French cooking - any tips?(29 Posts)
I just got back from France after a short break, and as usual when I go there, I just love the food. It seems to simple and effortless, but can I recreate it when I try? No, of course not.
Any tips on how to eat more French? Or any recommendations for recipe books? I'm a decent ordinary cook. I saw the film Julie and Julia, and certainly don't plan on deboning a duck, or whatever it was she was aiming for. I'd love to be able to make a cassoulet, decent quiche, maybe some pastries.
You're probably trying to cook dishes that no one in France eats except at restaurants, because they are complicated and take too long.
In 20 years I have yet to come across a home cooked cassoulet (and we are in cassoulet country). It's what tourists and old people eat in restaurants.
Quiche - secret is to buy readymade pastry (must contain butter) and bake blind. After that it's easy.
Pastries. Hard to do well. Easy to buy ;)
For the famous bistro dish steak au frites, a lean entrecôte (ribeye) is grilled or pan fried, seared for a couple of minutes on each side and immediately served with a generous dollop of Roquefort or béarnaise flavored butter to melt on top of the meat. A mountain of crisp potato fries is obligatory, plus a simple green salad.
Fresh fish lightly grilled and served with potatoes and salad is another popular option. Learn how to make a mean seafood stew.
Steamed mussels can be served with shallots and thyme in a white wine sauce for dipping slices of toasted baguette.
Blanquette de veau, a creamy veal stew of white meat and white sauce, is the ultimate home-cooked meal and one of the most widely found dishes in France. It may be varied using lamb.
Slowly simmered chicken, Burgundy wine, mushrooms, onions, and bacon lardons are combined for heavenly cow au vin, a French staple. Boeuf Bourguignon, a sister dish to coq au vin, also hails from Burgundy and basically uses the same method with chunks of beef instead of chicken.
Cassoulet is basically just a one-pot built around meat (pork sausages, pork, goose, or duck) and white beans.
French onion soup (or onion soup in France?) caramelise the shit out of the onions with butter and a teaspoon of sugar. Marsala and white wine. Salt, beef stock, pepper, couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Serve with toasted baguette with melted gruyere on top. Glorious.
If you can make a roux (sear the meat, melt butter, add a couple tablespoon flour, brown) you can do basically all stew-like French dishes (bourguignon, navarin, blanquette..).
My family recipe for quiche is:
- ready made pastry, the croissanty type (pâte feuilletée). Place in baking pan (tin pan!) leaving the parchment paper it comes in. Stab the bottom with a fork (prevents rising)
- 50 cl of milk + liquid cream (usually 20cl cream - because that's a full pack's content here)
- 3 or 4 eggs for quiche lorraine (with just diced ham added) or 2 or 3 if you put more fillings.
Bake for 40 min at 210 degrees.
The rest is fair game: you can add diced ham/pancetta (quiche lorraine), some emmental cheese, spinach and goat cheese, leeks and cooked salmon, onions, garlic courgettes.. just fry the watery vegs before adding them to the pan otherwise the crust will be soggy. Enjoy!
I have just made a bacon and leek one for tonight! Yum
Also no-one makes their own pastries in France, they buy them from the local patisserie. So I wouldn't aim to make those!
Pastries are best bought from a shop, they are pretty hard to make from scratch.
Except the tarte aux pommes (apple pie but not really). If you can get your hands on the ready made pastry dough used for quiche, you can use the same for the tart. Just peel and cut 5 apples into thin slices, arrange them in a circle so that they overlap. Do another layer on top (when cooking the bottom apple layer will become apple sauce and the top layer will become golden apple slices). Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons sugar. Add bit of butter on top. Bake for about 45 min at 210.
Now, the pro-tip: French bakeries tartes have a kind of jelly on top which is easy to replicate with apricot jam. Heat the jam and pour it over the tarte once baked. And let cool. Or you can go the lazy way and just spread a thin layer of jam directly on the piping hot tarte.
Out of interest what are really common French home dishes that would be achievable in the UK?
Crêpes / buckwheat galettes
Blanquette de veau
Choucroute garni (though everyone buys the cabbage jarred)
Raclette (if you have the apparatus)
Couscous (which is not just the grain but a whole meal, not strictly French though, north African. V popular here though.)
These are some of the things I've eaten at other people's houses in France recently. I have to say that raclette is by far the most common in winter/autumn because it's piss easy to do for a largish group. Everyone but everyone has a raclette set here.
Barbecues also really common in summer, always with merguez sausages, always with the ubiquitous tabouleh and a pasta salad. And shitloads of bread. Never a burger in sight at a French BBQ for some reason.
Pate sucre. Confidence. One beautifully cooked vegetable with a main.
Tins: cassoulet, confit of duck.
I think I'm going to try make a decent quiche and crepes as a starting point. Tarte aux pommes might be achievable. Maybe.....
And adding loads of butter to everything sounds great!
Tartiflette is amazing. Raclette and baked Mont d'Or too.
Buckwheat galettes, I am not sure you will be able to cook them fully without the apparatus - which gets up to 300 degrees hot. If you do try I would put less water and more milk than what the recipe says.
