February 17, 2012
My Favorite French Dishes
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.
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.
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)
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.
Caramelized apples cushioned in a cloud of buttery puff pastry. I've never forgotten my first taste.