February 17, 2012

My Favorite French Dishes

Eiffel Tower Cheese

I know you've heard it before, but it is true...you simply cannot think of France and not think of the food.
Also, you most definitely cannot live in France and not become obsessed with food, and with finding the best that is available, both locally and regionally.

The most heavenly fromage de chèvre. The firmest, most perfect asparagus. The crispiest baguette. The fruitiest olive oil. The butcher with the best cuts of meat. The richest farm eggs. The sweetest apricots, melons and cherries. The juiciest magret de canard. The flakiest croissants. The charcuterie with the most flavorful sausages.

France is a paradise for food lovers.


With so many delicious French dishes to chose from, how does one narrow it down to just a few favorites?

Well, I figure that I've eaten my fair share of French food (and fromage) over the last 9 years, and after all that tasting, I can say without a doubt that these are the dishes that I'm most smitten with. They represent several regions of France - the Limousin, Normandy, the Languedoc, the Loire Valley, the Rhône, the Alps, Basque country and Provence - and while these twelve dishes don't even begin to scratch the surface of France's rich culinary tradition, they're the ones I can't get enough of.


Twenty years ago I thought that tapenade was exotic! I would spend hours painstakingly pitting Kalamata olives, the only foreign olives I could find at the time, just to make one little tub. Now I can find tapenade in every market and I can happily say that my olive pitting days are over.
Tapenade spread generously on toasted slices of baguette is the ubiquitous apéro nibble in the Languedoc. It can be made with either black or green olives, and there's also a version blended with sweet sun dried tomatoes. 

One taste and I was hooked! Seriously. I could easily eat vats of this stuff. 
I've never been a mayonnaise fan, but I've always been an Aïoli fan. Garlic makes (almost) everything better.

Rillettes de Porc
It is hard for me to believe that I lived two thirds of my life before tasting rillettes. Now that I've had them, I'm hopelessly addicted. (and I have years of lost rillettes eating time to make up for!)
Rillettes come in many versions. Pork rillettes are quite common, but I've also been served goose rillettes, salmon rillettes and duck rillettes. I love them all.

Cassoulet Hot Out of the Oven


If you live in the Languedoc, you can't escape Cassoulet. Dubious versions are served up in most touristy restaurants, even when the temperatures outside are hovering around 95° F. Sacrilege!
Le grand froid we experienced recently was the perfect time to enjoy a steaming cassole of stick-to-your-ribs Cassoulet. It is one of the most exceptional dishes in France.

Quenelles Lyonnaise
If you've never tasted quenelles, then you are missing out on one of life's most sublime eating experiences. They're light and fluffy, yet lush and rich. Descriptions alone cannot do them justice, so please, go and try some.
You won't regret it.

Poulet Vallée d'Auge
This is a recent discovery that I think exemplifies the abundance of Normandy. Chicken, apples, Calvados, cider and cream are harmoniously woven together in this gorgeous dish.

Four words - bacon, potatoes, onions, Reblochon. Oh, and a splash of white wine and cream. Need I say more?

A dish of meltingly soft peppers, onions and tomatoes punctuated with salty cured ham and piment d'Espelette (which is also an essential ingredient in Poulet Basquaise). It's the combination of sweet and smoky that I find so alluring in pipérade.

Quite simply one of the world's most perfect flavor combinations - caramelized onions piled on an olive oil crust, sprinkled with dried thyme, studded with olives and baked until golden. (anchovies are also an important element of pissaladière, but I'm not a fan - I scrape them off)

Craig's Lemon Tart

Tarte au Citron
I'm definitely a purist when it comes to Lemon Tart. It should be tangy and zesty and it should be tart, not too sweet, and please, please don't smother it with crème chantilly.

Cherry clafoutis is more traditional, but I love this apricot version. It is a homey, simple dessert that lets the flavor of the seasonal fruit shine through.

Tarte Tatin
Caramelized apples cushioned in a cloud of buttery puff pastry. I've never forgotten my first taste.

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Aidan said...

i love those eiffel tower cheeses!
i think you hit on all my favorites save confit de canard. i love it like i love cassoulet. as for the rillettes, i agree 100%. how could we not know this at home?
off to delve further into the chicken dish. never heard of that one.
bon weekend,

Loulou in France said...

How on earth could I forget to mention confit??? oops...
It is a divine dish as well.

The Celiac Husband said...

Les Rillettes! I am with youonthat one. Just dicovered one today, some special Rillette du Porc from this area in the Charente.
Sold in individual size containers.

Betty C. said...

Great post! I feel like making an exhaustive and exhausting comment:

Goat's cheese: I love all cheeses, but tend to prefer the sheep's milk ones...must be the Averyon side of me.

Tapenade: Like it, no more, no less. Tend to prefer the more creative versions, as in with sun-dried tomatoes as you mention!

