Improve your French cooking in one week with these no-fail recipes.
Do you like food?
I mean… you probably do. Most people do.
And if you’ve stumbled upon this article it’s safe to say you’re also fairly into French cuisine in particular.
I don’t blame you – even UNESCO agrees, and back in 2010 labeled French cuisine “world intangible heritage”.
With all its clout, French cooking can seem a pretty overwhelming activity to tackle. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve got the recipes below to prove how easily you can whip up some authentic French specialties.
I promise you this: you absolutely will impress your friends and family with these easy, delicious dishes. You may even impress the French. And who knows, maybe that leads to getting a French passport and having Paris welcome you with open arms and fireworks…
Might be getting a little ahead of ourselves there. Breathe. Start slow! Cook these 7 recipes first, and work on plans to dominate Parisian social life later.
1. Croque monsieur
Difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to resist, the croque monsieur is the grilled cheese’s wealthier cousin. This thing is rich, I’m serious. That layer of bechamel sauce covering the sandwhich is really something else.
Unlike its relative, you really don’t want to eat a croque monsieur with your hands. The above mentioned bechamel sauce is a roux based white sauce (butter and flour cooked together) and this sandwich comes just short of being dipped in it prior to visiting the broiler. Use a fork and a knife like a real person. Unless of course you’re home alone, possibly with your cat, in which case put those jammies on and enjoy your finger food.
At a Parisian brasserie though, stick to the fork and knife. And for Pete’s sake put some real pants on.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re in France, save time by grabbing a pre-made bechamel sauce at your local grocery store. This is often near the pasta sauces, and will usually be in a box or plastic pouch. If you have the time though, mastering a basic roux sauce like this is pretty cool because it’s the base of a LOT of different sauces in French cooking. And in other cooking too… homemade macaroni and cheese for example.
- Don’t skip the nutmeg. It might seem a bit weird but adds some finesse to the flavors here that’s really nice and pretty French.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Croque monsieur recipe
2. Chocolate mousse
Yup, dessert always, always belongs near the top of the list. As they say, life is short so eat dessert first.
You’re going to love this recipe. It has only 3 ingredients and is pretty difficult to mess up. Oh, you could mess it up, sure. But you’d have to be trying.
Chocolate mousse is something that seems so light and decadent at the same time, so you are probably wondering (possibly out loud): how could this be simple to make?
The simple answer is: Magic.
The other, slightly more plausible answer is the below recipe.
Tips & Tricks
- Personally I prefer to melt the chocolate in the microwave. Melting it over a double boiler (bain-marie) really heats the bowl. I’ve had issues adding the egg yolk to the chocolate and having the warm bowl actually cook those egg yolks to a pretty gross consistency.
- When you melt in the microwave, follow the instructions on the recipe below in terms of heating time. You can’t just pop the chocolate into the microwave and let it go for all eternity. That chocolate gonna BURN. And it will taste pretty gross if that happens, believe me. It will make you not want to feed this mousse to anyone, not even that passive agressive neighbor you hate. So heat at those 30-second intervals with mixing in between. As soon as you’ve got no more chunks of solid chocolate, stop. Or better yet, stop when you’ve got some little chunks of chocolate and just stir – the heat from the rest of the melted chocolate will melt those last stuboorn chunks.
- I definitely recommend experimenting with different kinds of chocolate. Praline, orange flavored, with chunks of hard caramel, different cocoa percentages… try it all. Probably not in one day. Spread it out a little, okay?
- One more tip – be sure to whip those egg whites to stiff peaks. You can even add a 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar if you have it, to help fix the whites. If you don’t beat them enough, your mousse won’t hold its shape. You may even wind up with liquid egg whites after the mousse has been chilled for a bit. So to give you an idea what that looks like: it looks like runny snot. NOT appetizing. So be careful.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Easy Chocolate Mousse recipe
If you’ve been to Paris you’ll see that the French really love quiche. And, surprise surprise, it’s available in nearly every bakery!
