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The Very Best (and most delicious) French Foods You Have to Try

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This is not a collection like my other posts. This is really about the very best French food that you need to get your hands on and put it into your mouth. I do not expect you to be able to cook this yourself or find it to be easily available. But what I am saying is that should you ever have the opportunity to put these taste sensations into your mouth, you need to do it as soon as possible. The only think you will regret is not having tried them sooner.

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  1. Baked Camembert: Take a step back, baked brie and make way for baked camembert. You just need to dip some baguette into it and sip some wine along with it and it is perfection.
  2. Savory Crêpes: This one you should be able to find more easily than some other features on this list. Instead of sweet crêpes, savory crêpes are made with buckwheat flour and filled with meats, cheeses, and vegetables, making it more of a meal than a dessert. They are especially popular in Brittany.

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  1. Hachis Parmentier: This is one of my personal favorites and something that always tasted like home even though I was so far away. The dish is pretty much mashed potatoes plopped on top of seasoned and saucy ground beef. It is the French version of a Shepard’s pie and it is simply delicious.

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  1. Magret de Canard: Canard is “duck” in English and magret means “breast.” The way that the French cook it leaves the meat bloody in the end, enhancing the flavor and leaving it as juicy and amazing as possible. Over cooking duck is a disaster and results in the meat being dry instead of juicy.

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  1. Pot-au-feu: This is best eaten on a chilly night in autumn or winter. It is both yummy and comforting, exactly what you need to heat you up from the inside out. It is essentially a stew, but has some wonderful spices and flavors that make it amazingly delicious.

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  1. Garbure: Another type of stew, garbure is found in the southwestern region of France. It is full of ham, cabbage, carrots, celery, and other vegetables, leaving you feeling both happy and satisfied. Perfect for a rainy or snowy day.

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  1. Piperade: You are unlikely to find this dish anywhere outside of the Basque country, but I was fortunate enough to stay with a host whose father was from the Basque country and was treated to this dish. It resembles ratatouille, but there are eggs in it as well as onions in place of eggplant.

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  1. Cassoulet: Cassoulet is everything amazing about French food. I am not exaggerating. Cassoulet is made of duck and beans, mixed to create a type of stew that is unlike any other stew in the world. It is not the easiest thing to make by a long shot, so maybe see if there is a restaurant nearby who can make it for you.

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  1. Fois Gras: I admit that I would happily have a love affair with fois gras. It really gets an unfair reputation. But if you have the fois gras seared in a pan, you will shed any guilt that you may have had and find yourself wondering what all of the fuss about it was.

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  1. Soupe de Poisson à la Rouille: This is a seafood soup that came from Marseille. It was once considered a fisherman’s dish since it is pretty simple and cheap to make. Combined with tomatoes and saffron, with a dollop of mayonnaise and let your taste buds take a new journey that they will never forget.

Wonderful Things Julia Child Did for French Cuisine

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Julia Child’s wonderful television personality warmed hearts across the United States when she was in her prime. She brought her version of French cuisine to the homes of Americans, teaching us easy ways to cook that we had perhaps once thought nearly impossible. Julia Child was many great things, but what I want to talk about here is what she did for French cuisine on a global level. While we are all familiar with her book, what she did for the progress of French food is a bigger mark and one that we all still see today.

China's first female astronaut Liu Yang salutes during a sending off ceremony as she departs for the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft rocket launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, China, Saturday, June 16, 2012. China will send its first woman and two other astronauts into space Saturday to work on a temporary space station for about a week, in a key step toward becoming only the third nation to set up a permanent base in orbit.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

 

  1. She broke the French cuisine glass ceiling. When Julia Child had decided that she wanted to properly learn how to make the greatest French recipes in the world, she discovered that it was a “boys only” club, with women being shut out to do the daily cooking, but not take on the art of cooking. With her persistence and dedication to becoming a successful chef, she had to break through the stereotypes that the “real” French cooking should be left with the men while the women keep their cooking to the world of motherhood and feeding the family. Once she showed what she was capable of, the stigma began to deteriorate, proving that anyone who really wants to should be able to cook French cuisine.

