1. The best food is the simplest.
When I think of French food, I think of expensive restaurants, creme brulee, filet mignon, french onion soup. I thought to master it you had to study in France under only the best chefs possibly becoming a total dick (not that I’m a master at this point or a dick, hopefully). Turns out my vision of French food consisted only of fine dining. I had no idea how simple it could be once I broke the recipes down at home. Granted I only made a months worth of food, so I could be wrong.
I went into April thinking I was going to spend hours on hours on a complicated recipe, mastering some specialized technique. Nope. In my one month, to summarize, I learned that French food is all about fresh ingredients, combinations that bring out the flavors in those ingredients, some basic cooking techniques, and enjoyment in the time spent cooking as well as eating.
I see these four principles not only in French food, but in many chefs and cultures around the world. Seems like something we can all agree on.
Take pot-au-feu for example (pictured above). It sounds fancy, simply because of the French name. I don’t know what it is about French words that make them sound so elegant, but pot-au-feu consists of meat, bones, vegetables, and herbs tossed in a pot and left to simmer for a few hours. Can it get any easier?
2. Bouquet garni is possibly the cutest and handiest way to add herbs to a dish.
In the beginning of the month, I started reading through various French recipes, and noticed ‘bouquet garni’ in several ingredient lists. With no idea what it was, I did some Googling…
Bouquet garni is a bundle of dried or fresh herbs and/or whole spices tied together with string. Mine most commonly consisted of thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and parsley. It not only keeps your herbs together (so you can discard them together with ease), but also keeps unwanted bits like cloves out of the end dish, saving your guests from an unexpected bite.
Isn’t it adorable?
3. Cassoulet is as rich as it gets.
I said it in my post, and I’ll say it again. Cassoulet is quite possibly the richest thing I’ve ever eaten. Duck, sausage, pork, and chicken all browned in their rendered fats, mixed with cannellini beans and vegetables, baked in the oven till crisp on top. Nuff said.
4. You can and should cook chicken in red wine.
I once tried to substitute red wine for white in a fish recipe. As soon as I poured it in I realized my mistake. And that’s when I realized that appearance plays a large role in what we eat, which brings me to this:
Enter coq au vin. Who knew purple chicken could be so appealing? White meat, red wine, doesn’t seem like the ideal combination, and yet it is.
5. Making croissants is a science and an art.
I tried and ate approximately thirty-five different croissants in April (and some of May, sorry not sorry). I put together a list of my favorites and also came away with a new respect for bakers. Every croissant seemed like a special snowflake, a fingerprint, a manifestation of the soul of the chef who made it (is that weird?).
I already knew that making croissants involved an intensive folding, layering, and chilling process of butter and dough. I imagine it’s like when you fold a piece of paper in half again and again until it just won’t fold anymore. You’d fold and fold then cut and roll, and magically the oven would birth these magnificent crescents, wrong. It’s not magic folks, it’s science. Turns out that the butter in those folds turns to steam in the oven, forming pockets that become the beautiful airy layers you see inside each and every croissant. The more successful you are in the folding, layering, and chilling process, the more impressive the inside is. Too bad I didn’t make any.
A croissant is not a croissant, not until you’ve had a dark croissant and a light croissant, salty and sweet croissants, off-kilter and plain croissants, croissants that sing and croissants that fall flat. This may be my new obsession.