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Jan 6, 2012 06:50 AM

Suggest great classic French recipes to learn?

So, I've been cooking for years, and have gotten quite good, though I spent the large majority of that time being a vegetarian, which concentrated my learning mostly on Asian cuisines. Now that I've begun cooking with meat, I know my way around a good braise, make a mean stock, etc. so I think it's time to finally tackle some serious classical french cuisine, which I know squat about outside of the main sauces...

Problem is, I don't know where I should start. Can you guys suggest dishes I could make that really embody the essence of french cuisine? I think a list of 10 serious things to cook would give me one hell of an entry into the cuisine - I'm already planning duck confit and cassoulet...

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  1. There's this book: French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen. I think it is published by a UK publisher. Anyway, I purchased this gem about 7 years ago--when I first started seeing "The Frenchman". I got it at Borders on the clearance rack for 6.00. SIX BUCKS and I am now on my second copy. Yes. The first copy became so dog-earred and filled with my sloppy spills that I had to search for a second copy. No kiddin'. Recipes are very simple. Very simple. This book taught me more about simple french cooking than Julia Child did. I'm not lying.
    Anyway, some simple dishes I've learned to make are pate's and terrines. Beef Bourg....., Chicken and grapes, I recently tried a Pot Au Feu (mostly Bourdain's recipe) that turned out great. Simple roast chicken (don't laugh--the French have a great way with a simple roast chicken). I've also learned to cook a mean whole fish thanks to his aunt who lives in Paris.
    If you want to learn how to make the best creme caramel or clafoutis, this mentioned book is for you. The desserts are simple--easy peasy and most excellent! It really is very easy stuff.
    Have fun!

    3 Replies
    1. re: jarona

      Looks like those 2 have published French cookbooks under a variety of names and publishers. I have their Hermes House picture book titled 'French, delicious classic cuisine made easy'.

      1. re: paulj

        You know paulj, I think it's the same book with a different title. I just checked it out on amazon and it looks like it could very well be the same book. What do you think of it--cause I love that book. It is so darn simple--but the results have been really great.

        1. re: jarona

          I have a dozen of the HH picture books, so am clearly sold on their editing style. There are a couple of other volumes that use more than this French one (Italy, Spain, Singapore), but I've gotten some good ideas from it. And the recipes (and presentation) are quite accessible, allowing me to quickly choose whether to try it or not.

          Tonight I made 'guinea hen with cabbage' - using a large chicken, leeks that I'd already cooked up, and half a head of cabbage. There are other preparations where the chicken stands out more, but this had some great vegetables, and a tasty broth. It would have been even better with a lean game bird. I was also inspired to make scalloped potatoes from this book, not that I need a recipe for that.

          If you want to spend more money on a cookbook, Dorie Greenspan has a large volume. I've done a stuffed pumpkin from that. In fact it's the recipe reviewed on Amazon

          I'd like to take a look at one of Laura Calder's books.

    2. A list of 10 classics off the top of my head...
      1. Coq au vin
      2. Boeuf bourguignon
      3. Onion soup gratin
      4. Bouillabaisse
      5. Moules mariniere
      6. Sole meunière
      7. Quiche lorraine
      8. Omelette with herbs
      9. Celeri remoulade
      10. Salade nicoise

      1. Cassoulet is a great place to start. In addition to those jaronaand benbenberi mentioned, here are some other suggestions:

        Pate en Croute
        Souffle au Fromage
        Coquilles St.-Jacques
        Rillettes de Caneton
        Choucroute Garnie
        Tarte Tatin
        Iles Flottantes

        1 Reply
        1. re: JoanN

          I heartily second Tarte Tatin...just be very careful when inverting it onto the plate! I hate Iles Flottants, but that's just me.

          Choucroute Garnie is a big favorite at our house. A great, hearty recipe especially at this time of year.


          Croque Monsieur AND Croque MADAME

          Poulet au Vinaigre and Poule au Pot

          Cotriade (I have started to put some chunks of a good Spanish chorizo sausage in mine.)

          Chicken or duck liver pate

          I also suggest a book that may be out of print, but also may be at local libraries - it's The Hundred Glories of French Cooking by Robert Courtine. All the well-known faves are there and it's quite a lovely book. I think I got it at the Strand years ago. How I love that bookstore. I mean, all that we have left out here in Berkeley/Oakland is Moe's on Telegraph Avenue. It seems to be thriving. All the rest are gone - Cody's, Black Oak, along with the record stores. Sigh.

        2. If I had to pick just 10 recipes they would be

          Coq au vin
          Beouf Bourguignon
          Confit de Canard
          Tarte tatin
          French Onion Soup
          Saddle of rabbit stuffed with prunes
          Croque Monsieur

          If you ask me tomorrow the list may be entirely different.

          1. Definitely, as long as you have a handle on the Mother sauces you are on your way!! Now, pick up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. I and give it a good look; see what appeals. Definitely Coq au vin, Chicken Chasseur, Duckling a l'orange, a good pate and/or farce, or forcemeat, quenelles. It would be good to learn from memory a good pate a choux and another uncomplicated pastry. Filet of sole; sauce moutarde, Escalopines de veaux. Tripes a la mode de Caen, if you like tripe. And what a fun adventure for you!! Bon Apetit!!