Yep that’s right – in bakeries. Some would argue that the most important part of a quiche is that pie-like crust (they’d be right). And boy, when you’ve got a good bakery address you can really tell the difference. And that’s when bakery snobbery has officially set in, and you know you’re becoming French at heart.
That said, this recipe calls for a pre-made roll of pâte brisée because it’s easier. These can be found in any French grocery store. You can also make your own (there’s a link in the recipe), or use a premade pie crust (one with low sugar content).
Quiche is sort of like the French version of the pizza in that you can really put anything in it. And, it’s usually cheesy and delicious. And some people love the crusty bits and other people can’t get enough of those center bites. And even though you said you were only going to have one piece you ended up eating eight… I could go on. But I won’t.
That’s just to say that you can really get creative with this dish. The recipe here is for a vegetarian quiche but once you’ve got this one under your belt you should explore… different cheeses, maybe some tuna, bacon, salmon, pulled chicken, or a combination of other vegetables like spinach, roasted red peppers, eggplant… go crazy!
Tips & Tricks
- Want to take the difficulty level to a new low? Omit the veggies, double the egg mixture and cheese, and make it into a quiche au fromage! This will save you the time prepping and cooking the vegetables and will make things go really fast.
- The easiest way to be sure this dish tastes really good is to use high quality cheese. You really can use any cheese you want – if you don’t want a nice nutty aged comte or gruyere, you could use any other hard French cheese. Beaufort immediately comes to mind… that thing would be a bit stinky but sure would taste great! You could even use a combination of chevre cheeses (a drier like buche along with a fresh), or aged cheddar, or heck why not a nice Monterey Jack? Do what you want, it’s your kitchen.
- But if you want this to remain a classicly “French” dish… stick to French cheese.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: French vegetarian quiche recipe
4. French Toast
Yep. This one, unlike “French fries” is actually French. But here we call it pain perdu, or “lost bread”.
The reason it’s called this is because it used to be a way to actually eat that day-old French baguette (yes: in France if your baguette isn’t nearly rock hard by the next day… you need to find a better bakery). The baguette was sliced, soaked in a custard bath until it was soft again, and then cooked. Lost bread not so lost anymore, is it? Nope. Nope, it’s there, in your belly.
Nowadays pain perdu is done on purpose – not only to use up that impossibly hard baguette. Many French people will use a soft brioche bread, which is in my opinion the tastiest option. That brioche can really soak up that custard mixture. But it’s also quite common to simply use regular sliced bread, so don’t feel bad about going that route.
You don’t have to top your French toast exclusively with maple syrup, either! That’s the easiest, yes, but if you want to add a bit of French flair, try some whipped cream and strawberries, warm banana slices (cook them in the same pan as the toast), or even a chestnut or hazelnut spread.
Tips & Tricks
- This is a French recipe… so yeah use full-fat milk! Indulge; you’ll thank me for it.
- Some people use a mild vegetable oil instead of butter to cook the French toast in. The smoke point is higher with vegetable oil… but you’re not necessarily going to be cooking these bad boys on maximum heat, or in a metal forge. That said: if you see that your butter is really burning while in the pan, feel free to switch to vegetable oil.
- If you’re actually using a day-old French baguette, first of all: bravo, mon ami. Secondly, slice the baguette diagonally and about 2cm/1in thick. The bigger surface area makes it easier to cut up and quicker to get in the belly.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Pain Perdu recipe
Since crepes offer both savory and sweet options, this is a super versatile (yet easy) recipe to have on hand. Whether you have a sweet tooth, or a salty tooth, or one of those weird things where it’s both but you have to alternate from one to the other until you basically explode… anyway, you can do it all with crepes.
They’re sort of like the French version of pancakes if pancakes were thin and stuffed full of delicious ingredients. Nutella is a classic – throw on some bananas for a “healthy” version. Caramel, whipped cream, fruit, jam, or even just plain sugar… you’ve got a lot of sweet options here.
Classic French savory crepes can be filled with cheese, cheese and egg, cheese and ham, cheese and mushrooms… and yep, there is definitely a pattern here.
