C’est Bon La Gourmandise

There’s just no good way to say it in English, the word gourmandise. On the one hand it means greed or gluttony, on the other it means, as the picture indicates, a love of or even lust for food, quite separate from the refined gourmet experience. It’s an appreciation of the sinfully delicious, a desire for more, a wallowing in the wonderment of all that tastes good. But really, who could accuse those cherubic kids of sin?

The kids came into the house today wrapped around these lovely pastry shells, which I had ordered in order to make bouchées à la reine au poisson. I’d never made it before, or actually even eaten it, but it popped into my head as the right thing to serve lunch guests on a warm and sunny afternoon in early spring. Some scallops with their coral, a handful of shrimp, filets of salmon, monkfish, and sea bass, a pile of diced shallots, another of shiitakes, butter and cream. Lots of cream I must say, and all stuffed into those crisp shells. That last part would qualify as gourmandise, except that since I don’t eat flour and couldn’t bind the fish with the usual sauce Béchamel, the cream was the necessary binder to make the whole thing luscious. Plus I was planning to eat my share from a non-pastry bowl. No sin there, in my book.

A starter of the first asparagus from Provence, with slivers of smoked pork fillet and a salad of mâche, watercress, and radish, guaranteed virtue, even the walnut oil dressing drizzled over it all. Every single element healthy and fresh, yet somehow, being very good, perhaps better than a salad needs to be, it does qualify as a salade gourmande.

I confess that I don’t know exactly where you cross the line into gourmandise. I’m an unapologetic eater, and see no reason for anything I eat to be less than delicious. I’ve been called a gourmande a few times, but I don’t take it as a synonym for a greedy glutton. I just assume that my love of good food shows.

The French are funny about food, they have complexes, just like Americans do. In the six days that we’ve been back, four French people have remarked that I’ve lost weight.  Not very much, really, but they noticed it right away and felt free to comment on it. The French do love food, but are generally strict with themselves about it. If I ask the butcher for a steak for two people, I’ll be given 5 ounces, or less, per person. But almost every French meal ends in a dessert, however small and simple.

The fact of having lunched on that salad, plus the bouchée, plus this pear and caramel mousse cake, absolutely qualifies as gourmandise. I didn’t have the cake, but I claim no special virtue there, because if I could have I would have, in a hot French minute. A French woman might have had a little fruit, or more likely, a cup of herbal tea to aid in the digestion of a semi-sinful meal.

Gourmandise is also known as a péché mignon, normally translated as a weakness. A péché is a sin, that part is clear. But mignon? Mignon means cute, sweet, adorable. Mignon is what you’d call those kids on the plain brown paper wrapper. Gourmandise is the sin we love and relish, and I for one feel no remorse. C’est bon la gourmandise.

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9 Comments on “C’est Bon La Gourmandise”

  1. Phyllis Taylor Says:

    You are back in your element. So nice to read!

  2. margaret Hall Says:

    Well, did your guests enjoy that lovely meal? You didn’t give us a review of that. What did Shel say about it? XXX

  3. svetlana.raisins Says:

    delightful. thank you.

  4. Heidi Husnak Says:

    I think the defining element of the gourmandise is that the food is worthy of the perhaps eating a bit more than to satisfy hunger. It is NOT scarfing a bag of Doritos 🙂 So happy to see you “home”.

  5. Zuleme Says:

    That cake looks wonderful. I just made a lemon orange cake with two cups of squash in it. It will go in my recipe book, since everyone loved it. Now I will try the chocolate cake with beets.
    It is so nice on this gloomy northern New England day to read posts of days in France. I don’t think I’ll be back until 2012.

  6. Henk Says:

    To Margaret Hall and to my great friends, Yes, it was superb! My first asparagus in 2011. Certainly not the last. It tasted so “Springtime” allthough we are not there yet. Delicious “poisson” served in a crispy cup. A treat, booth in taste as structure. And the dessert. Njammy. Spoiled again by Abra who even gave me a piece to take home. So Margaret, now you know, it was great! I love my friends… and not only for the “gourmandises”.

  7. Betty C. Says:

    Around here, when people say “Je suis gourmande,” they generally are referring to desserts and sweets only. I wonder if that is an Aveyron thing.

    Lovely meal!

  8. Abra Bennett Says:

    The word gourmandises, in the plural, does only refer to sweet treats, often offered after dessert in restaurants.

  9. Thanks for another well-written lesson in language use, Abra. Certainly I understand gourmand to have more meaning than just being greedy.

    How grown-up to be absolutely passionate about food yet have sensible portions. We had been used to having just one big plate of food and sometimes a dessert and one thing we had to adapt to when we first came to France was the size of the plat de resistance. As you say about the steak, it looks small (at lest smaller) by itself but is necessary to leave enough room for a starter, the cheese and dessert.

    Lunch hour (!) is sacrosanct and they seem to eat slower, which is also healthier, of course.

    The pear and caramel mousse is one of my very favourite food items, wonderfully sweet and fluffily light, ideal if one’s eaten just a tad too much by the time dessert arrives.

    Bon appetit

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