When one thinks of French Cuisine, more often than not one thinks of Cheese and Wine, and maybe Paté or Foie Gras. The French know how to enjoy life, eating and drinking well as they go about it! But in fact the options are practically limitless, as the French have created an enormous array of incredibly diverse dishes.
Living in France for almost a decade (in the Alpes-Maritime/French Riviera region and later in the Haute Savoie/Chamonix Alps region), I have come to learn and appreciate the French culture. Whilst cooking and shopping in the gorgeous Provencale markets, with the freshest of flawless produce, it is easy to take the variety and quality of produce for granted. It is no wonder that France, and specifically the City of Lyon, is known as the Gastronomical Capital of the World! All the markets boast perfect fresh fruit and vegetables (12 varieties of salad leaves alone!); real-deal Unpasturized Cheeses; varieties of ready-made Anti-Pastis; fresh, hand made Pastas; Olives and Herbs and Spices and Preserves; farm fresh Olive Oils; Fresh Fish and Meats; and on and on…truly, the world’s most magnificent markets, in my opinion.
Most French people eat quite simple fare, which is almost always fresh. Typically, the day starts with a small Pastry for breakfast, which is followed by a leisurely, sit-down lunch, and eventually a light and late dinner. Wine is the drink of choice with dinner, and often with lunch as well. With lunch and dinner, you can expect fresh Baguette (classic French crusty bread), and dinner is often followed by dessert of assorted strong Cheeses. Contrary to what some people may think, foods such as Frog Legs and Escargot (snails) are rarely found on local French menus.
Each region of France seems to have its own gastronomical delights. For example, the Northwest, around Normandy, is well known for Crepes, as well as heavier, heartier dishes based on things such as Pork and Potato, all with a distinct Flemish influence. The Northeast, or the Alsace/Lorraine, is known for its Quiches (does the name Quiche Lorraine ring a bell?) and German-influenced dishes. The Southwest, stretching from the Languedoc to Bordeaux, is famous for Foie Gras and Confit de Canard, Wild Mushrooms and Truffles.
Moving East into the Mountains, the Alp-Savoy Region boasts a wide variety of Savayard Cheeses and Sausages, and with the Alsace shares a certain degree of German influence. The Southeast region, better known as “ Provence” and “Le Cote d’Azur” (which includes such towns as Nice, Cannes and Antibes), brings more Spanish and Italian influences from its neighbors, by way of its Mediterranean coastline. With a variety of fresh fish, Nice has a number of legendary dishes, including Pissaladiere, Salad Nicoise and Ratatouille—not to mention what actually has to be the best Pizza found anywhere in the world!
The French are also famous for their “Haute Cuisine”, or High Cuisine, found in fine dinning restaurants, some of which are lucky enough to earn a “Michelin Star” or two. Other sorts of eating establishments range from the local Brasseries and Creperies, to small outdoor affairs connected to local markets. Dishes such as Steak & Fries, Mussels in White Wine Cream Sauce, Pizza, Pasta, Seabass and Dorade are sure to be on most every menu.
As French food varies by region, so too do the ancient Cheeses and Wines of France. Some of my favourite French Cheeses are the Bries (from the region of Brie, in the North), Coulommiers (a sort of Brie from the same region), Tommes de Chevre (French Alps), Roquefort (from Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, near Bordeaux, in the Aquitaine Region), Chamois D’or (French Alps) and Raclette (originally from Valais, Switzerland, but now also produced in the Savoie of France), to name a few.
As far as French Wines go…well, that’s another long and involved story, but with wine regions such as Burgundy and Beaujolais and Bordeaux and The Rhone and Champagne and The Alsace and The Loire Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence and—phew—better to just discuss this one over a sample or two!
I have put together a selection of classical French dishes, some French inspired creations with a twist, and a few of my own creations incorporating French techniques and inspirations:
Bouillabaisse (Fish Soup)
Velouté of Jerusalem Artichokes with Mussels
“Cappuccino” of Wild Mushrooms
Asparagus Truffle Cream
Truffle Dressed Scallops with Mixed Greens and Avocado/Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Poached Lobster with New Potatoes, Arugula and Vanilla/Lemon Vinaigrette
Moules Mariner (Mussels in Cream White Wine Sauce)
Pumpkin & Amaretto Ravioli
Saffron & Langostine Risotto
Smoked Fish & Asparagus Lasagna
Sole Meuniere au Beurre (Lemon Butter Sauce)
Loup au Sel (Salt Encrusted Whole Baked Sea Bass)
Saffron Red Mullet with Ratatouille
Steamed Fillet of Dorade with Rice Pilaf & Vegetable Medley
Salmon Filet with Provencale Tomato, Haricot Vert with a Bacon/Bordeaux Sauce
Fennel/Carraway Seed Encrusted Tuna Steak with Sweet and Sour Endive and a Grainy Dijon Mushroom Sauce
Pesto Encrusted Rack of Lamb with Potato Gratinee, Vegetables and Jus Red wine
Grilled Veal Chop with Wild Mushroom Risotto
Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Pearl Onions and Squash
Filet of Beef with Shoestring Potatoes Béarnaise Sauce
Braised Pork Belly with Garlic Puree Potatoes, Asparagus and a Rich Glaze
Prosciutto-wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Pomme Anna and a Port/Cherry Sauce
Citrus Posset with Butterscotch Drizzle
Vanilla Bean Crème Brullee
Apple Tart-Tin with Cinnamon Ice-Cream
Fillo Wrapped Sour Cream Cheese Cake
Cream Stuffed, Chocolate Topped Profiterols
Chocolate & Raspberry Tort