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 fricassée or hollandaise, you can certainly make macaroni and cheese or Caesar salad.
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?
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 traditional French foods, and enjoy the meal with a bottle of good wine? To inspire you to tie on your apron and channel your inner grand-mère, here are 13 quintessentially classic French dishes every home cook should perfect. Bon appétit!
Coq au Vin
Coq au vin translates to chicken in 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.
Bouillabaisse is a French seafood stew that’s laced with tomato and saffron. This recipe calls for white fish and shrimp, but feel free to use whatever type of fish you want. Mussels, clams, or even langoustines are definitely welcomed additions.
The French take the pairing of ham and cheese seriously, and this is no more apparent than in a 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 an inverted 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, mashed 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 salade Lyonnaise (or frisée aux lardons), 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.
A clafoutis is French upside-down cake. While it can be made with a variety of fruit, the most textbook version consists of fresh cherries. Cherry season is just around the corner, and if you love the sweet juicy fruit, we recommend you bookmark this recipe now!
When you want to impress the carnivore in your life, make steak frites. It’s a French bistro favorite that’s simply a flash-seared steak topped with a decadent pat of herb butter, served with crispy addictive french fries, and lightly dressed bitter greens.
Have you ever had a niçoise salad? Pain 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.
French Onion Soup
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 taste buds. 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.