As many other people, the holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year. Colder weather, Christmas markets, tinkling lights, but also fancy meals shared around a table full of loved ones. If you’ve read any of my articles, you know I’m a big foodie. I love to try new foods in new places or indulge in some classic comfort meals. But French holiday foods are in a special category of their own!
The very first time my husband -then boyfriend- joined me to celebrate the holidays overseas, he was shocked by the amount of food we consumed in just one evening, but as a foodie himself, of course he loved it! He could not believe that Christmas dinner spanned over several hours and multiple courses. While most families serve a traditional three-course meal (appetizers not included) for the holidays, many go as far as including a second entrée, a cheese platter, or even a Trou Normand to their menu.
Whether you are finding yourself in Central Europe during the holiday season or simply curious about other holiday traditions, this guide is for you! Each food item in this article is categorized in the order it is consumed during a holiday multi-course meal.
Apéro time is my favorite time! But I have this very unfortunate tendency to fill up on all the goodies and leave myself no room to enjoy the rest of my meal.
One of my favorite holiday food items are zakouskis also called petits fours or feuilletés. They are various puff pastry shapes (mini croissants, hollow cups, mini pizzas…) filled with shrimp, cheese, beef, chicken, fish, olives, etc… I love to make my own using this croissant mat by Tupperware!
Toasts are also a staple holiday appetizer. There are endless options of spreads: foie gras (fat liver), fish roe, paté, and various spreads (eggplant or olive tapenades, cheese…).
Other appetizer options include bacon-wrapped prunes, cheese puffs, vegetable cake, and of course the regular chips, peanuts, crackers, and charcuterie board items such as meats, cheese cubes, or olives. These finger foods are often accompanied by sparkly wines such as Champagne and cider or sweeter mixed drinks. Passoa and multivitamin juice or Pisang and orange juice are both among the favorites at our family gatherings. Passoa being my personal favorite!
DID YOU KNOW?fat Duck liver is a french delicacy but a very controversial one. Ducks must be FORCE FED to produce foie gras, and a fat liver is a sick liver. in order to enjoy the holiday staple without supporting the force feeding of ducks, many choose to consume thin liver as an alternative. thin liver as its name indicates is a combination of healthy duck liver and duck fat. the taste is very comparable and much more ethical!
When meals are spread out over an entire afternoon or evening, large families sometimes choose to include two entrées to their menu: a cold one and a warm one, always beginning with the cold one first. Now you may be confused by the word entrée. That’s because Americans have adopted this French word but given it a whole new meaning. While the French refer to an entrée as the first meal served, Americans use it as a synonym for the main dish. For simplicity reasons, this article will refer to an entrée as the first meal served in a multi-course meal.
Many hosts will offer two choices for a cold entrée: a meat or a fish. Smoked salmon, fish terrine (resembling meatloaf), oysters, and foie gras are popular choices of entrée. Most are served with a side salad and in small portions.
Soups or veloutés (thicker, creamier soups) are popular choices for warm entrées. They provide a rich and smooth but also light addition to an already gargantuesque meal. Soup flavors include: lobster; fish; winter vegetables such as chestnut, pumpkin, parsnip, or mushroom but also tomato.
Other widely-favored options are seafood cassolettes, Coquilles St Jacques (scallop shells), and cheese or shrimp croquettes. All of these can be bought from a grocery store or homemade. While cassolettes and scallop shells are fairly easy to recreate, croquettes require a little bit of practice. The dough is made of mostly flour and milk mixed in with cheese or shrimp then chilled overnight before being rolled in egg wash and bread crumbs and deeply fried.
We decided to serve a unique warm entrée this year and opted for verrines. Verrines are small jars of various sizes that are usually served as appetizers. The most common combinations include smoked salmon/ avocado, foie gras/ apples, shrimp/ mango, or Chorizo/ Comté.
A Trou Normand, literally Normand Hole, is served between dishes in a multiple-course meal to open up one’s appetite. It consists of a strong clear alcohol called Eau de vie poured over scoops of green apple or lemon sorbet.
Main courses in French cuisine are made up of three food items: meat or another form of protein, carbs, and vegetables. The holiday season is no different though you will find richer, gourmet versions of everyday foods below.
Roasts are a popular option for the holiday season. Stuffed or not, they can also be served with a sauce and accompanied by whole shallots or garlic cloves. Pork roast is a popular option, but many also enjoy turkey, beef, or lamb. Red wine or champagne sauce pairs best with dark meat while forester (mushroom) sauce pairs best with poultry. Though not as popular as it is in America, ham and turkey can also make their way to a French holiday table.
Many wild game meats are quite exclusively consumed during the holidays season. Duck, deer, pigeon, pheasant or hare often join the holiday feastings served with red wine sauces.
For those who prefer fish, white fish filets are often served in a buttery or white wine sauce. At this point, it goes without saying that lobster, shrimp, and other seafood items can be the star of any holiday dish, including the main course.
Bland boiled potatoes are rarely found on a festive holiday menu. Instead, you’ll find duchesses, potato croquettes, extra buttery/ cheesy mashed potatoes, or gratin dauphinois. Gratin dauphinois is one of my personal favorites. A close cousin of scalloped potatoes, the original recipe does not contain any cheese but cream and garlic instead.
Winter vegetables are most popular during the holiday season as many French care deeply about using seasonal products out of environmental concern. Some popular winter vegetables include cabbage, rainbow carrots, parsnips, turnips, mushrooms, or bitter endives. Not so much a winter vegetable, bacon-wrapped green beans are sure to be a crowd pleaser as well.
Those with a sweet tooth might prefer compoteés, mirabelle plums, or cranberry-stuffed apples and pears to accompany their meats and potatoes.
TERROIRthe word terroir loosely translates to land but refers to the foods and beverages that are locally produced in an area. during the holiday season, my family members always shop from local artisans for the highest-quality ingredients. the baguettes served with our meal are made fresh by our local baker while the meat served on the christmas table has often been grass fed less than 20 miles away by a local farmer. butter, milk, and other dairy products used in the confection of the meal are bought at a local dairy farm and usually made with fresh, raw milk.
I’ll admit that it is quite rare for anyone to serve a cheese platter following two entrées and a main dish, but cheese lovers will often sacrifice an entrée and serve fewer appetizers to enjoy the comforting taste of dairy and fresh bread at the end of their meal. France is known for its cheeses, and they come in endless shapes, textures, and colors. If you find yourself around a table enjoying a cheese platter, here’s what you should expect.
Soft cheeses. Expect some form of Bleu Cheese, Gorgonzola, or Roquefort. Camembert such as Brie are often part of a cheese platter as well as soft cheeses like Gouda, Comté, or Manchego. My personal favorites are the tiny goat cheese wheels. I like them both with a crust or rolled in ashes. Yes, you read that right… Ashes! Don’t knock it ’til you try it!
The most famous desserts of all is the Christmas Log also known as the Yule Log. They can be made of cake, ice cream, or mousse. They are often coated in chocolate, buttercream, or meringue and heavily decorated with holiday-themed figurines, some of which are even edible.
This year we opted for a mix of red berry and chocolate yule log one evening and champagne and vanilla ice cream the next. The chocolate one had to be my favorite, but oh so rich! More of my favorite log flavors from previous years include raspberry and Speculoos known as Biscoff in the United States.
Those who wish to escape tradition usually choose an assortment of mini desserts such as éclairs, pies, chocolate or berry mousse, trifle, panna cotta, etc… The smaller sizes allow to satisfy all appetites by providing lighter portions.
And to conclude this festival of gastronomy, coffee is usually served!
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of French holiday foods! Consider pinning it for future reference!