When Haute Cuisine is mentioned one immediately thinks of fine French dinning, Georges Auguste Escoffier is commonly acknowledged as the central figure to the modernisation and organisation of Haute Cuisine,and his many journals were used by the leading hotel chefs. Nouvelle Cuisine, introduced in the 1960’s, brought about a lighter version of Haute Cuisine. The same recipes were used but with lighter sauces, steaming foods to keep the fresh flavours and using the freshest possible ingredients became very important. Today French cuisine is still the standard used in teaching new chefs their basic cooking skills, even though they may later go on to specialise in other world wide cuisines. France is a huge country with 22 mainland regions, therefore the diversity in it’s regional cuisine is also huge.In France fresh produce is very important and therefore the climate will often dictate what will be included in the regional dishes. Some foods will remain the same throughout France while others will differ considerably. There are three main meals in France and a great assortment of snack foods available.
+ BREAKFAST (Le petit déjeuner) : Usually a Croissant,a Pain-au-chocolat, Brioche or tartins (French Bread) with jam served with Coffee,Tea or Hot Chocolate.
+ LUNCH (Le déjeuner) :Lunch was once a two hour mid-day meal, as in many european countries, but in our modern world it is often no longer possible especially in the larger cities. In the smaller towns and villages it is still the custom to go home for lunch. Most working people and students will eat in the cafeteria and it is not usual to take a packed lunch with you. The lunch break will start at 12 noon until 2pm.
+ Diner (Le dîner): The French often eat their evening meal quite late and it will, traditionally consist of three courses, a starter which is normally soup, a main course followed by desert or cheese, desert often being a piece of fresh fruit. Bread is always present.
See also: Recipes from France
The traditional boulangeries are found in every corner of France and their shelves are full of the many varieties of breads and pastries, today these are also available in supermarkets, but as these are often brought in and baked from frozen, these bread departments can not be classed as boulangeries. The French are great bread eaters and bread is normally present at every meal. French bread is baked fresh every day and is usually bought fresh throughout the day, not just once a day. To keep bread traditional and wholesome French national law decreed that bread must contain only flour,yeast,salt and water, although mass baking sometimes lets standards slip, most bakeries in France still hold on to traditional methods of baking bread. The most popular bread in France is the Baguette (literally translated – a stick). A standard baguette weighs 250 grams. It is crisp and crusty on the outside and soft and white inside.It is thought that it originated from Vienna, although some dispute this. Other breads include the flute (double that of a baguette),a batard and a ficelle ( a very thin long bread), traditional breads of France include pain de campagne (a white bread containing some rye flour and having a thicker crust), pain complet (wholemeal),pain de seigle (rye bread),pain au levain (sourdough bread) and of course the wonderful sweet brioche, which is rich and light in texture. Most boulangeries also offer breads which have a range of flavours such as olives,bacon.cheese or nuts,bakers will have their own recipes and breads will differ slightly from shop to shop, but if you are looking for quality and flavour the French have it all.
