Get to Know These 10 Classic French Dishes
A lot of people dive into learning French because of the French culture. In this article, I'd like to share with you 10 classic French dishes. Here are 10 traditional dishes to try when you are in France:
Crèpes are traditional to the cuisine of Brittany, the northwest region of France. They are a type of thin pancake made with flour, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, and salt. Savory crèpes are made with buckwheat flour and often called galettes. Different fillings include ham, egg, cheese, butter, jam, Nutella, and sugar. People like to have a glass of cider with them, although I prefer Muscadet, which is also produced in Brittany.
2. Confit de canard
There are a lot of dishes involving duck in the southwestern region of France, including confit de canard, a specialty of Gascony. This dish consists of duck, salt cured and cooked in its own fat. When I visited the neighboring region of Occitanie (the part that was called Midi-Pyrénées before January 2016), the family I stayed with served duck for every meal besides breakfast. I’m not sure if they ate this way all the time, or if this was their way of being hospitable toward a visitor who mentioned she liked duck.
This complex fish soup originating on the Mediterranean coast of France is best known in its Marseille incarnation. It includes fish and shellfish, as well as olive oil and spices, and is flavored with fennel and pastis. Its traditional ingredients are found, understandably, in the Mediterranean Sea, although versions of bouillabaisse that are made elsewhere use their own local ingredients.
4. Soupe à l’oignon
Said to have developed from a concoction that Louis XV came up with one evening when all he had in stock were the onions, butter, and champagne in his hunting lodge, ingredients include onions, butter, oil, flour, white wine, water, salt, and pepper. It is often topped with croutons, which tend to be large, and grated cheese, such as Gruyère.
5. Bœuf bourguignon
Bœuf bourguignon has a base of beef braised in red wine, often Burgundy, as denoted by its name. Some people associate this dish with Julia Child, the American chef who brought French cooking to the United States. Often served with pasta or potatoes, it also includes bacon, carrots, onions, mushrooms, tomato paste, and spices. It takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but can be prepared in advance.
Another dish associated with Burgundy, escargots are often served as an hors d’œuvre. Only certain species of land snails are used. They are prepared with butter, garlic, shallots, and parsley. Served in their shells, they may be presented in a special dish called an escargotière, which has small hollows to fit each snail. Tiny forks are also very helpful for fetching meat out of the snail shells. If the idea of snails sounds weird to you, you can think of them as the land version of mussels, another popular dish in France.
The origins of moules-frites are actually *gasp* Belgian, but this is a popular dish in France. There are different variations of moules-frites, but the main ingredients are mussels, white wine, shallots, and butter. The frites portion is served on the side, but you may also like to have some bread on hand to soak up some of the broth used to cook the mussels. Sometimes the mussels are cooked in beer instead of white wine, which makes sense, as a lot of beer is produced in Belgium, where moules-frites is the national dish.
The word entrecôte designates a cut of beef that comes from the rib area. A traditional entrecôte dish is associated with Bordeaux and has a sauce that is prepared with shallots, parsley, and butter. It can be cooked with or without red wine. One note is that the French are known for their very rare steak. This idea might take some adjusting to for those who are used to things being (over)cooked. I remember being with a group of Americans at the École normale supérieure who left a lot of the very pink meat that was served uneaten.
9. Salade niçoise
As its name would indicate, this dish is from the south of France – Nice, to be precise. It consists of hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, green beans, niçoise olives, anchovies, and olive oil. Often tuna is added, either freshly cooked or tinned. Some variations include potatoes. Versions of salade niçoise can be quite elaborate and have expanded to include different types and preparations of ingredients, although some purists disagree with the inclusion of boiled vegetables.
10. Coq au vin
This is a very old dish, perhaps dating back to the Roman Empire. Julia Child included it in her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the first volume of which was published in 1961. One of her television appearances even featured the preparation of coq au vin. Although coq translates as “rooster”, any type of chicken may be used for this stew. In addition to chicken, recipes call for bacon, mushrooms, onions, and brandy or red wine (often Burgundy). Similar to bœuf bourguignon, it also involves lengthy preparation, but can be prepared ahead of time.
As you can see, there are many different types of dishes to try in France that have grown out of a long culinary tradition. Some of these may be similar to what you eat on a regular basis and some may be entirely new to you. Of course, there are many more – and many other types of dishes for the different courses of a classic French meal, including an entrée (starter or appetizer, not to be confused with an American entrée, which is the main course), followed by a plat (the main dish), then a salade, fromage, dessert and fruit. Even these may be expanded to include more courses, with different types of drinks served at different moments of the meal. So the next thing to do is to figure out which of these dishes sounds the most appealing to you and to plan your next trip to France – or at least to a very good French restaurant.
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