Ingredients

Top 5 Ingredients in French Cooking

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In a French woman’s pantry there are key ingredients that simply cannot be missing. Although I am sure there are some slight variations in what every woman deems as “essential,” these remain pretty consistent:

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1. Butter

Butter is indispensable in many recipes, ranging from sauces to pastries, or just for spreading across a piece of baguette. French butter is often slightly fermented or made from cultured cream, therefore, packed with an extra depth of flavor. So purchasing a great high butter-fat brand will give you loads of it. Bake it, melt it, sauté it, cube it, or smear it, any way you use it can create something truly delicious.

2. Wine

Good wine is not only satisfying to drink, but also capable of elevating your dishes to a new level of flavor. Wine is often added to sauces like Bordelaise, a shallot and red wine sauce, which pairs perfectly with steak or Sauce Vin Blanc, a white wine sauce which pairs deliciously with fish. Wine is also instrumental when it comes to deglazing the pan. Using it to get all of those brown bits off the bottom makes for a quick and easy pan sauce.

3. Shallots

Shallots are similar to onions, but provide a less pungent, mellower flavor. They can be roasted alongside chicken or pork, making them as soft and mild as roasted garlic. Like onions, they create a great base for a dish when sautéed and caramelized with olive oil or butter. Shallots just add to the overall, fancy and classy feel of French cuisine.

4. Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard provides sharp flavor and comes in both smooth and grainy consistencies. The smooth version can be whisked into vinaigrettes and sauces, while the grainer version can be rubbed onto meats. Not only does it provide a punch of flavor, but also great yellow color. Dijon mustard is a key component in many recipes such as Dos de Cabillaud Dijonnaise, Emincé de Quasi de Veau Dijonnaise and Sauce Rémoulade.

5. Cheese

Where do you even begin with French cheese? It’s just so good, it deserves its own course. Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort are only a few of the many options that are enjoyed after the main course. The French typically start with the mildest and end with the strongest in flavor. Because France produces the greatest number of cheeses in the world, many being the finest, it’s impossible to not keep a selection on hand. And hey, throwing it into a tart or soup doesn’t hurt either.

There are other ingredients to keep stocked if you want to cook dinner the French way. They include fleur du sel,truffles, champignons de Paris and of course, French bread. Next time you’re at the market, grab some of these and experiment with them in your dishes. Let me know how it goes!

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The Tricks You Need to Simplify French Cooking

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Although French cuisine is generally perceived to be fancy and complex, it can actually be quite simple and inexpensive. Yes, there are plenty of French restaurants that are known for their exquisite dishes like Le Bernadin and La Grenouille in New York City, and they will cost you a pretty penny. But there are also ways to achieve harmonious luxurious-tasting dishes at home.

In order to create a heavenly French meal on an average weeknight, you’ll need to focus on the right ingredients and techniques. And don’t worry; they don’t require an Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin’s owner and executive chef) level of expertise.

Start with the Right Ingredients

If you want food that shines flavor, you need to start with in-season vegetables. The French prefer to buy local and in-season foods. Vegetables and herbs like chives, onions, shallots, parsley and garlic will give a dish amazing aroma and flavor. The base to many sauce-heavy French recipes is composed of diced celery, onions, carrots and garlic, therefore starting off right is essential.

Don’t Forget About The Spices

In order to elevate a simple dish, you need to have plenty of basic ingredients on hand. These include wine, whether it be red or white, Dijon mustard, butter, and fresh herbs. Cloutilde Dusoulier says, “Vegetables are such a welcoming canvas, whether you are flavoring them with citrus and spices, turmeric and hazelnuts, or an ayurvedic blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and ginger.” Although simply adding salt and pepper is an option, you can’t obtain an extraordinary French dish with just the two.

Technique, Technique, Technique

In French cooking, sautéing, roasting, braising, poaching and broiling are a must. We can’t all make a spectacular sauce like chef Jacques Pepin, but a simple shortcut can work wonders for the everyday cook. Deglazing the pan with some wine and broth after sautéing meat can create a delectable sauce. Roasting vegetables before adding them to dishes can also bring out extra flavor. Let’s just say, there’s a reason for everything.

Take Pleasure in the Dining Experience 

The French have a way of enjoying meals, which we Americans don’t. They sit around the table in camaraderie, while they let their three-course meals progress. Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table, says, “It’s meant to unfold, so it’s a really relaxing moment at the end of the day. It’s about the pleasure of sitting down, enjoying family, company, and food.”

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Once in a while (or often), it’s more than acceptable to splurge on a French dining experience. However, if you’re feeling like sprucing up your everyday routine, why not try it the French way. Grab the wine, grab the cheese and enjoy the cooking experience from start to finish!