While French cuisine might be flagging on the innovative world restaurant scene, you simply cannot beat French cooking for creating a flavourful, sophisticated home meal. Especially when you're making "the classics".
Remember, too, that French food is as much about ritual as it is about technique. The layering of fresh, seasonal courses with good company and generous time set aside for savouring every bite.
French food is as much about ritual as it is about technique.
The same is true when preparing French dishes. Buy the freshest seasonal produce you can get your hands on, preferably locally, ideally direct from the farmer. Opt for smaller cuts of fine quality meat, rather than larger portions of a lesser grade. Buy from your local butcher or fishmonger, where you can discuss your dish and ask for advice on making the most of your purchase.
Set aside enough time to enjoy the shopping, the cooking, and definitely the eating. While many French dishes are surprisingly quick and easy, others do require resting or long cooking times, so plan ahead accordingly. After all, rushing never makes you feel good and slow and steady wins the race.
Brands have been doing a roaring trade in packet French onion soup for decades, but the real thing tastes nothing like the powdered version. Luxuriously mellow and sweet with just a hint of bitterness, topped off with a bubbling Grueye crouton - this rich broth is a winner straight out of the gates. Be sure to slowly caramelise the onions with patience and care to truly bring this soup to life.
A dish that proves that perfection is often found in the simplest pairing. The freshest scallops - if you can pluck them from the sea yourself, all the better - lightly pan-fried, tossed with lemon, herbs and hazelnuts and served with a simple cauliflower puree. It's an entree that might be quick to cook, but is irresistibly lingered over at the table.
A salad is often eaten before the main course in French homes. This version from Lyon combines bitter greens with smoky bacon and just-cooked creamy eggs for unbeatable flavour. It's not the simplest of salads to put together, but worth every moment.
This salad is much loved all over France and especially by tourists who are discovering the amazing flavour of French goats’ cheese. You can vary the type of green leaves you use.
The cold, fertile soil of Picardy is perfect for growing beetroots, and baby beetroots have become a gourmet item. Served with smooth goat's cheese, a simple vinaigrette and some crusty bread, this salad makes a perfect little starter.
What the French can do with eggs, bacon and pastry deserves plenty of love. Quiche Lorraine is the classic of the classics for good reason. After all, bacon and eggs are always a good idea. Especially when the eggs are turned into a silky custard and housed in a crisp pastry shell.
The simple tomato tart is a favourite French dish that makes use of all of those excess ripe summer tomatoes in the kitchen. There are a number of variations, including the upside down tarte Tatin, but this tarte à la tomate is a classic recipe, without cream or eggs in the filling, and just a little kick of Dijon mustard smeared over the free-form pastry base.
Where else would snails be on the menu, but France? And actually in Morocco, Italy, Greece, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Germany... but it's escargots à la provençale that truly captures the palate. You can get tinned or jarred snails from speciality delis and direct from heliculturalists like Careship Coorong in South Australia or La Perouse Escargot in Tasmania.
We're going to run through the champions, starting with coq au vin. This is a one-pan wonder with a low and slow attitude that results in tender chicken and a rich sauce. The longer you cook it, the richer the flavour. Jacques Reymond's recipe is also a primer in classic French cooking technique.
Beef bourguignon perfectly showcases the magic that is traditional French cuisine. Beef is braised until fall-apart tender in a complex sauce made with leeks, carrots, onions, shallots and local red wine (a Tasmanian pinot noir is excellent Australian alternative). Mushrooms are added in the final stages of cooking, to impart a fresh earthiness to this rich dish.
This dish made from fishermen's 'leftovers' can be made with whatever seafood you happen to have on hand and it takes little time to pull together. Bouillabaisse is a particularly light and tasty dish that makes a welcome change from some of the richer French stews.
Cassoulet is another winning French stew. The version pictured here is vegetarian, made with cannellini beans and topped with a nut crumb, but a traditional cassoulet is generally packed with a variety of meats like chicken, duck or pork. The dish is named after its cooking vessel, the cassole, a round, deep earthernware pot (which also brought us the word casserole).
This fragrant cassoulet brings the taste of the French countryside to your dinner table.
This recipe uses Kaiserflesch, a smoked pork product similar to speck. If unavailable, use speck or smokey bacon. The Chefs' Line
Don't let the word 'cassoulet' scare you: it's a hearty casserole that's been slow-cooked to rich perfection! This one has a classic combination of chicken and mushrooms, and is ready within the hour!
This is really a casserole with lamb, though the original cassoulet probably contained fresh broad beans, not the imported dried bean from the Americas. Curing the lamb bellies and softening the beans require advance preparation, but the result is worth it; a sensational, wintery stew. You will need to start this recipe a day ahead.
Confit is a preservation technique where meat or vegetables are cooked at a low temperature in fat, then cooled and stored in the rendered fat (you can also confit fruits in a very concentrated sugar syrup). The longer you store the meat, the more tender and flavoursome it becomes, as connective tissue slowly breaks down and the fat inhibits bacterial growth. If that doesn't sell you on this outstanding duck confit with thyme, orange and garlic, we don't know what would... 😊
Baking potatoes with a couple of types of cheese and butter was always going to be a good idea. You can add garlic and cream to your gratin, beef or even spinach, but you really can't beat the classic version. It needs a full hour minimum in the oven to ensure the potatoes cook right through.
