French women seem to know it all, don’t they – or so they say? From fantastic fromage to perfect pâtisserie, la cuisine is no exception. For the rest of us, unfortunately, it’s not so easy…
The good news is that unlike uncovering the secret to French chic or staying slim, learning to cook like the French is somewhat more achievable.
While it might seem like a cliché, these little culinary secrets came to me in a number of ways. On my 12-month exchange to France I spent part of my time studying l’hôtellerie at a lycée technique. The other priceless tips and tricks were shared with me by my host mother, who lovingly taught me how to make the most incredible tarte aux pommes.
You’ll be surprised how easy it is to turn a normal meal into something spectacular with these simple secrets. After all, clichés can be quite delicious…
1. Le beurre
Butter, butter and more butter. That’s all you need to know. For that authentic French taste use a combination of butter and oil to sauté your meat and vegetables. Every French woman knows the best butter is the one with the most fat.
The taste of burnt butter also adds a traditional French flavour to even the most simple of dishes.
Another helpful hint is to coat your meat in flour before you sauté it. This works best with poultry and rabbit but is also a must when making a casserole like Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin. The flour and butter add a terrific flavour that will take you back to the French countryside with every mouthful.
And when it’s time for dessert, butter is just as important. Make sure to use real butter rather than margarine in your pastries, cakes and tarts.
Recipes are a great guide but you should never follow them to a tee. Following your intuition is an important part of cooking.
Any French woman will tell you it’s essential to taste your masterpiece as it is cooking, that’s really the only way to know if you need more seasoning.
Don’t be afraid of experimentation, get off the beaten track and make the meal your own. Play with new flavours and remember sel et poivre are your friends.
3. Le vin
It’s great to drink but did you know it is fantastique for cooking as well? Wine instantly adds un goût français to whatever you’re cooking.
Red or white, wine can completely change the taste of any dish. Whether you add a drop or a bottle, wine is a must in any casserole.
Don’t be afraid to sample the wine while you cook either, but be careful – your masterpiece may require more than the recipe says.
4. Le fromage
For a country with more that 365 types of cheese it should come as no surprise that fromage is a key element in French cooking.
Whether it is Cantal for a delicious Aligot, Chèvre in a salad or Gruyère on the outside of a Croque-Monsieur, cheese is a common ingredient.
Cheese plays a backseat role in French cooking: it’s rarely the star of the show, with the exception of a fondue. But fromage always adds that special touch to any meal.
Even if you don’t use it in your cooking, you can’t go past a cheese platter at the end of the night.
You have to love what you do, if you want your dish to taste magnifique, the real secret is to make it with love.
This may be a cliché, but, it seems to me that you can taste the difference when a meal is lovingly prepared. Some particularly divine dishes can take hours and hours to make. The longer it cooks, the better it takes so don’t take any short cuts.
And remember to taste as you go, this is the only way to make sure your plat will be parfait.
Bon appétit !
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1. ELLE cover, via Pinterest.
2. Illustrations © My French Life™.