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Food and Wine in Europe - French Cuisine

Food and Wine in Europe - French Cuisine

Enjoy the best gastinomical delights from around Europe.

French Cuisine

In France, where chefs are as famous as film stars, eating becomes an exciting and rich experience. And with thousands of great restaurants to choose from, you’re never far away from an unforgettable meal.

France has proudly maintained its regional food traditions, and the ingredients and cooking styles used in each region are so different that there’s really no such thing today as ‘French’ cooking.

Then of course there is the wine. It’s probably no coincidence that some of the best cooking in France also takes place in the country’s seven distinct wine regions: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Loire region and the Rhone.

Highlights

In addition to the regional differences there are three distinct French cooking styles:

Haute cuisine – Classical French cuisine: food is elegant and rich with many dishes using cream-based sauces. There is a strong emphasis on presentation and meals are typically expensive.

Cuisine nouvelle – Developed in the 1970s as a reaction against the classical school of cooking. Food is simple and light, portions are smaller, less rich and with more emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients.

Cuisine du terroir – Focuses on regional specialities combined with local produce.

Alsace

Food – German influence is evident in many of the local dishes, in which pickled cabbage and pork are common. Try these popular dishes:

Baeckeoffe – A stew of marinated meat and vegetables.

Choucroute garnie – Sauerkraut with sausages, salt pork and potatoes.

Choucroute Alsacienne – Pickled cabbage flavoured with juniper berries and served with sausages, bacon or pork knuckle. 

Quiche Lorraine – An egg mixture of cream and cheese baked with chopped vegetables, seafood, ham or bacon.

Coq-au-Riesling – Chicken cooked with Riesling wine.

Tarte flambée (flammekuche) – A thin layer of pastry topped with cream, onion and bacon and cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Wines – More than 90 per cent of the wines in Alsace are white. Riesling and Gewurzt are among the best white wines in France. White wines such as Riesling, Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc go very well with fish and seafood meals. Gewurztraminer is better with foie gras, spiced dishes, strong cheeses such as munster or as a dessert wine. Try Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine.

Cheese – Munster

Bordeaux

Food – Southwest France is probably best known for fattened duck or goose, with foie gras the most famous dish. Other regional specialties include truffles, walnuts, plums and mushrooms. Dishes are hearty and simple and use lots of fresh vegetables. Don’t forget to order fresh oysters or sole from the Bassin d’Arcachon. Some well-known dishes to try are:

Entrecôte marchand de vin – Rib steak cooked in a rich gravy made from Bordeaux wine, butter, shallots, herbs and bone marrow.

Foie gras – Served partially cooked or still in its fat.

Salmis of woodpigeon (palombe) – Served in a wine sauce with garlic croutons.

Tourin – Garlic soup thickened with eggs.

Tricandilles – Pork tripe seasoned with garlic and a dash of finely ground fresh pepper.

Pibales – Tiny eels prepared in the crunchy Spanish style.

Cannelés – Caramelised brioche-style pastries.

Marrons glacés – Candied chestnuts.

Wine – The Bordeaux region is the most important wine-producing region in France, with about 7,000 chateaux. Try a Pauillac or Saint Julien from Médoc; a Sauternes or Premières Côtes de Bordeaux from Graves; an Entre deux mers from Rivers; and a Saint Emilion or Pomerol from the Côtes wine region. Red Bordeaux is excellent with beef, lamb, grilled veal, game such as pheasant and poultry such as grilled turkey. Dry whites are perfect in an aperitif and go very well with seafood and chicken. Sweet wines are generally served with a dessert. Connoisseurs will appreciate the Sauternes as an aperitif or with foie gras.

Cheese – Camembert, Brie and Roquefort.

Burgundy

Food – Burgundy provides the best beef in France and is home to Dijon mustard, used to enhance the flavour of many dishes. Burgundy is also where you’ll find the biggest and tastiest escargot (snails) in France – they’re raised on grape leaves. Savour these famous dishes:

Boeuf Bourguignon – Beef stewed in red wine.

Escargots de Bourgogne – Snails baked in their shells with parsley butter.

Coq au vin – Chicken in red wine is a perennial favourite.

Fondue bourguignonne – Fondue made with oil in which pieces of meat are cooked.

Gougère – Cheese in choux pastry.

Pochouse – Fish stewed in red wine.

Wine – The best-known wine regions in Burgundy are: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Châlonnaise and Mâcon. Burgundy red wines of the pinot noir grape variety are excellent with beef, game such as pheasant and boar, roast of pork and delicate cheeses. White wines go very well with snails, shrimps and goat cheese.  Served fresh, Beaujolais is a good companion of beef, lamb, grilled chicken, cheese and fish.

Cheese – Aisy Cendré, epoisses, citeaux and charolais.

