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Alsatian Christmas celebrations with Antoine Westermann
Alsatian Christmas celebrations with Antoine Westermann
Antoine Westermann, chef au Le Coq Rico à Montmartre, anc. chef du Buerehiesel en Alsace, France
Antoine Westermann, chef au Le Coq Rico à Montmartre, anc. chef du Buerehiesel en Alsace, France

Flavors of Alsace

The Buerehieselthe Antoine former restaurant, is located in Strasbourg, one of the "seven lands of Christmas" in Alsace, and the one that suits me best because it is the Land of Flavours. The Christmas market of the Child Jesus fills the city with the wonderful aromas of spices and mulled wine, but I especially like to stop at the bredele (Christmas cookie) market on the Place de la Gare to sample some of the little butter cakes of my childhood, flavoured with anise, orange or cinnamon. They are found in all kinds of shapes, from stars to Christmas trees, from bells to cherubs.

In Alsace it is not the famous turkey, but rather the goose that is granted the honour of adorning the centre of the table for the Christmas eve meal. The "goose cycle" starts on November 11 and continues until Christmas eve and the days following, with the sisters of the first goose sacrificed. They are served stuffed with apples or chestnuts, or roasted and accompanied by red cabbage or sauerkraut as demanded by regional tradition. I remember my mother's recipe: a beautiful goose stuffed with dry bread, goose and chicken livers, seasoned with garlic, onions, nutmeg and quatre-épices, which she brought to the table whole, surrounded by a garnish of potatoes and wild mushrooms with bacon.

But above all, Christmas means foie gras. It can be served sautéed, smoked, or marinated with armagnac and spices and cooked in a terrine. I like to serve my foie gras with a fig compote, port jelly and toasted country-style bread, or else to add it to a ballottine of rabbit, quince seasoned with pepper, chestnuts and celery mousseline.

I will leave you with a secular tradition from my region: on Christmas Day, carefully peel an onion in order to obtain 12 successive layers or peels, and place each of them into a small dish with a pinch of salt. These 12 dishes correspond to the 12 months of the year. Carefully observe your onion peels which will begin to weep when they come into contact with the salt. The more liquid the peel gives off, the rainier the month is going to be… this is how the calendar of sowing and harvesting is drawn up in the Alsatian countryside.

"Scheni Wienanchte!"

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