TL;DR We attempt to cover (lightly) the Big Daddy, Head Honcho cuisine, French–the most influential cuisine around the world.
I am just going to say this upfront, there is no way we could possibly cover this cuisine in totality, but it is one of the most document cuisines and the reference material out there is amazing. My favorite is Julia Childe. French Cuisine is a cuisine of technique and there is a lot to learn. We try to discuss some of the most important techniques, ingredients, and dishes.
Please watch this before continuing. (Baguette, hugh hugh hugh.) A good introduction to today’s topic.
- Early French cuisine was influenced by Italian until 17th century chefs started to focus on differentiating the cuisine from influences
- Was codified in the 20th century by Escoffier to become a modern “haute” cuisine which helped to formalize the cuisine; but however left out regional varieties
- Julie Childe was one of the first big “celebrity” chefs helping to spread this cuisine
- French cuisine is now one of the most influential cuisines, laying the groundwork for Western cuisine and culinary education
Meal Structure – usually involves three courses:
- Hors d’œuvre – introductory course or soup
- Plat principal – the main course
- Pâtisserie or Fromage or Dessert – pastry, cheese course, or dessert
- Knife Skills – the grip, chopping, slicing, julienne, dicing, chiffonade
- The stock – perfecting the mirepoix (which is the base for your sauces; you start with chopped vegetables such as carrots, celery and onions, cook in a butter sauce) and then simmering bones for an extended amount of time to get your stock
- Creating sauces – start with your base roux (butter and flour cooked together) and be able to layer flavors (using you stock) to create your sauce whether it is a white béchamel or a brown sauce such as Ragout
- Hollandaise (emulsion sauces) – using egg yolk to emulsify fat and flavors to create sauce; can be made by hand or using an electric blender
- Eggs, there is a lot to master here, the most important is poaching and the French omelet (which differs from it’s creamy inside)
- Working with dough to create pies, pastries, quiches, soufflés, and crepes
- Wine – working with wines in cooking to create sauces or as cooking medium itself or as an accompaniment for the meal
- Chicken – learn how to properly clean, truss, baste, and roast this guy
- Understand the range of kitchen techniques – roast, bake, broil, saute, etc.
- Lastly, and this is broad, but understanding the full range of uses and preparations for meats, and not just the muscle but the different parts, bones, etc.
- Mushrooms (truffles, button mushrooms)
- Other Local vegetables
Meats – take on a more central role in this cuisine compared to Italian or Indian cuisine
- Bones (chicken & beef) – used to make stocks, gravies, and sauces
- Eggs – eggs are meals, or desserts, of their own in French cuisine but also play a vital role in sauces and accompaniments
- A variety of animals most prominent are chicken, duck/goose, and veal; less prominent are animals such as squab, quail, and escargot
- Different body parts are also used in these animals rather than just the usual muscle meat; most prominent is the liver with is used in Foie Gras and even as dish mains itself
- Fish/Seafood also plays a role in the cuisine but is usually overshadowed by the meats
- Cold prepared meats such as Pates, Confit, and Terrines
- Butter – used for sauces, used to cook in, used for flavor
- Cheeses – local cheeses and cheese from surrounding areas; eat fresh or into sauces or toppings or fillings or fondue (dipping in)
- Herbes de Provence – a popular blend of herbs
Breads – you can never go wrong with a properly baked Baguette
Soup – French cuisine makes soups out of many vegetables and come in two major varieties and light, brothy soup (like French Onion) or a heavier, cream-based soup (like Cream of Leak).
Main courses – meats cooking in wines like Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin
Dijon Mustard – a prominent condiment which will be also used to flavor or in sauces
Wines and Cold Meats or Hors d’œuvres
Cassoulet (one of my favorites)
There is a lot more to learn here but we hope that this lays a basis for further exploration or enough understanding to incorporate some French into your development process. I spent two weeks doing a road trip around France. While I had some great meals in restaurants, my favorite either came from picking up fresh ingredients from a local market or just putting together a meal of meats, cheese, and wine. There is a lot to taste and enjoy in this cuisine and there is a lot of intimacy behind French food’s snobby persona.