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Your Ultimate Guide To Understanding French Cuisine

Your Ultimate Guide To Understanding French Cuisine

If you've always wondered about life in France, check out this ultimate guide to understanding french cuisine! You won't be disappointed!

The phrase “French cuisine” evokes images of high style, high fashion and high class. Yet, French cooking covers more ground than just rich people’s dinners; it’s an far-reaching combination of tastes, smells and textures that aren’t found in many other places, even in Europe. French food can be soft and fatty in one meal and warm and crunchy in another; and that’s before we mention the snails and the Camembert. But even those are acquired tastes and, if you’re lucky enough to be able to head to France or a French restaurant, you might find yourself starting to like them. If you’re having trouble, don’t worry, here is your guide to understanding french cuisine!

1. The Breads

France’s world-renowned breads are sold all over the country in boulangeries or bakeries. They are used as the base of lunch foods or served on the side at dinner, before or with the main course. The most well-known type of French bread is, of course, the baguette, a loaf renowned for its soft, flaky interior and crunchy outer crust. This is used mainly for subs, open-faced sandwiches (or tartines) and as an accompaniment to cheese platters. Other breads include the buttery brioche, especially the brioche tressée de Metz, and the soft, often sourdough pain de campagne. A specific brand of bread known as pain Poilâne, named for baker Lionel Poilâne, who’s rustic sourdough goes for $40 (with shipping). Your mileage may vary as to whether it’s worth it or not but no one can deny that this is one upscale loaf. Knowing the importance of bread is one of the first steps in understanding french cuisine!

2. The Hors-d’œuvres

In traditional, formal French dinners, two separate courses are offered before the main dinner food or plat principal: the hors-d’œuvres and the entrées. The hors-d’œuvre plate usually contains something small but soups can be served at this point as well. Some popular soups include bisques, which typically use seafood broth to form a creamy, fishy delight, and soupe á l’oignon, or French onion soup, which combines cheese, onions and croutons to great effect. Also available at this time is fois gras, or fattened duck liver. The process for making this is notably controversial but no one can deny that the result is a dish that is uniquely French. Its texture is extremely creamy, closer to a spread than a steak, and its taste is extremely fatty. These characteristics are common to a class of French food known as pâté which can be made of any animal as well as duck.


3. The Entrées

For the entrée part of the dinner, you can have more pâté but also available are salads like the esteemed salade niçoise of Nice. What makes this type of salad stick out is its variety of ingredients. Traditionally, it includes hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives and anchovies although forms of it exist that play around with other foods as well. Another well-known but more infamous entrée dish is the escargot de Bourgogne platter from Burgundy. This dish offers snails served in a special tray that have been drenched in garlic butter. The snails are soft and chewy while the butter sauce gives them a unique and a little overpowering flavor. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on how much you want to eat escargot! We usually consider the entree the main course, but not in France, so this is important to remember when understanding french cuisine!

4. The Plats Principaux

And now for the main course, which in French terms, is usually a meaty dish. True to that description is one of the country’s most famous products: bœuf bourguignon from Burgundy. This stew is composed mainly of beef and red wine and is often served with potatoes, pasta, green beans or more wine. Another well-known, and less messy, meat dish is Gascony’s duck confit, which is marked by how slowly it cooks. To be confit, it’s also required that the dish be salted and cooked in fat, both of which give it its signature flavor. This is important when understanding french cuisine! Another dish that’s grown in popularity, but only recently, is Provence’s ratatouille which is in essence a vegetable stew. Arranged in “confit byaldi” form, it appeared in a movie of the same name made by Pixar Animation Studios back in 2007. Like it or not, animated action-adventure movies are certainly a new way to bring a dish to mainstream conscience.

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5. The Cheeses

French cheese is another well-known part of the cuisine. Traditional, formal dinners offer include a cheese plate before desert, alongside some fruit, nuts and more bread. Unlike bread, cheese tends to have more variation: it can be tangy or sweet, creamy or chunky and so on. French cheese has a reputation for being pungent although this is not always true. That being said, the most popular cheeses do tend to have strong smells and sharp tastes. One of those cheese is Normandy’s camembert, known for its oozy texture and savory flavor. Similar is the brie family of cheeses from Île-de-France which tend to be lighter, fattier and gooier. Contrasting that is the fungus-filled blue cheese that is roquefort, from Aveyron; this type is crumbly but soft and melts easily into a cream. But the most mass-produced one is comté from Franche-Compté, which is usually sweet but can vary depending on the diet of the cows whose milk was used. Whichever cheese you choose to eat, you’re in for a flavor and texture explosion. Cheeses are crucial when understanding french cuisine!

6. The Sweets

Finally, it should be mentioned that some of France’s most well-known foods are soft and saccharine. On the creamy side, profiteroles or cream puffs are served at dessert, sometimes topped with chocolate or powdered sugar. Similar to them is the éclair, which can also be topped with chocolate, but is horizontal instead of vertical. It is also filled with cream but it can also be filled with custard. One of the most famous sweet foods in French cuisine is the macaroon, a small, chewy treat that comes in an aesthetically-pleasing variety of colors. And they don’t need to be desserts either. In the breakfast category, the ever-renowned croissant is served with coffee in cafés. If you take the croissant, reshape it a bit and shove chocolate inside of it, you’d get a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine. If you get one of these, do yourself a favor and eat them warm; you deserve that kind of a reward. And for a snack, a crêpe, or thin pancake, will do just fine. Sweets are very popular, so very important when understanding french cuisine!

What other tips do you have on understanding french cuisine? Let us know in the comments below!

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