and sheep, usually sold specially prepared or cleaned and looking very white. It’s taken from the first and biggest compartment of the stomach. You can get it from a triperie (tripe butcher). It’s a particularly regional dish; the best known being tripes à la mode de Caen, supported by the Confrérie (brotherhood) of Normandy. In Normandy, they add calves’ feet and cook the lot in cider and Calvados and herbs, then serve it with steamed potatoes.