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  1. She wrote a cookbook for Americans. One of the biggest problems that women in the United States in the 1950s had was a limit to what could be used in the kitchen. Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens had their books, naturally, but they were all the staple recipes that were needed in every American kitchen. What Julia Child did was up the ante. Her book provided extreme detail, in American terms, how you can go about recreating French cuisine. It was remarkable and one of a kind.
  2. She allowed Americans to branch out. If not for Julia Child’s introduction of French cuisine for Americans, we may be restricted in our cuisine choices to gravy beef or corned beef hash. She had many television programs through the years, all of which expanded the American palate and expectation for haute cuisine. With her easy and charming personality, she made it seem like anyone could really give it a shot if they wanted to, putting French cuisine as something accessible to middle-class Americans.
  3. She demonstrated the concept of wine pairing. Sure wine pairing has really been around as long as humans have been drinking wine (hint: we have always been drinking wine), but Julia Child took it to the next level. When she would add some wine to a recipe, she was sure to sample the wine as well, allowing her to enjoy cooking even more and force people to take their cooking less seriously. Cooking is far more enjoyable with wine. And by tasting the product, she was sure to know that it would go well with the dinner (provided there was any wine left).

 

  1. She took away the snobbery. Most practical people would not argue with the idea that French cuisine is known to be of the highest caliber. The chefs in Lyon are known to be among the greatest in the entire world. But that said, French food also comes with a high price tag, stating that the delicacy that is French cuisine should be restricted to those who have heavy enough pockets to afford it. Julia Child eradicated the concept that French food had to be spendy. The concept is still certainly around, but also around is the fact that you have the ability to make it yourself, right there in your own kitchen. It did not take down the exquisiteness of the food, but instead made exquisite food more accessible for everyone.

Classic French Recipes

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Now keep in mind when you are reading this that there are many different definitions of the word “classic” and my collection may not include recipes that you could consider classic. I have supplied links to some of the best recipes out there so you can try your hand at these dishes if you are feeling brave enough to give it a go.

 

  1. French Onion Soup: Classic and divine, French onion soup can often be found in restaurants on both sides of the pond, but is especially tasty when in France. You can find a great recipe for it here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/french-onion-soup-236714. There are variations on it, but generally speaking, French onion soup is pretty amazing no matter how you do it.
  2. Cheese Soufflé: Soufflé can be one of the more challenging endeavors in the kitchen. When it is done well, the soufflé will be light and airy. But it is easy to ruin and have it fall into the bottom of the pan as a dense rock. So it you don’t get it right the first time, don’t despair. It is a trick to master. Here’s a recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/goat-cheese-and-herb-souffles-105061.
  3. Steak Tartare: Steak tartare has caught many diner unaware, leading you to believe you are ordering cooked steak, instead of receiving it completely raw. Usually there are spices mixed in and once in a while there is a raw egg over the top, but still, the meat is served raw. Here’s a good recipe to try it out: http://www.chowhound.com/recipes/classic-steak-tartare-10983.
  4. Confit de Canard: When we are thinking about cooking duck the French way, one wonderful method and very classically French is the confit de canard. It may be hard to get your mind around the idea of duck fat, but seriously the results will melt in your mouth. You can cook it yourself if you follow this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/confit-de-canard-recipe.html.

 

  1. Bouillabaisse: This dish comes out of Marseille where the seafood is plenty and the sun shines a lot more often. Flavored with saffron, it really captures the flavors of the area and is very much appreciated by seafood lovers around the world. Here is a great recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/bouillabaisse.
  2. Ratatouille: I’m sure this brings to mind the Disney movie of the same name, but the dish is very much real. Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite dishes to eat, but it can be a bit of a pain to make. I recommend investing in a mandolin to make it much easier to prepare. Try this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/222006/disneys-ratatouille/.
  3. Roasted Chicken and Garlic: I’m sure you may be thinking “hey I make that already.” Perhaps you do and you do not realize that it is the standard French Sunday afternoon meal. It is relatively easy to make and the results are always delicious. It allows you to cook something French without venturing too far out of your comfort zone. Here’s a good recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/319432/chicken-with-40-cloves-of-garlic.
  4. Fondue Savoyarde: What French menu would be complete without fondue? And while chains like the Melting Pot offer some delicious fondue choices, you can make it yourself as well. You can find a recipe here: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Fondue-Savoyarde.
  5. Gratin Dauphinois: Potatoes au gratin the traditional way! The authentic version actually does not have cheese, but is made with cream and milk and still lovely and rich. http://chocolateandzucchini.com/recipes/vegetables-grains/gratin-dauphinois-potato-gratin-recipe/.
  6. Coq au Vin: Coq au vin is the quintessential French dish. I had heard the term so many different times in my life, but I did not understand what it was until I actually went to France and let me tell you, it is good. And, as a perk, you can make it yourself as well. The “coq” used to be made from a rooster, but now we usually make it with just chicken. Here’s a lovely recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2006/12/magnificence-au-vin/.