Aïoli: Love it and hardly ever eat it.

Rillettes de Porc: Yes, but do not love it more than excellent pâté.

Cassoulet: Not a huge cassoulet fan, I'm afraid. But will eat it happily.

Quenelles Lyonnaise: I LOVE these and hardly ever get the chance to eat them.

Poulet Vallée d'Auge: Have only tasted it a few times, but love it.

Tartiflette: Yes, and adore all of its cheese-and-potato cousins such as aligot and raclette (which I guess is more Swiss...)

Pipérade: Don't make it much but do like it.

Pissaladière: Used to make them, haven't in a long time -- I love it with anchovies, however.

Tarte au Citron: My favorite French dessert :)

Clafoutis: My second favorite :)

Tarte Tatin: Maybe my 3rd favorite!

What I would add: foie gras in any decent form, magret de canard, and soupe au pistou!

Sandy said...

I'm officially hungry and jealous. ;) Have a nice weekend!

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Everything has been said here, I just know that my mouth is watering and I am ready to go shopping even though I have just finished dinner!! A couple of dishes there I need to try, but the rest I agree, they are top of the list. Diane

Mary said...

Well, MY mouth is watering profusely. I'm not sure which dish sounds the most magnificent! Serious yumminess there. We're having pizza for dinner. I like it, but it's not an iota close to any of what you mention. :D

Sharon said...

Please stop this! I've been watching the BBC "A Hungry Frenchman" with Raymond Blanc and after that and your post I'm going to go crazy if I don't get a cheese fix!

emiglia said...

I'm with you on goat cheese for sure! And tartiflette. OK, I'm with you on 90% of things... but I love a traditional cherry clafoutis!

Maureen said...

I could cheerfully follow your food adventures every day - walking 10 paces behind you. Marvelous choices and I can close my eyes and smell the aromas from my memories.

Loulou in France said...

Hope you don't mind if I abbreviate your name! :)
Aren't rillettes amazing? Bought another little tub from a local producer at the market this morning.
Do you ever make your own?

What a fantastic comment!
I love sheep's milk cheeses too, but cannot say they I prefer them to chèvre. I simply prefer cheese!
I don't come across quenelles very often either. When I do in a restaurant, I always order them
I never thought of soupe au pistou...thank you for adding it to the list.

Loulou in France said...

Go out and get some French food! Then you won't be hungry or jealous anymore. :)

Thanks! Do you have anything to add to the list? I'm always happy for suggestions.

Loulou in France said...

Well, a good pizza is worth its weight in gold, in my opinion. But a good pissaladière is as well!

I wish I had the chance to see that series. It must be great!

Loulou in France said...

Traditional cherry clafoutis is wonderful, but the pits are just that...the pits. :)
I probably should have added some sort of chocolate dessert as well, but am partial to fresh fruit desserts.

I'm happy to share!
Thanks for the nice comment.

chcmichel said...

I would agree with your list. In addiition to those others have mentioned I would include a traditional daube and one of any of the various gratins you can find.

What I would like to find out is how with this rich culinary tradition so many of the restos have resorted to serving food prepared elsewhere and served as if it was fixed en maison.

Lost In Cheeseland said...

Couldn't agree more with aioli!!

Stylemindchic~heather said...

I love your site and have been following your delicious posts. You are absolutey right-there is nothing better than French when it comes to food. My husband and I shared another blissful trip to south of France and Paris last summer. Thanks for following me on Pinterest. I have a brand new lifestyle blog myself. Thanks for the inspirations!

Loulou in France said...

I think the restaurants are cutting corners because it is so expensive to hire staff and quality products aren't cheap either. It's sad.

Isn't it divine stuff?

Thanks for stopping by to comment and welcome to the blogging community! I hope you find it as fun as I do.

Virginia said...

I could hardly read your text for obsessing over the la Tour chevre. Ohhhhhh I want so for my next party!!!

Veronica said...

Tarte au citron and tarte Tatin: yes please! I adore both. I love a classic tarte aux myrtilles too. And clafoutis of course, whether with cherries, apricots, pears, or even prunes. Hmm, can you tell I'm a dessert queen? Poulet vallée d'Auge is a fabulous dish too, though -- especially when you are in Normandy and can use local produce.

Loulou in France said...

Aren't they adorable?

I didn't know you had such a sweet tooth! :) I am a huge clafoutis fan, but am usually quite happy to end a meal with cheese. And maybe just a bite of something sweet.

gato azul said...

Loulou, I often visit and never comment but your ode to French food brought a smile to my lips. Don't you like snails in garlic butter, or béarnaise on a grilled côte de boeuf, or potatoes sarladaise, or croissants with chocolat? Just a few suggestions, en passant. Love your blog! Loulou (in Québec)

Loulou in France said...

I love them all! :)