French food is world famous for its usage of mild spices and excellent presentation. Cooking food, for the French, is an art that is well known across the globe. The use of mild spices, cheese and wine is reminiscent of France’s rich culture and heritage. French foods use a lot of butter and real cream. The way French cuisine has evolved can be gauged from the fact that the country saw centuries of socio-political changes or evolution with the cuisine. French food ingredients and dishes vary by region and regional dishes have become national.
Classification of French Cuisine
French cuisine can be broadly classified into following categories:
• Paris and Île-de-France: Paris and Île-de-France are central regions, so almost anything from the country is available in this region.
• Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace: Apart from ham, the world famous sparkling wine Champagne comes from the Champagne district. Fine fruit preserves are popular in Lorraine.
• Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Normandy, and Brittany: The coastline supplies an array of seafood and fishes.
• Loire Valley and central France: Liquors made from Guignolet and Belle Angevine pears are prepared in this region.
• Burgundy and Franche-Comté: Apart from the world famous Burgundy wines, this region is known for pike, perch, river crabs, snails, and poultry.
• Lyon-Rhône-Alpes: The Rhône valley is famous for its fresh fruit and young vegetables.
Historical and Cultural Influences on French Cuisine
France has common borders with several countries including Germany and Italy, so cultural and culinary influences are quite obvious. The foods in the French region of Alsace are identical to Germany’s dishes. The southern region of France has a large North African immigrant population, so the cuisine here is highly influenced by North African cuisines.
Commonly Used Ingredients and Cooking Methods of French Cuisine
Commonly used ingredients in various French dishes include lavender, thyme, sage, basil, fennel, marjoram, oregano, and bay leaf. Apart from sausages, honey is a prized ingredient in the region. Meats that are generally consumed include lamb, beef, and chicken.
The French use various ways of cooking their food or dishes. Generally meats are stewed, broiled, roasted and barbecued. Soups prepared with vegetables and meat broths are also very popular.
Globally Popular French Recipes
• Steak frites (steak and fries) – This is a popular dish in which steaks are served with fries. Lettuce leaf garnishing is an optional inclusion. The dish is served with béarnaise sauce, mayonnaise, or mustard.
• Blanquette de veau (blanquette of veal) – This dish is a white stew of veal as conveyed by the word blanquette. The ragout is made by boiling veal along with vegetables in water and thickening the cooking liquid by adding flour, cream and egg yolk. This stew is served as an accompaniment to potatoes, rice or pasta. The vegetables are optional ingredients and may be removed from the preparation after boiling it. This dish can also be prepared using white meats of animals.
• Pot au feu (beef stew with mixed vegetables) – This stew is made using meat of an inferior quality which usually requires long hours to cook. The beef is cooked with vegetables like carrots, turnips, and leeks with onion, salt and pepper seasonings and garnished with bouquet garni. This savory stew is also consumed as a soup with rice or pasta or croutons. It is also used as a medium for cooking sauces and pasta or vegetables.
• Mille-feuilles – Also known as the custard slice, vanilla slice or cream slice, this dessert is a three layered puff pastry with a filling of cream pâtissière( or pastry cream) in between the layers. The top is coated with fondant or creamy frosting of brown chocolate stripes on a white creamy background.
• Tartes aux fruits (fruit tarts) –These are very popular French desserts which somewhat resemble both a cake and a pie. An assortment of fruit pieces is arranged on a batter and baked. This dish is very famous in the Provence region and it is not only extremely delicious but also very visually appealing too.
Traditional French Recipes
France has many regions and the traditional food varies accordingly. Each district in France is known for its unique flavor. Traditional French foods that are commonly served include Confit de Canard, a beautifully preserved duck and fish stew from Britanny.
Gourmet French Recipes
The word gourmet has come from France and French food is all about such courses. A typical gourmet French food would include mouthwatering delicacies such as:
• Foie Gras and Foie Gras with Truffles – This is a dish prepared with the fattened liver meat of a goose or a duck. The fattening of the meat is done by a process called gavage in which the bird is fed corn forcibly.
• Duck Confit –also known as Confit de canard, this French food is a dish made by poaching meat from the leg of a duck or a goose. This muscular meat is first salt-cured( by smearing salt seasoned with spices over the meat and refrigerating it for at least a day and a half) and then cooked in its own fat in an oven at a very low temperature. Prior to cooking, the salt is brushed off the meat. This tender meat, rich in fat, is preserved in cans after cooling. The fat is used for cooking other ingredients like vegetable, other meats, toasts and omelets if desired. Usually this French dish is accompanied by potatoes and garlic or red cabbage and apples braised in wine.
• Goose Liver Mousse – This French food is made by pureeing goose livers, seasoned with garlic and shallots in lightly sautéed butter and freezing it in molds with a cooked solution of Madeira and cognac. This meat preparation is a recommended accompaniment for toasts and crackers.
• Snails – French recipes that include snails are often regarded as delicacies by the French. The snails prepared à la Bourguignone are one of the most loved preparations which include cooking the dish with butter and spices like garlic and others. French Burgundy snails are one of the most tempting snail dishes of the country.
• Salt Cod Brandade- Also known as Brandade de Morue in French and Brandada de bacalao in Spanish, this French food involves emulsifying salt cod with olive oil. This winter dish is paired up with some bread or potatoes.
• Smoked Cod Liver – also known as foie de morue fumé, is a fondly eaten accompaniment for bread.