France has been known as one of the capitals of excellent cuisine for centuries. French cooking developed over the long history of the country with each region having its own specialty and unique ingredients.
History of French Cooking
French cuisine developed out of the French love of beauty and elegance. Increasingly more rare and intricate foods were created for the royalty during the Middle Ages until foods served at feasts were complicated masterpieces that didn’t always taste very good. An example of this is roast peacock that was removed from the skin, roasted, and sewn back in the skin with feathers intact. The beak and claws would be gilded with gold leaf.
Since refrigeration was not a possibility, numerous sauces were developed both to add interest to the dish and to cover the taste of meat that was beginning to go bad.
During the 13th and 14th centuries guilds became more powerful and regulated food and its distribution and processes. This led to more uniformity in recipes as well as offered training for would be chefs. The chefs were limited by the guild as to what they could cook, depending on their position and training. By the 16thcentury new foods from the Americas were making their way into the kitchens of France.
During the Renaissance French food was refined over and over and became more like what is served today. Chefs worked tirelessly in castle kitchens to please the palates of the luxury loving royals.
The French Revolution brought change not only to the political system of France but also to the food. It abolished the guilds and chefs were free to create anything they wanted to out of any ingredient they wanted to, wherever they wanted to.
French food continued to be refined and to develop throughout the decades. It was not well known by American home cooks until the 1960s when Julia Child introduced the French cooking style to every American kitchen and changed the face of American cooking forever.
Regional French Cooking
There are about twelve major regions of France in regards to its cooking.
Paris is more or less the hub of French cookery and almost any style of cuisine can be found there. Dishes and ingredients from all over France are readily available.
Alsace and Surrounding Area
Game dishes are popular in Champagne and the surrounding areas. This region is known for fresh fruit, especially apples. Classic Quiche Lorraine comes from this area as well as Apple Tart. The foods of the Alsace area are heavily influenced by the proximity of Germany.
Normandy, Brittany, and the surrounding area is rich with seafood dished because of the long coastline. There are also an abundance of apple trees and apple dished prevail. Thick, rich stews are a favorite.
The Loire Valley is known for its abundance of fruits. Cherries, pears, strawberries and melons grow well in the rich soil. Fish, lamb, game, veal, and beef provide a variety of protein dishes. Goat cheese is of the highest quality in this area. A regional mushroom is one of the prize ingredients on many menus of Central France.
Burgundy, like Champagne, will always be synonymous with wine. Fish, snails, poultry, beef, and game provide a variety of protein sources while numerous cheeses are made from the rich dairy products. Currants, mustard, oils of various types, and smoked meats are also popular.
Produce is abundant in the recipes from Lyon and the Rhone Valley. Fresh water fish from the clear streams that run through the area are an important part of the cuisine as well. You can find specialty cheeses and a variety of sausage types in this region of France.
This area claims the best butter and cheese in all of France. Sheep, game, beef, poultry, and shell fish provide regional cooks with plenty of ingredients. The cuisine is robust and earthy.
Salt water fish as well as freshwater fish are abundant in this region. Lamb beef, chicken, turkey, pigeon, capon, goose, and duck are all popular protein choices. Pâtés and terrines developed in this area. Think of this region as supply heavy farm fare. Honest foods that utilize all of the parts of the animal and fresh vegetables and fruits abound.
Corn fattened duck and goose, hams, sausage, beans, milk fed lamb, sheep milk based cheese, and lentils are all plentiful here. Cow and goats’ milk cheese is of high quality as well because of the rich, volcanic soil.
The French cooking of this region are heavily influenced by Spanish cooking and ingredients. They use fish, sheep, and sausages in cooking. Rich goat cheeses and game are also common.
Citrus, vegetables, fruit, herbs, and olives are abundant in this region. High quality olive oils, lavender, and honey are all prized ingredients. A large number of vegetables are used in this almost Mediterranean style cooking.
Being an island, Corsica is plentiful with fish recipes but that isn’t all. Pork is made in numerous ways from sausage to ham and other smoked specialties. Clementines, figs, nectarines, and lemons also grow in the area and are used in its dishes.
The sheer number of regional specialties in France and the variety of flavors found in French cooking makes your head spin. The popularity of the flavors and textures make French food a good choice for an elegant menu.