French food is synonymous with all things culinary. From the country’s rich, decadent soups and stews to their refreshingly light, airy ratatouille, there’s no denying the endless allure of French cuisine. Still, for all its reputation and popularity, French food is still considered ‘impossible’ from an average chef’s standpoint.
We wine and dine our women at romantic French restaurants, and celebrate big milestones with a toast at our local French eateries. But why can’t we have the huge flavors of France every night of the week? In reality, this oh-so-intimidating style of cooking isn’t so difficult after all. Beyond the region’s incredible cheeses and wines, there are plenty of other French dishes that are perfectly possible to make at home.
For this segment of our ode to all things Francaise, we’re taking a look at their most popular dishes and what they entail. Do the recipes require special ingredients—or will regular store-bought do? Is it hard to make authentic bouillabaisse? What about yummy croissants or the dare devil’s classic—escargot? Grab your Made In cookware, because you’re in for a roller coaster of a culinary ride.
Let’s be real. While it’s possible to purchase premium ingredients and follow a recipe to a ‘T,’ even the fanciest preparation won’t guarantee an Eric Ripert level of a dish. Without professional culinary training and centuries of skill running through your veins, you’ll have to settle for scrumptious—not award-winning—French food. By the way, for more insight on why France is the culinary capital of the world, be sure to check out our full article on how the country rose to the top.
All that said, a decent cookware set (like your Made In ‘Kitchen Sink’ kit) is a truly fabulous start. Once you start thinking like a Michelin chef, the rest will fall into place. Another thing to consider is that the typical home chef doesn’t really know what French food is. We know the basic flavor profiles of Mexican, Italian, Greek, German, Thai, Chinese and countless other cuisines. But when asked about the standard spices or preparation that goes into French food, most people flounder.
That’s because French food is all about satisfaction and sophistication. Fresh, local ingredients. Slow simmering sauces. Mouth-watering desserts. And a multi-course ritual that always results in a feeling of pleasurable fullness. The ingredients and flavor profiles in French cuisine are diverse. But the one thing that binds this foodie genre together is the idea of indulgence. Embrace these basic tenets, and you’re on your way to making ‘real’ French food at home for all to enjoy.
Take a trip to a fine French restaurant (even on American soil) to find out the diverse spirit of the category. For today’s purposes, we’re taking a handful of dishes most of us have heard of, but not many of us have actually tried. In some cases, the item may be well known but misinterpreted over here in the States. Stay tuned for a recommended recipe for each selection, followed by commentary on the following related topics:
Cook outside your comfort zone, and put your culinary skills to the test by making one of these classic French dishes. It’s the least you can do to commemorate Made In’s All-Things-French month.
Foie gras, when boiled down to its essence, is the liver of a fattened duck or goose. Yikes. Before you run for the hills, hear us out. This luxury food is the topic of complex debate, as plenty of PETA folks consider the process of raising the ‘meat’ inhumane. However, experts assure that’s typically not the case. Running about $50 a pound on average, the duck’s liver can be purchased at most local gourmet groceries—and even online!
Luckily, foie gras requires very little preparation for the main ingredient itself, which is seared over the stove in a pan. However, French chefs almost always accompany the meat with some kind of rich, interesting sauce. Be patient with the apple puree in our chosen recipe. What should the final result taste like? Foie gras is described as smooth and beefy with a melt-in-your-mouth finish.
You knew it was coming. This sensationally popular snail dish isn’t revered for its taste so much for its intrigue. Still, when made properly, escargot is incredibly enjoyable, boasting rich, buttery flavor (thanks to its main preparation method) and substantially chewy texture similar to a clam or oyster. On the cheap end, you can purchase a can of the ‘giant’ variety (recommended for cooking) at about $5 per snail.
Our escargot with garlic butter and parsley recipe is refreshingly simple to prepare, taking only 35 minutes and utilizing basic household ingredients beyond the special snails.
Considered the French version of a hearty soup or stew, bouillabaisse can be made so many ways. To keep it authentic, opt for the classic ingredients originally used in Provence, France, which are a mixture of fish and shellfish, as well as spicy seasoning for a fiery kick.
Since the dish requires multiple main seafood ingredients, the tally can get pretty pricy. Just be prepared to pay the going rate for a decent serving of shrimp, mussels, halibut, etc. So—what makes bouillabaisse, bouillabaisse? It’s all about the seasoning. Bust out your anchovies, tarragon, saffron, chile flakes, garlic and other ingredients to create Bobby Flay’s decadent broth base.
Considered a heavy stew or casserole, cassoulet is comprised of pork sausage, duck or goose, as well as white beans for a fabulously filling main course. The dish itself takes time and patience, so be prepared to commit about 7 hours to the entire process (when done right). As for cost, this will be one of the cheaper French classics on the menu. However, if you choose to use premium pancetta, prosciutto or pork shoulder, a trip to the local specialty shop may cost you.
The best way to describe the taste of traditional cassoulet? Thick and meaty. Get past the daylong preparation, and you’ll be in for a homey treat perfect for fall or winter.
Vegetarians—step right up! While the French love to indulge in rich meats and thick seafood stews, this dish (made super famous by Disney, no less) actually tastes light, airy and healthy despite the fact that it’s usually fried in some capacity.
Ratatouille is a dish made up of multiple veggies, including tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions. If you have a vegetable garden, that means it’ll cost you practically nothing. The ingredients are sliced evenly, artfully arranged in a cast iron pan, seared on the stovetop, then finished in the oven with a tomato sauce. In fact, that’s how ratatouille’s taste is described: squishy, soft, summery and tomato-y.
Won’t Pillsbury’s do? Not if you want authentic French! Seriously, though. If you haven’t tried a real French croissant, then you haven’t really lived. We chose this awesome Weekend Bakery recipe to try, since the author knows exactly what the real thing is all about—dozens of flaky, buttery layers. The taste? Divine.
Aside from instant yeast, the majority of required ingredients are already in your pantry and fridge making homemade croissants a surprisingly inexpensive specialty. Add this yummy treat to your cooking arsenal to wow family and guests without hardly trying.
You’ve probably tried madeleines before, but never knew what to call them! These desserts are cute little mini cakes with the consistency of a spongy cookie. You’ll need to buy a special French mold to perfect the shell-like shape [Williams Sonoma has one for about $30, while Amazon sellers offer a steal at just $6]. From there, the ingredients are as standard as they come: butter, sugar, vanilla extract, flour, baking powder, salt and powdered sugar for presentation.
Most importantly, madeleines are sweet and light, with a distinctly buttery flavor and a dash of beautiful almond-like bitterness.
Do we have you drooling? Get your French skills up to speed with more Made In recipes!