 

Best Wine Pairings for French Food: An Introduction

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What do you first think about when you think about French culture? Is it the music? The art scene? The smoking? I would wager that one of the first things that pops into your mind is the wine. French wine is one of a kind and while there is other great wines around the world, French wine is especially delicious. I started this blog in the hopes that someone out there would find a recipe or food that was interesting and something new to experiment with, but what French food would be good without the delicious French wine to go with it. So here is my introduction for you in the world of French wines as they relate to French foods.

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The Whites

  1. 2012 Chateau de Bonhoste: This citrus Sauvignon Blanc works very well with the more bitter vegetables that are usually hard to pair with a wine, like asparagus and artichokes. The citrus really balances out the acidic flavor and enhances it.
  2. NV Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Brut: This is an almost apple flavored white, but it still manages to not be overly sweet. It also works well with asparagus and salads, perfect for a hot summer evening.
  3. 2010 E. Guigal: This viognier is very floral with almost a peach scent to it. It works well with summer salads as well las summer scents on your deck. It does run on the sweeter side of things, so proceed with caution.
  4. 2010 Domaine Luneau-Papin Pierre de la Grange: This white works wonderfully with most seafood, but has a special flavoring with shrimp. The wine runs on the acidic side, making it nice company for seafood.
  5. 2008 Vacheron Sauvignon Blanc: In general, Sauvignon Blanc is the safest French white wine you can go with. It is reliably good and works well with
  6. many different meals. The Vacheron will remind you of grapefruit and summer time, making it a lovely afternoon selection or even a good pairing for a fruit dessert.

The Reds

  1. 2009 Chateau Hyot Bordeaux: Bordeaux is one of the easiest red out there. The Chateau Hyot is full of a rich flavor with almost a subtle butter hint at the end. It is delicious with all red meats, steaks especially.
  2. 2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages: Beaujolais wines are usually pretty forgiving and go with many different types of food. This wine in particular works very nicely with chicken dishes.
  3. 2001 PUR Quartz et Sable Beaujolais Villages: Another fine Beaujolais choice, the PUR Quartz is an unsulfured choice, allowing patrons with a sulfur sensitivity to still be able to partake in the deliciousness. It works well with seafood, specifically tuna, which is a good alternative if you are not a big fan of white wines.
  4. 2011 Fabrice Gasnier Chinon Les Graves: Chinon is known to be some of the lightest reds out there, bringing an almost rosé quality to it. This chinon works well with vegetable dishes, such as ratatouille, enhancing the flavors of the herbs and the vegetables.
  5. 2007 Joseph Roty Bourgogne Rouge: This Burgundy wine is wonderful with stews and other comfort foods in winter. It comes with a full and smoky quality, helping warm you from in the inside out as well as adding in a lovely addition to your meal.
  6. 2006 Bouchard Bourgogne Rouge: Another lovely Burgundy, the Bouchard is earthier, making a nice choice for beef meals that are heavy in vegetables like potatoes and carrots. It really brings out the flavors of the food nicely and can even be thrown into the pot when you are cooking your beef.

Seven of the Most Interesting French Recipes

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So I have taken you down the road of the strangest and perhaps most disgusting recipes, the classic recipes, and the easiest recipes. Let us now look at the simply the fascinating French recipes. I think of them as interesting because they are unusual, but not necessarily to the point of grossness, but just curious that they are food the French would eat while the Anglos would certainly not eat the same food.

