French cuisine is taught to aspiring chefs in every cooking school as the basis of learning the fundamentals of cooking. Basic techniques of French cuisine carry over to every other style of cooking. French cuisine is regional, seasonal and traditional, with an emphasis on the best ingredients available. French foods have become commonplace in American restaurants, including omelettes, crepes, baguettes, French onion soup, quiche and croissants.
History of French Cuisine
Since the Middle Ages, France has placed a great importance on food. Grand banquets were an important part of the aristocratic life. Many courses were served at once, with highly seasoned foods accompanied by sauces, wines, cheeses and sweets. The way food was artistically presented in addition to the way it tasted was important in French cuisine. The markets in France were and continue to be a part of everyday life, and purveyors of raw and cooked foods are considered the backbone of French cuisine.
Haute cuisine, or "high cuisine" as it is also known as, was brought into the 20th century by Georges Auguste Escoffier, who adapted chef Marie-Antoine Careme's work, La Cuisine Classique (1856) and organized it into what we know now as modern French cuisine. Escoffier, in his book Le Guide Culinaire, influenced the way modern restaurants are run and introduced the concept of stations in the kitchen. These stations allow food to be prepared quickly and efficiently. He is also credited with the organization of the modern structure of the meal.
Modern French Cuisine
Modern French cooking emphasizes adding flavor to foods without masking food with heavy sauces and garnishes. Today's French cuisine is less complicated, using the freshest ingredients, seasoning with fresh herbs, butter and vinegars and employing shorter cooking techniques and shorter menus.
French Cuisine Ingredients
French food includes cheeses, croissants, breads, pastries, omelettes, egg dishes, fish, seafood, foie gras, mutton, lamb, quail, horse, frog's legs, escargot, veal, pork and chicken. Common herbs used in French cooking include fleur de sel, Herbes de Provence, tarragon, lavender, fennel, sage, marjoram and rosemary. Fresh fruit and vegetables are often bought daily at local markets to take advantage of the season. These include truffles, leeks, potatoes, haricot verts (French green beans), aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), shallots, mushrooms, carrots and turnips. Regional fruits such as cherries, apples, plums, melons, black currants, red currants and pears are used in French cooking when in season.
French Cuisine Today
In France café's, bistros, brasseries and restaurants all serve French cuisine but specialize in different accompaniments. For example, café's generally serve coffee and alcoholic drinks and a limited menu of salads, sandwiches, pastries and small plates. Bistros, which are smaller than traditional sized restaurants, generally serve a limited regional menu. Brasseries, which means brewery in French, serve beer and wine with heavier regional dishes.
Don't be turned off by the ingredient list and cooking times. This French stew is so hearty and delicious that it is worth it.
French food doesn't have to be fussy, complicated, or full of creamy rich sauces that require hours of time and attention. The core of the French cooking philosophy is to simply accent fresh, quality ingredients so that their essential flavors and textures stand out.