The definition of gourmet food is food that a connoisseur would enjoy – a gourmet. This means that even food prepared with every day ingredients could be considered gourmet food if it is prepared with loving care by a chef who knows how to cook very well. For example, my husband cooks a chicken jal frezi which is simply superb, so can be classes as a gourmet dish. If I cook the same dish it can’t be classed as gourmet food as I am not very good at making this particular dish- I don’t have the patience it needs to make it to perfection. If you can take ordinary ingredients, say peas, carrots, potatoes and lamb and cook them in a way which makes the dish superb, then this is an example of gourmet food.
If you think about individual items that are categorized as gourmet food then Beluga caviar would be a contender for the number one slot. Beluga is a type of sturgeon which lives in the Caspian Sea where it is caught by Russian and Iranian fishermen for its eggs (unfertilized) as caviar is raw fish roe (eggs). If you are a true gourmet, then you will know that real black Beluga caviar can only be eaten with a spoon which is not made of metal as metal reacts with the roe and it doesn’t taste as good if this happens. It is eaten with mother-of-pearl, bone or tortoise shell spoons (these are now illegal so you have to find antique ones). Part of the mystique and caché of caviar is the rituals that surround the eating of it.
Wild smoked salmon is also considered a gourmet item and this taste very different to the ubiquitous smoked salmon found in packaged slivers on supermarket shelves. Oysters (raw) would also be categorized as a gourmet item. These seafood items are rich in vitamins and minerals and are very good for our health, and I often wonder if they became so highly valued because of their nutritional content as the peasants of Europe just couldn’t afford them.
Peasants could however find truffles, another highly prized item, in forests if they knew which trees to find them under. Black truffles are the best (so it is said) but white ones have a lot going for them too. In Italy in delicatessens you can buy a few slivers of truffle to go in a dish, which makes them less expensive that buying a whole truffle. They can be added to a dish to make it an extra special one as you don’t need to use very much of a truffle for it to impart its unique flavour to a dish. They are very good added to rice which is cooked in champagne (a truly gourmet risotto).
Cheeses which have been lovingly made from ewe’s and goat’s milk by small dairy farmers are also highly prized gourmet items, and you can, increasingly, find these online. Brie would not be classed as a gourmet item unless it is ripe and gooey and made by the French cheese makers. The type so often found on supermarket shelves is not a gourmet cheese.
Chanterelle mushrooms can be gathered in the woods as long as you know what you are looking for. These are certainly gourmet mushrooms with their meaty flavour and beautiful golden-yellow colour. They grow under (not on) trees and have very distinctive trumpet-shaped tops. Fresh porcini and morel mushrooms are also considered gourmet food items.
You don’t have to pay the Earth for a gourmet dish. All you have to do is have the patience and the understanding of the nature and quality of your ingredients to produce your own gourmet food. (Although Beluga caviar is wonderful!)