13 Classic French Dishes You Need to Master at Home
At culinary school, students are taught traditional French techniques, like how to make the mother sauces, the difference between julienne and chiffonade, and the importance of mise-en-place. Why? Because in the food world, French cookery is considered the basis of all other styles of cuisine. If you know how to make a fricassee or hollandaise, you can certainly make macaroni and cheese or Caesar salad.
What if we apply the same sort of thinking to the home cook? If the culinary student should master the techniques of a world-renowned Parisian chef, shouldn’t the home cook master the techniques of the everyday French kitchen? Julia Child certainly thought so—this is what she built her entire career upon!
However, in the past couple of years, the emphasis on home cooking has trended toward faster, easier preparations, and French classics have fallen by the wayside. Isn’t it high time we take back the kitchen? We think so. Why not slow down, cook authentic French country food, and enjoy the meal with a bottle of good wine? To inspire you to tie on your apron and channel your inner grandmère, here are 13 quintessential French dishes every home cook should perfect. Bon appétit!
Coq au vin translates to chicken in red wine and that’s exactly what this dish is. Rendered bacon is the base of this slow-cooked dish that’s filled with mushrooms, pearl onions, and delicious fall-off-the-bone chicken. The addition of cognac is a must—trust us we’ve tried it both with and without the alcohol—as it adds a depth of flavor and richness.
The French take the pairing of ham and cheese seriously and this is no more apparent than in croque-monsieur. It’s a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that’s baked until crisp and covered in a decadent béchamel sauce. Add an egg on top and its name is changed to croque-madame.
Tarte tatin is a dessert that can be made with apples or pears. Think of it as France’s version of apple pie: The peeled fruit is arranged elegantly at the bottom of a cake pan. It’s covered with liquid caramel and pie dough, then baked. Once cooled, the treat is inverted onto a pretty platter, so that the caramelized golden fruit is at the top. Serving with vanilla ice cream is a must!
What happens when you replace the chicken in coq au vin with beef? You get boeuf bourguignon. Both slow-braised dishes rely on red wine, bacon, and mushrooms to enhance the flavor of the protein. Child would recommend serving it with boiled potatoes or buttered noodles, but we think polenta, smashed potatoes, or toasted farro risotto are more modern accompaniments to the hearty stew.
The Alsace region of France is adjacent to Germany and Switzerland, and it’s the origin for a delectable pizza known as tarte flambée (or flammkuchen, in German). It’s a thin-crusted pizza topped with a creamy cheesy white sauce, sweet onions, and crisp bacon. Pair with a glass of sparkling wine, and you’ll be in heaven!
Some of the best French home cooking is the simplest. Take the salad Lyonnaise, for example. It’s three ingredients—bacon, a poached egg, and frisée—dressed with a shallot-lemon-Dijon vinaigrette. That’s not a very fancy dish, but somehow the everyday elements are transformed into a beloved bistro staple that's served at restaurants all over the world.
In the movie Julie and Julia, the dish that takes Julia Child’s breath away and essentially begins her love affair with French cuisine is sole meunière. It’s dover sole that’s dredged in flour and pan-fried in butter. More butter and lemon juice is added to the pan after the fish is fried—this light sauce is poured over the fish and turns into a bath of melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Have you ever had a niçoise salad? Pan bagnat is basically the sandwich version of this salad. Chunky tuna packed in olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, kalamata olives, and red onions are piled onto a soft ciabatta. A creamy basil aioli ensures that the sandwich stays moist and delicious.
Although it’s a bit tedious to make (you have to melt chocolate, beat egg yolks, beat egg whites, fold everything together, let it set, and then make whipped cream), homemade rich dark-chocolate mousse is worth the effort. This recipe comes from Petit Trois, an L.A. eatery from French chef Ludo Lefebvre that made Bon Appétit’s best new restaurant list last year.
You’ve probably ordered French onion soup at a restaurant, but if you’ve never made it at home before, I suggest you do as soon as possible. The delicious fragrance of caramelizing onions will waft through your house and tantalize your tastebuds. The soup basically consists of onions and beef broth, so use the best broth you can find—and if you have time, make your own.
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What is your favorite French dish to make at home?