Other classic home style dishes you can try:
Pot au feu
Potée auvergnate (savoy cabbage, sausages)
Escalope normande (cream and mushroom sauce)
Flammenkuche (pizza dough, spread a half cream half Greek yogurt on top, add onions and pancetta)
Poireaux au jambon (boil white part of the leek, roll each in a slice of ham, cover in béchamel and emmental cheese) -> childhood favorite
Cod or other white fish in a sauce like bordelaise, lemon butter, meunière..
How French people eat depends hugely on their age and where they live, their income.
My older neighbours eat a lot of meat and vegetable stew type meals often cooked all day next to an open fire. Younger people in work tend to eat more meat, often simple meals like quickly cooked steak with a potato gratin. As a general rule my children say that their friends' families - even the wealthy ones - eat far fewer vegetables than we do (and I wouldn't say I am the healthiest cook ever). Typical would be a salad starter followed by grillled meat and a potato or pasta dish. It's unusual to get a starch and a veg - it's common for eg to serve grilled steak with just French beans cooked with garlic and butter with bread on the side.
Making decent quiche is very easy - bought puff pastry (made with butter) baked blind for a few mins then add what you like - I have a veggie daughter so I do it with mushrooms, onions and blue cheese. Cover with 200ml of cream mixed with 2-3 eggs depending on size of eggs.
I do a super easy fish dish: sauce made with a finely chopped shallot cooked briefly in butter, add juice from a squeezed lemon, a bit of stock and some thick cream (crème entière semi-épaisse, don't know what the UK equiv would be, it's quite gloopy rather than runny), cook for a few mins. Quickly cook cod or other fish steaks in a frying pan with butter, pour the sauce over, serve with rice.
Roast duck is very French and easy if you can get hold of large breast fillets with the thick fat layer still on. Score the fat, marinate in a sweet marinade (DH uses honey and soy sauce or Maggi sauce), cook at a very high temperature until the fat is crispy and the duck still medium rare.
I usually make a confit of duck at Christmas which is easy (but very messy) and delicious. You essentially just submerge duck legs in fat and cook on a low heat for a few hours, then finish in the broiler.
Dauphinoise potatoes are also incredibly easy, I run my potatoes through the food processor without peeling them and have the kiddos layer them carefully.
Frenchie living in London here, eating loads of French food:
blanquette (often with lamb because I am not a big fan of veal), served with rice
boeuf carottes, which is a simple stew to make
gratin dauphinois, or gratin de courgettes, or tian which is a nice alternative
tons of soups (pumpkin, asparagus, roasted peppers, mushrooms, leeks...never made an onion soup though)
lentil stew kind of dish with puy lentils and creme fraiche
fish: just pan fried with creme fraiche, or saumon en papillotes
no raclette because I don't have the machine
no cassoulet (have never heard of anyone making their own??)
couscous with lamb or chicken
brik for a quick meal (sort of like samosa but not really, you can find the sheets in Arab shops)
tartes, I buy pate feuilletée in shops because I can"t be bothered, but always make my own pate sucrée
tarte au citron/ Bourdaloue with pears
clafoutis should be relatively easy but haven't made one in years
sablés for the kids
homemade mayo or hollandaise sauce
secret is definitely putting butter and creme fraiche everywhere, and good quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients
also French people eat lots of pasta, but I don't like supermarket ones. Barilla or Panzani are my favourites but hard to find, otherwise I get De Cecco which are more readily available. I also love Lustucru fresh ravioli and similar in France, the ones here taste yuk (now off to place an order for French food as this is making me homesick).
Potée auvergnate (savoy cabbage, sausages)
This should probably be my first to try as we always have loads of cabbage from our veg box! What type of sausages am I best to try that I can get in the UK?
OP - Home french cooking is very varied, as Misti said above. I would never want to eat in the manner of my in-laws - loads of processed foods (charcuterie, saucisson, pate), meat, potatoes, and very few veg and fewer still that aren't overcooked and swimming in butter. My MIL also is a very limited cook in terms of variety as she does not know how to cook food which does not come from her region and has no desire to learn how to.
Food in the cities is more varied and modern, which is what you probably experienced. In terms of accessible cookbooks for everyday french cooking more suited to modern tastes, try Patricia Wells' books - her Parisian cookbook in particular. David Lebowitz has a new cookbook about everyday cooking he does at home in Paris (actually all his books are great, but many focus on puddings).
Drspouse you would ideally need Morteau sausages and "saucisson à cuire" (raw dry sausage?) but could replace with jumbo non-flavored sausages and smoked sausage. Also add thick pancetta slices. I think the last time I cooked that in the U.K. I found my supplies from Waitrose
Thanks Unicorn sadly I live in the Land That Waitrose Forgot but I'll do my best!
Right am trying this today with 700g pork shoulder, 6 TTD sausages and 200g smoked sausage.
Not sure why you blanch the cabbage then simmer for half an hour.
Get a Julia Childs recipe book.
Get good at sauces.
Agree with adding shed loads of butter and other animal fats.
Learn to make a decent coq au vin.
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