French onion soup is based on onion confit is a classic French restorative soup. The onions are slow and cooked on low for a long time which renders them sweet and tender. The best onions to use are white Spanish ones for their flavour (even though red onions have more antioxidants). The onions must not be browned or burnt or the soup will taste bitter. It’s also best to use home-made beef, chicken or vegetable stock.
Duck is one of the things I like to order when I’m out at a restaurant. Duck à l’orange has waned in popularity recently, but orange complements duck perfectly. Although this dish was popular in the 70s it actually originates from way back in the 17th century.
Serve with Dauphinoise potatoes and rocket leaves.
“Crepes are good made with milk or beer, with or without the addition of cognac or liqueur, and perfectly acceptable made with water. The batter may be enriched by the addition of cream, may contain more or fewer eggs, and olive oil may replace the butter”
- Richard Olney, The French Menu Cookbook
In Brittany, they are made simply with buckwheat flour, water and salt.
Aim for a smooth yellow batter. If you lumps develop, then strain the batter through a fine mesh sieve. It’s best to use a non-stick crepe pan. Your pan needs to be hot enough so that the batter starts to cook straight away. Crepes are suitable for both sweet and savoury dishes.
Crepe suzette where accidentally invented by Henri Carpentier while preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales, in 1895, when he was a fourteen year-old assistant waiter. Crepe suzette traditionally uses Grand Marnier, but Cointreau also works well.
Crepe batter can be made in advance.
Serve plain crepes with a choice of jams (usually apricot or cherry), sugar and/or lemon, or Nutella.
Coq au vin is a classic dish from the Burgandy region of France. It is a typically a red-wine stew made from young chickens with onions, mushrooms and bacon. In France they will use their local wine.
This popular dish may be called coq au Chambertin, coq au riesling, or coq au whatever wine you use for its cooking. It is made with either white or red wine, but the red is more characteristic.
- Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
If time permits marinate the chicken in the wine overnight to give it greater depth of flavour.
Julia Child recommends serving with only parsley potatoes and perhaps buttered green peas.
Chocolate mousse is possibly the most popular of French desserts. Aim for a smooth, velvety consistency that melts in your mouth. Use a bitter-sweet chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. There are two ways to make chocolate mousse, one with raw egg yolks and the other cooks the eggs with a sugar syrup. Fold the egg mixture in carefully and quickly, but minimally with a plastic spatula to keep as much air as possible. For success the eggs need to be at room temperature.
Robert Carrier’s version (petits pots au chocolat) is another favourite and features added whipped cream, strong coffee and rum.
Two tspn of vanilla essence to your chocolate mousse mixture is a nice addition. Vanilla has even been known to assist sexual stimulation, turning your mousse into a great dessert for date night!
- Claire Preen, Chocolatier, Blue Mountain Chocolate Company
It is best eaten soon after prepared, if not preferably the same day. Serve with a desert wine.
Richard Olney sums up ‘Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic’ as a classic, Provencal method for preparing roast chicken. The garlic cooks down to being a mild flavour, sweet but nutty and not over-powering as you might expect.
Try to use garlic cloves from your home country.
The dish can be served with rice, buttered noodles or fresh bread.
Cassoulet orginates from the southwest of France, with area boasting a different version. The three best known cassoulets are perhaps Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and Toulouse. The hearty dish typically contains meat, sausage and beans slow-cooked in a casserole dish.
In France, dried haricot beans are used. In Australia, slightly bigger cannellini beans, or great northern beans, are a better choice because the dried haricots sold here are often very old and require lots of cooking.
- Philippe Mouchel, More than French recipes and stories.
Jill Dupleix recommends the cassoulet with duck confit recipe by Anne Willan.
Beef bourguignon is from the Burgundy region of France, which is famous for its red wine. The wine used should be a pinot noir. Sometimes the dish is called beef burgundy. It usually contains beef chunks, onion, mushrooms, onions and speck lardons.
The dish can be prepared in advance and is excellent the next day.
“The meat must be a gelatinous cut – oxtail (which is never larded), shank, heel or chunk are all good….. Properly done, the meat will be firm, moist and tender, and the sauce, a deep, warm brown, will have sufficient body to coat all the solid ingredients.”
- Richard Olney, The French Menu Cookbook
Julia Child recommends serving the dish traditionally with boiled potatoes, or alternatively you could serve buttered noodles or steamed rice.
Creme caramel is a custard dessert with a soft caramel top and sauce. Aim for a silky texture with bittersweet caramel sauce. You can strain the custard mixture to achieve a silky texture.
Jill Dupleix recommends Gay Bilson’s creme caramel with orange and cardamon.
Use a sugar thermometer to work out when the caramel stage has been reached – take care as it becomes extremely hot. The longer the caramel it is left in the fridge, the more sauce you will have, so overnight is ideal.