French Cuisine and Recipes
French Recipes and cooking
by Country - November 2003
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in Western Europe, France borders with Luxembourg and Belgium in the
north, Germany and Switzerland in the East and Spain and Italy in the
south. It has a wide range of geographical contrasts from fertile plain to
mountain ranges and two coastlines - to the west on the English Channel
and Bay of Biscay and to the south on the Mediterranean - 5,500 km in
total, all of which contribute enormously to the nature of its cuisine.
Times and Influences on French Cooking
to the 1500s, three important factors to affect the cuisine of this region are
the invasions of Celtic Gauls, c1500 to 500bc who partitioned the land and
introduced farming; the take over of the Romans in 56 BC who, together with the
Greeks, introduced cheese-making to the south of France; and the Moors' invasion
of France in 718 AD, who are responsible for introducing goats to the region
(via Spain). The Moors' influence extended to the types of ingredients and
cooking methods, and the first French cookbooks c1400 are said to have mimicked
the Moorish palate.
foundation of modern day French cooking was laid in the 1500s when the benchmark
"haute cuisine" was introduced into the French courts by the Italian Catherine
de Medici. Of course it has been perfected by chefs through the ages, however it
was during this period that Italian influences changed the culinary course of
France not only in cooking methods but also in the ingredients used and the way
food was served.
Florentine chefs who came over with Catherine were more skilled than the French
chefs and introduced the use of ingredients such as butter, truffles and
artichokes as well as techniques and chic dishes such as aspics. They also
introduced the contrast between savory and sweet.
1652 the subtly of French cooking had taken root. No longer were spices were
used to disguise the taste of food but rather to compliment it and the use of
truffles and mushrooms had gained favour as flavour enhancers in dishes. Heavy
sauces traditionally made with bread as the thickening agent, were superceded by
stocks or lighter sauces which were made using the roux method and meats were often served
with their own natural juices.
was also at this time that the French chef La Varenne wrote the first French
cookbook to present recipes in alphabetical order and to include instructions
for cooking vegetables.
the late 19th century France adopted the method of serving food called Service
à la russe, where dishes are prepared and plated into individual portions
before being served to the diner and a series of dishes are served in
succession. Prior to this, service à la française was used, where each course
was made up of a large number of dishes from which the diners served themselves,
much like our modern day buffet.
the eating of this fine food or Haute Cuisine was a luxury enjoyed
by a minority until the 20th century. When the Bastille was stormed in 1789,
about 75% of the French population were farmers who relied on bread and cereals
as the staples of their diet and even by the mid 19th Century, only the
bourgeoisie ( the new ruling class) ate this wonderful food while 2/3rds of the
populace in Paris were mal-nourished or starving
Day French Cuisine
are quite marked differences in the various regions of France partly due to the
fact that until the 17th Century, France was divided into small kingdoms,
each with its own distinct culture. However, as certain regional similarities
remain true….in general, we have divided the country into three.
cooler climate and bordering countries such as Belgium and Germany have had a
direct influence on the cuisine in the north, where dishes tends to be
quite substantial. The geographical landscape also has a strong influence.
Forest and woodland proffers game and game birds, mountain rivers are rich in
salmon, trout and pike and fertile plains produce superb fruit which are often
used in tarts as well as in savoury meat dishes. Calvados and Camembert cheese
are two of Northern France's well known products.
of the best known French dishes and ingredients (outside of France) hail from
central France: escargot stuffed with garlic butter - Escargot a la Bourgignonne,
beef cooked in red wine - Boeuf Bourguinon and Bresse chicken in red wine - Coq
au Vin plus the world famous Dijon Mustard. The wonderful Burgundy wines from
the region have always inspired chefs and home cooks alike to utilise them in
cooking. Lyon acclaims itself to be the gastronomic capital of France and not
only boasts of a large number of 3 star Michelin chefs but is also repudiated to
be the birth-place of Nouvelle Cuisine. However, despite the latter accolade,
homely cooking is still at the heart of central France cuisine.
cuisine of the south is a wonder unto itself. With truffles from the Périgord
region, foie gras from the Dordogne, Cassoulet from Toulouse, Castlnaudray and
Carcassonne and one of the oldest and most exquisite cheeses, Roquefort, many
non-French people would say it is French cuisine personified. Add to this a
Mediterranean touch with olive oil, tomatoes, aubergines, wild mushrooms and
garlic featuring widely in dishes from the Languedoc, Provence and Pay Basque
regions, plus the abundance of seafood to be found ultra-fresh on the
coastal areas, and its easy to see why this French cuisine is held in such high
esteem throughout the world.