From haute cuisine to a sneaky late-night snack, there is plenty to indulge in when it comes to French cuisine. With a bit of practice and a whole lot of panache, you'll soon be winning too.
6 Apr 2022 - 5:04 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2022 - 5:05 PM

--- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw S2 airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.30pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. Catch the French episode on 7 April or anytime after on On Demand. ---


There have been attempts to knock French food off the top podium for years. Rumblings that French cuisine is dull, predictable and, gasp, old-fashioned, have been growing louder, and yet...

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.

To begin...

Bypass the packet

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.

Fished fresh

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.

Salad warm-up

Salade Lyonnaise

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.


Goats cheese salad with walnuts (Salade de chèvre chaud aux noix)

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.

Beetroot and walnut salad (salade de betteraves aux noix)

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.

Niçoise salad (salade niçoise)

The key ingredients in any salad Niçoise are tuna, tomato, olives and egg. The recipe is French to its core - originally from Provence, it is now found in various incarnations on restaurant menus everywhere.

Quiche the day

Quiche Lorraine

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.

French tomato tart (tarte à la tomate)

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.

Leek tart (flamishe aux poireaux)

Gabriel Gaté shows how to wow with ease with his classic French leek tart recipe. Fill a ready-made pastry base with creamy leek mixture, pop it in the oven and ... voila!

Snails away

Snails provençale

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.

How the world eats snails
Simmered in broth in Morocco, baked with garlic butter in France or grilled with lemongrass and chilli in Vietnam - there are many ways with snails.

Main event

Vin-ner, vin-ner

Coq au vin is a traditional Lyonnaise dish

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 it up

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.

Beany good

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).

Vegetable cassoulet with herbes de Provence

This fragrant cassoulet brings the taste of the French countryside to your dinner table. 

Duck cassoulet with orange, apple and hazelnut salad (Cassoulet de canard et salade frisée a l’orange, pomme et noisette)

This recipe uses Kaiserflesch, a smoked pork product similar to speck. If unavailable, use speck or smokey bacon. The Chefs' Line

Chicken and mushroom cassoulet

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! 

Lamb and dried broad bean cassoulet

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.

Duck, duck, goose

Bathe duck legs in their own fat to help it crisp up.

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... 😊

Gratin gratitude

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.

Potato and reblochon cheese gratin (tartiflette au reblochon)

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.

Rhubarb and raspberry gratin

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.

Witlof gratin (endives au gratin)

This witlof gratin is perfect as a light meal or a decadent side dish. Pair it with our poulet rôti au estragon (roast tarragon chicken).

Top rated

Ratatouille stands proudly at the top of the podium with neither fanfare nor dispute.

Summer veg ratatouille parcels

Serve these colourful parcels as a light entree, or a side for fish, meat or a grain dish like couscous. 

Ratatouille and halloumi bake

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.

From Provence in the south of France, this simple recipe sings with summer vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and tomato.

The real main event

Clap for clafoutis

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.

Crepe invention

Is it true that consuming bananas will keep mossies away?

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 crêpes with strawberries (crêpes de Bretagne aux framboises)

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.

Crepes with chocolate sauce (crêpes sauce chocolat)

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.

Crepe stack with vincotto and orange sauce

Serve up an extra special brunch this weekend with this easy recipe for crepes with vincotto and orange sauce. It's a version of crepes Suzette, but without the fancy flambéeing.

Soufflé away

Chocolate soufflé with hazelnut ganache

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.

Eight soufflés that rise to the occasion
The rise of a soufflé is a magnificent thing. If you're partial to the light touch then triumph with these incredible bakes.

Crème ooh-aah

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.

Macaron fever

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.

Choc cherry macarons

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. 

Vegemite macarons

Blending salty and sweet, this is a very Australian take on one of France's culinary icons.

Tim Tam slam macarons

Macaron mayhem is taking the Tim Tam slam to the next level and we're ready to crush it.

French flag macarons

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...

Croque on

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.

Profiter de la cuisine
Banana tarte tatin

This is a quick and easy dessert, perfect served with lashings of thick cream.  

Trout in pastry with scallop and pistachio mousse (truite en croute)

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.

Onion, anchovy and black olive tart (Pissaladiere)

Pissaladiere is a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart originating from the south of France. The Chefs' Line

Breton buckwheat galette (Galette Bretonne à la farine de sarrasin)

Brittany is famous for its delicious savoury crêpes made with buckwheat flour and garnished with cheese, charcuterie, seafood and more. 

Rosemary and lemon sables

Along with lemon, these melt-in-the-mouth biscuits are scented with rosemary’s distinct, yet subtle, earthy and slightly sweet flavour. 

Pain au chocolat

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.

Breton cake

Brittany is known for its fine butter which is used in many of the local cakes and desserts such as this buttery Breton cake.