My best advice for filling crepes is: just look in your fridge. This is an awesome recipe to help you get rid of that last bit of condiment in the jar, or leftovers. Once I made crepes with taco sauce which – please don’t tell the French government because they’ll kick me out but – was pretty good.
So technically in France, if you’re making savory crepes you’d use buckwheat flour. But honestly? Keep it simple. Use your regular old flour for both dinner and dessert crepes and you’ll be just fine.
Tips & Tricks
- Use a blender. Seriously! It’s the best way to get super smooth batter. Just be sure to let it rest for at least 20 minutes (to cut down on bubbles). Resting an hour is better. And overnight is better still but let’s be honest. Who decides that they want crepes, a “fast food”… but not until tomorrow?
- They say the first crepe pour always fails. That might be true but it doesn’t mean it has to wind up in the garbage. If it doesn’t wind up in your belly (probably scalding your tongue a bit because you foolishly grabbed it off the pan with your fingers and immediately popped it right into that mouth of yours), you have other options. Make an ultimate double crepe by sandwiching some filling between a good crepe and your failure first crepe. Add a bit more topping and roll them both up together. Twice the everything. YOU’RE WELCOME.
- You don’t have to have a crepe pan – you can use a regular frying pan. But a crepe pan helps get that nice round shape since the edges of the pan are at sharp angles to the surface.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Basic French crepe recipe
6. Nicoise salad
Come on. Don’t act surprised. You knew there was going to be something at least marginally healthy on this list.
This is actually a really filling salad though, and a great way to get some hearty protein in your system, albeit in canned form.
There’s nothing wrong with canned tuna. Especially when you put it on a salad and exclaim out loud, “It’s called a NICOISE salad Becky. Look it up.” Then, the tuna is just sassy and French and everything else that’s good in this world.
Tips & Tricks
- There really aren’t too many “tricks” to this salad since there’s honestly very little involved here. Do your best not to chop your finger off cutting your veggies or opening the tuna can. That’s about all I’ve got for you here.
- Wait! I do have a tip. Whip the heck out of the salad dressing. You want to emulsify that – which means it should thicken as you whisk. And if you don’t have a whisk just do it with a fork, that’s fine. But for a minimum of 30 seconds, and a full minute is best. This is a trick you should carry over to other salad dressings you make because then you get to be all impressive and use the word “emulsify” in front of your friends.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Nicoise salad recipe
7. Steak au poivre
Men, this one’s for you.
Ha, ha, no it’s not! I’m only kidding, it’s for everyone!
(Unless of course you are vegetarian, vegan, or avoiding red meat for any one of the other thousands of reasons people avoid red meat.)
However… the French love their red meat, so this one is getting included on the list.
Plus this is a great and classy date night dish. And it’s very, very easy and quite quick.
French chefs fight over who actually invented this dish. I say that leaves an opening ripe for you to jump in and claim you invented it, thereby doubly impressing your date, family, or friends.
This is a classic Parisian dish, so when you come to Paris you’re going to see it in a LOT of cafes and brasseries. So once you learn the (easy) secrets of this dinner, feel free to wink repeatedly at that chef when you meet eyes. It’s code, don’t worry.
Tips & Tricks
- You don’t have to use filet mignon… but mmm, mmm, extra YUM if you do. Really though, just use whatever cuts you like best.
- At the very end of cooking your steaks, add in a little pat of butter and move the steak around in it. Little bit of extra flavor, little bit of extra mallard reaction (creating that nice browned, seared taste).
- Note that the recipe uses ‘cracked black peppercorns’. This is a good idea. If you just sprinkle on a bunch of pre-ground pepper, you’re losing a lot of that awesome texture and better flavor that the actual peppercorns provide.
Here’s where you’ll find the details: Steak au poivre recipe
It’s simple: you too can cook French food. You can probably cook better than most Parisians. Well, maybe not, but you sure can give it a fighting chance!
If you’re planning a whole meal, this guide is key to doing it right (aka doing it French-ly).
If you imbibe, you’ll want some drinks to match your delicious cooking. Here is a list of nine pretty awesome French drinks that are tasty any time of year, any time of day.
Let us know how your meal turns out!