Ficelle Picarde: The Creamy, Cheese-Filled Crêpe From Northern France

Crêpes are often associated with sweet fillings, such as Nutella, whipped cream, and fruits like strawberries. But, in northern France, they have perfected a savory version of the crêpe called ficelle picarde. Most commonly found in the Picardy region, the savory crêpe is often served as an entrée. Bordering Belgium, Picardy is known for its dishes rich in cheese and ham, both of which are found in this dish. 

Relatively new to French cuisine, ficelle picarde has become a regional favorite, although there is no reason not to bring a little bit of northern France into your home kitchen. The savory crêpes are made with about a dozen ingredients, all easy to find at the local grocery store. And like many recipes, ficelle picarde is adaptable to personal taste preferences with the addition of chorizo and fire-roasted tomatoes. However, the more traditional recipe for ficelle picarde yields a classic rich and creamy French dish.

A modern classic French dish

Many innovations came from contests, and so is the case with ficelle picarde, which originated in the city of Amiens, about 75 miles north of Paris. In 1950, chefs were asked to create something special for a group of well-known guests that were to visit the Hôtel du Commerce. Many of the region's top chefs were invited to the event, including Marcel Lefèvre, an owner of the hotel, who is credited with creating the ficelle picarde. He made the crêpe dish using a mushroom and shallots mix called duxelles. The duxelles filling is an essential part of ficelle picarde and has a much longer history. Possibly originating as far back as the 1600s, duxelles is made from sautéed chopped mushrooms that are reduced with butter and chopped shallots. Cream, white wine, and herbs are also often included. 

However, whether Lefèvre was indeed the creator of the savory crêpe dish is debated. Some say it may have been Louis Pollenne, a chef from the restaurant Joséphine. No matter who created it, it has become a staple of the northern region of France in restaurants and homes.

Simple, quality ingredienta

Typical ingredients for ficelle picarde include the crêpe and a filling of ham, mushrooms, crème fraiche or béchamel sauce, as well as lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Grated cheese, generally gruyere, is spread on top of the crêpes prior to baking. For those using béchamel sauce, it will also be spread over the crêpes, along with the cheese. The coating of béchamel can help to keep the crêpe tender. Other ingredient variations include shallots and white wine. Or swapping the gruyere for a different cheese originating in Switzerland called Emmentaler, which is what most Americans typically think of as Swiss cheese. Emmentaler is pale yellow in color with a nutty and buttery flavor. 

When it comes to selecting which mushrooms to use, white mushrooms, such as button mushrooms, are preferred, as well as good quality slices of ham. While some stores sell premade crêpes making them with a simple batter of flour, eggs, milk, and water will provide the freshest and best taste. 

How to make ficelle picarde

Not an easy weeknight meal, ficelle picarde might be best reserved for Sunday dinners or special occasions with friends. With the different components, it can take about 85 minutes to make the savory crêpes. Before the ficelle picarde is assembled, the crêpes and filling must first be prepared. For the filling, the mushrooms are fried in a little olive oil and then the crème fraiche, lemon juice, salt, and pepper are added and allowed to cook until reduced for about 10 minutes. After cooling a little, the mushrooms are spooned in the center of the crêpe that has been spread out on the plate. The ham slice is also added to the center. After being rolled up and placed in an ovenproof dish, grated gruyere is spread over the crêpes. The ficelle picarde is then baked for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and heated through and served with a side salad or by itself. Heating the ficelle picarde under the broiler is another common cooking method. 

If a béchamel sauce is utilized, then some of it will be incorporated into the duxelles with the mushrooms while the rest will be spread across the top of the crêpes with the grated cheese. After being heated under the broiler for approximately 10 minutes, the sumptuous dish is ready to enjoy.