The most well known and popular of all the pastries, and found on almost every breakfast table in France, is the Croissant.It is buttery and flaky and so light it almost melts in your mouth. Crisp on the outside and soft at it’s centre. Perfect with a cup of coffee anytime. A variation on the croissant is the pain au chocolat, the same light flaky pastry but with a strong, dark chocolate centre, which oozes out when the pastry is still hot.The croissant amande holds a centre of almond paste and is topped with flaked almonds and dusted with icing sugar, so delicious that it will leave you wanting more.The Chausson aux Pommes ( literally translates into apple slippers), a classic pastry found in all the patisseries around France, is a light buttery puff pastry pouch enveloping a thick apple puree ,it is best eaten while still warm to enjoy it at it’s absolute best. The Mille-feuille (or thousand leaves) is made from several layers of puff pastry. They take the shape of a large full cake or individual single cakes. Filled with either custard or whipped cream and often containing jam or fruits, they are finally coated with a drizzle of icing. Mille-feuille are notoriously difficult to eat as they ooze cream out of the sides as you bite into them, but don’t let that stop you from trying these heavenly cakes.Eclairs and Profiteroles are made from choux pastry, totally different from puff pastry. When baked, choux pastry is light and hollow just perfect for any number of fillings. In the case of Eclairs and Profiteroles the filling is cream or custard,either plain or flavoured, and then topped off with icing or melted chocolate. The Profiteroles are classically served at any special occasion and it is traditional to served them stacked high into a pyramid shape held together with caramel for Weddings. These pyramids of profiteroles are known as Croquenbouche.The French Tarte is an open pastry with it’s filling on show for all to see, so you know what you are getting.A thin pastry case holds a layer of custard(or creme patisserie) topped with slices of fruit such as apples, beautifully arranged and glazed to a golden brown. The fillings may vary but all are totally delicious. Madeleines are small shell- shaped sponge cakes, popular all over France, especially with children. They are made of a Genoese sponge and often flavoured with almonds. Nearly every household in France will have a madeline baking tin with its kitchen equipment.Always buy extra madelines from the patisserie because by the time you reach home there are never as many in the bag as you started out with!
Palmiers are crispy,delicate little biscuits made from puff pastry and rolled into their very distinctive shape. Sprinkling with sugar before baking gives them a golden,sweet coating. The name means palm tree, they are also know as elephant ears. Langues de Chat,or cats tongues due to the long shape of this biscuit, are a classic french treat,especially amongst the children.They are a fairly simple biscuit to make and therefore a great way to get children started on baking at home.
These wonderful little confectioneries can be found in a variety of colours, with many different fillings,and look stunning on the table when having friends round for coffee or tea. They are made from almond paste and egg whites, piped into little even circles and baked. The macaroons are then sandwiched together with one of a variety of fillings. They remain slightly moist and just melt in the mouth, delicious! The number of Gateaux would be too numerous to mention as every baker and every household will have their own special recipe passed down from generation to generation.
There are, traditionally,350 to 400 distinct types of cheeses in France . Within each different type there can be many varieties thus giving claim to there being over 1,000 different cheeses in France. Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, certain established cheeses, including many French cheeses, are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin. In France the control of cheeses,wines and other dairy and agricultural products comes under the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), which translates as “controlled designation of origin”,this is strictly supervised and a seal shows the AOC mark.
The majority of cheeses are made with cow’s milk,then there are goat’s milk cheeses and a few, such as Roquefort, made with ewe’s milk.Some of the more popular,and well known cheeses are listed below:-
Camembert – A relatively new cheese,dating back to the 18th century. A pasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a soft,creamy consistency. Excellent with french baguette,cheese and red wine.
Brie -Sometimes called the “Queen of Cheeses”. One of the oldest types of cheeses and has been produced in one form or other since the 8th century. Produced about 50km east of Paris, Brie must, traditionally , be made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun Both are protected by AOC. The cheese is matured for approx four weeks and has a creamy and slightly runny appearance when ripe. It is normally served at room temperature and is excellent with champagne, red wines,such as a Burgundy or Bordeaux and compliments fruits and nuts.
Roquefort – Roquefort can be dated back to 79AD. It is produced exclusively from the milk of the red Lacaune ewes. Roquefort is stil matured in the same caves of the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon for a minimum of 4 months and is produced in large rounds of about 30cm across and 10cm thick. In 1925, Roquefort became the first cheese to be awarded an AOC label. The texture is crumbly yet also creamy and the distinctive blue veins give the cheese it’s distinctive sharp flavour. It goes well with just about anything but especially with nuts and fruits and is complimented by sweet wines.
Reblochon – Reblochon is made from cow’s milk and aged in cellars and caves in the Alps of the region of Haute-Savoie. It has been granted the AOC title. It has a creamy texture with a nutty after taste. The cheeses does take on a bitter tang when overripe.