This dish is from the Haute Savoie Alps region. This tasty gratin-style dish, often served in the alpine ski resorts, is a wonderful choice for a winter dinner and a popular party dish for young adults.
You need 6 buttered individual gratin dishes or a large gratin dish serving 6 people for this classic French dessert, gratin à la rhubarbe et aux framboises.
Ratatouille stands proudly at the top of the podium with neither fanfare nor dispute.
Serve these colourful parcels as a light entree, or a side for fish, meat or a grain dish like couscous.
This ratatouille is wonderfully versatile, delicious served warm or cold. It can be easily reheated in the microwave, so also makes a handy packed lunch. Serve with a large leafy salad.
The real main event
Most often made with cherries, clafoutis is also marvellous with apricot and lemons. A custardy batter surrounds the stonefruit with a texture that's quite like pancakes. The sweetness comes almost exclusively from the fruit. Traditional cherry clafoutis was made using unpitted cherries, which supposedly added a flavour to the dish reminiscent of almonds.
Crepes seem fiddly and a bit temperamental, but they are very forgiving. The batter should resemble thin cream, no thicker. Drop about half a cup in the centre of a flat-based pan and spread it to the edges. Then practise your flipping using a wooden spatula. Much flipping practise will no doubt be required, which is no chore when it results in crepe after crepe after crepe.
Brittany is regarded as the birthplace of these lovely delicate pancakes, so much so that every family in Brittany knows how to cook them. You can fill the crêpes with almost anything, but make sure you rest the batter prior to cooking, as this allows the gluten to relax and makes for a tender, delicate pancake.
There must be more than a thousand creperies in Saint-Malo. This is because this is where crepes originated. I was lucky enough to visit one of the oldest creperies in town, and was shown this very simple but tasty chocolate crepe. Now don’t just use Nutella like so many creperies do - make your own chocolate sauce.
If crepes send a little jolt of fear into the heart of even the most seasoned cook, then the soufflé sends the dagger. No need to cower, though. The only true secret to making a soufflé stand tall is to carefully whisk room temperature egg whites so they puff to maximum volume in the oven. Oh, and this is one time where day-fresh eggs are not required. Give them a week to settle before whisking.
The classic crème brûlée is a great marriage of simple ingredients. It's the kind of dessert that is far showier than it has any reason to be, as this recipe by Guillaume Brahimi proves. Put this on a dinner party menu and watch your guests swoon. They will never need to know how easy it is to make. For maximum kudos, it pays to save the blowtorching to perform in front of your crowd.
It's hard to remember the time when everyone confused maracrons with coconut macaroons, so ingrained are these bite-sized melty-mouthy biscuits these days. The meringue-almond-ganache treat has whole shops devoted to it and rightly so. Every flavour in every colour is a treat worthy of fanfare.
The classic Cherry Ripe takes on a French favourite. If that vibrant pink colour is anything to go by, you know this recipe will be a crowd-pleaser.
Blending salty and sweet, this is a very Australian take on one of France's culinary icons.
Macaron mayhem is taking the Tim Tam slam to the next level and we're ready to crush it.
Ok… So macarons can be tricky to make… up until now that is! Here we will tell you the hidden secret to making the best macarons, previously reserved only for elite pastry chefs with many years of training. So… the secret to preventing your own macarons from cracking is as easy as sitting on the sofa and having a nap or perhaps watching a movie for an hour or so while the macarons rest before baking. We have colour-themed our macarons blue and red and joined each with a dollop of meringue buttercream, making very cute little French flag macarons.
About that late night snack...
Don't be fooled into thinking this is just a toasted sandwich. The French don't do 'just'. The croque monsieur is the boss of toasted sambos. Crisp on the outside, meltingly creamy and flat-out amazing on the inside, you won't find a more satisfying midnight snack anywhere. For a variation, try adding an egg for a croque madame or pineapple for a (pas très français) croque Hawaiian.
Translated as "trout in crust", this French recipe for truite en croute, mousse de St Jacques et pistache, stuffs the fish with a rich scallop mousse, made with eggs, cream and butter, plus pistachios.
Pissaladiere is a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart originating from the south of France. The Chefs' Line
Brittany is famous for its delicious savoury crêpes made with buckwheat flour and garnished with cheese, charcuterie, seafood and more.
Along with lemon, these melt-in-the-mouth biscuits are scented with rosemary’s distinct, yet subtle, earthy and slightly sweet flavour.
At their best warm from the oven, these classic French pastries are based on the same pastry as a croissant, known as a yeast-leavened laminated dough (basically a puff pastry with yeast). These pain au chocolat use a cheat’s pastry of sorts (similar to one I also use in a Danish pastry of mine) and gives a similar result as a traditionally made pastry of this kind, without the hassle of having to interleave the butter with the pastry dough as you fold it. The light sprinkling of sea salt flakes adds a surprising yet pleasant contrast to the sweetness of the chocolate centre.
Delicate little cakes infused with vanilla, madeleines are a quick and impressive-looking dessert fit for big and little kids.