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  1. Lamprey à la Bordelaise: A lamprey is a type of eel and is difficult to find in the United States. Unfortunate really because it is quite good. And do not scoff at the idea of eating eel. People eat it all of the time in sushi. If you do get your hands on lamprey, here’s a fun recipe to experiment with: http://www.foodarts.com/recipes/recipes/31114/lamprey-la-bordelaise.

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  1. Beef tongue: I know you are probably thinking, “Hey you said that this would not be gross,” but you see the tongue is not that weird of a food to eat. It is a very interesting food to eat. The tongue is merely a muscle, after all, which is no different than any other muscle we eat. The shape just seems to really throw people off. If you would like to give cooking it a go, try out this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/236880/slow-cooker-lengua-beef-tongue/.

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  1. Frog legs: I have often heard that frog’s legs tastes just like chicken. I really have to disagree with this statement, because I do not think that they taste much like chicken in any way. I am not exactly sure who said that to begin with. It is the eating the frogs that gave the French the “frog” nickname by the British. I am not sure what inspired them to first decide to gnaw on a frog, but I assume it is more of desperation than desire. You can purchase frog legs from your local butcher. Here’s a recipe if you would like to try it yourself: http://www.food.com/recipe/simple-sauteed-frogs-legs-40405.

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  1. Lapin: I think that eating rabbit meat is much less taboo than it used to be, but it is still interesting nonetheless. My host family would slaughter their own rabbits, so there were often rabbit corpses in our refrigerator. I do not recommend purchasing rabbit with the head still on. Here is a recipe for you to try out: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/3727-lapin-a-la-bourguignonne-rabbit-with-red-wine-sauce.
  2. Tetines: Ok maybe this one is a little bit on the gross side of things. The cow udder is also a piece of the cow that the French simply will not let go to waste. But really, the worst is just envisioning chewing on a cow’s udder. If you can get beyond the idea of what it really is, you should be able to eat it without too much worry. Here’s a recipe if you find udder from your local butcher: http://www.food.com/recipe/roasted-cow-udder-300277.
  3. Tripe: Also a little gross is the tripe. The tripe consist of the animal’s stomach and intestines. That is a hard one for me to get over, and again is demonstrating how the French waste nothing when it comes to their meat. I have not brought myself to try it out, but I do know that the people I have heard discuss it say that it truly is delicious when done well and is very high in protein. Here’s a recipe here: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/04/deep-fried-tripe-recipe-how-to-fry-tripe.html.

 

  1. Pigeon: If you think about how many pigeons are always wandering around the streets of all of the major cities in the world, imagine if we perceived the pigeon as a meal. Sure the meat is not exactly substantial, but why should we not eat it? Pigeon meat is actually very similar to that of quail and something you should not scoff at before trying it. Here’s a recipe to consider working on: http://honest-food.net/2014/12/22/roast-pigeon-recipe/.

 

Strangest French Foods

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As is true when you visit any foreign country, when visiting France, you are going to be exposed to food that you have never seen before. This does not mean the food in France is any better or worse than food anywhere else, but it does mean that you may see something new. You could hate it, but maybe you will discover that you have a palate for something different you had never expected before.

Something I want you to keep in mind as you peruse this list is the history of France. The country is one of the oldest in the world and has seen more than its fair share of war and struggles. A lot of the cuisine they eat is a result of hard times and struggling to put food on the table. Even as recently as World War II, people were scrounging just to have one meal on the table, meaning you would not want to waste anything that has the potential for being edible. When it comes down to it, starvation is a terrible way to die and most humans will end up eating things they may not have otherwise considered as an alternative to dying slowly. That is not the case for all of their foods of course, but just consider that the culture was built around a lot of hard times.

Here is a list of some of the strangest French foods that people eat in France.

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  1. Boudin Noir: This dish is not so weird for Europeans, but it is very weird for Americans. Also known as “black blood sausage,” boudin noir is comprised of congealed pork blood. When a pig is slaughtered, the blood is saved and mixed with vinegar to preserve it. They then mix the blood with other things like onions, rice, apples, or anything else you can think of. There are many different ways to prepare it though and no two ways will be exactly the same.