Champagne

Food – Game such as wild boar, guinea fowl and pheasant are popular in Champagne. The region’s cooler climate lends itself to growing potatoes, cabbages, beets, watercress, endive and leeks. Some great dishes to try are:

Flamiche – A simple dish of leeks cooked with cream and eggs in a pastry crust.

Carbonnade de boeuf – A classic dish, where the beef is slowly braised in onions and beer.

Agneau à la champenoise – Stuffed shoulder of lamb with tomatoes.

Chaudrée – A stew that makes good use of the region’s fish.

Gaufres – Waffles eaten with sugar and fresh cream.

Biscuits de Reims – Sweet and delicious paper-thin macaroons.

Wine – Although Champagne is usually served alone as festive wine it is also a perfect match with many meals and dishes such as: foie gras, smoked salmon, lobster in white sauce, oysters and caviar.

Cheese – Langres, Chaource and Brie de Meaux

Languedoc-Roussillon

Food – The main ingredients in Languedoc Roussillon cuisine are olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onions and aromatic herbs. Seafood is also an essential part of the Languedoc Roussillon cuisine. Don’t miss oysters from Bouzigues. Try these unique dishes:

Cassoulet – A casserole with meat and beans, Languedoc’s signature dish.

Bourride – Monkfish stewed with vegetables and wine, garnished with aïoli.

Morue Catalane – Cod with tomatoes and pepper.

Anchoïade – Anchovies with garlic and olive oil.

Garbure – A thick stew made with vegetables, herbs, spices and preserved meats.

Piperade – Peppers, onions and tomatoes cooked with ham and eggs.

Encornets farcis – Cuttlefish stuffed with sausage meat and herbs.

Wine – The Languedoc-Roussillon region produces mainly red wines, such as ‘Vin de Table’ and ‘Vin de Pays’ – perfect as everyday wines. The Coteaux du Languedoc has a very long history: the Greeks planted vines in the Coteaux du Languedoc around 500 years BC. Try a fruity red from Costières de Nimes: reds are rich and the rosé light and dry.

Cheese – Pélardon, Roquefort, Bleu des Causses and goat cheese.

The Loire Valley

Food – The Loire Valley is known for its high-quality vegetables and fruits including strawberries, melons and cherries grown for the liqueur Guignolet, and the Belle Angevine pears. Anjou, the area around the town of Angers, is famed for its orchard fruits – prune plums, peaches and especially pears. Local specialties include Loire River salmon, shad and the small freshwater fish used to make friture, as well as wild game, lamb, calves, Charolais cattle, Géline fowl and high-quality goat cheeses. Cardoons, shallots, tarragon and fresh grape vinegar are all distinctive flavors of the region. Order the specialty mushrooms of the region – champignons de Paris. Try these local dishes:

Grilled shad – Served with wild mushrooms, sorrel or braised with white wine, with beurre blanc – melted salted butter thickened with a reduction of shallots and vinegar.

Moules marinières – Mussels in white wine sauce.

Friture de Loire – Bleak fish and gudgeon prepared with garlic butter.

Rillettes du Mans – Paste made from potted goose or braised pork and rendered fat, similar to pâté.

Ouillettes – Sausage made with chitterlings.

Tarte tatin – A caramelised apple tart.

Wine – Loire wines go very well with pork, chicken and fish dishes. Muscadet is excellent with oysters and the Sancerre with goat cheese. Wines in the Loire Valley include Muscadet, Anjou, Saumur, Vouvray, Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre.

Cheese – Chabichou du Poitou, Crottin de Chavignol and Valencay.

Côtes du Rhône

Food – Fruit, young vegetables, poultry from Bresse, guinea fowels from Drôme and fish from the Dombes lakes and mountain in Rhône-Alpes streams are key to this regional cuisine. Celebrated chefs from this region include Fernand Point, Paul Bocuse, the Troisgros brothers and Alain Chapel. The famous liquor Chartreuse is produced in a monastery here. Try these popular dishes:

Raclette – Melted cheese served with potatoes, ham and often dried beef.

Fondue savoyarde – Fondue made with cheese and white wine into which cubes of bread are dipped.

Gratin dauphinois – A casserole covered with cheese or Béchamel sauce, topped with buttered breadcrumbs and then either baked or broiled.

Tartiflette – A Savoyard gratin with potatoes, Reblochon cheese, cream and pork.

Gratinée Lyonnais – Onion soup.

Pot au feu – Beef and vegetables in soup.

Wine – Some great wines from Côtes du Rhône include: côte rôtie, château grillet, hermitage, crozes hermitage, côtes du rhône villages, gigondas and châteauneuf du pape. Côtes du Rhône wines go well with everyday cooking; dishes based on chicken and not-too-strong cheeses. Full body red wines are perfect with roasted red meat and game while white wines are a good companion with grilled fish and even foie gras.

Cheese – Fourme d’Ambert and Saint Marcellin.

Other regions famous for fine food include . . .

