French cuisine offers a rich experience that ranges from simple, rustic country dishes to elaborate gastronomic feats. Based in a complex history of cultural influences and a wide array of ingredients, it is limited only by the imagination of the cook preparing it. With basic cooking techniques and a little practice, you can begin enjoying authentic French cuisine in your own kitchen in no time!
History and Background
The French kitchen has a precise order to it that has evolved over centuries of ethnic, cultural, and political influences. Learn the basic history and philosophies behind the structure and art of modern French cuisine.
Traditional French foods rely on simple combinations that enhance the rich, natural flavours of French ingredients. Many French chefs have earned international acclaim for turning French food into haute cuisine and influencing the gastronomic scene worldwide. Food in France has become such an integral part of French culture that it was added to UNESCO's world list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010.
Anyone's first step into the foray of French cuisine should start with experimenting with diverse French cheeses and wines. France is renowned for some of the world's best wines and cheese, and wine and food paring is taken seriously in France even at informal dinner parties. In many French restaurants you can order a platter of soft, semi-cured, pressed and blue cheeses, although in France it is typically served after the main course and before dessert.
Beyond French wine and cheese is a mixture of traditionally peasant and bourgeois French dishes, many which come with long histories, regional variations and modern adaptions. From simple, traditional French recipes to complex French dishes, it's not difficult to find a top French food to suit your taste. Many French recipes are surprisingly simple as well, and it's not as hard as you would think to introduce French food specialties into your weekly menu.
Here is a list of top 10 French foods you have to try. Bon Appetit!
Soupe à l'oignon- This is a traditional French soup made of onions and beef stock, usually served with croutons and melted cheese on top. The soup's origins can be traced as far back as the Romans – typically a poor dish – although the current version dates from the 18th century. The remarkable taste in French onion soup is from the caramelisation of the onions, to which sometimes brandy or sherry is added at the end of the slow-cook process. The liquid is typically meat stock, although variations include using just water, adding milk or thickening it with eggs or flour.
Coq au vin - This quintessential French food was popularised by Julia Child through her television show and book and seen as one of her signature dishes. It is a dish of chicken braised (pot roasted) with wine, mushrooms, salt pork or bacon (lardons), mushrooms, onion, often garlic and sometimes brandy. Although the name translates as 'rooster or cock in wine' – and braising is ideal for tougher birds – the recipe usually uses chicken or capon. A red Burgundy wine is typically used, although French regional variations exist using local wines, for example coq au vin jaune (Jura), coq au Riesling (Alsace), coq au pourpre or coq au violet (Beaujolais nouveau) and coq au Champagne (Champagne).
Cassoulet - Cassoulet is a comfort dish of white beans stewed slowly with meats, typically pork or duck but also sausages, goose, mutton or whatever else the chef has around. This peasant dish originates from southern France and is popular in Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary. The name of the dish comes from the pot (cassole) it's traditionally baked in, which is typically shaped like an inverted cone to give the greatest amount of tasty crust. This is a rich, hearty meal perfect for colder months.
Beef bourguignon - Boeuf bourguignon is a traditional French meal that has become internationally well-known. Coming from the same region as coq au vin – Burgundy (or in French, Bourgogne) in east France – beef bourguignon has several similarities. The dish is a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, pearl onions, fresh herbs and mushrooms. This recipe is just one example of how traditional peasant dishes have been adopted into haute cuisine; the method of slowly simmering beef in wine was likely developed to tenderise tough (or cheap) cuts of meat. Traditional preparation time is two days to tenderise the meat and intensify the stew flavours. In Burgundy in late August, the Fête du Charolais celebrates the prized Charolais beef with music, meat and bœuf bourguignon.
Chocolate soufflé - The word soufflé derives from the French word to 'breath' or 'puff', and it is an airy, baked egg dish with origins in early 18th-century France. Soufflé is eaten savoury or sweet in France, and you've likely found chocolate soufflé on dessert menus worldwide. The crispy chocolate crust with an oozing, creamy chocolate centre gives this dessert a sweet surprise.
Flamiche - Flamiche means 'cake' in Flemish and this dish originates from northern France, near the border with Belgium. It is a puff-pastry crust filled with cheese and vegetables and resembles a quiche. The traditional French filling is leeks and cream. There is also a pizza-like version of flamiche, which is without the top crust of the pie. For a southern French twist, try the thin crusty pissaladière which is topped with anchovies, onions and olives.
Confit de canard - Confit de canard is a tasty French dish of duck – although goose and pork can also be used – and is considered one of the finest French dishes. The meat is specially prepared using a centuries-old preserve and slow-cook process (confit), where the duck meat is marinated in salt, garlic and thyme for up to 36 hours and then slow-cooked in its own fat at low temperatures (an alternative to deep-frying). It is typically served with confit roasted potatoes and garlic on the side. Today this French dish is served all over France, although it is considered a specialty of the Gascony region.
Niçoise salad - Salade niçoise is a typical French salad from the Provence region, which can be served as a side dish or a meal on its own. It's typically a filling salad of lettuce, fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs, canned tuna, green beans, Niçoise Cailletier olives and anchovies, although many variations exist.
Ratatouille - Ratatouille is another globally known French dish, hailing from the south-eastern French region of Provence. It is a stewed vegetable recipe that can be served as a side dish, meal or stuffing for other dishes, such as crepes and omelettes. The vegetables are generally first cooked in a shallow pan on high heat with a small amount of fat, and then oven-baked in a dish. French chefs debate the correct way to cook ratatouille: some do not agree with sautéing all vegetables together, such as Julia Child, and argue the vegetables should be cooked separately and layered into the baking dish. The ingredients consist of tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, bell peppers, basil, marjoram, thyme and other green herbs, such as Provence herbs. A similar dish popular in the French Basque country is piperade, which typically adds ham and sometimes eggs to the stewed vegetable mix.
Tarte tatin - They say this French apple tarte was made by mistake in 1898 by Stephanie Tartin when trying to make a traditional apple pie. When she accidentally left the apples in sugar and butter too for long in the pan, in a hurry to rescue the desert she put the pastry base on top of the burning fruits and placed the pan in the oven. She supposedly served the upside-down tart to her guests at Hotel Tatin and the result turned into the hotel's signature dish. Although the tarte's origin is disputed, the delicious result is not.