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  1. Escargots de Bourgogne: While we all are familiar with the fact that the French eat snails, it does not make it any the less strange. Imagine going out to your garden, plucking a snail off a leaf, boiling it, and eating it. It seems pretty gross once you really get to thinking about it. I do not personally find snails appealing in any sense of the word, but that does not stop the French from enjoying them.
  1. Oursins: Oursins, or sea urchins, are pretty standard in seafood faire in France. They are not as common on the other side of the pond, given their odd appearance, strange texture, and very strong seaside smell. To be honest, most Americans will find them repulsive. They are also hard to prepare, so I really recommend having someone else make them if you are interested in trying them.

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  1. Tête de Veau: I cannot get my mind around this one either. Black pudding? Sure. Snails? I at least tried them. Calf’s head? No I do not think so. Granted, it is certainly not something you will find daily, but it is still, albeit bizarrely, held dear by the French. They literally boil the head of a calf and serve it with mayonnaise and fat. It is definitely for the brave and those not weirded out by eating calf’s brains.

 

  1. Ris de Veau: In the same vein as tête de veau, ris de veau uses the thymus gland of the calf. It is more popular and easier found than the calf’s brains, but also not exactly the most appealing dish that you can find in France. But I will say it is less gross than diving into a calf’s head.

 

True or False: Best and Worst French Food Stereotypes

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I have heard so many stereotypes over the years about French cuisine that it has become a running joke. Some are so ridiculous that you could not imagine who thought of it, but at the same time, some sound ridiculous but are entirely true. So let’s play a little game called Vrai ou Faux?

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Everyone Eats Stinky Cheese

Verdict: Vrai

I have to admit that while I still cringe at some of the more potent French cheeses, and even some of the French do not eat the very stinkiest, most French people will eat stinky cheese without a second thought. Aged cheese, including both goat and cow cheeses, is a common delicacy and a normal dessert after dinner. The reason that their cheese is stinkier than the cheese we have here in the United States is due to the regulation on pasteurization and the aging process. The French take their cheese seriously and will not sacrifice flavor for pasteurization.

 

The French Walk around Carrying Baguettes

Verdict: Vrai

This is an unfortunately true and still comical stereotype about the French. Most people will purchase a fresh baguette every day and nibble on it while they walk home. You will often see them poking out of bags, purses, and backpacks in any French location you can imagine. Baguette is a definite staple.

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Everyone Eats Croissants Daily

Verdict: Faux

Without a doubt, croissants are a French necessity and something that you will easily find all over Paris. They are made fresh daily from boulangeries across the country. Yet, that said, most French people are not indulging in them daily. Have you heard about the stereotype that “French women don’t get fat?” Well they are not gorging on pastries daily, but usually once in a while or as a weekend treat. They know that they are fatty (and delicious).

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Everyone Eats Croissants Daily

Verdict: Vrai

Saying “everyone” of course is a pretty broad scope on things, but I will say that most people in France drink coffee. Bistros and cafes are scattered everywhere, making coffee easily accessible. People often drink it in the evenings as well after dinner. You will not see many people will coffee to-go cups, however. That is more of an American stereotype since the French like to take their time with their coffee. I am also pretty certain that French coffee tastes a lot better.

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The French Eat Snails

Verdict: Vrai

Snails or escargot, are not a staple in French cuisine, but they will eat them once in a great while. It is not going to be on a daily menu, but perhaps something on tap for a birthday. On a tangent, I once stayed with a French family who boiled the snails themselves and served them with mayonnaise. On the whole, I have an open mind when it comes to cuisine, but boiled snails with mayonnaise is the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten, easily beating out congealed pig’s blood.

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French Fries are a French Thing

Verdict: Vrai and Faux

French fries, or frites as they call them, are not actually a French food. Frites originally came out of Belgium and were adopted into French cuisine. That said, you can find French fries on everything. Whether stuffed into a gyro, on top of a pizza, or alongside of your croquet monsieur, French fries make their appearance in French food in unexpected ways. I honestly had never had a gyro before my travels through France so I did not know that it was not the normal way to eat one. I also was completely dumbfounded when I received a pizza covered in them. But more on my pizza questions later.

 

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