Tomme de Savoie – Tomme (wheel) de Savoie is a mild cow’s milk cheeses made with skimmed milk and therefore having a lower fat content than other cheeses. It is matured for several months in a cellar to give it it’s traditional taste and nutty flavour. Goes well with bread,fruit or sliced meats and sausages and works well with either red or white wines.
Chèvre – Chèvre means “goat” in french, “Pur chèvre” indicates that the cheese is made entirely from goat’s milk. There are a variety of shapes to these cheeses and it can easily be moulded into small rounds or log shapes which are easy to slice. They are often covered with flavours such as peppers or herbs. A fresh Chèvre is mild and creamy, when it is aged it becomes drier and sharper.It is excellent in salads and goes very well with fruits and white wine.
Pont l’Eveque – This cheese has been made in Normandy since the 12th century.It is a cow’s milk cheese, not unlike Camambert or Brie in appearance. The centre is soft and creamy and pale yellow in colour, with a full-bodied flavour.Goes well with red wine such as a Pinot Noir.
Epoisses – Napoleon himself was a great lover of this cheese, made in the village of Époisses from unpasteurized cow’s milk.Matured in cellars, the cheese is washed in a mixture of water and marc (a kind of brandy )up to three times a week. When matured it has a distinctive orange surface and has taken about six weeks to develop. Époisseshas a rich,salty, creamy flavour with a strong smell. A sweet white Sauternes goes very well with this cheese.
The food of Alsace is influenced by it’s neighbouring country, Germany. One of the most well know dishes of Lorraine is the Quiche Lorraine another famous dish being Foie Gras, a goose liver pate. The influence of German cuisine is evident in the pickling, smoked meats and variety of sausages available. Choucroute is the French equivalent of German Sauerkraut and is often served with sausages, bacon or pork shanks. The area of Champagne boasts rich and fine foods that go well with it’s wide range of sparkling Champagne wines. Game and ham are popular meats of Champagne as are the many kinds of mushrooms from the forests.The cooler climate of the region lends itself to the growing of potatoes, cabbages, beets, watercress, endives and leeks. Carbonnade de Boeuf is another classic dish, with the beef slowly braised in onions and beer as are the classical dishes boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin. Here you will find the biggest snails in France. The most celebrated regional dish is entrecôte marchand de vin – rib steak cooked in a rich gravy made with Bordeaux wine, butter, shallots, herbs and bone marrow. The city of Lille is a big producer of Charcutier and Dijon is home to their famous Dijon mustard which is used to enhance the flavour of many dishes.
Placed along the coastline of France, these regions have many fish and seafood dishes. Normandy having wonderful scallops and sole while Brittany has ample supplies of lobster, crayfish and mussels. Normandy also produces large amounts of apples and many of the regions dishes include apples in the recipes. Boudinnoir a speciality black pudding comes from the town of Mortagneau-Perche, is claimed to be the original black pudding. Normandy is also home to the salt marsh lamb which graze on the marshland surrounding the majestic Mont-st-Michel. Brittany is famous for its crepes which are eaten sweet or savoury.
Known as the garden of France because of it’s countless orchards producing a huge variety of fruits and fresh vegetables. The fish from the Loire river are served up with a beurre blanc sauce, while game, lamb, veal and Géline fowl produce many mouthwatering dishes.
Burgundy is obviously well known for it’s wonderful wines, but it is also home to Charolais beef and game, pike, perch, snails and poultry, and redcurrants and blackcurrants are grown in abundance. These wonderful ingredients produce such dishes as Escargots à la Bourgogne, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin, classic dishes which have remained popular and can be seen in Hotel restaurants all round France. The Region produces prime ingredients such as wild mushrooms, snails, pigeons, quails, venison, wild boar and freshwater fish. In the local markets small suppliers present their excellent variety of pates, terrines, cheeses and sausages.
