Garde Manger: Cold Kitchen Foods and Preservation

Trio of meat pâtés
Trio of meat pâtés. Iain Bagwell / Getty Images

In the classical culinary arts, garde manger (pronounced "gard man-ZHAY") refers to a category of foods produced in the cold kitchen as well as the broad array of techniques used for preparing these foods. Some examples:

  • Smoked and cured foods
  • Salads and salad dressings
  • Sausages, pâtés and terrines
  • Cheesemaking
  • Pickled foods and condiments
  • Cold sauces and soups

Garde manger is a French term, and it roughly translates to "storing/keeping/protecting to eat," and the term originally referred to a pantry or food storage area.

Because the tradition of garde manger dates to an age before refrigeration, it encompasses many classical techniques for preparing and preserving foods, such as ballotines and galantines.

Even before refrigeration, kitchens, particularly large ones where the chefs who cooked for royalty and other so-called "nobility" performed their duties, generally had one area that was constructed to maintain cool temperatures, usually a cellar of some kind.

Here was where various methods of food preservation were employed, whether it was pickling, salting or air-drying.

To understand how this worked, it helps to remember that food spoilage is caused by bacteria, which are tiny organisms that require, among other things, food, water and oxygen to survive and reproduce. 

The food is our food, whatever we're trying to stop from going bad. Preserving it thus means employing some method of ridding it of these bacteria, whether by depriving them of air or water, or by creating some other condition that renders it inhospitable to these bacteria (temperature and acidity are two additional factors).

Confit, for example, is a preservation technique that works by storing a cooked item such as a duck leg in a container submerged in its own fat. The fat creates an airtight seal, depriving spoilage bacteria of oxygen, and thus preserving it without refrigeration.

Note that it's still important to keep confit in a cool location since the fat can turn rancid if exposed to excessive heat.

 

In fact, while we don't normally think of it as such, cheesemaking is indeed a form of food preservation, to the extent that it transforms fresh milk, which is itself highly perishable, into a product that is routinely stored for several months.

In the modern culinary arts, the term garde manger can refer to the chef who oversees cold food production. Similarly, garde manger can also refer to the specific area of the kitchen where cold food production takes place.