Normandy

Normandy is famous for its rich cream, apples and seafood such as crustaceans, sea bass, monkfish, herring, scallops and sole. From its apples comes calvados, a cider brandy. Camembert cheese originated in Normandy and the town of Gournay claims to have invented the brioche. Rouen is known as the gastronomic capital of Normandy, famous for its duck dishes. Its best-known pastry is tarte Normande. Some famous dishes to try:

Canard à la Rouennaise – Duck stuffed with its liver and cooked in red wine.

Moules à la crème Normande – Mussels cooked with white wine, garlic and cream.

Tripes à la mode de Caen – Tripe cooked in cider and calvados.

Matelote – Fish stewed in cider.

Tarte Normande – Apple tart.

Wine – Wine production in Normandy is restricted to apple and pear liqueurs and ciders. Try its cider brandy, Calvados, also known as Calva and recommended as a fine after-dinner tipple to complement your meal. Also try a Trou Normande – a calvados sorbet – between courses to revive flagging appetites.

Brittany

Home to crêpes, those delicate pancakes with sweet fillings, and galettes, a type of crêpes with savoury fillings. Seafood is popular given Brittany’s coastal location, with a ready supply of lobster, crayfish and mussels. As Brittany’s young lambs are raised on the salt meadows, the lamb here is very tasty. Try these popular dishes:

Galette complète – A savory crêpe with ham and egg and covered with grated gruyère cheese.

Crêpe Suzette – A sweet crêpe with lightly grated orange peel and liqueur (typically Grand Marnier), subsequently lit.

Far Breton – Flan with prunes.

Palourdes farcies – Baked clams stuffed with garlic, herbs and shallots.

Pot au feu d’homard – Lobster stew with shrimps, scallops, mussels and oysters.

Wine – Brittany does not produce any wines, although Muscadet is still considered to be a Breton wine. Crisp and dry, it is excellent with seafood. Cider is the main drink associated with Brittany.

Cheese – Mingaux

Provence

Blessed with glorious Mediterranean weather and often called the garden of France because of the high quality of its herbs, fruit and vegetables. Dishes here rely on tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and plenty of fresh herbs. Provence’s most famous dish is bouillabaisse, a fish soup accompanied by rouille – a spicy mayonnaise made with olive oil, garlic, chilli and fish broth – and warm bread. Don’t miss these tasty dishes:

Bouillabaisse – A hearty fish soup of mixed fish such as lobster, crab, mussels or clams, tomatoes and herbs.

Ratatouille – A vegetable stew with olive oil, aubergine, courgette, bell pepper, tomato, onion and garlic.

Boeuf en daube – A winter staple of beef stewed with red wine, onions, garlic, vegetables and herbs.

Pieds paquets – Lambs feet and tripe ‘parcels’ in a savoury sauce.

Tomatoes provencale – Tomatoes with bread crumbs and garlic.

Soupe au pistou – Bean soup served with a pistou of fine-chopped basil, garlic and parmesan.

Salade Niçoise – Varied salad ingredients, but always black olives and tuna.

Wine – Rosé de Provence is the perfect summer wine: fresh and fruity. Enjoy rosé with salade Niçoise, as an aperitif or with typical food from Provence such as bouillabaisse, aioli and ratatouille. Full body red wines from Provence should match with game and roasted red meat, while white wines are perfect with local seafood.

Cheese – Banon and Picodon.

Where to eat

Restaurants (offer a complete meal) – The cost correlates to the elegance of the establishment and the reputation of its chef. French restaurants open for dinner at 7pm and are typically crowded by 8:30pm. Choose restaurants filled with locals, not places with signs boasting, “We speak English.” If the menu (la carte) isn’t posted outside, it’s best to move along.

French cafés (or brasseries) – Unlike restaurants, cafes serve food throughout the day. They generally open by 7am, but closing times vary.

Auberge – This is a country inn with both food and lodging. Known for their food, location, picturesque decor, gardens or patios, these are often the best restaurants in France.

Bistros – These are generally small family-run restaurants that offer fast, moderately priced meals. Bistros serve simple, classic, healthy dishes and tend to consist of fresh organic ingredients.

Tip: At a decent restaurant a carafe of house wine is going to be much higher quality than you would guess and it will be substantially cheaper than a demi-bouteille or a demi-litre of wine from their wine list. Order in French even if you aren’t very good at it – they will appreciate the effort. 

Tipping: It is customary to leave a few coins if the service is satisfactory, even when a 12 to 15% service charge is normally added to the bill.

Best time to go

Any time (however Calvados always seems to slip down easier on a cold, wet and windy day). France enjoys a temperate climate, with mild winters, except in mountain areas and the north-east. The southern coast has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Generally expect a summer average of 20°C with a high of 25°C; a winter average of 5°C; and spring and autumn temperatures at around 12°C. 

Did you know?

The French generally undercook meat: rare or saignant is close to raw; medium or à point is rare; and well-done or bien cuit is medium.

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