Fruits and vegetables are key ingredients in the regional cuisine of the Rhone valley. Poultry, guinea fowl and fish from the lakes feature highly. Lyon and Savoy supply high quality sausages such as Saucisson sec -dry sausage, also a sausage made with tripe is considered to be a real delicacy. There is also Lyonnaise potatoes, sliced potatoes fried in goose fat with onions. There are truffles from the Tricastin, black olives from Nyons and chestnuts from the Ardeche.
This region is said to produce the best butter and cream in France. Limousin is home to the high quality Limousin cattle as well as high quality sheep. The woodlands provide game and a wonderful array of mushrooms. The cuisine of Poitou-Charentes is based heavily on seafood, mussels cooked in wine or in heavy cream sauce and fish soup with white wine. Other specialties include Poitou-Charentes butter and Poitou lamb.
Lying to the southern part of France the region has an abundance of tomatoes, peppers and spicy sausage and is influenced by neighbouring Spain. A classic dish is Cassoulet, made with beans and meat. There are strong Spanish and Catalan influences in the foods of Rousillon with many tapas type dishes available in local bars. Gascon dishes are simple and hearty with lots of meat, Garbure being a thick stew of vegetables and preserved meats. Poulet Basque is a chicken stew with tomatoes and peppers. The local Bayonne ham is usually eaten with bread but is also the basis for other dishes. The Pyrenees also have top quality lamb, and fishing in the mountain streams. This region also is notable for it’s foie gras, patés, terrines and confits.
The saucisse de Toulouse which is in the cassoulet of Toulouse is commonly acknowledged to be the finest sausage in France. The region also produces quality hams and dry sausages. Crops include white corn, for fattening ducks and geese for foie gras, haricot beans for the cassoulets, pink garlic and purple garlic, white asparagus and almonds.
Fish and seafood are abundant in this region of France and include oysters, mussels stuffed with garlic and herbs, bouillabaisse, monkfish, sea bass and mullet. Jambon de Montagne is produced in the Languedoc area and the Wonderful Roquefort cheese is made nearby. The region has a fabulous selection of mushrooms, chestnuts, berries, honey, lamb, game, sausages and pates. The Catalan influence is seen in many of the dishes.
With it’s glorious weather the south of France has an abundance of wonderful flavours incorporated into it’s many mouthwatering regional dishes. Fish and seafood being the main meals accompanied by fresh salads made from the tomatoes and herbs grown everywhere you look. The smell of the herbs is all around as you walk through the area. Olive oil and garlic and lemons give the local salads their wonderful fresh taste. Bouilabaisse, a fish soup made from a mixture of Mediterranean fish and served with rouille, is probably it’s most famous dish, but clams and mussels served with bowls of creamy rouille, a spicy mayonnaise are certainly something not to be missed. Aioli is another wonderful accompaniment to foods and is mayonnaise flavoured with garlic, sitting around in the sunshine on a lazy summers day with friends enjoying crudities dipped into aioli and washed down with pastis and water must rank as one of life’s greatest joys. Salad Niçoise and the many other salads of the region are a delight to behold and a joy to eat. The region is one of the largest supplier of citrus, vegetables, fruits and herbs. Olives are also grown in abundance in the region and provides wonderful olive oil. Anchovies play an important part in many of the regional dishes and salads. Meats popular in the region are lamb, beef and chicken as are the air-dried sausages. In the Carmargue rice is the main crop, with red Carmargue rice a specialty now available through France and beyond. Honey is highly valued in the the south of France and the many Lavender fields give the honey a unique flavour .The lavender honey is aromatic and delicate,clear, ranging from white to yellow. It is collected from August to September. It works well in many recipes or just on it’s own with bread. Sisteron lamb are fed on a diet of wild thyme and rosemary which gives the dish a rich flavour. Tapenade, a puree of olives crushed traditionally with a pestal and mortar and mixed with garlic, capers and anchovies, spread on slices of bread or to accompany fish or meat.
See also: Recipes from France
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