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France is a land known for its delectable dining. Americans have been obsessed with French foods for several generations, with home cooks still trying to emulate Julia Childs’ or Dorie Greenspan’s translations of complex French recipes.
France’s reputation for food is in no way misplaced – this is a culture with no fear of fat or carbs, who knows how to take hours to savor ridiculously delicious foods. It’s a country known for surprisingly wonderful dining, whether it’s at a restaurant that boasts Michelin stars, or a hole-in-the-wall in the countryside.
If you have a chance to visit France, or if you have the itch to recreate a French dish, you may feel overwhelmed with what foods to try with the limited space your stomach affords you. So here are ten of our favorites – foods you simply must try.
“Do you know what foie gras is?” Potentially the most well-known French delicacy, foie gras is, indeed, a pâté made of goose or duck liver. Literally translated as ‘fat liver’, the tasty spread seems to melt in your mouth. If you’re buying foie gras from a store, you’ll want to make sure it’s high quality – the taste certainly betrays the quality.
Foie gras is a very fatty spread, which lends to its desirability, but if it’s not paired with the right thing, it can be overwhelmingly rich. It’s best paired with a crusty baguette or crunchy crackers, so the spread can show off its delectable contrast.
I wasn’t certain if I should share this delicacy with you because of the controversy that surrounds foie gras. Male geese and ducks are force-fed. In saying that, whether you agree with it or not, foie gras is still very important to French cuisine. Hopefully, you are more informed if you did not know about foie gras previously.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit France, you absolutely must try a baguette from the nearest bakery. Baguettes are serious business in France – the price of baguettes is set by the government, with the intention that no matter what your financial status, you can afford to buy one.
For a truly life-altering baguette experience, get to the bakery first thing in the morning, when you can smell the bread baking all over town. If you score a baguette that’s still warm, take a deep smell of it as you walk back out onto the street. Do as the French do and eat the end of the baguette as you walk home – if it’s a good one, the crust will crackle and flake before you get to the soft inside.
Baguettes are always the perfect accompaniment to a salad or stew, or just pick up some butter from the store, the kind with big flakes of sel de guerande inside (a course salt from the coastal areas of France), and butter that baguette bite by bite. Don’t be shy about pairing it with a generous glass of a French red wine!
Pain au Chocolat
Don’t call it a chocolate croissant! The pain au chocolat is the sweeter cousin of the classic croissant, perfect for a hint of chocolate with your coffee. A great pain au chocolat is perfectly puffy and a lot messy – get ready to have pastry flakes all over you, the table, and the floor. This lighter-than-air treat does seem to literally melt in your mouth, the delicate layers of pastry balancing out the hints of chocolate.
A true pain au chocolat will be shaped like a dome rather than the crescent-shaped croissant. They can seem deceptively large, but don’t worry, the inside of that pastry is mostly air, the layers upon layers of pastry dough defying gravity.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the massive selection in the boulangeries (a bakery), but want to try something different than a regular croissant, the pain au chocolat is the pastry for you!
While moules frites – mussels with fries – originated in Belgium, the French have been more than happy to adopt this dish into their repertoire. The presentation is half the fun with moules frites – a steaming covered pot will be brought to your table, full to the brim with mussels that have been marinated in dry white wine, butter, and garlic. They’re best accompanied by a plate piled high with fries (which are great dipped in the marinade!) and a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre, or, if you want to pay homage to the dish’s roots – Belgian beer.
Boeuf bourguignon is a perfect dish for cold, damp winter days. This tender beef stew cooked with copious amounts of red wine is one of the classic French country dishes that has made its way into the homes and restaurant orders of the lower and upper class alike. This is one of the easiest French dishes to recreate at home. It’s not too important to be a stickler for which vegetables to include in the stew, it’s more about using hearty seasonal vegetables that are readily available, but traditionally carrots, onions, and mushrooms are used. In any case, it’s best slow-cooked and served with a baguette, of course. (Click here for the classic Julia Childs boeuf bourguigonon recipe!)
A traditional Bretagne (Brittany area) dish, crêpes are served either savory or sweet. Savory crêpes are made with buckwheat flour, a more robust and nutty flavor than normal wheat flour – galette. The most classic filling for a savory crêpe is ham with emmental and an egg, but you’ll find any combination of fillings, from basic cheese to roasted chicken, potatoes, goat cheese, smoked salmon, or even andouillette for the more adventurous.
Crêpes are traditionally served with Bretagne cider, and diners are often invited to choose from cidre doux or brut – depending on whether you like your cider more sweet, or with more of a punch.
Follow your savory crêpe with a dessert crêpe for the full experience. You can go simple with butter and sugar, lemon, or the delectable salted butter caramel. Or if you’re in the mood for a real treat, order a crêpe flambée.
Escargot tops many people’s lists of “French food that I can’t believe they eat.” However, this quintessential French entrée is something you simply must try. While you might have nightmarish visions of a slimy snail emerging from a shell, the reality is, these are perfectly delicate little bites absolutely swimming in the most delectable garlic butter you can imagine.
Traditionally, these are served in the shell and are meant to be savored slowly while enjoying a glass of white wine. They’ll be delivered to your table with a small tong – meant for keeping a grip on the shell – and a small fork for twisting the meat out of the shell. Escargots are intended to be the first course of a meal, not the meal itself, so order a plate for the table next time, share with your friends, and allow yourself to be surprised by a classic.
Another dish you might watch frequently pass your table in a restaurant is steak tartare. This – like foie gras or escargot – is another moment where you might wonder to yourself, what on earth could the appeal be of this dish? After all, it looks pretty much like someone unwrapped a hamburger patty and plopped it on a plate. But steak tartare is so much more than just a lump of raw beef.
Tartare is prepared in a completely safe way, which means you shouldn’t avoid this food for food safety reasons. Seasoned with capers, onion, and other tasty ingredients. One thing is for sure – it doesn’t taste like simply raw ground beef. Chefs use the highest quality beef they can, and season it to perfection. Don’t miss out on a perfect steak tartare with a plate of – what else – steak frites to accompany it and perhaps a glass of good Bordeaux or Cabernet.
Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur
One of the most classic French lunch dishes is the croque madame or croque monsieur. This is akin to having a grilled cheese for lunch – definitely not an expensive luncheon food, but a classic nonetheless. The croque madame is basically an inverted grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Best eaten with a fork and knife, the top is smothered with melted cheese and an egg is added on top. (For the sandwich without the egg, order the croque monsieur.) The croque madame – or monsieur – is perfect for a hearty, quick lunch that will get you on your way quickly.
Confit de Canard
Confit de canard – or duck confit – is one of the most delectable meat dishes you can have in France. This dish (like many other classic French dishes) is not for those trying to spare calories. Before refrigeration, the French would use a technique to preserve duck legs by storing them in duck fat. Although this preservation method is no longer necessary, the indulgence in these perfectly cooked duck legs continues.
A perfectly cooked confit de canard will have a wonderfully crisped fatty skin on it, with mouthwatering salty and tender meat inside. Often served as a winter dish, expect this to come with roasted potatoes or tender beans, and have it with a generous glass of Bourgogne.
We had this lovely dish at Chez Michel in Paris.
french foods, croque, famous food of france, moules frites, escargot