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THE FRENCH PARADOX
Everyone knows - at least that is what the doctors tell us - that fatty foods and drinking lots of alcohol are bad for you and curtail your life-span. The South West of France is renowned for its fat ducks and geese(confit is duck or goose preserved in its own fat) and red wine is quaffed daily. And yet this diet produces some of the longest-lived French men and women. This inconvenient fact annoys doctors who know what is best for us and is known as the French Paradox.

The South West is primarily a land of fat ducks - and geese, fed off the maize that is the main crop of the region. As you travel round you see fields upon fields filled with contented fat fowl. They are being fattened for the foie gras, the great delicacy of the area, but the by-products are just as good: the duck breast, or magret, as succulent a piece of meat as you could ask for, just grilled or served with a light sauce; and the legs and wings (manchons) served as confit,. See Recipes from the area

Haricots, white beans, are much in evidence too, served in a tomato-based sauce with a fine gigot (leg) of lamb or mutton, and in that sustaining dish cassolet.

The pig is an important part of the countryside culture. The killing of a pig is still an important date in the family culture when special friends come round to help make the sausages and the boudin. The legs will be cured and hung to make the local ham (Jambon de Bayonne is an important industry) and the loin (and sausages) will be preserved in its own fat as confit.

Fishing and hunting are an integral part of the culture too. Alas the wild salmon is no longer so plentiful and the real local fish is difficult to find in restaurants, but trout is plentiful. Shad (alose) is a local delicacy and on the coast the arrival of fresh tuna is a major event. Oysters are plentiful, coming down from the beds of Arcachon just up the coast - an obligatory part of Christmas celebrations. Eels (anguilles) and especially the young elvers (piballes)in season are a much sought after delicacy.

In the autumn the migratory wood pigeon (palombe), venison (chevreuil) and wild boar (sanglier) are served in their traditional stews. That most fragrant of mushroom, the cèpe, is eagerly and competitively gathered from the woods to make omelette au cèpes.

One area, though, has its own rather different specialities: the Basque country. Here the cooking is spicier, owing much to a hottish red pepper, the piment d'Espelette. Combined with tomatos and peppers it is the basis of piperade which can be served with scrambled eggs and the local ham, or with chicken to become poulet Basquaise.

Curiously although Béarnaise sauce is associated with the Béarn, you rarely find it offered in restaurants.

Recipes from the area
Wine from the area


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