Naturally, with him indoors being French, French food is an influence in our household (and indeed our lives). French food is often thought of as being difficult, and sometimes it is: you just have to look in a pâtisserie window to know that it’s true. However, it can also have a delightful simplicity that means anyone can cook French food at home.
So what are some of my favourites? Here’s a list of my top 5 savoury (and, OK, my top 5 sweet) French foods:
- Bavette à la sauce au poivre. Bavette is simply a flank steak cooked simply and quickly, served with a white pepper sauce made with green peppercorns, beef stock, cream, and cornstarch. Simply fry the steak for 3 minutes on each side, in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Serve with homemade frites 🙂 Popular in French bistros and homes alike.
- Galettes. Galettes are savoury pancakes, normally made with buckwheat flour (which makes them thicker than crêpes). Try to make them yourself at home, or watch them be made in front of your eyes in moments on just about any Parisian street. The almost infinite range of toppings available means galettes are suitable for just about any taste or dietary requirement.
- Moules-frites. Mussels steamed in stock and white wine, with just onions and seasoning for extra flavour, is an originally Belgian dish that’s now ridiculously popular in France. So not French, but what many people think of when they think of French food. Chips and/or bread obligatory for mopping up the sauce. Other flavour combinations are also available, but the classic mentioned above is the most popular without doubt. One of my best moments ever was eating this with my sister outside in France only for an accordionist to come along the road playing his instrument, thus fulfilling all possible clichés. Can be prepared at home, but is time-consuming. Eat it in a restaurant and think about the poor sous-chef in the kitchen who’s had to spend hours scrubbing all of the beards off the mussels.
- Confit de canard. Originating in south-west France, confit de canard is made by cooking duck legs in duck fat for two hours, before it is canned and preserved using yet more duck fat. Scooping it out of the tin and into an oven-dish makes for near-instant dinner. Serve with potatoes (fried in duck fat, bien sûr), and keep the rest of the duck fat for future use. Confit de canard also features in another French favourite, cassoulet, in which it’s served with cannellini beans, sausages, and a rich sauce.
- Boeuf bourgignon. This hearty French beef stew is perfect for winter and couldn’t be easier. It just needs some long, slow cooking and a little lovin’ (hey, you could even sing to it if you felt so inclined). Get a good Burgundy red wine to drink alongside it and serve with gratin dauphinois if you’re feeling especially naughty).
(The French in-laws also nominated blanquette de veau (a ragout made with veal, which is not browned during the cooking process), raclette – melted cheese served with potatoes and cold cuts of meat – and quiche lorraine. I particularly endorse the raclette mention at this time of year!
In terms of sweet treats, things get even trickier, but I’ve finally narrowed it down to the following:
- Pain au raisin. Some people love croissants or pain au chocolat in the morning, but my personal favourite is the pain au raisin. Hey, you can even convince yourself that you’re getting one of your five a day with this classic French pastry (as you can with my runner-up, the chausson aux pommes).
- Crêpes. It’s perhaps a little unfair to include this, given the inclusion of its savoury sister (the galette) above. Nevertheless, it remains an incredibly adaptable, fun dish to make and eat whether you’re at home or away, with endless possibilities regardless of your tastes. I always enjoy a crêpe suzette: a pancake served with oranges, butter, and sugar, and flamed with Grand Marnier.
- Millefeuille. At a serious pastry crossroads with this one. Millefeuilles have been popular in France for centuries thanks to their textural contrast of crunchy puff pastry and luxurious crême pâtissière, but have only begun to gain popularity in the UK more recently, perhaps thanks to national food competitions like Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off. The mispronunciation of ‘millefeuille’ on British television is a constant bugbear! Thankfully, this isn’t a problem in France (where it’s pronounced mee-fur-y [with the y pronounced as a single letter, sounding like the y at the start of ‘yacht’]). Fêted for its impressive appearance and the numerous complex techniques involved, it’s a dessert for special occasions. Eclairs are a more prosaic pastry treat that I also love, made with choux pastry and filled with pastry cream. Tarte tatin also gets a mention for being generally yummy and for giving you that rollercoaster feeling in your stomach when you try to turn it out of the dish.
- Macarons. Not to be confused with macaroons (the British coconut cake), macarons are delicate delights that are difficult to get right. Their pastel colours are always appealing and suit several occasions, from tea-time to weddings. While it seems relatively easy to make a macaron look acceptable, getting the texture right is far harder (as we’ll see in Ferret Food and Wines’ macaron face-off this year). A good macaron should be crunchy yet yielding, with an ever-so-slightly chewy centre. Definitely should not be powdery or biscuity, and the cream centre shouldn’t overwhelm the macaron.
- Café gourmand. The best solution ever if you’re indecisive when it comes to desserts. Rather than having to choose a whole dessert, many French establishments are happy to serve you 3 mini ones alongside your coffee. These can include mini marshmallows, mendiants (chocolates embedded with nuts and dried fruit), mini sponge cakes…the list is actually endless. This endlessness means that when you’re making café gourmand at home, you can make your mini desserts according to the needs of your guests, according to the wines you’re serving, and according to the rest of your menu’s theme. (One of the best I made, I think, was a mini apricot cake, a mini honey and hazelnut sweet, and a baby apricot sorbet.) GENIUS. and OH SO CUTE.
Feel free to express your outrage at any of the fabulous French dishes you think I’ve missed out in the comments below :p